Almajiri, banditry and our insecurity, by Kassim Afegbua


Too many troubling occurrences have taken the stage in Nigeria lately, with heated commentaries on them dominating public discourse. Top on the list is the issue of the One Hundred and Thirty Seven School Children and some others that were abducted in Kuriga, Kaduna State, leaving fear, tears, anguish and trepidation in the land.

As if that was not enough, in Okuama Delta state, almost simultaneously, sixteen soldiers were slaughtered, their bodies dismembered in a gruesome manner, and dumped in a river; Some Nigerians have now been reduced to cannibals. The heads of these victims were chopped, and their hearts were ripped open. Mind you, no soon after, to add salt to injury, six policemen were reportedly killed in the same Delta State.

The conclusion is that insecurity is still rife across the country. Even security agents are now being attacked. They too now face the torturous threats and fears the civil populace have been grappling with for well over a decade. Are we now a helpless people? While the search for the one hundred  and thirty seven school children and co was on, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, who appears to have assumed the unenviable role of  the Spokesman of the Colony of Bandits, had been speaking on the FG negotiating with the bandits.

He was prepared to lead the Federal Government to the hideouts of the bandits for the so-called negotiation. Quite akin to any other businessman, he made his proposal, with the hope of sealing  the deal.

Banditry has now morphed into a flourishing industry in Northern Nigeria, with kidnapping and abduction as integral parts of the industry. Sheikh Gumi with audacity, compares banditry with Niger-Delta militant activities, and is now asking for amnesty for bandits in the North. This just reminds me of the old saying, “ an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.” I am left wondering where else on earth that this happens.

Ordinarily, in my opinion, Sheikh Gumi should be a person of interest, who should be subjected to serious interrogation as he seems to have a very rich knowledge and understanding of the modus operandi of these inglorious people. He goes in and out of the bandits conclave, speaking assertively on the need to negotiate with them to put an end to this menace. Nigerians typically advise one another to flee from accident or crime scenes as almost invariably, they would be arrested and implicated if they are met by security agents on arrival, irrespective of their actual connection to the incident. But this Gumi’s case appears different. He goes closer instead.

President Tinubu was emphatic when he declared that the Federal Government will not bargain with any bandits, and that precipitate action would be taken to bring back the school children. Though the return of the school children and others a few days later was the best news that broke on Saturday, 23 March, murmurs that a lot of money was paid to secure the release of the abductees followed it.

 If this system is allowed to go on, the bandits will find the practise lucrative and money-spining; then, ending it would be a very difficult one. It is mind boggling to know that there was no report of bloodshed or loss of life, in trying to rescue the children and others; suggesting that our commandos  may yet be the best in the world. So we may soon be faced with a military men Japa syndrome following this rescue operation, that was one hundred percent casualty free. We thank God for the release of these ones.

Now talking seriously, considering  the negative economic impact of this menace called Banditry, if an amnesty program type solution is what is needed to resolve the issue, why not? It may sound odd, but a definitive end to banditry, insurgency and kidnapping will go a long way to improving our economic wellbeing and relaunch the country on the path of socio-economic growth. We have suffered for way too long in the hands of these bandits and kidnappers.

Their activities have distorted our path to economic greatness. We have lost a lot and the palpable fear of future loss is in itself a challenge. What we need now are time-tested solutions; solutions that have worked before. The reality on ground albeit, suggests that there is complicity and conspiracies around this illicit business. Whatever it be, we must bring it to an end. It does appear too that because government is spending so much on insecurity, the armed forces do not want an end to this carnage. That is how it seems. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

Can we deepen the conversation and raise the cry for the FG to take a decisive action against this banditry and kidnapping issue? All we want now is to rid of this hydra-headed monster. The latest approach being deployed is not good enough. This thing is gradually wearing the garb of a political tool being used for bargaining; call it another form of coded corruption, where monies are shared amongst criminals in the name of bargain, or where the military are enjoying the fat budget occasioned by the fight against insurgency, armed banditry and kidnapping. Crass materialism is at the root of this evil. The whole essence of the negotiation which Sheikh Gumi is pushing for the bandits, is ostensibly for them to be rehabilitated through an Amnesty Program for them, just same way that the Niger-Delta militants were treated during Late President Umaru Yar’adua’s time. According to Gumi, an Amnesty Program will guarantee the integration of these bandits into the society where they would be provided with opportunities to undergo training in specialised skills which will then guarantee them decent means of livelihood; so that by those means, they can legally aquire all the wealth they desire in life.

The responsibility rests with President Tinubu now, to take a decisive decision to end this ugly trend. Even if he toes the line of Sheikh Gumi by setting up an institution for their rehabilitation, it will be better for us. What Nigerians want is peace and stability.

The negative impact of armed banditry is graveous; especially on the nation’s economy. Additionally, we must remember to create a special program to address the culture of almajiri, which provides a veritable ground for recruitment into banditry. Education in the North should be raised; it should attract some more serious attention to gradually de-radicalise those elements and create a civil society, where the citizens are abreast of their civic responsibility and can work meaningfully.

The almajiri institutions need to be dismantled and supplanted with western education that fits into the expectations of today’s world. The level of poverty and hunger that is prevalent in the country today is leading some of these almajiri children into the conclave of bandits. It is a new industry that is now so huge, with tentacles spread across different states of the Federation. We cannot look away from this for much longer. Those who have access to the bandits like Sheikh Gumi, should be engaged to come up with a framework that will address this issue once and for all.

While that is going on, the government should invest heavily in almajiri education and open up new frontiers to re-integrate these criminal elements/ bandits into the society. Whatever the method, programmes that will de-radicalise and de-mobilise them must be designed and deployed. They will be taught that there are alternatives to their nefarious activities; and upon teaching them, we can convince them to leave their forests of demons to embrace peace in the towns and villages.

Let the Islamic scholars who have gained the respect and confidence of the bandits go a step further in helping the nation; by  converting these criminal elements to patriotic citizens, and bring them back into the society. They need to help bring back our country from the challenges of: insecurity, unemployment, infrastructural atrophy, weak economy and a host of other challenges staring us in the face, on a daily basis.

We need to act fast to arrest this ugly trend and halt our descent to anarchy. Raiding our schools and denying school children the opportunity of learning is a dangerous precedence that cannot be allowed to recur. If left unchecked, posterity will blame us.

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