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Insecurity: Between Banditry and Terrorism – PR Nigeria

Insecurity: Between Banditry and Terrorism
By Muhammadu Kudu Ibrahim
“The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to work”
–       Albert Einstein
In the past several weeks there has been stringent calls for the labelling of the marauding bandits in the Northwest and Northcentral parts of the country as terrorists. In the past the call was restricted to some politicians in the Southeast who felt the labelling of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as terrorists was hasty and unjustified. In recent times, however, it has spread to their counterparts in the north including other notable Nigerians.
The list includes all the 36 Speakers from the State Houses of Assembly, governors of Gombe and Katsina, along with their Kaduna state counterpart Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who not only backed the call but also urged the National Assembly (NASS) to compel the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on the security situation in the country. Both houses of the NASS have since issued their separate resolutions calling for the classification of the bandits as terrorists.
The media, too, were not left out of the fray. In their separate editorials the Guardian, Vanguard and the Punch newspapers in particular were bullish in making the same call. In its editorial published on the 21st of October the Punch asserted that the federal government may be constrained in its reluctance to ‘officially designate’ the bandits as terrorists because of America’s insistence that the Super Tucano warplanes recently delivered to Nigeria should only be used against the Boko Haram terrorist group, and not what the paper called the “the so-called bandits entrenched in the forests and ungoverned areas of the North-West and North-Central regions”.
The renowned Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Femi Falana who, as expected, also joined the debate and quoted generously from the extant provisions of the Nigeria Terrorism Prevention Act in making the same call.
With due respect to Falana, however, almost all the sections of the Act he cited, like the perspectives of the governors and the NASS, merely focused on the impact of the various violent acts loosely classified as “terrorism” but not the causal or motivational factors behind them which could have enhanced the quality of the debate one way or the other.
Falana and the other parties may also not be aware that although the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) published the National Security Strategy (NSS) of the administration in 2019, Nigeria still has no National Security Policy (NSP) on which any robust strategy to tackle our security challenges should been predicated. Indeed, we have never had one since our independence.
That serious flaw in our national security architecture was apparently lost on all the parties – including the NASS – who have expressed their outrage on the alarming security situation in the country. They have instead opted to snipe at the symptoms of the obvious dissonance in the nation’s security system which are manifested in the frequent embarrassing security breaches have experienced nationwide.
The adoption of NSP is fundamental and should have preceded the NSS for the following reasons. When properly conceived, the policy is expected encapsulate the basic visioning and scope of the security threats confronting the nation along with various forms of the kinetic or non-kinetic actions required to counter them. It will also allow for the common ownership of the nation’s security threats along with their probable solutions. It confirms the often-cited cliché that a nation’s security is the collective responsibility of all its citizens. But I digress, somewhat.
I also read the opinions of some scholars and religious organizations which were often laced with unhelpful bigotry and partisanship. Some drew parallels between the secessionist agitations in the Southeast and the Southwest to allege bias on the part of the federal government in its handling of the secessionist agitation of IPOB.  Some even went further to include the agitations in the south-south which are driven mainly by economic deprivation into the narrative to prove the same allegation.
It never mattered that while the militancy in the south-south resulted in a peace deal – as imperfect as it may be to some stakeholders from the region; in the case of IPOB, it remains either Biafra or burst!
Also, unlike the militants in the south-south, the violence unleashed by IPOB, including the establishment of its military wing, has grown in intensity in a manner that openly challenges the legitimacy of the federal government and its capacity to guarantee the security of all Nigerians in their sphere of operations.
Regardless, the intensity of the calls was such that the Federal Government has found itself on the defensive.  In his response to the relentless barrage, the Defence Minister has claimed the bandits were yet to be classified as terrorists because of the need to comply with due process without elaborating on what the process actually entails. That has tended to add to the confusion a trite.  But either way, they all have my sympathy.
The controversial question of who can be classified as a “terrorist” and what constitutes acts of “terrorism” have been subjects of intensive debate among criminologists, scholars and politicians globally in the past several decades.
As of 2006, there were no fewer than 109 different definitions of terrorism, while every attempt to adopt a universally accepted definition of both terms have always ended in a bewildering cul-de-sac for a variety of reasons.
For instance, in the wake of the massacre of athletes during a siege on the Munich Olympics Games Village in 1972, the United Nations (UN) unsuccessfully attempted to conjure a universal agreement for both terms but was unsuccessful because many nations from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, disagreed with the pejorative aspects of the label.
In their considered opinion, the West too had committed similar activities to the one perpetrated by the Palestinian group responsible for the Munich Massacre. One man’s terrorist, as it is often said, could be another man’s freedom fighter, depending on the context and geo-political dynamics of the contending issues in the conflict.
Like I earlier hinted, at the core of the controversy is the contentious issue of legitimacy in the use of violence for multiple ends. The same is true for both the state and non-state actors of terrorism which all the commentators in their hasty prognosis failed to take into account. But that is a story for another day.
In the absence of a consensus among its members on what constitutes terrorism, the UN adopted 12 piecemeal conventions and protocols with the principal goal of ‘criminalizing’ certain acts of violence only to the extent that they are effective in the various counter-terrorism initiatives of its members states. The UN General Assembly resolution 49/60 on the subject was adopted on the 9th of December, 1994.
In 2007, the UN drifted towards a more academically agreeable concept and interpretation of both terms which emphasized the combination of violence, politics, sociology and psychology among the traits which are largely consistent with the provisions of the Nigerian Anti-Terrorism Act referred to by Femi Falana.
The first trait recognizes terrorism as a violent act that leads directly to or produces widespread disproportionate emotional reactions such as fear and anxiety which impacts or influences attitudes or the patterns of behavior of the victims. This is abundantly obvious from the changes in the travel plans of Nigerians including the impact on farming and rural communities where the bandits are mainly domiciled.
In the second trait, the violence perpetrated is both systemic and unpredictable in the targeting of symbolic targets for maximum effect. Here again, the alleged downing of the NAF aircraft along with the recent sabotage of the Abuja to Kaduna rail lines fits the definition snugly.
In the final trait, the violence is designed to convey unmistakable messages and threats calculated to communicate or achieve social control in any given context associated with the term. Again, recent reports suggest that the bandits have started appointing chiefs and even determined when mosques and markets should reopen in the Northwest parts of the country.
We have no such complications when it comes to the definition of banditry. A bandit, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is someone who operates outside the confines of the law and lives by plunder. He could act alone, or belong to a band of marauders.
The Oxford dictionary of English and Spanish also traced the use of the word “bandit” to the 16th-century Italian term ‘bandito’, meaning “outlaw” or “banned”. Where things get complicated is when the same Oxford dictionary went further to define a terrorist as a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians in the pursuit of political aims. Clearly, this definition fits IPOB and Boko Haram like a glove.
Regardless, soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the UN rehashed its protocols on dealing with terrorism. Like the previous protocols, the sole aim was to assist member states in their counter-terrorism measures by ‘criminalizing’ it.
Today, as the debate on the issue continues, the example of the UN should provide a lesson and a guide as to where the pendulum should swing one way or the other in the search for labels and adjectives for our marauding bandits. Instructively, the UN released the new protocols even while much of the contentious issues on the definition of terrorism remained unresolved.
I have listened to the argument in some quarters that the bandits need to be classified as terrorists because the Super-Tucano ground attack military aircraft the Americans reluctantly sold to Nigeria cannot be used against them unless they are regarded as such because of the extant pre-sale agreement between both nations.
But then, curiously, the same people who made the argument do not want the aircrafts used against IPOB. Their hypocrisy provides confirms the needless partisanship which seems to have characterized some of the views aired on the subject so far.
Like the UN, we should be more concerned about the effectiveness of our local laws in dealing with the scourge of banditry along with other acts of violence which bear remote similarities with the broad definition of terrorism. That should be coupled with concerted efforts to ensure the general preparedness of our security agencies within the ambience of a world class security architecture.
Presently, and with due respect to all the parties involved, there seems to be a disproportional fixation on the impact of banditry purely on the pedestrian interpretation of the term, rather than the motivational factors behind their activities.
A more comprehensive understanding of the latter, in particular, is critical to the non-kinetic actions that will be required to tackle the general insecurity in the land on a long-term basis. They include the need to address the social conditions which produces the bandits and terrorists we are all cowering from today.
To deal decisively with the bandits, we must focus on the factors that have impeded the performance of our security agencies in combating their activities. Calling the bandits terrorists meaningless if the general dynamics of the operational readiness to combat their activities remain stale and outdated. Some of them problems are in plain sight. Have we provided them with the appropriate equipment and resources they require? What about the vital issues of their morale and motivation?
These are the critical issues that should be of concern to serious stakeholders on the matter. Why dissipate so much valuable time and energy debating on whether to call bandits terrorists or vampires? Beyond the psychological comfort it will provide for the bigots and partisan trolls in our midst, the name change will be merely cosmetic in terms of its effect.
The homicidal bandits on rampage in our urban and rural communities have no claim to any singular virtue or nobility.  They are purely motivated by the need to satiate their individual greed, hunger and social displacement. Why seek to enhance their profile with a controversial label that is still shrouded in controversy?
While it is also true there is a nexus in the activities of the bandits and Boko Haram terrorists for instance, we cannot ignore the clear distinction in their motivation and methodologies. The bandits represent only themselves and not any group interests. They have no discernible ideological interests hinged on religion, ethnicity, or political preferences.
Even when a single individual like Illich Ramirez Sanchez infamously referred to as “Carlos the Jackal” embarked on his lone wolf orgy of terrorism in the 1970s he was closely allied with the Popular Front for the Liberation of (PFLP).
Carlos, who is still serving a jail term in France by the way; was a devoted Marxist-Leninist which was his existential ideology in his active days. He cannot be compared to the petty criminals, cutthroats and kidnappers who traverse the Nigerian landscape more like outlaws from the wild American West presently.
If you ask me, the greatest security challenge confronting the nation presently relates to our individual and collective indiscipline. Our indiscipline midwifed corruption and nepotism along with their hydra-headed monsters which retarded our development.
Indiscipline also compromised our capacity for rational and intelligent interrogation of simple issues. What we don’t need in these precarious times, is a diversionary debate on how to tackle our security challenges when all hands need to be on deck to abort our drift into a Hobbesian state of anarchy.
–        Muhammad Kudu Ibrahim is the President/CEO, Niger Valley Resources Ltd.
[email protected]
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