June 12, 2024

The Claver Magazine

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Mass Abductions and the Diminishing Effects of Negotiations on the North

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By Jude Ndukwe

The early days of March have not been pleasant for Nigeria. It will seem as if the northern part of the country has remained under perpetual and unbreakable siege imposed by kidnappers, bandits and terrorists.

On the 4th of March, about 200 internally displaced women in Ngala, the headquarters of Gamboru Ngala in Borno State were abducted by some bandits while fetching firewood in the fields. This is a most pathetic scenario for the women. First, they must have been displaced from their original homes as a result of activities of these bandits. And while suffering the painful fate of being internally displaced, they were haunted down in the fields where they had gone to fetch firewood, abducted and dragged into the forests to suffer worse fates.

While the country was still trying to figure how to deal with that, some daredevil abductors took their criminality a notch higher by carrying out an audacious abduction of 287 pupils and their teachers from Kuriga Government Secondary and LEA Primary Schools in Chikun LGA of Kaduna State. This particular abduction has caused global outrage not only because of the number of victims involved but also because a majority of them are children. Another factor that got the world bewildered was how that number of people were moved so conveniently from the village, evading all forms of security checks and community vigilance, until they got deep into that part of the forest the military described as ‘difficult but not out of reach’.

That is apart from the abduction of 15 Tsangaya students at Gidan Bakuso area of Gada LGA of Sokoto State earlier.

Just few days after the abductions, Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi sought the permission of government to negotiate with the bandits responsible for the abduction of the school children. This is curious given that the federal government was already working with security agencies at the highest level to ensure the abducted students and their teachers were rescued safely. Rather than encourage such efforts and call on the abductors to do the right thing by freeing the victims unconditionally, Gumi was seeking permission to do what he called his “religious duty to do.” Even northern leaders under the aegis of Northern Elders Forum (NEF) have also joined Gumi in asking the federal government to yield to his request. Conspiracy?

This approach by northern elites in dealing with the ravaging and seemingly intractable insecurity in the region is what has not only made kidnapping, banditry, terrorism and such other violent crime fester but also assumed the more dangerous status of a hydra-headed monster. It will seem that these northern elites know more about this criminality than they are ready to admit. Their usual rush to rationalize these violent crimes and urge government at every turn not to descend heavily on the criminals but negotiate with them is suspect. Against the right thing of allowing the full wrath of the law to be applied to these criminals, some northern elites have chosen to pamper them by ensuring endless amnesty for them alongside other rewards of cash and jobs even in our security agencies.

While this approach could have been desirable, it has proven over the years that it is not only ineffective but has also emboldened the criminals to carry out their heinous crimes even with more baffling audacity. It is high time we started interrogating this ugly phenomenon of negotiations dispassionately.

The attitude of covering up for and protecting criminals by these elites for whatever reason is what is fueling the situation. When Deborah Samuel Yakubu was gruesomely murdered in Sokoto by some misguided youths, some voices in the north justified it in the name of religion; several other such crimes have been committed by youths in the north and justice was prevented from taking its due course against the perpetrators for regional and religious reasons. When crime is pampered for so long, there can only be one consequence: it will return to haunt those giving it cover even on a far larger scale especially when it has tried its hand on other regions but vehemently resisted. It will return home to settle and expand. And that is what is happening to the north today. Unfortunately, many do not seem to want to hear the truth and learn from the errors of the past.

Sometime in April 2014, in the course of the war against insurgency and terrorism, former governor of Adamawa State, Murtala Nyako, pointedly accused the then federal government led by Dr Goodluck Jonathan of carrying out genocide against northern Nigeria. Many northern elites shared in that sentiment as well. The fight against insurgency has continued to suffer huge setbacks as a result of such posturing by some prominent northern leaders.

Former President Muhammadu Buhari later assumed office as President, and the killings in the north assumed even a more monstrous dimension. The seeds of compromise and blackmailing of security agencies sown in the past by some of these northern elites have germinated and grown to become a nearly invincible phenomenon. The consequence for crime should always be applied to serve as a deterrent. Compromise and negotiations with criminals are enablers of crime.

Another angle worthy of consideration is the possibility of some northern elites making fortunes from the misfortune of the downtrodden in the region. The regular rush by some of these leaders to seek to negotiate with bandits on behalf of government even when government is still rightly exploring security options to rescue kidnap victims is suspect. The request to negotiate on behalf of government presupposes that these elites know the bandits as much as the bandits know them; we have even seen where some of those calling for negotiation with bandits visited them in their domains in the forest and were posing for photographs with them. Why did they not cease such opportunities to impress it upon the bandits to surrender their arms and stop their criminal acts? Why would these northern leaders prefer piecemeal rather than once-for-all negotiations even if that becomes a last resort?

If negotiating with these bandits could stop banditry and kidnapping, why have the previous negotiations not worked till now? Are these negotiators feathering their own nests under the guise of negotiating on behalf of victims and government? Many questions begging for answers.

Rather than engage in such a wild goose chase, the north should look inwardly and try to figure where the rain started beating them so that they can retrace their steps and help government deal with these issues decisively and comprehensively especially as President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has demonstrated commitment and capacity to restoring sanity to the country as was the case in Abuja where kidnappers, bandits and terrorists were rooted out within days of them unleashing mayhem on the territory.

Let me end this piece with the advice given by the Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressive Union (BEPU) through its chairman, Ishaq Kasai, in response to one of those calls by some northern elites for government to negotiate with bandits, this time by a former governor of Zamfara State, Ahmad Yerima: “To successfully bring an end to armed banditry business in Nigeria, all bandits’ camps in our various forests must be dislodged as anything short of this will not address or bring a lasting solution to the problem.

“Engaging in negotiations with armed bandits will never yield significant positive outcomes because past experiences have demonstrated that criminal elements such as armed bandits, often exploit negotiations as a means to buy time, regroup, and strengthen their positions.

“They view negotiations as a sign of weakness of government, which emboldens them to continue their violent activities.”

It could not have been said any better!

For the sake of the nation, northern elites must change their mindset and approach to critical issues of national importance like security, law and order. They must purge themselves of all forms of sentiments that have left the north as the most diseased, most illiterate, most insecure and the poorest region of the nation despite having controlled political power far longer than any other geopolitical zone.

The stance of the Kaduna State government of not negotiating with the abductors of the school children and their teachers, and the efforts of the military and other security agencies to ensure their safe rescue, must be supported by well-meaning Nigerians without the distractions of calls for negotiations by those who might only be interested in what they stand to gain financially from such ill-advised ventures.

The north should quit diminishing itself!

 Jude Ndukwe sent this piece from Abuja via stjudendukwe@gmail.com