For the umpteenth time, it has been alleged that bandits and insurgents that take liberty in operating in Northern Nigeria are mercenaries recruited from outside the country.
Abubakar Sani-Bello, Governor and Chief Security Officer of Niger State, has reinforced this theory when he stated on Wednesday that bandits operating in some parts of the North are actually from Mali and Sudan. According to him, the bandits come into the country on motorcycles and are recruited through the social media – especially facebook.
The governor who spoke to State House Correspondents on Wednesday, said he had tabled the matter and other security challenges facing his state before President Muhammadu Buhari.
Niger is one of the states in the North where banditry and kidnapping are rampant. Sani-Bello also added that other bandits attacking his people were from neigbouring Zamfara and Kaduna states.
The governor lamented that besides kidnapping and other forms of crimes, which the bandits commit, they are also threatening the nation’s food security by attacking farming, burning farms and killing animals and livestock.
The governor explained that he visited President Buhari to seek federal help against banditry and the repair of deplorable roads in the state.
He said: “The situation is very bad. Niger is 73,000 square kilometers. It’s the size of the entire Southsouth and Southeast (put together). So, first of all, we have limited number of security personnel and I think we have to start thinking of increasing the number so that we are able to cover most of the local government within the state.
“Some of our local governments are up to 6,000 to 7,000 square kilometers. For example, the Bobi Grazing Reserve, established by the state government, the CBN and the Federal Government to stop the movement of cattle and avoid herders/farmers conflict, has become a target.
“That is the only location where you can find in one constituency 5,000 to 6,000 herds of cows. So, most of the bandits have started focusing their attention on the Bobi Grazing Reserve. Because we have investors that have started investing in capital, equipment and processing facilities. We do not want to discourage them. So, we applied most of our resources and efforts towards protecting the grazing reserve.
“But we are having influx of bandits from neigbouring states, especially Zamfara and Kaduna states. It is difficult to patrol those areas. Vehicles do not go there because it is a forest, which means we will need the federal might, especially the Air Force. By the way, the Air Force has been doing a extremely well in recent times to support our ground operations.
“In one particular case, we arrested bandits that are foreigners from as far as Sudan and Mali and they came on motor cycles.
“They are being recruited through social media, through Facebook in some cases. They confessed to this. The governor said the activities of bandits differ from place to place. Some are cattle rustlers, some others believe they are fighting some kind of jihad. Yet, some believe they are fighting corruption. They see any uniformed person, political office holders as corrupt. “We have a major problem and it must stop.”
He said: “The dynamics of the criminal activities have changed. They started with armed robbery. Then, they moved to cattle rustling and then, to kidnapping as a means of getting money.
“But recently, the trend has changed. They started burning farms and animals. So, this has given me some concerns and at the same time, it has kept me thinking. What is the motive?
“I can understand if you kidnap, you are looking for money. But, when you burn farms, then, there is something else happening. Or when you kill animals. They go to villages and kill animals. They don’t steal.
“So, if you stop people from going to farms, it means you are trying to deprive that nation of food security. Why would someone want to deprive people of food security? Niger State has the capacity of feeding the entire country. We have the water bodies for dry season farming, we produce a lot of rice, maize.”
He said although he had attended a meeting with bandits, “I cannot imagine myself as a state governor and chief security officer of a state, sitting down and negotiating with bandits.”
He said bandits “are never honest in their talks. Even when they were given the opportunity they failed to keep the agreement. And whenever they surrender their arms and they don’t ask for anything in return, then, you can tell it is not an honest negotiation.”
On the efforts being made by the state to contain banditry, he said: “Let me tell you what has worked so far and we have made a lot of progress. I moved the responsibility of security to the committee level. And at the committee level, they know themselves.
“Vigilantes are controlled by the local government, they are defending their farmlands. They are defending their families.
”The bandits are being invited by some locals. In fact, we have arrested some village heads. Now, if a respected village head invites bandits or habours bandits, then, where are we headed to? The village head is supposed to secure the village.
Urging the Federal Government to construct a highway in his state, the governor said traffic is always high on the Minna/North/South road, leading to wear and tear.
“We also discussed the issue of infrastructure in Niger State. At the moment, 80 per cent and more of traffic from the South passes through Niger State, especially through Minna, the state capital.”
A responsible government must respond to this kind of ‘Save Our Soul’ request. Apart from political response with infrastructure and all that, the security must unravel the real recruitment operatives, their motives and channels of operation. Moreover, the borders, though obviously long, must be well policed and protected against external incursions at all times.