Insecurity particularly in the North-West which has now replaced the Niger Delta as Nigeria’s tinderbox continues to be the nation’s number one affliction if we exempt the ravages of COVID-19. The theatres of carnage shift every now and then with the crisis in Southern Kaduna recently taking the prime place. However, Katsina where killings go on unabated is still very much in the news with the bandits inflicting havoc now and again, in spite of a subsisting anti-banditry offensive by security forces.
It is in this context that the statement by the Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Masari, quoted in the opening paragraph, acquires relevance. Masari, speaking at a reception during the Sallah break organised for the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, lamented that the operation to smoke out the bandits, the latest of them being “Operation Hadarin Daji”, has been relatively unsuccessful because of the lack of cooperation and complementary activity from the local populace. So, instead of a Joint Task Force consisting of civilian and security forces, it would appear that what is playing out in Katsina is a level of resistance or subversion from local communities. One of the reasons for highlighting this complaint is that this is not the first time that state officials are regretting alleged collaboration between the bandits, the communities and the local authorities. For example, only last month, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, said that traditional rulers in the state were giving information to the bandits thus hindering, or at least slowing down the operations of security forces. We must assume that both Masari and Shehu are in possession of intelligence that is not widely available to the public suggesting therefore that their take cannot be easily brushed aside. This writer is more concerned however with the wider ramifications of their perspectives rather than with the content alone. Undoubtedly, as examples from other parts of the world show, such conflicts and bloodletting can mutate not just across levels but in terms of the character of the engagements.
One of the narratives regarding the killing fields of the North-West is their possible linkage to a faction of the Boko Haram insurgency and through them to wider Islamic movements in the Sahel and other parts of the West African region. That being so, we must be sensitive to the possibility that the bandits may be morphing into insurgents who undertake various acts of governance as rivals to the extant state. Insurgent governance is familiar to students working in this area and there are ready examples from countries like Lebanon where the Hezbollah undertook extensive social services such as the provision of clinics, soft loans to artisans as well as education. Much cited also is the Fuerzas, Armadas, Revolucionarias, De Columbia which also embarked upon widespread social services including health care, education, policing among other core governance functions. Sri Lanka is another example of a country where insurgents competitively created social infrastructure in order to influence communities long abandoned by an incompetent state. Even if insurgent governance is not taking place yet on the kind of scale we have in the countries cited, there is a reason to believe that such a scenario may develop sooner than later.
This point is made partly because it is hard to believe that outlawed groups will take up arms against the state for the fun of it or simply to wreak vengeance on society that produced or orphaned them. Recall also that a faction of Boko Haram in some parts of Borno State has been providing a modicum of services and collecting taxes for a year or two now. It is not too soon therefore as insurgency takes up several guises to begin to prepare for such eventualities. One other reason for this line of thinking is that it is not far-fetched to assume that the intimate links postulated by Masari and Shehu between the bandits and the communities go beyond nativity to connect the ability of these rebel groups to provide those social services which an absentee state failed to provide. To employ a marital metaphor, an unsteady and unfaithful husband easily loses his wife to someone who demonstrates greater care, affection and clarity of purpose than the derelict husband. There is a need therefore, to interrogate critically as well as go beyond Masari and Shehu’s revelation to ponder the question of why these communities have become unfaithful or subversive. This brings us to the almost complete absence of local governance or better still, developmental governance in large swathes of territory and population in most parts of the country especially the rural hinterlands. To be sure, rural banditry in the North-West has multiple causes such as conflict over resources, clashes between different ethnic extractions, easy access to small and light weapons in the context of porous borders, rising drug addiction among illiterate and idle youths and others. Once the conflict begins, it is difficult to predict the direction that they assume hence, the need to more effectively through a state-building project develop the kind of inclusive governance that will transform the hitherto neglected, often decaying rural areas. All too often, governance is carried on in a hit or miss fashion or in an exigent manner hoping that things will turn out right. For example, we dumped the health sector leaving it in a desolate state year on year until COVID-19 jerked us awake to the terrible harm we have done to ourselves. In like manner, we have created a system where rustic communities do not feel a sense of belonging to the nation because they seem to matter only when elections come around and politicians are compelled to visit them to canvass votes and make sweet promises. This is the genesis of the current development impasse in these communities which has made them extremely vulnerable to hand-outs and structured relief by rebel groups and local militia.
The other side of the same problem which has been repeatedly echoed in national discourse is the propriety of a unified, centralised command given the mandate to police a sprawling and diverse country like Nigeria. We would have needed state and communal police to balance out the home advantage of the bandits who of course, know the terrains and possible hideouts very clearly. Bear in mind too that some times when information is given to security agents, the information is not treated confidentially and discretely with the result that reprisals are visited on the audacious informants.
The first order of business is to create a new development matrix as part of a state building enterprise seeking to effectively link the rural areas with a nation that has hitherto forgotten them. That apart, we must now think the hitherto unthinkable by moving rapidly to create state and community police within the logic of a federal structure. Finally, it is important to humanise our security forces by spotlighting and nurturing them as caregivers and true friends of the citizens.