With the latest call three days ago by the 36 House of Assembly Speakers on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare “bandits” as “terrorists and enemies of the nation,” the Federal Government ought to end its pretensions over the actual status of criminals marauding many states in the North Central and North Western parts of Nigeria. The president should do the needful and heed the calls, including a similar motion adopted by the Senate; and face up squarely to the serious threat posed to the country’s well-being.
Adopting the motion by Senator Ibrahim Abdullahi representing Sokoto East Senatorial District, the Senate demanded that Federal Government classify the so-called bandits as terrorists and henceforth confront them as appropriate. Mr. Abdullahi has every cause to cry out because he is directly affected. His senatorial district, according to him, has been invaded by terrorists escaping the military operations in neighbouring state of Zamfara with the consequence that late last month, 21 security officials were killed including 15 soldiers, three mobile policemen and three operatives of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps. Many villagers were also murdered.
Chairman of the Conference of the 36 Speakers, Abubakar Suleiman, who is also Bauchi State Speaker, explained that the resolution, reached at the end of their third yearly meeting was part of a five-point communiqué at the end of their eight-hour deliberations. He said: “We call on President Buhari to declare bandits as terrorists and enemies of the state. The conference has observed all the activities carried out by the bandits as containing the same mode of operations used by terrorists.”
As a national newspaper also held recently, ‘‘the name we call violent organisations and movements can have serious implications on how both the government and society react or relate to them’’ and that what is going on in the country is no longer just banditry but full blown terrorism, and the perpetrators are no more just “bandits.”
It is most strange that the executive arm of government would need preaching to by the legislature, or indeed any one, to, for the obvious good of the country, do the needful, when the operational mode of the terrorists fit squarely into the broad definition of the terrorism. Specifically, the extant laws are explicit on just what ‘terrorism’ is and who is a ‘terrorist.’
The Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 (as amended) defines ‘‘act of terrorism’’ as ‘‘an act which is deliberately done with malice, aforethought and which (a) may seriously harm or damage a country or an international organisation; (b) is intended or can reasonably be regarded as having been intended to (i) unduly compel a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing an act (ii) seriously intimidate a population (iii) seriously destabilise or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic, or social structure of a country or an international organisation or (iv) otherwise influence such government or international organisation by intimidation, or coercion and (c) involve (i) an attack upon a person’s life which may cause serious bodily harm or death. (ii) kidnapping of a person, (iii) destruction to a government or public facility …’’ Indeed, Part 1 Sec.3(c)(v) classifies as ‘an act of terrorism’ ‘the manufacture, possession, acquisition, transport, supply or use of weapons, explosives of or nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, as well as research into and development of biological and chemical weapons without lawful authority.’’
The unbelievably lackadaisical attitude of the Muhammadu Buhari-headed All Progressives Congress (APC) party to acts of terrorism so prevalent in the land defies understanding by all reasonable people. Is it a deliberate decision and if so, what reason can conceivably justify that? The much suspected nepotism? The much bandied about ‘Fulanisation’ agenda? The widely speculated ‘Islamisation’ of Nigeria? Why is the Federal Government, with all the resources available to it, seemingly comfortable to live in denial, while denying the people the security and welfare it is constitutionally obligated to provide. By refusing to appropriately designate these murderous groups as terrorists, the government denies itself the full, unreserved application of military and other measures that international laws grant against terrorism and terrorists. A terrorist, by whatever face-saving name called, is purely and simply a terrorist.
This government is reported to admit, through its highest law officer Abubakar Malami, knowledge of financiers of terrorism but chooses to protect their constitutional rights against public disclosure. The reason given: they are presumed innocent until proven otherwise by a court of law. Pray, how disingenuous to the point of ridiculous can a line of reasoning get! It is like saying, on the one hand, that government knows who are supplying weapons , paying salaries and other incentives, and generally providing all the resources to terrorise Nigerians, kill and maim, rape and loot, and comprehensively violate the fundamental rights of innocent citizens. But, on the other hand, the same government finds ‘reason’ to protect the rights and privacy of the offenders!
It has been rightly noted that the terrorists are getting more brazen by the day: they are acquiring and deploying more powerful, more sophisticated equipment; from the forests they are making incursions into urban areas. They are occasionally so confident as to launch offensive against military formations; they are even suspected to have acquired anti-aircraft guns that, it has been speculated, was used to shoot down a military helicopter yet to be found. But that is neither surprising nor hard to believe. In February this year, Sheik Abubakar Gumi who is in close contact with these well-armed non-state actors warned, after a visit to them in Zamfara forest, that ‘they are now trying to buy…antiaircraft missiles’ with the increasingly lucrative proceeds from acts of terrorism. It is no exaggeration therefore to posit that Nigeria’s domestic terrorism is fast assuming international dimension. If Nigerian authorities heard Gumi at all, there is nothing to show they took preemptive steps.
Curiously, the same Gumi reportedly warned against branding the criminals as terrorists, on the ground that if this is done, the direct foreign Jihadist movements would move to easily recruit teeming unemployed youths who will then be happy to work under them as jihadists rather than mere criminals. This approach, we submit, is begging the issue as it provides no help or respite to hundreds of innocent Nigerians being daily decimated.
This APC government needs reminding again that, in its campaign manifesto in 2015, it promised the electorate that ‘‘APC will establish a well-trained adequately equipped and goals driven Serious Crimes Squad to combat terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, militants, ethno-religious and communal clashes nationwide.’’ That was a collective promise freely made by a body of presumably honourable men and women seeking to be entrusted with high public offices. Six years after, Nigerians remember the governing party for a promise not kept. They deserve better, much better than all this.