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Opinions of Sunday, 24 January 2021

Columnist: Femi Orebe

Banditry: All we ask is don’t turn our land to a killing field

Without a scintilla of doubt Yorubas are the most hospitable ethnic group in this country. However, not withstanding that, and regardless of the braggadocio and threats, we are not going to lay down to be routinely kidnapped, maimed or have our throats slit by some miscreants, no matter how seemingly powerful, or connected to government they believe they are. Enough of this nonsense.

With a combination of sophistry, coy adulation and subtle threats, presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu tried, futilely, this past week to browbeat an elected state governor, that is, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu SAN, of Ondo state, regarding his determined efforts to ensure that, with his eyes wide open, he was not going to allow Ondo state be turned to any of Kaduna, Zamfara or Katsina states where daily kidnappings, maiming and killings have long become a pastime. Hear him: “Governor Akeredolu, a seasoned lawyer, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and indeed, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has fought crime in his state with passion and commitment, greater sensitivity and compassion for the four years he has run its affairs and, in our view, will be the least expected to unilaterally oust thousands of herders who have lived all their lives in the state on account of the infiltration of the forests by criminals”.

“We want to make it clear that kidnapping, banditry and rustling are crimes, no matter the motive or who is involved”. ”But, to define crime from the nameplates, as a number of commentators have erroneously done – which group they belong to, the language they speak, their geographical location or their faith is atavistic and cruel.

“We need to delink terrorism and crimes from ethnicity, geographical origins and religion—to isolate the criminals who use this interchange of arguments to hinder law enforcement efforts as the only way to deal effectively with them”. ,,, ”Beyond law and order, the fight against crime is also a fight for human values which are fundamental to our country.”

Really? How logical is this argument when we know that the same persons slaughtering their own people in Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara states are of the same stock with persons we see jumping out of our forests to commit heinous crimes on our highways?

He claimed in his Press statement that the Presidency has been keenly monitoring events in Ondo state. Since when has the presidency been monitoring events in Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara and to what effect? When Shehu says that “The government of Ondo and all the 35 others across the federation must draw clear lines between the criminals and the law-abiding citizens who must equally be saved from the infiltrators”, was he saying that a power grabbing Federal Government has now devolved sole responsibility for security to the states? Would he like to tell us who the state commissioner of police reports to besides the Inspector – General of Police who, in turn, reports to the President? So how now has it become the responsibility of state governors to “draw clear lines between the criminals and the law-abiding citizens”, as Shehu is gratuitously prescribing? Hasn’t there been enough said about restructuring Nigeria, without a positive response from Abuja, so that each part of the country can own responsibility for the security of its own people, and how are the governors assisted in doing what Shehu prescribes, when not a single one of the bandits who kidnapped over 300 students in Katsina state and with ‘which’ there were negotiations, was arrested to face the law, all for reasons of consanguinity? Is that how to separate law- abiding citizens from criminals?

And who was Shehu attempting to deceive when he wrote as follows: ”But, to define crime from the nameplates, as a number of commentators have erroneously done – which group they belong to, the language they speak, their geographical location or their faith is atavistic and cruel. ”We need to delink terrorism and crimes from ethnicity, geographical origins and religion—to isolate the criminals who use this interchange of arguments to hinder law enforcement efforts as the only way to deal effectively with them”?

Really?

Given Shehu’s premise, it is no surprise that the Attorney- General allegedly claimed that those criminals cannot be tried because there are no case files against them. Which Divisional Police Officer will dare arrest these murderous elements, not to talk of writing case files on them?.

If Garba Shehu truly believes what he wrote, then he should profit from these words of Professor Niyi Osundare: ”The present spate of insecurity in Nigeria is absolutely no surprise to me, given some of the things I have said earlier on in this interview. Our rulers cannot run Nigeria the way it is being run – and the way it has been run for decades – and expect both themselves and the ruled to walk around without danger, and sleep at night with both eyes closed. The wind they sowed in the past has produced the whirlwind that is now dismantling our homesteads. Come to think of it: the dreadful, dreaded Boko Haram didn’t happen all of a sudden. They are the advanced brigades of the army of school-less, shelter-less, food-less, care-less Almajiris recruited and armed by political gladiators who used them as thugs and body-guards, then dumped them as soon as they attained their political goal. Behold the gory repercussions of it all: the tragedies of Chibok, then Dapchi; the sacked towns and villages, and now, Nigeria’s flood of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP); the plight of young girls whose lives, whose dreams were so tragically destroyed; the personal griefs of the bereaved, dispossessed parents many of whom never survived the heartbreak; the global shame of a country with one of the largest armies in Africa, but so pathetically, so embarrassingly unable to secure its citizens, even the youngest and most vulnerable among them. As I remember these incidents, my heart bleeds, and I ask: do they know it is Independence Day in Chibok, in Dapchi? I can hear the unspoken words of Leah Sharibu’s parents asking Nigeria’s President: when will our daughter come back home to us?”

Has Shehu not heard Zana Goni, Coordinator of the Coalition of Northern Elders For Peace and Development say that the “North is under such a siege of insurgents and bandits that it will take over 100 years to recover from the economic destruction if urgent steps are not taken to stop the criminality”. Does defending criminals, as Shehu always does, equate to taking urgent steps against criminality?

Or does he now want to socialise banditry, turning it to a dividend of our own brand of democracy? No, that will be unthinkable in these parts where, all things considered, we should have no truck with such. That exactly is the message Akeredolu and his Southwest colleagues were sending to the rest of Nigeria when they established the Southwest Security system – Amotekun – which some people are now doing everything to render hors de combat with the likes of the hugely funded community policing.

The Southwest should not experience the brigandage it currently does because, in contradistinction to what happened in the North, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had, way back in 1955, instituted the Free Education programme in the Western Region among whose purposes was to ensure that the West would never have the types of rootless characters described by Osundare above, and nothing would now be worse than having them inflicted on us by others.

When the constitution says any Nigerian can live anywhere in the country it was not saying that they should live a life of criminality. If that is what Southerners in the North do, the North should promptly ask them to leave, having obviously overstayed their welcome.

I always feel ashamed that rather than canvass security of life and property, Shehu always jumps at defending his people’s everyday criminalities. The increasing wave of crimes in the South, in case he pretends not to know, is the result of those massive waves and waves, of all manner of criminals brought down to the South, parked in trucks like commodities during the lockdown, with the security people all turning a blind eye even as the federal government had a ban on interstste movements in place.This is one reason Nigerians believe that the Northern domination of the Nigerian security apparatti, with Northerners heading literally all of its agencies, is premeditated.

Finally, the governors and numerous others asking murderous elements to leave their part of the country, are mindful of the multiplicity of events like the one reported below by the Chairman of Amotekun in Osun state, Colonel K Togun (rtd), informing Nigerians that the security outfit has seized eight sacks of assorted guns, poisoned arrows, poisoned cutlasses , knives and amulets from bandits. This, he said, was done with the support of the Hunters Association of Nigeria, Oyo branch, who knows the terrain very well and have the spiritual power to disarm the bandits. A good government would have commended and celebrate this, as they do the efforts of JTF, but not in Nigeria. However, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has since done that in a release by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media Affairs Director, Miss Zainab Yusuf, adding that it is better to have a home-grown institutional mechanism to protect lives and property than to permit the hitherto uncontrollable rampage, and killing of citizens in the Southwest “by a rampaging bunch of determined armed herdsmen, whose origin is mired in politics and deceit.”

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