Enough is enough! That was the sentiment expressed by Nigerians following the recent gale of kidnappings and terror attacks unleashed by bandits on defenceless Nigerians in various parts of Nigeria, especially in the northern parts (Kaduna, Plateau and Taraba states) where trips hitherto classified as routine are now acknowledged as a walk in the valley of the shadow of death.
Nigeria cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be classified as a failed state. Things are bad on the security front, no doubt, but they could have been worse. However, that is not to say that we have confronted the demon competently, as we ought to have done. While Nigerians are generally appreciative of the efforts of the security forces in ensuring a safer environment for the people, they wonder how long it is going to take to exorcise the ghost of insecurity from the land.
Long Road to Grief
We have travelled a long road since the unmasking of the billionaire kidnapper, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, popularly known as Evans. The story of how the criminal operated for many years in plain sight is the stuff of which award-winning thrillers are made. But since that time, we have advanced deeper into the forests of bestial infamy and human life has been cheapened in the process.
Zamfara State alone boasts over 30,000 bandits and 100 camps. Ali Kawaje, better known as Ali Kachalla, was a bandit leader in the Kuyambana Forest whose gang shot down a Nigerian Air Force Alpha Jet and also destroyed a Mowag Piranha armoured personnel carrier in Dansadau in 2021. He was killed by Nigerian armed forces on December 11, 2023.
Abubakar Abdullahi, known as Dogo Gide, is a bandit leader who achieved notoriety among fellow bandits for killing bandit leader Buharin Daji and 24 of Daji’s gang members; he also killed a rival bandit leader named Damina. He’s a Boko Haram ally. Kachalla Halilu Sububu Seno is the leader of a Fulani bandit group commanding over 1,000 bandits in the Sububu Forest across Zamfara State and has connections to bandit groups across West African countries.
Other terror merchants of note in the region are Kachalla Turji, also known as Gudda Turji; Dan Karami, the leader of a gang that operates around Safana, Dan Musa, and Batsari local government areas; and Adamu Aliero Yankuzo, leader of a 2,000-man bandit group that operates in the forested regions of Katsina and Zamfara states. There are also groups with known affiliations to the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram. Ansaru, a jihadist group linked with al-Qaeda, is believed to have been operating in Kaduna State, having entered Nigeria through the largely unmanned Niger and Benin Republic border posts. Boko Haram is believed to have sent specialised personnel, including bomb makers and military advisors, as well as military equipment, to its affiliates in the region. The notorious Bello Turji Kachalla operates in Zamfara and Sokoto states, imposing levies on many villages and appointing village heads to oversee conquered territory.
SBM Intelligence, a research company, in a report published in 2020, stated that between 2011 and 2020, at least $18.34 million (about N22.3 billion at the black market rate) was paid as ransom to kidnappers in the country. Considering that many kidnap cases go unreported or are quietly settled by desperate citizens, the total financial damage of kidnapping and associated terror is gargantuan.
Crime is a worldwide phenomenon. What is different from place to place is the response of the government. Where the security forces exhibit zero tolerance for the criminals, the underworld kingpins take their evil trade elsewhere. The problem in Nigeria is that in recent years, we have lowered the bar of strategy and engagement. We celebrate mini victories on the battlefield while the network of terror metastasises.
I suggest we go over to our fellow African brother, the Republic of Mali, to borrow some fairly used ideas on how to wrestle terror to the ground.
The following story (edited for clarity) is told by P Michael of the Global Anti-Human Trafficking Organization (GAHTO), Mali. In the ranking of countries through a standardised security threat index, the “Security apparatus indicator” considers the security threats to a state, such as bombings, attacks and battle-related deaths, rebel movements, mutinies, coups, or terrorism. The security аpparatus also takes into account serious criminal factors, such as organized crime and homicides, and the perceived trust of citizens in domestic security. The higher the value of the indicator, the more the threats in the state. Mali is ranked Number 3 while Nigeria ranks 10th. So, technically, Nigeria is considered safer than Mali. But how is it that kidnappers succeed in collecting ransom in Nigeria while they are electronically tracked and apprehended in Mali?
Let’s hear from P Michael who saw it all first-hand:
“Why do kidnappers succeed in collecting ransom from their victims? Based on my job, I learnt something special this week from Security Agents in Mali we went on a rescue mission together. I don’t know if the Nigerian Security Agencies are in collaboration with kidnappers to take ransom and share together, if not no kidnapper can succeed in taking any ransom where security formation is effective.
“The story is that I received a message from Nigeria concerning a 16-year-old girl who was trafficked to Mali for the sex trade. This victim called her parents about the situation and they passed the message to me from a government agency for an urgent rescue.
“When I called the number that the victim used to call her parents and I asked the traffickers to send the victim to me so that she could go back to Nigeria, they refused. Later they removed the line from their phone; now the number was out of use. I now informed a security agent about the situation because what is important is to rescue the 16-year-old girl from sexual exploitation.
“Now, the number I used to contact the traffickers was no longer in use. I didn’t know the name of the village the victim was in. I sent the phone number which they had removed to the security agent. After two hours, the security notified me of the name of the village and the current number the traffickers were using. We embarked on the mission without calling the new number. We arrived at the village at midnight because it was about a 15-hour journey. On the second day, Information reached us about the exact location at which the phone number was last used before they switched off the phone. After an hour, information came again that the person was having an appointment with somebody by 11:00 am. We hung around the place. When the person came around, there was a vibration from one of their security gadgets to know the person coming with the number. We monitored her entry to the house. We were able to rescue the victim on 20/12/22. No call. Nothing!
“So, ransom collection in Nigeria could be between the kidnappers and security agencies. If not, no Nigerian should pay ransom to any kidnapper if our policemen have the necessary security gadgets. This is just a trafficking issue and not that some criminals will hide somewhere and call people twice to pay ransom. You cannot call three times before being caught in Mali. That is the reason I said, maybe Nigerian Security Agents could be collaborating with the kidnappers to take ransom from people.”
Yes, We Can
Can our security agencies be as effective in Katsina, Plateau or Taraba as those in Mali? I am positive that they can if they employ strict professionalism assisted by technology. Society must also curb its mercantile laxities which have made people in positions of authority commoditise human life. The unmistakable message to the Nigerian security agencies is that anything short of the Malian standard is not good enough for Nigeria.
- Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com, Twitter: @wole_tolaoye; Instagram: woleola2021)