Insecurity in North-west: Banditry or Boko Haram expansionism – Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim

North-west Nigeria has for the past four to five decades suffered from waves of crisis and violence. The trajectory of such violence started with ethno-religious clashes and moved through electoral violence, farmer-herder conflagrations and most recently, armed banditry/kidnappings. The region has also had its fair share of extremist attacks, especially between 2011 and 2015, where the region witnessed several Boko Haram attacks.

North-west Nigeria is home to 7 states of the federation gulping more than 25% of the country’s landmass and harboring an estimated population of more than 35 Million. The region is endowed with a huge area of arable land and holds a substantial amount of solid mineral deposits, mostly unexploited. 

The region’s mostly savannah climate (with characteristic huge forests) makes it home to both farmers and pastoralists. But with the recent changes in climatic and environmental conditions, arable land and pasture seem to have started getting substantially lost to the deserts due to shorter rainy seasons and subsequent water source shortages. 

Other factors that have catalyzed this violence are some government policies that seek to allocate huge lands to farmers and clear a vast amount of forests and grazing reserves. This has resulted in the displacement of many Fulani hamlets and the blockage of their grazing routes. And without alternatives, such blockages have paved way for increased cases of trespassing and destruction of crops by Fulani pastoralists. 

The violence escalated to the extent that both sides created armed groups in their defense. The Fulani group was tagged “Yan Bindiga” while the Hausa group was tagged “yan Sa kai”. Both groups have carried out deadly attacks and reprisal attacks against each other and are both often described as “bandits” by the media. 

According to the United Nations, about 1400 lives were lost to banditry and kidnappings in the first quarter of 2019. About 685 kidnappings occurred in the same period costing families hundreds of millions of naira hence rendering many of them financially impotent. 

However, the level of organisation and coordination of attacks recently conducted by the “bandits”, the well established interstate networks and syndication and their sophisticated weaponry have started sparking a question of whether North-west Nigeria is dealing with “Banditry” in conventional terms or it has metamorphosed into a higher from of organised terror. 

These bandits are said to have acquired advanced tactical skills and sophisticated weapons including Anti-Aircraft weaponry which they use to shoot down helicopters (as in the case of a police helicopter shot down in Kaduna on February 5, 2020).

North-east Nigeria have been battling with Boko Haram for more than a decade. From 2007 to date, Boko Haram has split into three groups, namely, Shekau led Jama’atu Ahlis-Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad(JASLWJ), Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) supported Jama’atu Ansaril Muslimina fi Biladis Sudan(Ansaru) and the Islamic State(IS) supported Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). 

Although these factions all have their bases in North-east Nigeria, all of them have had operations in North-central and North-west within 2010 and 2015. For example, Khalid Al-Barnawi and Kambar led Ansaru executed almost 20 suicide bombing operations in North-western states of Kaduna, Kano, etc. Shekau’s faction of Boko Haram has also executed operations in the North-west.  ISWAP which was formed in 2015 had also staged some attacks in the NW region. 

Just as in the first instance where mismanaged farmers-herders crisis birthed a more criminal-based syndicate of kidnappers and bandits, it is believed that same mismanagement has given room for Boko Haram expansionism towards the North-west once again leveraging on the already existing local conflicts and security flops. 

In the last five years, all of the three Boko Haram factions have claimed responsibility for one attack or the other in the North-west and have displayed hints of their integration into the region’s armed bandits. In October 2019, ISWAP claimed responsibility for an attack on Nigeria police in Sokoto. In February 2020, some bandits attacked Maishegu and Shiroro local government areas, the villagers claimed that those bandits were members of ISWAP. 

Ansaru also recently claimed responsibility of an attack on the convoy of a Yobe state monarch along Zaria-Kaduna highway in usual “NW Bandits” style. This indeed confirms their reactivation and integration into North-west armed bandits group. 

Recently, Shekau’s Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the abduction of 344 school boys in Kankara, Katsina state. “I am Abubakar Shekau and our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina,” Shekau said. Few days later, after rigorous negotiations with the armed groups through some other known repentant groups that had previously engaged in negotiations with the governor of Zamfara state, the boys were released. 

Reports have shown that there exists a transactional relationship between Boko Haram and ISWAP and North-west bandits, especially in the exchanges of arms since 2019. This is evidenced as some of the weapons gotten from captured armed bandits seem to be the same models used by Chadian forces in their fight against Boko Haram (this suggests the fact that these weapons are those confiscated from the Chadian forces by Boko Haram fighters operating in the Lake Chad region). Are these armed bandits the persons Shekau was referring to as “our brothers” in his message? 

These recent incidences have got concerned citizens wondering in fear, of a possible renaissance of Boko Haram expansionism towards the North-west in their quest towards fusing the entirety of Northern Nigeria with the rest of the terror base in Niger Republic and broader Sahel controlled by Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

About the Author: Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim is a political and public affairs analyst and an advocate for sustainable development writes from Zaria and can be reached through and on Twitter @Pragmatist_AIR

Source: Blue Print

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