By Vera Wisdom-Bassey
With the national political leadership embroiled in the battle against banditry while also evaluating options on solving the problem caused by it, Prelate of Methodist Church of Nigeria, Dr. Chukwuemeka Uche, believes the time has come when the present administration must fashion out a means to get the bandits employed in worthy ventures.
He pointed out that the politicians and the government bear major responsibility for creating the banditry menace ravaging parts of the North, arguing that the political thugs used by them during the elections were not properly de-mobilized and transited into organised paid employment.
Seemingly cast adrift, the idle political thugs became easy, ready and ripe fruits harvested into banditry, kidnapping, rape and killing, he said.
He explained why the government should pursue the long term option of creating paid employment for bandits rather than wanting to give them amnesty. He also spoke on other national issues.
The news media have been awash with stories of attacks by bandits in parts of the country. How do you feel about the worsening situation?
I have been having premonition that given the way governments at the federal, state and local levels have been operating I envisaged that a time would come when these problems would arise. The Federal Government has never been very serious about the welfare of the citizenry. In some parts of the country, the government has not provided the right form of basic education, so you have many children roaming about the streets begging. Without having adequate training in terms of education, they grow up as stark illiterates, who are not equipped with any academic or technical skills. When they grow up, and having nothing to do as they are neither employable by the government or can engaged in self-employment, they therefore think of some other thing to do, because they must eat. Left with no other option, they become ripe and ready fruits to be harvested by wicked people who will give them guns and send them to kill, kidnap, maim, rape and engages in banditry without thinking about the circumstances. So what we are facing today did not build up in one day. It was a process. The whole scenario we are seeing today is the result of neglect by both the government and intelligentsia. Our young people feel neglected and not cared for.
I recall that Sheik Abubakar Gumi visited the bandits in the forest and met with them. I don’t know how he got access to them in the bush, but the media reported what he said that they told him. The bandits said they helped the present government get into power and after that they were neglected. They said they were not given jobs, because they do not have necessary qualifications for the jobs. So, that is why they taken up arms against the state. The question the politicians must answer is this: why do you take people as thugs and using them you then neglect them? So, they sowed whirlwinds and are now reaping a storm. Frustrated, the formers thugs who had taken drugs such as cocaine, heroin and tramadol have become a menace to the society.
If they have jobs and a bit comfortable, they would love their lives, but now those people are tired of living and they want to go with somebody or group of people. So, talking on radio will not help us; they don’t want to live because of their situation of life. What we need now is positive action; the government should find out how to create employment, encourage big companies and entrepreneurs to create jobs for young people. When you have energy that is not utilised for good purpose, of course the youths will take up arms. So, that is what is at play now.
How can the situation be resolved?
Our people need re-orientation. It high time we started using the traditional leaders as well as religious and community leaders; bring them together, give them food and drink and dialogue with them because they have influence on the youths. These leaders will tell them that what they are doing is not good and offer advice on how to solve it. In fact, some of the people involved in the menace are tired and want to leave that kind of life. Dialogue will help, but using force should be the last option.
For instance, there were people around me that were considered as robbers and had been written off. I brought five of them together. I asked them why they were doing what they were doing. After their explanations, I gave them employment and connected some of them with other people. Today, they are better people, living better lives because they have left their bad ways. They have families and have laid down their arms. The government should encourage other religious, traditional and community leaders to do likewise.
Is amnesty the way out?
When you talk about amnesty, you must have a reason for that; you don’t just hand out money to everybody. I understand that in the case of the militancy in the Niger Delta region, you could see total neglect. They were fishermen and the rivers were totally polluted. So, some kind of reparation or restitution was done by the government in the form of amnesty. But the situation in the North is that able-bodied men are involved. It is not everybody that must be given amnesty and money handed out to them. I advocate for employment for these men, using the private entrepreneurs to create jobs for them.
We should go back to the drawing table, and see how we can solve the problem of banditry and terrorism, which have become major problems threatening the existence of the nation.
Somebody like Sheikh Gumi is respected and trusted by the bandits more than the government. So if we have more people like him, it will solve some of our problems because he is closer to the people. He could help, but when you are paying them ransom, you are just encouraging and empowering them to do more.
What is the way forward for us in this country?
First, we need to drastically improve our intelligence gathering mechanism. So we need serious and coordinated intelligence. In the United States, you will see the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, who are able to thwart and nip criminal operations in the bud through intelligence gathering. I don’t think that the people in the Criminal Investigation Department still doing their work. This people are trained on intelligence gathering and the detection of crime. In the past they used to disguise themselves and go into villages. In those days, they would sit in bear parlours and pretend to be drinking and simply relaxing while gathering information. It does not appear we still have dedicated police detectives like those anymore. So, that is why things happen the way they do in Nigeria.
In essence, we don’t have intelligence in Nigeria – the police, military intelligence and all the security agencies are performing below expectation. How come a largegroup of criminals will descend on a school, kidnap students and escape easily. I don’t understand this. Did they come from the moon? Till date, the government security agencies do not have any credible information about them. Meanwhile the security operatives are still earning salaries they don’t deserve.
When I was Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) chairman serving in a northern state was volatile, I devised a means of gathering intelligence and I knew what they were planning ahead of time. I was able to diffuse their plans before they could execute them. That was how I operated for eight years as CAN chairman in the North; but the result was worthwhile. So, our people should be proactive and pre-emptive. The issue of training our people for intelligence gathering is very vital.