The actors are at it again. They initiated us into their world of make-belief in 2014. The locale then was a hitherto unknown place called Chibok. They made the unthinkable to take place in that far-flung rural settlement. An abduction of immense proportion targeted at schoolgirls was visited on the land. The incident fitted into a well choreographed scheme. Now, the latest offering of the actors is the charade called banditry. That is the high drama that is being enacted in northern Nigeria. The goal of the game is to give the impression that abductions are taking place in the region. We will return to this shortly.
But first let us revisit the plot called Chibok. The incident heralded the build-up to the 2015 general elections. Goodluck Jonathan, the then president, was gearing up for a return. But some powerful forces in the north were not disposed to that possibility. They went to work. In no time, they came up with a well rehearsed drama called the Chibok abduction. They arranged the kidnap of over 200 schoolgirls from a secondary school in the sleepy town somewhere in Borno State. The reason for the action was simple enough. The plotters wanted to give the impression that Nigeria under Jonathan had become very insecure and therefore ungovernable. They wanted to discredit the Jonathan presidency so as to make his planned return look unattractive. The alternative was change. Chibok was the catch they needed. It worked. With it, a systematic and sustained denunciation of Jonathan and everything he stood for began. He was harangued and buffeted. His presidency was freely discredited. It became a lame duck. Jonathan could not withstand the storm. The result was that his presidency collapsed like a pack of cards. The plotters cheered and jeered.
Then a messiah, their messiah stepped in. They ascribed to him all the magical powers that have the capacity to transform Nigeria into an Eldorado. The gullible among the flock swallowed the sophistry hook, line and sinker. They did not factor in the possibility that the man they said possessed the Midas Torch could fall flat in the face of reality. Nepotism and clannishness, attributes that are ingrained in the DNA of their president, played the spoilsport. As an idol of the cave, their president could not see beyond his nose. His reality continued to revolve around his ethnic enclave. Now, his insularity has snowballed into big time failure. Nigeria has been hijacked from his inactive hands by insurgents and bandits in the north.
Let us recall that banditry, the latest criminal indulgence of northern youths, started like mere theatrics. It was an isolated phenomenon. But it has, in recent weeks, blossomed into an out of stage concert. It is holding the north by the jugular. Indeed, the country is squirming with discomfort over it. Before now, the northern elite, including revered traditional rulers like the Sultan of Sokoto, were given to complaining about banditry. They expressed worry that the bandits parade in the open with sophisticated weapons, dispossess people of their belongings and kill and maim freely. In a proper setting, such complaints will sound out of place. Why will murderers operate in the open in a land governed by law and order? Where were the police? What about the military whose personnel are now indiscriminately deployed to deal with civilians believed, rightly or wrongly, to be a threat to public peace? I wondered aloud at the seeming helplessness of security forces and law enforcement agents in the hands of bandits.
But the situation which the likes of the Sultan complained about has become a tip of the iceberg. The bandits have launched out fully and we are beginning to understand why the law has been pampering them. From recent developments, it has become obvious that the bandits are on an assigned mission. They are not acting on their own. They are carrying out the bidding of forces who have a sinister motive about Nigeria. The forces in question are powerful members of the northern elite who are working towards a questionable objective.
The likes of Sheik Abubakar Gumi gave the plot away. He has, through his utterances, left no one in doubt that the bandits are tools in the hands of the northern elite whose agenda for Nigeria is anything but salutary. Gumi is the plotter-in-chief in this sinister agenda. It is the reason he stepped out of his hibernation. He is the face of the bandits. He is the purveyor of everything they stand for. He has reeled out the codes of engagement that must be respected in our dealings with the miscreants. He has told us that the bandits must be pampered. He has warned us to desist from calling them criminals. To do so, he said, will harden their resolve. According to Gumi, any journalist that calls a bandit a criminal is also a criminal himself. Gumi is their official mouthpiece. He is their defender-in-chief.
Before we knew that the bandits were being sponsored, Gumi has proposed that the government of Nigeria should grant amnesty to them. He has been arguing that there is no difference between them and Niger Delta militants. For Gumi as well, the bandits are one and the same thing as separatist agitators. Indeed, Gumi has a whole lot of dossier on the militants. As things stand and in line with Gumi’s admonition, the bandit is not a criminal. He is a proper Nigerian. He has the right to kill. Security agencies cannot arrest him. He is licensed to take life whenever he wishes. The law will not frown at him for doing that. That is the true status of the bandit. It is those of us who complain about his actions that need our heads to be examined.
With the immunity he enjoys, the bandit is now licensed to invade secondary schools in the north and take the students away. He keeps them for as long as he cares. He only releases the abductees after hundreds of millions of Naira have been paid to him. The north, the region that is bearing the brunt of the action of the bandit, is not complaining. The bandit, it would appear, is doing what the region wants. That is why they are asking government to negotiate with the criminals. That is why they want government to grant them amnesty.
But the matter goes beyond what we can see at moment. There must be a more insidious agenda behind the activities of the bandit. Just as Chibok was about 2015, the ongoing banditry in the north is about something. The 2023 election which portends power shift to the south appears to be its target. What are the sponsors plotting? What do they want to achieve? The answers to these questions will come alive, sooner or later. For now, let us make do with the fact that banditry in northern Nigeria is no happenstance. It is enemy action writ large.