By Daniel Kanu
At last, a Federal High Court sitting in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, last week outlawed the activities of groups linked to banditry, declaring them as acts of terrorism.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo had in a ruling on November 25, declared the activities of the “Yan Bindiga Group” and the “Yan Ta’adda Group” and other similar groups in any part of the country, as “acts of terrorism and illegality.”
The court asked the President Muhammadu Buhari government to publish the proscription order in the official gazette and in not less than two national dailies.
“The terrorism activities include, but not limited to banditry, kidnappings for ransom, kidnapping for marriage, mass abductions of school children and other citizens, cattle rustling, enslavement, imprisonment, severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, other forms of sexual violence, attacks and killings in communities and commuters and wanton destruction of lives and properties in Nigeria,” he declared.
The court’s declaration to most Nigerians is expected to end the President Buhari regime’s perceived reluctance to declare extremist groups as terrorists despite mounting pressure from political players.
Although Nigerians have hailed the pronouncement, but most of them who spoke to Sunday Sun lamented that it was belated, while some are of the view that nothing good will come out of it, alleging that the government in power was behind it.
They asserted that bandits are nothing else, but terrorists that ought not to be treated with kid gloves.
However, experts believe that the pronouncement will give definite combat approvals to security forces and a clear direction for international intelligence just as it will make the security community to support the war against terrorist groups.
Yet some experts think the pronouncement will make both positive and negative impacts.
This is because the pronouncements could make them to upgrade tactics and declare allegiance with existing Islamic notorious groups.
A legal practitioner and member of Ekiti State Judicial Service Commission, Kabir Akingbolu, described the declaration as a step long overdue.
He specially lauded the judge, stating that it’s good to know there were still fearless judges.
Akingbolu said: “The declaration by the court of these groups as terrorists is not only a commendable one, but also a step that was long overdue.
“Thank God that we still have judges that are fearless and firm in the discharge of their judicial duties.
“Everybody in this country knew that there was no justification for not declaring them terrorists before now, whereas the president was comfortable to so declare IPOB and others.
“This is sheer hypocrisy and discrimination of the highest order. The presidency has been taught the right thing at last”.
Political commentator, Bolaji Ogunmola, said that although the declaration is behind time, it will bolster the approach to fighting the group.
Ogunmola said: “Sadly, the presidency woke up to its responsibilities, when it was late already, after Fulani herdsmen had been declared the fourth deadliest terrorist group by the international community. The approach to fighting them would change. Now, we are fighting terrorists and not brotherly enemies…”
For retired Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), Taiwo Frederick Lakanu, the court is in order with the pronouncement given the deep violence associated with terrorist activities.
According to Lakanu: “Terrorist is a generic term for those, who react with high velocity violence during criminal action. The court is in order.
“The approach is likely to be the same and format in use with attacks on Boko Haram. My fear is that the pronouncements could make them to upgrade and declare allegiance with existing Islamic notorious groups.”
Also, human rights activist and expert on International Law, Festus Oguche, was quick at commending the court verdict, but demanded the arrest of Gumi over his consistent pronouncements in support for bandits in the country.
His words: “I commend the government in giving these terrorists the label they deserve.
“It’s been long overdue, as there had been so much cry for this labelling, so as to bring them within the purview under international law and to accentuate the move by domestic security agents to crush them.”
For Engineer Martin Onovo, activist and presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP) in the 2015 general election, there is nothing to cheer about on the court pronouncement.
He said: “My reason is simple. Every indication points to the fact that this government is sponsoring terrorism.
“I am not alone in this view. Our organisation, lots of well-meaning Nigerians, including some governors like Samuel Ortom (Benue State), former governor Ayo Fayose (Ekiti State) among others have been vocal about it.
“Nigerians are delaying the doomsday. What we need to do if this country must move forward is to remove this government of President Buhari. He has done massive damage to this country”.
Security expert, Christopher Oji is of the view that the pronouncement was a laudable one.
He said that although its belated it would make positive difference.
“Pronouncing bandits as terrorists is a welcome development, even though doing it has long been overdue. It is going to make a huge difference.
“They are not agitating for anything, rather than to kill, destroy and rob people. Bandits come in 50s and their attack is always devastating.
“They leave traces of blood, tears and sorrow. They kill, rape, maim and can totally exterminate the entire community. They are presently contributing to food scarcity, as farmers are taxed before they can either plant or harvest their farm produce. This is causing serious food scarcity,” Oji said.
Controversial Islamic scholar, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi did not see anything new or of value with the judgment aside political convenience.
He said that the Federal Government’s decision to declare bandits terrorists is for “political expediency.”
According to Gumi: “The Federal Government has succumbed to media blackmail by a section of the country. It will not have any practical value because even before the declaration, they were being fought and treated as terrorists.”
A statement issued by his Media Consultant, Malam Tukur Mamu, said: “It’s just a nomenclature, which I believe, will not change the dynamics on ground.”
Expectedly, Gumi has received knocks for his position from those who spoke with Sunday Sun, as they called for his arrest.
Although some told Sunday Sun that they would not want to make Gumi appear important being a notorious person by responding to what they described as his “illogical position”, they said in “a sane society he ought to be arrested”.
But legal practitioner Tony Edwards told Sunday Sun that “Gumi has a right to his views and should not be castigated by any person or group”.
Also, Northern youths say they welcome military operations in the North going by the court’s declaration of bandits as terrorists
The youths under the aegis of Northern Youths Council of Nigeria (NYCN) also urged the Armed Forces to go all out to crush anyone seen giving the bandits moral support.
The youth council in a statement jointly signed by its President, Isah Abubakar and Director General, Media and Publicity, Mock Samuel Kure said that it received the court’s ruling with joy.
“We will welcome full military operation in Northwestern and Northcentral parts of the country as it is happening in Northeast against Boko Haram and ISWAP elements which have drastically reduced their activities,” the group said.
Going by the reports gathered by Sunday Sun, the military has not been able to deploy the Super Tucano planes it bought from the United States (U.S.) to eliminate the bandits and gunmen in the Northwest and Northcentral following the agreement between the Nigerian and U.S. governments.
According to the pact, the 12 fighter jet, acquired to boost the battle against Boko Haram insurgents and members of the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) in the Northeast, would be deployed against terrorists and not bandits.
Development experts have expressed worry on the danger ahead, just as they have advised the government to tackle the potential and future danger bothering on those living below poverty line, those that are unemployed as well as danger posed by those out of school.
Development consultant, Dr Joy Clark told Sunday Sun that there is nothing wrong declaring the groups terrorists, but that more efforts should be in addressing the potential and future danger ahead
“Have you really looked at the disturbing statistics in the North? The greater issue will be for the government to address the issues of alarming poverty, unemployment and out of school menace.
“In the Northwest, those living below the poverty line are 33 per cent, 13 per cent for Northcentral and 21 per cent for Northeast. In total you are talking about 67 million people.
“Also confirmed data shows those that are unemployed is seven per cent for Northwest, seven per cent for Northcentral and five per cent for Northeast. In total you are talking about 19 million persons.
“On the issue of out-of-school, we have five per cent for Northwest, one per cent for Northcentral, and three per cent for the Northeast. In total we are talking about nine million people.
“These are very critical issues that have posed potential and future danger and they need to be properly addressed if we must have peace in the region,” Dr Clark declared.