The recent downing of a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Jet, by bandits in the North West region is a sign that the war against banditry can no longer be treated with kid gloves by the Federal Government. It is a war that should merit serious attention by the military authorities. The NAF alpha jet reportedly crashed in Zamfara State on Sunday, July 21, under intense enemy fire.
According to Director of Public Relations and Information NAF, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, the aircraft was returning from a successful air interdiction mission between the boundaries of Zamfara State and Kaduna State, when it came under intense fire resulting to the crash. Fortunately, the pilot of the aircraft, Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo, successfully ejected from the aircraft.
The latest incident makes it at least four air crashes involving Nigerian military planes in the last seven months. In April, a Nigerian Air Force fighter jet was declared missing and suspected to have crashed. While Boko Haram claimed to have shot it down, the military authorities denied it.
The rapidity of attacks on fighter aircraft by terrorists or bandits underscores what Nigerians are passing through in the hands of these criminal elements. A situation where non-state actors can bring down military jets is worrisome and unacceptable.
It is sad that the attack came after President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the military to crush the bandits in the North West, following their attack on a Zamfara community which led to the massacre of many villagers and a number of policemen. The relative success of the bandits in the attack is disturbing and creates the impression of a parallel government in place. This is akin to the country being in a state of war.
Crushing the bandits goes beyond dishing out routine orders to security agents to rout them. It requires urgent intensified military action. So far, experience has shown that the bandits are apparently more armed than the nation’s security operatives.
Ordinarily, the government is supposed to have the monopoly of the instruments of violence. Unfortunately, non-state actors are even having enough arms and ammunition to challenge the military authorities. Although the primary duty of government is the security and the welfare of the people, the audacious attack by bandits is vitiating this role. Insurgency and banditry have seriously affected the livelihoods of many Nigerians. Millions of Nigerians are also being displaced as a result of the rising crisis.
Reports on the activities of the bandits in Zamfara State, between June 2011 and May 2019, indicated that 4,983 women were widowed, 25,050 children orphaned, and 190,340 persons displaced. During the same period, about 2,015 cattle, 141 sheep and goats, 2,600 donkeys, and camels were also lost to rustlers, while 147, 800 vehicles, motorcycles and others were burnt at different times and locations within the period. The intensity of attacks and casualty rate must have gone up given the effrontery of the criminals and the sophistication of their strategies.
Farmers can no longer go to farms for fear of their lives, resulting to high cost of food items. It has also affected investments as manifested in firms exiting Nigeria for other countries where their safety is guaranteed.
The military authorities should step up actions against the daring bandits. On account of the incessant attacks by bandits and other criminal elements, the security and corporate existence of the country are under serious threat. Government should face the bandits squarely. It should deploy all the arsenal within its armoury to ensure that banditry is exterminated from the country.
We commend the gallantry of the pilot of the downed Air Force jet for ejecting successfully. However, we decry the attitude of the Air Force authorities in its initial downplay of the incident.
The ugly development in Zamfara is a wake-up call on the government to ruthlessly fight the bandits. In fact, banditry should be treated as a national crisis. Shooting down a military aircraft shows that banditry has gone beyond the traditional antics of attack-and-retreat, looting and in extreme case, kidnapping for ransom.
We call on security agents to bring their professionalism to bear on the war against banditry. Training and provision of military equipment must be prioritised. This is the time to strengthen the war against banditry.
Government can also deploy the carrot-and-stick tactics in dealing with the bandits. Above all, there is also need to create more jobs to keep the youths engaged and steer them away from the path of crime.