By Wilfred Eya, Magnus Eze, Enugu, Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja, Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan, Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa, Tony Osauzo, Benin, Noah Ebije, Kaduna, Sunday Ani and Chukwudi Nweje
Nigeria’s apex socio-cultural organisations, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, Middle-Belt Forum, the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), the Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL), Intersociety, as awell as former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Abba, leader of the defunct Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), Alhaji Mujadid Asari-Dokubo, ormer secretary general of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and others have lambasted the Federal Government for defending the non-classification of bandits and killer herdsmen as terrorists.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu in an interview with BBC Pidgin on Saturday gave reasons why President Muhammadu Buhari was yet to declare bandits wreaking havoc across states as terrorists like he did to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
“What the Buhari administration has done to the arms-wielding bandits is worse than being declared as terrorists. Do you know that there is a subsisting order by the President that any arms-wielding, AK-47 bandits should be shot on sight? I am saying yes, IPOB has been prescribed by law of the land. There is no shoot-on-sight order on IPOB. There is nothing to suggest that these bandits are treated preferentially,” the Presidency spokesman had said.
He also argued that Buhari’s administration was not in anyway giving bandits any form of preferential treatment as they were being killed in their hundreds.
Asked why bandits who have done more harm compared to the proscribed IPOB were still not declared terrorists by President Buhari administration, Shehu said: “Yes, we hear that a lot of times. But I want to say I disagree with that position. The Nigerian Airforce is busy bombing locations in the forest, the military is there on the ground exchanging fire and taking them out in hundreds, that is certainly not treating people lightly. Well, I am not suggesting bombing IPOB or anybody. I want to say that the entire weaponry is today targeted at these bandits and terrorists.”
But respondents, yesterday, accused President Buhari’s administration of double standards and playing politics with lives of the people.
National Publicity Secretary of the apex Igbo Socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Alex Ogbonnia, said whether government declared bandits terrorists or not, their actions have portrayed them as such.
“You become a terrorist the moment you compel people into action that is contrary to their decision. So, whether the government declares them terrorists or not, that is what they are. The earlier you identify your problem properly, the earlier you begin to articulate solutions to the problem. A good diagnosis will lead to a better prescription, but when you diagnose wrongly, there is no way you will get an appropriate prescription. Therefore, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo will urge the Federal Government to diagnose properly in order to get a good prescription to the problem,” he stated.
Leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said Nigerians cannot be fooled any longer as they were aware that the body language of the president encourages herders and bandits in their activities.
He wondered what the Federal Government had done to the often arrested members of Boko Haram to serve as a deterrent to others.
President of the Middle Belt Forum, Pogu Bitrus, said whether government calls them bandits, herdsmen or unknown gunmen, they were agents of terror and as such they are terrorists.
“For the government not to have declared people who are agents of terror as terrorists, simply means that the government is protecting them from the punishment that terrorists deserve. The international community has declared the Fulani herdsmen as the fourth most dangerous terrorist groups in the world. So, whether government accepts it or not, they are terrorists and Nigerians see them as such,” he submitted.
•FG giving preferential treatment to bandits, herdsmen
YCE Secretary-General, Dr. Kunle Olajide, said Federal Government has been biased in the way it handled the issues of Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) in the South East, Yoruba self-determination groups in the South West, Miyetti Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and banditry in northern Nigeria.
He said government has been unfair to IPOB and self-determination groups, including the Yoruba nation activist, Chief Sunday Adeyemo, fondly called Sunday Igboho.
“The fact that the Federal Government has not declared bandits as a terrorist group means that they are enjoying preferential treatment. In fact, Miyetti Allah has been very severely offensive at a time, addressing the media, threatening people, issuing threats and insisting that they would continue open grazing on our land, as well as maiming and killing people. Then the bandits anyway, their acts are there for everybody to see. They commit crimes almost on daily basis. So, I do not see what IPOB has done to merit being declared as a terrorist organisation. It is an unfair treatment to IPOB. Then, the government has to be a little bit discreet and they should reconsider their stand in declaring IPOB as a terrorist organisation.
“Perhaps, the Federal Government is frightened. Possibly, they themselves have judged their steps, and believe that this self-determination agitation must have genuine basis; that is why they embarked on terrorising or at least harassing those who are leading self-determination groups. But self-determination is allowed in democracy, if you have enough numbers as recognised by the United Nations. Then, the UN might start considering conducting a referendum. You cannot be compelled to belong to where your life is being threatened and where you don’t have justice.
“For instance, Igboho has merely been demonstrating. He has not carried arms. He has not done anything and against the herdsmen, except those that went to his house. And he would not have known if they were police. Those that were defending him heard gunshot at the dead of the night and they responded too. So, I think the Federal Government needs to be a little bit careful. They should not increase the tension and the political temperature of the country, and they should be seen to be very mature.The Federal Government should declare bandits as terrorist group too. Anybody who maims and kills without justification is a terrorist.”
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Abba also faulted Garba Shehu’s position that there is a subsisting shoot-sight order against AK-47 carrying herders as it was not backed by any law.
He accused the Presidency of politicising important security matters and trying to be clever by half.
Three leading groups in the South East, ADF, COSEYL and Intersociety accused President Muhammadu Buhari was treating bandits and self-determination agitators with partiality.
COSEYL president, Goodluck Ibem cited the way the Federal Government hurriedly proscribed unarmed self-determination group, IPOB, without due lawful or constitutional process, as a good case in point if its partiality.
“Fulani herdsmen and bandits kill Nigerians on daily basis and the Federal Government has kept quiet without proscribing them. Since the Federal Government gave directive to security agents to shoot-at-sight gun-welding herdsmen, who have they shoot or arrested since such order was given,” Ibem queried.
ADF spokesman, Abia Onyike, said IPOB has been proscribed since 2017 while other separatist movements, organizations and killer squads were being pampered.
Onyike however, stated that the shoot-at-sight order by a democratically elected president means that he “supports extra-judicial killings in Nigeria.”
Board Chairman of Intersociety, Emeka Umeagbalasi said the Presidency’s statement confirmed that it has been involved in genocidal acts.
Umeagbalasi said: “This same Government sending soldiers and police special squads to invade forests and critical social enclaves to kill innocent and defenseless Igbo citizens and criminally and atrociously labeling them is the same brazenly and rapaciously romancing with Islamic jihadists of different colours and identities including amnestying them, protecting them, shielding them and conscripting them into the armed forces. We have a verified video evidence recorded and aired as a national news where former governor Shettima of Borno State was welcoming hundreds of Boko Haram jihadists, tagged “ex-Boko Haram fighters” into the armed forces.”
•Buhari’s govt thinks we’re stupid
Leader of NDVF, Asari-Dokubo, described the Buhari-administration as the most insensitive government in the history of Nigeria. He said government would suffer the consequences of its deceit.
“So, why did the government declare IPOB as a terrorist organisation and left bandits? Has IPOB done half of what bandits have done? These bandits have attacked school and kidnapped schoolchildren. They have killed people and even attacked the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA). The Buhari government is the most wicked government in the history of Nigeria. The government thinks we are stupid. Their actions would definitely have consequences.”
Professor at the University of Benin, Edeaghe Ehikhamenor, claimed refusal to declare bandits as terrorists is because of a hidden agenda of President Buhari. He said the president is aware that the moment he declares Meiyetti Allah and bandits as terrorist groups, those networking with them from outside would stop doing so.
“I can tell you that Nigerians in their numbers know these people are terrorists”, he said, lamenting that whereas those agitating for self-determination have been declared terrorists, those kidnapping people, schoolchildren and who killed hundreds of Nigerians and confined thousands of others into IDPs camps were being compensated instead of being declared terrorists. The only thing that can save Nigeria now is a major implosion in the camp of the bandits,” he said.
Reacting, Sani, said those using terror to attack people should be declared terrorists.
“As far as I am concerned, all those using terror or violence, be they insurgents, armed robbers, rapists and ritual killers are terrorists precisely because they use terror to torment and kill innocent people. They are terrorists and should be treated as such.”