Nigeria’s false dichotomy between bandits and terrorists, By Gbemisola Animasawun


FILE PHOTO: Bandits [Picture credit: Voice of America (VOA)]

Putting a lid on this or inaccurately describing it smirks of a disavowal of a core obligation of public and academic intellection on one hand, and a betrayal of the people trapped in such territories, especially in northern Nigeria, on the other hand. I posit that ignoring or lidding the emergence of Nigeria’s type two terrorism or the next level of terrorism …portrays public intellectuals as…falling short of their obligations.  

That Nigeria is fast becoming unsecurable, that is, reaching a state where everything done to secure it fails. This is evident and accompanied by the populace’s loss of a sense of security, which is informed by lived realities from Imeko to Jibia, Otukpo to Yenagoa. As a local, studious of the locale of insecurity in Nigeria, I am presently wearing the cap of the public intellectual whose critical task is to “bear witness, analyse, expose and criticize a wide range of social evil(s)” that have turned the landscape of the country into deathscapes, as instructively put by Jean-Paul Sartre, and as someone at home with Nigeria’s hip-hop music, I am asking: What can fa! That is, what can be responsible for this type of differentiation? Based on today’s Nigeria, insecurity is an evil and indeed the evil manifesting and experienced differently across the country.

While communal violence, opportunistic abductions and kidnappings, and forced disappearances are no longer news in most of the South, northern Nigeria remains the epicentre of Nigeria’s war against terrorism, which has been kneeling on her neck for over a decade. In both settings, William Zartman’s mutually hurting stalemate or Achille Mbembe mutual zombification subsists, because neither the government nor the outlaws have been able to cancel out each other.   

My immediate point of departure is the seeming inexcusable description and near celebration of a mutation in insurgency as a lesser evil owing to the mojo of the current government. They say, “the incumbent government has made progress in terms of security because after all, the Boko Haram no longer controls territories or that most of the territories hitherto controlled by the Boko Haram have been reclaimed.” Similarly, there is a popular obfuscation or self-denial, whereby zones of mixed or illicit governance with existing structures of governance, effective tax systems and even policing headed by outlaws with working succession plans are called ungoverned spaces. If governance means exercising control and conducting the conduct of others, I posit that there are no ungoverned spaces in Nigeria, but spaces governed by outlaws where the constitutionally constituted government does not have the capacity to reach or have been sacked. Indeed, if governance is about exerting control and eliciting compliance, then these spaces are not ungoverned but governed by outlaws, while the protraction contention with the state further typifies either mutual zombification or a mutually hurting stalemate. 

…Nigeria’s unfolding security challenges offer intellectuals the opportunity for novel theorising and meaning-making, rather than using concepts not derived from our own lived realities just because they are used elsewhere. As diagnostics, security intellectuals or thinkers owe the securocrats/doers, a proper diagnosis for informed action…

Putting a lid on this or inaccurately describing it smirks of a disavowal of a core obligation of public and academic intellection on one hand, and a betrayal of the people trapped in such territories, especially in northern Nigeria, on the other hand. I posit that ignoring or lidding the emergence of Nigeria’s type two terrorism or the next level of terrorism based on the nexus and continuum between insurgency and the current round of criminality, even after reports emerged that an alliance was emerging between a splinter of the Islamists in the North-East and the outlaws terrorising the North-West, portrays public intellectuals as hype-men and falling short of their obligations. Also, it challenges intellectuals to disaggregate, rather than using one lens to look at the outlaws.  

So, what blurs the difference between those described as bandits and insurgents? In answering, one turns to the late thinker-intellectual, Dr Jimanze Ego-Alowes’s work The University-Media Complex As Nigeria’s Foremost Amusement Chain wherein he underscored intellectuals’ haste to consume already harvested yams in the barn, instead of producing and harvesting new yams of knowledge. Therefore, Nigeria’s unfolding security challenges offer intellectuals the opportunity for novel theorising and meaning-making, rather than using concepts not derived from our own lived realities just because they are used elsewhere. As diagnostics, security intellectuals or thinkers owe the securocrats/doers, a proper diagnosis for informed action, bearing in mind that all conclusions are tentative.

Doing this entails an acceptance of the shifting nature, similarities, and mutability of the focus of insurgents. For instance, at a point, the Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015 to become the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), then in 2016 there was a renunciation and readoption of the name Boko Haram by late Shekau, with ISWAP under the leadership of Al-Barnawi. As alliances change, the choice of targets and ambitions also change. In a widely circulated video on June 15, 2020, a quartet was seen speaking in English, Hausa, Fulfulde and French, conveying an appeal to imagined counterparts in Zamfara and Niger States, to strive harder in the cause of Allah thus, “My brothers in Lake Chad, my brothers in Cameroon, my brothers in Sambisa, my brothers in Niger State, my brothers in Zamfara State; I urge us and encourage us to strive harder for the sake of Allah.”

If the intent of terror is to instill fear using violence towards a specific end, and an alliance was allegedly initiated between the outlaws in the North-East and in the North-West, terrorism has therefore become an instrument used by the two, as seen in their targets. Do they have a common objective? I say ‘yes’ in the immediate…

Since then, one could see an increase in the monstrosity and bestiality that have characterised the operations of the outlaws as they go after both hard and soft targets, like downing military aircrafts and attacking Quranic schools, to abduct without distinctions between pre-teens and adults. In March, a similar report from another respectable source pointed in the same direction. If Jama’at Ahl as-Sunna Liddawah wal-Jihad (JAS) aka Boko Haram, is notorious for being against secular education and now both secular and Quranic schools are being attacked in Zamfara, Niger, Kebbi, Kaduna, then why are we taking some outlaws as “bandits” and some as “insurgents”? With no distinction between spaces of learning that are owned by the government or individuals, including the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), downing of aircrafts, abductions of relatives of political notables, which were the initial trademarks of Boko Haram from 2010 to 2013, where is now the difference between the so-called bandits and insurgents in 2021?

If the intent of terror is to instill fear using violence towards a specific end, and an alliance was allegedly initiated between the outlaws in the North-East and in the North-West, terrorism has therefore become an instrument used by the two, as seen in their targets. Do they have a common objective? I say ‘yes’ in the immediate, because for now democracy, the Nigerian state and her peoples are their common enemies.

As such, as it is logical to aim at a bird based on its flight and cognisant of the shift that has occurred based on the alliances of these outlaws, their choice of targets and modus operandi, it behooves intellectuals (thinkers) to keep up with this and designate both appropriately, so that the securocrats (doers) at all levels will tailor their responses adequately, while we stop treating leprosy as eczema.

Gbemisola Animasawun is a Reader in the Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ilorin.

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