Evil forests and terror gangs in southwest

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Living in terror spaces is an apt description of what Nigerians encounter daily. The leadership of Nigeria has not lived up to expectation of meeting what is written in the National Security Strategy (NSS) released by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s (PMB) government in 2019. The NSS stated that the Federal Government of Nigeria is committed to the National values of “freedom, equality and Justice”. It revealed the National Interest of Nigeria to include the “preservation of Nigeria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, security and welfare of her people”. Through the document, the PMB government recognises armed banditry, kidnapping, militancy, separatists’ agitations, farmers and herders’ conflict, and porous borders as collectively accounting for 40% of Nigeria’s national security threats. Unfortunately, national security continues to be threatened because the same government is interested in freedom and equality but denies victims of justice. It mouths territorial integrity but compromises this by opening her borders to transnational organised criminal gangs and transnational herders who occupy ungoverned forests and wrecks havoc on livelihoods of Nigerians whom President Muhammadu Buhari swore to secure and ensure their welfare.

It was due to this seeming inability of the Federal Government controlled security agencies in arresting identified national security threats, coupled with the experiences of victimisation in the hands of hellish criminal gangs who have turned highways and ungoverned forest spaces in southwest Nigeria to Kidnappers Bank of Nigeria (KBN), that birthed the establishment of Western Nigeria Security Network, codenamed Amotekun to keep the zone safe from external aggression. From Ondo, to Ekiti, Osun to Ogun and Oyo States, the cries of people whose relations have suffered victimisation in the hands of kidnappers, and Fulani herdsmen’s lawlessness are thunderous. No social class is spared of their criminality. It affects those in government like Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and those out of government like Chief Olu-Falae who has been a serial victim of kidnapping and herdsmen destructive behaviours. The sad tale continues in agrarian communities of Ibarapa in Oyo State where farmers, residents and investors have been murdered allegedly by criminal gangs of Fulani extraction. This is happening in a country where the Federal Government enjoined Nigerians to take to agriculture but those who have embraced farming are being displaced by forests gangs, and criminal kidnappers operating under the umbrella of herdsmen. Igangan community leaders cried to their State government and security agencies but they were let down as kidnapping continued. In the absence of help from State Government and the police, they were forced to employ self-help, which may be illegal, but safety expedient.

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While Ondo State government seemed proactive, the Oyo State government was reactive and allowed a non-state actor, Sunday Adeyemo also known as ‘Igboho’, who is not a stranger to top politicians in the region to step-in and confront the Seriki of Fulani accused of mediating payment of ransoms and bailing arrested tribal criminals. Even if Igboho’s approach was crude, the opportunity for Governor Seyi Makinde and the police to arrest the situation was provided by the seven day ultimatum he issued. Rather than moving in to douse the tension and reassure residents of their safety and bring perpetrators to book, they looked on until Igboho with his supporters moved to Igangan, addressed the people and the aftermath triggered government and police mobilisation to the communities to speak with the people. The meeting revealed that no fewer than 15 women had been raped with the payment of N50million naira to kidnappers. Some prominent indigenes were also reportedly killed by the violent criminal Fulani gangs.

While there are many law-abiding Fulani settlers who have co-habited peacefully for decades, the incursion of transnational Fulani gangs hibernating in forests in the name of herding who later switch to kidnapping and torture victims to pay ransoms threatens such historical peaceful relations. What the law abiding Fulani settlers ought to do and must do is to expose the criminals straining their relationship with host communities and not cover up tribal criminals or mediate ransom payments. This is where profiling sets-in. Although there is sense in Governor Makinde’s approach not to label the Fulani ethnic group as criminal, the fact remains that victims of kidnapping unveiled the characteristics of their kidnappers and this data ought to have been used proactively in nipping the crime in the bud in Ibarapa communities. Criminal profiling has been embraced in many jurisdictions during which evidence from crime scenes are used in identifying and predicting the personality of the offender. Criminological profiling assists in understanding the modus operandi, motivations driving crime, and offender characteristics with a view to preventing future crimes. Profiling criminals helps to know the geography of offending, likely victims, time of offending and the character of victimisation.

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That said, the kidnapping and banditry in the southwest could not be entirely successful without the collaboration of insiders. There are those who supply information on the routines and profiles of who to kidnap. There are also corrupt traditional rulers who compromise the security of their communities by accommodating criminals and releasing their lands in exchange for insecurity. Such traditional rulers should be deposed by government of such State to serve as deterrent to others. Security agents may also be beneficiaries of the spoils of the crime. Each state in the region needs to track influx of foreigners into their transport sector like those entering the Okada business. They need to be registered to work. Transnational beggars also litter most urban landscape in the region and may constitute security risks. Residents must also be warned against employing undocumented live-in workers. While playing national unity politics, indigenous security must not be sacrificed.

The security dilemma confronting southwest is not unconnected with the politics of national security. Southwest people have observed that offenders of farm destruction, kidnapping and banditry do not get desired attention and response from government. They reasoned that the state is pampering criminals and ignoring their victimisation. Further to this, there is mutual suspicion between southwest people and the Fulani nation. This suspicion is fuelled by the uncertainty, which they nurse about the intentions of the Fulani in the region. The Fulani are also afraid of the intentions of the Yoruba towards them. With other words, the Yoruba fear that the Fulani might attack its ancestral home and displace her people in the pursuit of an expansionist agenda while the Fulani also fear their evacuation from the zone. Owing to this mutual fear, each side is accumulating power and capabilities to defend themselves and this can lead to further insecurity through avoidable wars.

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Three critical elements of deterrence theory should be implemented to save the situation. One is SWIFTNESS. The response of the State (Federal and State Governments) must be swift and not allow things to degenerate to the level of destruction as witnessed in Igangan before acting. It does not show responsive and responsible governance. Second element is CERTAINTY that the offender will be arrested and punished. Resort to self-help is mostly precipitated when the victims of crime feel unprotected by those who should and see offenders being shielded by the State. How many victims of farm destruction, rape, kidnapping and murder have been served justice in the affected communities? The third is SEVERITY of punishment. It sees kidnappers, bandits, rapists among others as rational human beings who calculate the costs and benefits of kidnapping and banditry before venturing into it. This element is saying that it is not sufficient that the offender is arrested; he/she must be inflicted with punishment sufficient enough to deter future offending. Going forward, southwest governors must network on their security policies and collectively enforce the ban on open, night and underage grazing and rout criminals hibernating in her forests.

Dr Tade, a sociologist sent this piece via dotad2003@yahoo.com

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