Dangerous link between terrorists and bandits
Recent reports suggesting that terror groups Boko Haram and ISWAP are making inroads into the North West by recruiting bandits into their folds is cause for grave concern. It is a dangerous trend that security agencies must take seriously and act immediately to confront and curtail.
Links between the twin terrors plaguing the country have always been sketchy, and this has allowed the military to put greater emphasis on the insurgency in the North East to the detriment of the security situation in the North West.
However, following the Kankara abductions in December 2020, it emerged that there are Boko Haram elements embedded in some of the bandits’ camps. Boko Haram’s claim of being responsible for that abduction may not be accurate but it is clear from the fact that they were able to get videos of the abducted boys, that channels were opening up between the two groups.
Since then, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has been killed by members of ISWAP. Sadly, the Nigerian military failed to act with the urgency that situation required to strike the group in that period of uncertainty. This latitude given to the insurgents allowed them to regroup and develop a new strategy of recruiting bandits to help in their fight.
The Nigerian military has always considered banditry as the lesser of two evils when placed side by side with the insurgency. What the country has failed to take into consideration is the inherent danger that will follow the infusion of terrorist ideologies and zealotry into banditry. Banditry has always been motivated by monetary gains and hence would be easier to address. However, crisis experts have always maintained that solving conflicts driven by ideology, such as the insurgency in the North East, is difficult.
Allowing this contagion to spread into the North West through this recruitment drive would be seriously damaging to Nigeria and its overstretched security agencies, but most especially, to the hapless victims of this senseless violence.
The security agencies must now step up efforts to keep the two conflicts from merging into a widespread nightmare. They must then follow through with decisively ending both banditry and insurgency, which have already taken too severe a toll on the Nigerian populace.
Already, the failure of the security apparatus in not detecting the linkages between terrorists and insurgents is one of the many failings of the intelligence services that have brought Nigeria to its present state of being locked in several avoidable, intractable conflicts that could have been nipped in the bud with proper diligence.
War game theories should have highlighted these possibilities and prescribed ways of preventing them. Similarly, the strategy of dealing frontally with one conflict before turning to the other, which has been ravaging civilian populations, has proven counterproductive. No doubt a new approach is needed.
While ending these conflicts militarily might not be entirely possible, the kinetic approach has to be sufficient and sustained enough to degrade these groups and bring them out of their safe havens under the control of the Nigerian state.
Further, the state must improve social welfare across the country to deny criminal gangs the fertile recruitment grounds that it has become to them.
The pursuit of social justice must be emphasised and those found with blood on their hands must be made to face the law. Government should also embark on a massive employment drive. Failure to do this will trigger a repeat of the vicious circle that has manifested as a black hole that has claimed and continues to claim countless Nigerian lives.
Being forewarned, as the adage goes, means being forearmed. The security services have suffered many failures but the efforts of journalists to uncover this dangerous trend must be given the necessary attention. The security services must pick up the gauntlet and act before the bond between bandits and insurgents is fully formed and a different kind of beast is unleashed on the long-suffering people of this country.