The Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Alhaji Muhammed Sa’ad Abubakar 111 just revealed a new dimension to our current national security nightmare that should refocus the national conversation on real solutions, when he warned that Boko Haram terrorists have now transmuted into armed bandits and kidnappers. To paraphrase the Sultan, as reported in the Guardian of Saturday, 20th February, 2021, “Boko Haram insurgents have transmuted into armed bandits and kidnappers, with the aim of overturning the country under their unholy agenda.” His Eminence was reacting to the abduction of 27 students and some teachers of Kagara Science School in Niger State a day earlier, a vile act he described as “absolutely incredible, despicable and condemnable.”
Against the backdrop of the Kagara school abduction, the Sultan agonized over what has become an alarming pattern of serial attacks by bandits and sundry criminals against students, warning that the “abduction is a classic example of the philosophical foundation of Boko Haram that Western education is forbidden.” As fresh thinking goes, this was as deep as it was honest; a powerful royal repudiation of the muddled and often self-serving thinking that had characterized the national conversation on a social malady everyone agrees is an urgent problem yet can’t agree on how to resolve it.
If the nation is serious about ending the banditry, kidnapping, and wanton criminality that are tearing our country apart, leaders must embrace clear thinking about this threat and detach themselves from the tribal reflex of defending “our causes” in the face of the “enemy.” They must be brave to criticize the shortcomings that they live with because we may yet find out when we finally meet the enemy that the “enemy is us;” that we had use language to obfuscate, inflame, reinforce divisions, and to shirk responsibility, rather than to heal and soothe and bring people together.
With clarity and without equivocation, Sultan Abubakar 111 is reminding the nation that the terrorist threat remains as strong, pervasive, and deadly as ever; that we be not fooled by Boko Haram terrorists disguising as bandits and kidnappers, because the strategic, foundational objective of the terrorist group has not changed; only the tactic has evolved. In case anyone should doubt this insidious transmutation, the Sultan pointed to the selective targeting of boarding schools as evidence of the group’s entrenched antipathy to Western education. In other words, the Sultan doesn’t want us to forget where and how the Boko Haram nightmare began; that it was fundamentally a revolt against Western education that gave the group its ideological and cultural identity. In this perceptive diagnostic analysis lies a probable cure for the growing threat of banditry and willful criminality across the country.
Unfortunately, we cannot say that much for some of the confused thinking and, quite frankly, outlandish solutions to this same crisis, as being proffered by some leaders. If these are terrorists in disguise, as His Eminence has warned, how on earth would Defence Minister, Bashir Magashi, challenge citizens to fight with their bare hands against armed groups that the combined might of our armed forces have so far been unable to subdue? Or that not all bandits are criminals, as Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle, would want us to believe? Or that bandits are entitled to a comfortable stay in our forest reserves because these are government properties, according to the wisdom of Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed?
The idea that a general amnesty and generous incentives would pacify the bandits and sundry criminals that romp freely on our highways or set up self-governing republics in forest reserves across the country simply ignores the perils of succumbing to blackmail, that the blackmailer almost always come back asking for more. What about the snowballing effect, when others with real or phantom grievances adopt the same tactics to coerce the government in future? We would lose our republic if every group with unspecified grievance is encouraged to bear arms, disappear into the forest to kidnap, kill, and rape. Cuddling these criminals will only embolden them to come back stronger and with much vehemence.
It is perhaps because of fear of the copy cat effect that some clear-thinking leaders like Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna have proposed hard ball tactics against the bandits and kidnappers. Predictably, there have been push backs by some of El-Rufai colleagues, who insist on negotiation, amnesty and pacification, a dubious strategy at best, if past experience is any guide. In any event, the Sultan’s reasoned analysis of the transmuttation of Boko Haram terrorists into bandits and kidnappers forcefully exposes the futility of this route.
Governors, political and cultural influencers like Sheikh Abubakar Gumi pushing for negotiations believe these outlaws have legitimate grievances that society must address. For the governors, it is also a cynical ploy to absolve themselves of blame for the poor governance that has driven the youth in their states into an uncertain future of hopelessness. This is why some of these governors are quick to nationalize a problem whose seeds are largely local and amenable to attentive local governance. Sometimes, the cure we seek are not exoteric but in plain view. As Amanda Gorman, the Young United States Poet Laurette said at US President Joe Biden’s inauguration, “there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it; if only we’re brave enough to be it.” That courageous self awareness about the metastasis of Boko Haram and the terrorist group’s change of tactic is what Sultan Abubakar 111 is challenging us to embrace.
DR. GBARA AWANEN, mni
Retired Foreign Service Officer leaves in Abuja