Friday, July 19, 2024

Supping With Criminals

Nothing surprises the people anymore, thanks to poor and indifferent leadership at all levels of government. But surely, Nigerians cannot escape being embarrassed by our political and traditional leaders who speak from both sides of the mouth, elevating deceit into the art of survival at the top of the socio-political totem pole.

Bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers and other criminals now enjoy unprecedented freedom in the country because they have cowed the Nigerian state into total submission. They are the rulers; the governments are the ruled in a pathetic reversal of roles. We now know that the criminals are waxing stronger with either the tacit support or the indifference of federal and state governments as well as traditional rulers.

Here is a recent case you must be familiar with by now. It may or may not have shocked you but surely, tears could not help cascading down your cheeks because you feel sorry for our country now ruled by criminals against whom the constitution created our security forces funded by the federal government and supported by the state governments.

The story bears repeating. And it is this: the emir of Yandoton Daji, in Zamfara State,  Aliyu Marafa, turbaned Ada or Ado Aleru as Sarkin Fulani, about two weeks ago as of this writing. Aleru is the leader of a bandit group terrorising and killing innocent citizens in Zamfara and neighbouring states. Zamfara is about the worst affected in banditry and terrorism in the north-west geo-political zone.

Aleru who was feted in a lavish public turbanning ceremony, is ostensibly wanted by the government and the security forces. The security men were there but he must have been invisible. It beggars belief that the same man wanted by the government to account for his criminality, sups with the same government and traditional rulers. His turbanning was attended by traditional rulers, state and local government officials. It was also attended by his followers numbering some 100. They feasted on 17 cows killed by him for the ceremony. Everyone went home, picking their teeth.

The emir has been suspended by the state governor, Bello Matawalle. Daji was not the first emir in the state to sup with criminals who are killing and terrorising their own people. Matawalle has repeatedly drawn attention to this since 2019. In 2021, he suspended at least three emirs and removed a number of district heads in the state for their criminal association with the criminals in the state. The affected emirs were those of Maru, Abubakar Cika; Zurmi, Atiku Abubakar; Dansadau, Hussaini Umar.

I find nothing particularly strange in the behaviour of these traditional rulers. Criminals in our country have always been treated as part of the elite group because, you guessed it, they are rich and able to fund traditional honours conferred on them. Some of our traditional rulers now and in the recent past honoured and celebrated known thieves; our musicians waxed records of praise in their soiled names. Some of them are in the executive branches of government and others are in the national and state legislatures. My point is that while we are right to be disappointed with the affected Zamfara emirs and district heads, they are doing what other traditional rulers in other parts of the country have done and indeed, are doing.

This is not an attempt to excuse what they did. No, sir. The emirs were irresponsible and their action is condemnable. What is clear is that the governments know the bandits and their location but choose to do nothing about them, giving them a latitude no country permits criminals in their territories. President Buhari admitted this about two years ago and said they chose not to act against them for fear of causing collateral death to innocent people. I wonder which is  worse: risking the collateral damage in order to sacrifice a few and save the many or allowing the bandits the freedom akin to taking over government?

The question throws up some fundamental issues about the weak and the weakening authority of government against the growing strength of criminals in various parts of the country. Firstly, in the absence of the Nigerian state in securing and protecting the lives of Nigerian citizens, the traditional rulers must have been forced by the necessity for their survival to accept the authority of these armed men who appear to have stepped into the void left by the Nigerian state. You cannot rule out corruption but benefitting from the proceeds of criminal activities must rate as secondary to the objectives of the traditional rulers. The traditional rulers cannot contest the power of the heavily armed men. They and their people are sitting ducks. They know the bandits can give them a measure of protection or make life hell for them. They chose to co-operate with them.

Secondly, the federal and state governments have been remiss in engaging traditional rulers as part of the security architecture in the country. Security is basically a local matter. The security forces are pretty much handicapped without the local support and co-operation of traditional rulers and their people. Such engagement with the security forces will help to build the confidence of the people in their government and its security forces.

President Buhari was right to urge the people to report suspicious strangers among them to the security forces. However, it appears his objective to blame them for his own inability to discharge his constitutional duty to make his fellow Nigerians safe and secure in the only country they can call their own. There are obvious risks in reporting known or suspected criminals to the security forces. The criminals have eyes and ears among the security forces. But this can be remedied by the government educating the people on how to be part of the security architecture.

Meanwhile, here is this week’s bulletin on criminal activities in parts of northern Nigeria:

Bandits kidnap doctor in Niger State; passengers abducted from 18-seater bus on Kogi-Abuja highway; terrorists kill five police officers, three others in Katsina; bandits gave an ultimatum to some villagers in Plateau State to vacate their homes. Audacious.

The blood continues to flow; the criminals wax stronger daily and as the former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar once warned, “there is anger and tension in Nigeria” over the worsening insecurity.”

In case we are doing our best to ignore this, here is a reminder that the students of Bethel Baptist College, Kujama, kidnapped by bandits have been in captivity for 377 days as of July 16. Their own government has forgotten them, leaving their poor parents who cannot raise the ransom to buy the freedom of their children in agony. The presidency is in daily search of evidence that its inaction is going against the grain and yielding positive results. Never doubt miracles.

Dan Agbese
Dan Agbese
Dan Agbese was educated at the University of Lagos and Columbia University, New York. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degrees in mass communication and journalism. He began his journalism career at the New Nigerian Newspapers, Kaduna, and has edited two national newspapers, The Nigeria Standard and the New Nigerian. He and his three close friends in the news media, Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed, and the late Dele Giwa, founded the trail-blazing weekly newsmagazine in Nigeria, Newswatch, in 1984. He held various editorial positions in the magazine and was Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. Agbese is a well-regarded and respected columnist in Nigeria. He wrote popular columns for the Nigeria Standard and Newswatch magazine. He is the author of Fellow Nigerians: Turning Points in the Political History of Nigeria, 1966 - 1999; Nigeria their Nigeria, Ibrahim Babangida: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria, Footprints on Marble: Murtala H. Nyako, The Six Military Governors Voices of History, Conversation with History and three journalism textbooks, Style: A Guide to Good Writing, The Reporter's Companion and The Columnist's Companion: The Art and Craft of Column Writing. He has also contributed chapters to several books on Nigerian politics. Agbese's much-admired style of writing has been the subject of a thesis by students in the University of Jos, the University of Ibadan, and Benue State University.


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