The Center for Democracy and Development, CDD, has disclosed that the North-Western part of the country is harbouring over 30,000 terrorists often referred to as bandits who terrorise the entire region.
In its February report titled, ‘Northwest Nigerian Bandits Problem: Explaining the conflict drivers’, the CDD said these terrorists are responsible for the killing of over 12,000 people and the displacement of over a Million homes in the region.
The report added that the criminality had also forced over 1 million children out of school in the states of Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina and Kaduna.
The pro-democracy organization, in the 42-page report signed by its West Africa Director, Idayat Hassan, lamented that the killings in the Northwest region had also extended to Niger State and some other states within the North Central region.
According to the report, the unrest has ballooned into full war with terrorists boldly attacking security formations and public institutions.
“The bandits are a heterogeneous collection of militants. While estimates are tenuous at best, there are probably at least 100 bandit groups operating in the northwest constituting between 10,000 and 30,000 militants.
“While predominantly Fulani, the bandits include Hausa, Kanuri, and Tuareg among their ranks and rely on local informants of various ethnicities whom they pay or coerce into informing.
“They engage in illegal activity, are adaptable, and wield sophisticated weapons, possibly more than the Nigerian security agencies,” the report noted.
The report, however, identified poverty, environmental degradation, porous border and poor justice system, as some of the factors aggravating the insurgency in the region.
“If the borders are up to the standard, the conflict in the northwest could not have reached the intensity it has today without the widespread proliferation of small arms and light weapons across West Africa.
“Military stockpiles in Libya and Sahelian states such as Mali have been seized or stolen by militants on numerous occasions since 2011, with the weapons subsequently finding their way onto the regional black market.
“Security sources claim that several bandits, such as Shehu Rekep, used their connections with arms smugglers and militants in the Sahel and Libya to bring military-grade weaponry into the northwest from around the mid-2010s.
“The firepower that bandits have been able to acquire allows them to overpower smaller security force outposts and police checkpoints, such that bandits enjoy significant freedom of movement in all but the larger urban areas of the northwest,” the report said.
On why the why peace deal efforts by various state governments in region failed, the organization said: “In northwestern Nigeria, peace deals and amnesty agreements are rarely implemented.
“This is in part due to the lack of a legal and implementation framework. Furthermore, there are no written documents outlining the terms of the peace agreement, which makes the monitoring of adherence difficult for all actors. Political will and tough compromise are the only way for peace.”
The center, therefore, advised the federal government to make difficult trade-offs and a holistic review of the security architecture, as “any serious efforts to roll back the conflict in the northwest will require greater political will and unity from Nigerian leaders than they have heretofore demonstrated”.
“Any solution to the banditry crisis will be contingent on security sector reform and improving trust between security agencies and local communities.
“Equally, as critical, non-state armed groups of all stripes must be reined in. The bandits will continue to find recruits so long as the Yan Sakai operate as violently as they have, regardless of whether they rebrand as VGN or something else.
“The federal and state governments can look to the experience of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) militias in northeastern Nigeria for lessons on how to temper the excesses of vigilantes and make them more accountable, although the CJTF should not be used as a rigid template for the Yan Sakai without consideration of unique local factors.
“Any future peace agreement or amnesty involving the bandits and the state governments should be closely coordinated with the federal government and formally documented to avoid pitfalls,” the CDD recommended.