Usmanu Dan Fodio University, (UDU) Historian, Dr. M. A. Rufai, has put on the table an analysis of the origin and character of banditry in Northern Nigeria completely different from the Fulanisation argument. Delivering the 15th University Seminar series, the Historian reinforces the position of existing works such as that of the late Mahmud Modibbo Tukur PhD thesis on the 1804 Sokoto Jihad, the Bala Usman centre in Zaria, (Centre for Democratic Research and Training – CEDDERT) and the popular thesis about capitalism having become violent and criminal in nature. That is to say that what Nigeria has seen as banditry is a social revolt by specifically people of Fulani identity and provoked into being by a combination of manipulation by politicians; social grievances, illicit mining and security as well as para-security agencies.
Fulanisation or the analysis alleging Buhari regime complicity in arranging a Fulani insurgency to crowd out natives out of ancestral lands, take them over and Islamise the natives is a strong currency in Nigeria. Its ideologues are numerous and vocal and only very few such as Prof Jibrin Ibrahim have come out to say how foolish it is to believe that
Speaking at a Social Influencers Conference in Kano in July 2020, Prof Ibrahim, a radical nationalist of Christian identity from Kano said algorithmic configuration of information in the world today by the social media was producing the situation he says makes it possible for even professors to believe the Fulanisation narrative in Nigeria, for instance, saying there was something stupid in believing in such a narrative. Nobody replied him. But if Prof Ibrahim is correct, how come there is no consensus on the question across Nigeria?
Meanwhile, all the key voices on the issue are some of the most educated or politically exposed actors. Nasir el-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State says every president must know who the bandits are. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan said he had Boko Haram members in his cabinet as president. Vice-Admiral Murtala Nyako, former governor of Adamawa State said Boko Haram, the Northeast version of the generalised insecurity, is an anti-Northern plot. Before becoming president at last, Muhammadu Buhari told an Aljazeera reporter at a wedding in Kano that there is nothing like Boko Haram. Both General Danjuma and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo articulated or subscribe to the theory of Fulanisation/Islamisation. Dr. Obadiah Malafia told the world certain governors are behind Boko Haram and recently, retired Naval Commodore Kunle Olawunmi spoke about the complicity of the regime in the insecurity. The question is whether this is how a national elite should behave in the face of danger
By Dr. Rufai’s analysis, nothing is new about this phase of banditry in the Northwest of Nigeria beyond the caliber of weapons now being used. By saying that such rural revolt is nothing new in what is now the Northwest of Nigeria, Dr. Rufai is reinforcing the position of Mahmud Tukur, (former ASUU President) that the 1804 Jihad was a social revolt which perforce was framed in religious terms. This insurgency is, however, framed differently by its commanders on the one hand and by the people on the other. While the people call the bandits kungiyar barayi shanu, (cattle rustlers association or, better still, cattle thieves), the bandits call themselves kungiyar gayu, (something of a cultural association for the liberation of Fulani from high handedness of security agents, traditional rulers and the politicians).
Tracking it back to 2011, the Historian identified four provocations. One is politicians, citing, for instance, how the first motor bikes used for operations were donated to them by politicians. Second is social grievances against injustice experienced by pastoral communities such as extortion, exploitation and deprivation, leaving the Fulani a source of income to the police, courts and traditional rulers. His third source of provocation is illegal mining involving competing Chinese, Russian and South African miners, resulting in the arming of rival local groups by the foreign firms through the use of helicopters. According to Rufai’s seminar presentation, violence always follows each sighting of helicopters in the area, corresponding to capitalism having become violent and criminal. The last source of provocation is the activities of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria which is alleged to exercise unlimited powers to arrest, maim and kill accused persons, such persons being Fulanis.
The activities of the yan – sai -kai, it is argued, provoked the bandits to go beyond cattle rustling, robbery and other minor acts of criminality, particularly following the killing of a man identified as Alhaji Isshe in Chilin in Dan-Sadau Emirate of Maru LGA on August 16th, 2012 on the allegation of harboring criminals and supporting rustling.
Subsequently, the bandits and banditry became heterogeneous and transnational in 2016, with members from Niger Republic; Mali and Chad. This did not just involve new members but also new weaponry, mainly from Libya and training in modern guerrilla strategies and tactics well beyond the capacity of a traditional national military. This stage came with kidnapping and abduction, backed by intelligence gathering by large number of poverty stricken youths in the villages.
The UDU Historian lists the recruitment strategies of the banditry establishment to include conscription; use of cash and cows; promise of sex and leisure; intimidation of other Fulanis and the resort of cattle owners to circumventing harassment by joining the bandits.
To avoid intra-gang squabbles, the establishment zoned the region into spaces of authority. Still, deadly inter-gang rivalry remained a feature, making acquisition of sophisticated weapons a big deal in the politics of banditry.
Apart from elders, (heavy weights) who mediate internal conflicts, other layers of power include the middlemen; the actual field commanders, those who make a lot of money from renting arms.
2018 has, according to him, been when banditry reached the peak, spanning Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and Kaduna, with multiple splinter groups.
Dr. Rufai submitted the following conclusion:
Armed bandits are becoming more sophisticated in strength, tactics and connections. It is no longer doubted that the gangs have trans-national networks with similar gangs across different parts of the West African sub-region. This is demonstrated with the contacts and connections with different terrorist organizations within and outside the country. This year the bandits are celebrating a decade (2011-2021) of unabated and irrational acts of cattle rustling, maiming of innocent souls, kidnapping and gender based violence. They have grounded the once prosperous rural economy and subjected the masses to social penury. A lot of energy, time and resources were invested by both state and non-state actors in the fight against rural banditry. Unfortunately, the more the efforts, the stronger and deadlier they become, due to the involvement of multiple ‘invisible factors and actors’ benefiting from the conflict. Interestingly, Nigerian security agencies are now addressing these rural terrors ‘in the best language they understand’. The new approach to rural insecurity if maintained and sustained will crush the ranks of these bandits. Already, some of the bandits have started succumbing to military pressure, some of the gangs pleading and calling for negotiation. Reports coming from the field demonstrated that most bandits are abandoning their motorbikes due to the policy of shutting-down all filling stations around the bandits’ zones. This policy alone is enough to end rural insecurity in the region, because no attack could be carried out without logistics and fuel is critical to the running of these motorbikes”
Obviously relying on the social science research technique called Key Informant Technique, (kii), the Historian has penetrated banditry in a more systematic manner than the politicians and propagandists. It would, however, require more voices for Nigeria to reach a consensus about the credibility or otherwise of Dr. Rufai’s analysis.
More than that, the entire story of banditry would seem to speak to a more frightening home truth: a decaying society such as Nigeria can be vulnerable to any little push. Hence, the huge success of banditry against a military establishment such as the Nigerian Armed Forces with great records in suppressing insurgency in other countries and even more difficult battle spaces in the past. Unless the decay, corruption, arbitrariness and the inequality gap are seriously and urgently addressed, it might be Fulani insurgency today but another insurgency tomorrow.