Yes, there is a role for the military, but there is no military solution to banditry in Nigeria

By Prof. Usman YUSUF military solution

“War is too important to be left to the generals” – Georges Clemenceau

GEORGES Benjamin Clemenceau was a French statesman, a physician turned journalist who served as Prime Minister of France twice from 1906-1909 and 1917-1920, leading the country France through the end of the First World War. His observation reiterated the importance of clear political purpose and political control when war is being waged that involves the use of military resources in a calibrated way – that a small military involvement does not escalate into something larger and costlier.

I have had the privilege of being in a front row seat from our visits with Sheikh Ahmad Abubakar Gumi into the forests of five northern states (Kaduna, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi and Niger) meeting with bandits and their war commanders. The main purpose of our visits was to listen to all sides and hopefully be a vehicle for peace. The more I got involved, the more convinced I became that though there is a role for the Military, there is not going to be a military solution to banditry in Nigeria.

I knew then as I know now that, banditry in Nigeria is a social problem brought about by corruption and bad governance;, the military is only called in to clean up the mess caused by politicians. Unfortunately, the nation is increasingly militarizing what is essentially a social problem that the government has shown neither the political will nor the sincerity to address.

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For too long, this administration has underestimated the existential threat of banditry to the nation. The cries for help from the people and their political, traditional and religious leaders have largely been ignored by the central government. These bandits have now amassed so much wealth from ransom payments that they use in acquiring sophisticated arms. They are now the law in a lot of the rural areas in the region. They have become emboldened and are beginning to attack urban areas and strategic military installations at will; they were recently reported to have brought down a military fighter jet.

Schools in Northern Nigeria have become prime targets. More than 200 of the over 1,000 school children abducted this year are still in captivity in the hands of armed bandits in forests all across the region. The absence of security and, according to many communities, a reluctance by security agents to meaningfully engage these armed bandits have rapidly turned much of the region into a haven for kidnap gangs and a hell for thousands of families.

Nigeria’s food security is threatened because bandits have either scared farmers off their land or are levying them before accessing their farms or farm products, resulting in skyrocketing food prices in the short term and the real chances of famine in the near future.

The ongoing military operation in Zamfara State will provide welcome but temporary respite for people in the immediate vicinity. But, it will undoubtedly stir up the proverbial hornet’s nest resulting in the bandits tactically retreating deep into the forest and into the neighbouring states. They would return after the operations to exact revenge on innocent citizens. The other real concern is that they may become more militarised.

The sketchy news filtering from the frontline reports “carpet bombing and artillery shelling” of locations in the state. I thought this kind of fire power is usually deployed to take out strategic military or civil infrastructures, command and control nerve centres, troop formations or supply chain of the enemy. Having visited these forests, I wondered aloud what was being bombed and shelled because none of these targets exists in any of these kinds of forests.

Also, how are innocent people differentiated from the bandits and protected? Besides, the identities of key leaders of these bandits and the locations of their camps are well known, they should be targeted and neutralised for peace to return to our land.

The news cycle has been saturated with hysterical cheering of the military to go all out to exterminate these bandits with even Mr. Femi Adesina, the spokesman to the President, gleefully declaring that “the bandits are being sent to hell”.

Distressing images of the military operations in the North East in 2014 against Boko Haram insurgents are being recycled widely on social media and advertised as those coming from the frontlines in Zamfara state.

This looked to me like the handiwork of misguided propagandists or mischief makers. I am glad the military quickly issued a statement distancing itself from these images, knowing fully well their negative implications on the nation and its military nationally and internationally.

Let no one delude himself that defeating banditry is going to be a quick and easy war. We do not know the enemy we are fighting, nor do we know “the language they understand”. They have been at war with the state for a long time while our political leadership has allowed it to fester. They are fearless, fuelled by drugs, rugged, mobile and agile, operating in a terrain they are comfortable and familiar with. They have no central leadership; they are not driven by any ideology but purely by criminal gains.

They control a large swath of the nation’s ungoverned spaces in the forests. There are now reports of smaller, unruly, more ruthless splinter groups springing up everywhere. One of the notorious leaders who kidnapped the school children from Birnin Yauri in Kebbi State came out on video to declare his allegiance to the terrorist group ISIS. What is most concerning is that, although this administration is in its evening years, it still does not have any meaningful, cohesive, holistic and workable strategy to bring an end to this long standing reign of terror on our people.

Dr. Murtala Ahmed Rufa’i’s research tracing the history of banditry in Zamfara State is a sobering read and a reminder of how strong these bandits have been allowed to become and how ill prepared the nation is. Dr. Rufa’i, a Lecturer of the department of History at Usmanu Danfodio University in Sokoto, recently presented his decade long research titled: “I am a Bandit: A Decade of Research in Zamfara Bandit’s Den”.

In this excellent scholarly work, he revealed that there are 120 gangs of bandits operating in the six Northern states of Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina, Kaduna, Kebbi and Niger and that each gang has in its possession more than 500 AK 47 rifles making a total of about 60,000 AK47 rifles in the hands of bandits in the 6 Northern states. He further stated that bandits have killed over 12,000 persons, rustled about 250,000 livestock, destroyed 120 villages and displaced over 50,000 villagers in Zamfara State since 2011.

Bandits’ essential tools of trade 

Military force alone will not work without addressing the enabling roles of the following tools of trade of the bandits.

{1}. Drugs: The easy availability of drugs like Codeine, Tramadol, Pentax, Boska, Sudrex and Cannabis, which are the drugs of choice of bandits, should be urgently addressed.

{2}. Guns: Ransom money is used to buy arms that come through Nigeria’s porous borders.

{3}. Motorcycles: Banning the importation and use of motorcycles in the affected states will help.

{4}. Cellphones: Without cellphones, bandits’ lines of communications will be stopped. NIN has not worked; phone tracking technology such as Lawful Interception (LI) should be deployed.

{5}. Access to cattle markets: these are the markets where rustled cattle are usually sold and bought with ransom money.

{6}. Local informants: Informants give vital intelligence to bandits that help in this nefarious trade.


It is the solemn responsibility of the Press in any democracy to seek out and report the truth not propaganda. This is no time for lazy journalism.


What I have heard consistently from my friends and relatives who have proudly served in the Nigerian military is: “The worst type of war to fight is when you are fighting your own people, this is not what we were trained for”. Therefore, I call on the military to protect the innocent, use proportionate force, avoid human right abuses and to respect its rules of engagement.

Northern governors 

While the 17 Southern governors are closing ranks on issues they deem important to their region like Restructuring, Constitutional Amendment, ENDSARS, Rotation of the Presidency, Secession, Insecurity, Regional Security Outfits, Grazing Reserves, Ban on Open Grazing, VAT collection by states, Northern governors are busy scheming on who they want to hand us over to in 2023 or attending weddings and flaunting wealth in the midst of excruciating poverty and deprivation in their region.




    All is not well in the land. There is palpable fear and hopelessness with a sense that this government does not listen to people’s cry for help. It is out of touch with their realities and does not care about their sufferings. In the less than two years left for his administration, the President needs to think of what legacy he will leave. There needs to be an urgent, drastic and holistic overhaul in the way banditry and all security challenges facing this nation are fought.

    Yes, there is a role for the Military but, there is no military solution to banditry in Nigeria.

    Usman Yusuf is a Professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation.

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    1. OF course militaries are needed in all societies, BUT the HOPE is not have to mobile it’s force!!! USE thoughts + hope for PROgress !


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