Yusuf, Odinkalu differ on origin of banditry in the North

FORMER Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Usman Yusuf and former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chidi Odinkalu, on Thursday, disagreed on the origin of banditry in Nigeria.

Yusuf was a keynote speaker at The ICIR live discussion series titled ‘Nigeria’s Insecurity: Addressing the Challenges of Banditry and Kidnapping,’ while Odinkalu was among the panellists.

Other discussants who joined them at the virtual meeting were former senator representing Kaduna Central Shehu Sani; Editor-in-Chief of the Guardian newspapers Martins Oloja, and Executive Director of The ICIR Dayo Ayetan.

Yusuf, a haematology-oncology and bone marrow transplantation professor, said banditry in Nigeria started in Kogi State, where kidnappers from Edo State hired herders from the North to keep their victims and shared part of their ransoms with the herders.

Upon realising how lucrative the business was, the herders returned home to begin kidnapping, he said.

“We know the injustices that have been done to the Fulanis over generations before we were born. They are one people that do not own land in this country. Their cows are rustled; there are a lot of injustices, usually by the local authorities, local judges and local police officers. They would sell their cattle. All these injustices are catching up with us.


“A bandit told me that all kidnapping in Nigeria started around 1999 to 2000 in Kogi State. What happened was that many of these young herders were told by their parents to take their cattle down South for pasture. They spent months and came back up North during the rainy season. He told me there is a forest around Kogi where kidnappers from Edo would bring in their abductees into the forest for these Fulani young men to hold for them.

“Once they get the ransom money, they come and give it to them and they took the abductees back. So, they realised there was money to be made from this criminality; and they started doing that. They started getting involved in drug; they started getting involved in alcohol,” he narrated.

However,  Odinkalu disagreed with him and said there had been a proliferation of arms in the North before the 1987 Kafanchan crisis.

Odinkalu, a Professor of Law, said the proliferation of arms in the North escalated the crisis in 1987.

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According to him, the weapons were imported from various West African countries, and former President Babangida tried to chase the foreigners who brought the arms into the country at the time.

He said there were drugs in Kano and in various Fulani settlements years before Lawrence Anini, a famous armed robber in the southern part of the country, came into the limelight, adding that the Kafanchan crisis was a crisis of banditry over artisanal mining.

Reacting to other issues mentioned by Yusuf, Odinkalu said there were issues that people in different regions of the country could agree on, which he listed to include the inability of military action to resolve banditry, governance crisis. Still, he objected to Yusuf’s position that the Fulanis’ grievances were responsible for insecurity in the country.

He noted that nobody had a monopoly of grievances in the country. “In fact, several other Nigerians could possibly argue that Fulanis have dominated the country. This is an uncomfortable conversation, but I think Nigerians must have the conversation about grievance and domination and hegemony.

Snapshot from video footage of kidnapped persons in Niger state
Snapshot from video footage of kidnapped persons in Niger state

“If everyone who has a grievance resorts to shooting, there is not just going to be enough people to be destroyed in the country,” he stated.

He added that there were 379 to 383 ethnic groups in the country, with everyone having its sense of grievances, therefore, “the Fulanis have no monopoly of grievance or capacity to shoot their ways into grievance or out of it. I think that needs to be made very clear,” he stated.

Yusuf had earlier explained that he had been involved in dialogue with the bandits because insecurity in the country could consume the nation.

“Why did I get involved? Bandits are ours, IPOB members are ours, Boko Haram are ours. All of these non-state actors, they are ours. Unless we come to this space (by talking), they will occupy this space, and we’ll find nowhere to go.”

He said banditry and kidnapping in the country was a social problem and not military’s, adding that insecurity stemmed from corruption and bad governance.

He frowned at what he described as government increasing militarisation of what was essentially a social problem and emphasised that dialogue was the best option to end banditry and kidnapping in the nation. “There is a crucial role for the military, but there is no military solution to this conflict,” he stated.

Yusuf stated that Nigeria does not know the enemies it is fighting and that there has been a lack of synergy among its security top brass.

Stressing the imperative of dialogue, he appealed to governors across the country not to close their windows against dialogue with criminal elements in their domains.

Sheikh Gumi with bandits in the forests of Zamfara
Sheikh Gumi with bandits in the forests of Zamfara

In his contribution, a former Senator Shehu from Kaduna State Sani said insecurity in the nation had economic and political undertones and argued that the Fulani bandits should be condemned.

“We all have grievances, but it is not an excuse for anyone to pick up arms, kidnap people and extort ransom from individuals, particularly poor people,” Sani said.

He called on governors in the northern states to come together and see the challenge as a serious problem threatening efforts to develop the region.

Sani also called for harmonious approach to addressing banditry in the country.

“A situation where you have some governors believing that this is a channel that can be explored to bring an end to this violence and some thinking that it’s not something they should associate with, then, you can’t have a solution to the problem. If you solve the problem in Zamfara and Niger and the problem is not solved in Kaduna and Sokoto states, the problem will never be solved at all,” he said, referring to Governor Nasir El-Rufai and others who have vowed never to dialogue with criminals.

Meanwhile, Oloja said there was a need to deepen the understanding of intervention by Sheik Gumi, a prominent Islamic scholar and retired soldier who had been meeting with the bandits.

According to him, some authors had alerted the public about  ‘crisis entrepreneurs’ who are beneficiaries of insecurity in the nation.

“It appears that banditry has become a big business. So, how do we deal with crisis entrepreneurs? How do we deal with the Federal Government of Nigeria within the context of injustice, within the context of dominance?

“We have at this moment a Fulani man in office and in power. Why is it that Sheik Gumi, Senator Shehu Sani and some others are able to get all these bandits to a point of dialogue? Why is it that the military authorities and indeed the Federal Government have not been enthusiastic about using dialogue to end this banditry, to even reduce banditry? Why the reluctance of the authorities?”

He also called on the intelligence agencies to monitor the motives and activities of  “crisis entrepreneurs” benefiting from the criminality, while condemning the increased budgeting for insecurity when the nation had been earning lower revenues.

On the final note, the Guardian’s editor-in-chief also hinted that the injustice of the Fulani against the Hausa people put them on the wrong side of history.

“ Of all the emirates in the North, how many of them are of Hausa origin? We are beginning to read that history. How the Fulani people also conquered the Hausas in the past, took their cultures, language and gave them religion. We are beginning to see that now. The Hausa people  are silent and nobody is talking about them.”

Marcus bears the light, and he beams it everywhere. He's a good governance and decent society advocate. He's the ICIR Reporter of the Year 2022. Contact him via email @ [email protected].

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