Banditry in Nigeria is one of the insecurity problems that the government is still struggling with today. It constitutes a bane to development where crimes disrupt human and economic activities in the country. The Abuja-Kaduna train attack still resonates today after the mayhem caused by bandits have left Nigerians shaken with shock, grief and fear.
Banditry is a terrorist act that has caused the loss of lives of many Nigerians and foreigners in the country. Nigeria has been burdened with multidimensional insecurity problems ranging from terrorism, ritual killings, unknown gunmen, kidnapping, farmers-herders conflict, ethnic conflict, religious conflict and now banditry. Increased activities have been witnessed in the country’s northwest region, particularly in Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Katsina states, where bandits operate with impunity, destroying lives and properties and displacing people from their ancestral homes.
What is banditry?
Accord defines banditry as an organised crime involving kidnapping, armed robbery, murder, rape, cattle-rustling, and the exploitation of environmental resources. It is a serious security challenge that mostly occurs in North-West Nigeria, especially in rural communities.
History of banditry in Nigeria
Banditry is not new in Nigeria. Below is a timeline explaining the history and evolution of banditry in Nigeria.
The first recorded case of banditry occurred in 1901 between Western Hausa land and the Niger border. Bandits attacked a camel train of 12,000 capacities in which merchants loaded the train with grains. Twenty-one merchants died in the attack.
According to Jaafar, banditry in Nigeria during this period was restricted to rural areas. Bandits would ambush traders, take their goods by force, and run into the bushes. Sometimes, they would raid farming communities, killing farmers and destroying their properties. However, incidences only occurred in the Northern region.
In 1970, banditry gradually shifted to urban areas. One notable case was of three armed men who went to rob a bank in the city of Kano. It was recorded that the armed men robbed the bank of £27,750.
There was an upsurge of banditry, this time in the Southern region, particularly the then Bendel State, where the present Edo and Delta States were carved from. Anini Lawrence was the reigning bandit in the region, terrorising towns and villages. He wass said to be a school dropout before he started banditry in the region. Surprisingly, some police officers supported him by supplying guns and ammunition to him and his gang. Shortly after he was caught, he exposed all his gang members, including the police aiding him. All of them were tried and executed.
Another bandit, Shina Rambo, ruled the South-West. Like Anini, he terrorised the whole region by looting, robbing and killing people. He was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State, and strongly believes in rituals and human sacrifices. However, he turned a new leaf after he was released from prison during the Obasanjo administration. He became a pastor and preached the gospel. There are speculations that he is still alive.
This time banditry went to the South-East, where Chief Vincent Duru, aka Otokoto, began his activities in Owerri, Imo State. Duru was the owner of Owerri’s highbrow Otokoto Hotel and alleged leader of the Black Scorpions, a gang of criminals known for satanic practices, ritual murders, and organ trade. This gang terrorised the residents of Owerri without interference from the Nigerian police in the region.
However, things got to a head when an 11-year-old schoolboy and groundnut hawker, Anthony Ikechukwu Okoronkwo, was lured into the Otokoto hotel by the gardener, Innocent Ekeanyanwu, and killed after he drank a drugged cold beverage. The boy’s organs were harvested, but Ekeanyanwu was caught on his way to delivering the organs. He was arrested before he confessed and exposed members of the gang.
Although he died in prison from poison, Vincent Duru and eight other suspects were arrested and tried after Ekeanyanwu’s confession. Only two suspects, Alban Ajaegbu and Ebenezer Egwueke, were cleared, while the rest, which includes Duru and his son, Obicheozor, were sentenced to death by firing squad. The incident led to the famous Otokoto riots.
Banditry revolutionalised in Nigeria. This time politicians were involved, as many used bandits to assassinate their political opponents. One notable bandit was Osisi Kankwu (the tree that is more than a palm tree). His real name was Obioma Nwankwo, and he carried out his activities in Abia State and other states in the Niger Delta. The same year, the Bakassi Boys were introduced to curb crime in the South-East, but they turned out to be a menace, in the end, terrorising the people.
The Northern region felt the full impact of banditry as herdsmen and farmers constantly clashed. Jihadists emerged and terrorised the people. Bandits rode into villages with their motorcycles, looted and kidnapped the people. Those who tried to resist were killed, while others were released after ransoms were paid. Banditry became a profitable business.
Livestock rustling became a business for bandits. According to RUFAI, more than 29,281 livestock were rustled in Zamfara State alone.
Bandits were alleged to have killed over 1,100 people in six states out of seven in the North-West.
The number of people killed by bandits rose to over 2,200 people.
Amnesty International reported that bandits killed not less than 1,126 villagers between January and June. The report also revealed that bandits displaced 247,000 people. Also, about 8000 people died in Zamfara State. Many fled to neighbouring states, thus grounding economic activities in the state to a halt.
The Nigeria Security Trackers reported that bandits killed 5,800 persons and kidnapped 2,943 people from January to June. On August 24, 2021, bandits attacked Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) Kaduna, killing two persons and kidnapping one. The federal House of Representatives asked the President to declare a state of emergency on insecurity in the north.
Hence, the government launched a campaign against armed banditry in the region in September 2021. In response, the bandits shot down an air force plane returning from an operation. Only the pilot managed to escape. Also, bandits attacked villages in Sokoto State, looting, kidnapping and killing people for three consecutive nights in November. Even President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state, Katsina, was not spared, as bandits killed over 200 people. It was a really terrible year for the people in the North.
Banditry continued on the rise. The most notable is the Abuja-Kaduna train attack, where bandits killed 14 persons, and 63 people were officially kidnapped on March 28. According to a report on Vanguard, over N6 billion may have been paid to the terrorists to set most of their captives free. Abuja-Kaduna train operations have been shut down till this day, though the government has reported that operations will resume soon.
Causes of banditry in Nigeria
Lack of education and employment
Judging by Anini’s case, many bandits are school dropouts. Some of these school dropouts are frustrated youths who can’t find legitimate employment due to a lack of adequate certificates, and therefore, they are forced to take up arms to survive. Some didn’t even have the privilege of seeing the four walls of a classroom. This has led to an increase in crime, and banditry is one of them.
When people are hungry, they resort to all manner of activities to survive. Banditry has proven to be a profitable business, with some bandits demanding the much coveted American dollars in exchange for releasing their captives. The poverty rate in Nigeria is very high, and it’s not surprising that it has given rise to banditry in the country.
Corruption in the armed security forces
Again, Anini’s case and Otokoto of the 90s have shown that the Nigerian security forces have contributed to the rise of banditry in Nigeria. The police force has been accused of aiding bandits by supplying arms in exchange for monetary gains. When the bandits operate, the same police will turn a deaf ear to the cries of the people until it’s too late.
A lot of bandits get away with their crimes even when caught. For instance, a notorious leader of bandits in Zamfara State, Ado Aleru, was turbaned as Sarkin Fulani (Chief of Fulanis) of Yandoto Emirate by the Emir of Yandoto Daji Emirate, Aliyu Garba Marafa, Zamfar State. Although the idea was to foster peace between the bandits and members of the community, it doesn’t erase the fact that bandits walking freely among the people will encourage others to join, thus fueling the menace in the country.
Effects of banditry in Nigeria
- Killings, looting and destruction of properties.
- Displacement of persons which has led to the rise of IDP camps.
- Disruption of economic activities in affected areas.
- Complicates the security crisis in Nigeria.
- Banditry contributes to food insecurity in the country as most farmers have fled their communities.
Solutions to banditry in Nigeria
- Education should be compulsory, especially at the Primary level.
- Provide jobs to reduce poverty in the country.
- Community police should be encouraged.
- Address corruption and fraud, especially in the armed security forces.
- Tighten the country’s borders.
- Recruit more people into the police, train and equip them.
- State governors should cooperate to end the menace in their states.
- Bandits arrested should face capital punishment instead of being pampered.