Nigeria has classified criminal gangs –bandits, blamed for mass abductions of schoolchildren- under “terrorist” groups , a move aimed at containing rising insecurity in the north.
For over a year now, Nigeria’s northwest and north-central states have been ravaged by violence sparked by disputes over access to land and resources, among other factors.
Similarly, heavily armed gangs have cashed in on the absentia of effective policing to launch attacks , pillage villages, steal cattle and kidnap for ransom.
In recent days, violence has become more widespread, piling pressure on the federal government – already fighting the Boko Haram armed group and its offshoot in the northeast for over a decade – to do more to halt the attacks.
In the official Wednesday gazette, President Muhammadu Buhari’s government labelled activities of Yan Bindiga and Yan Ta’adda – references in the Hausa language to bandit gunmen – “as acts of terrorism and illegality”.
“I think the only language they understand – we have discussed it thoroughly with the law enforcement agencies; the security chiefs, the inspector general of police – is to go after them, ” Buhari was quoted as saying.
“We labelled them terrorists … we are going to deal with them as such.”
Among other crimes, the official gazette pointed to criminal gangs who execute mass kidnappings of students , abduction for ransom, cattle rustling and also destruction of property.
The new classification means there will be tougher sanctions under the terrorism prevention act for alleged bandit gunmen, their informants and supporters including those caught supplying them with fuel and food.
Day in day out, Nigerian daily newspapers publish stories on bandit raids on villages and communities, where they steal cattle, abduct families and terrorise residents.
In 2021, bandit gangs hit international headlines with a series of high-profile attacks on schools and colleges to kidnap scores of pupils for ransom. Some of those students are still held until now.
Experts indicate that the criminal gangs behind the abductions may not be driven by ideological motives but by financial gains.
A report (PDF) by SB Morgen shows that some $18m was paid to kidnappers as ransom between June 2011 and March 2020.
The bandit violence in Nigeria started as clashes between nomadic cattle herders and sedentary farmers over land and resources. However, tit-for-tat attacks have over the years spiraled into broader criminality.