Just like when he used the uncommon phrase “dots in a circle,” President Muhammadu Buhari has popularized another phrase this year, which is speaking to criminals and other enemies of the state “in a language that they understand.” Many Nigerians scoffed at this latter phrase, saying it was an empty boast and that the president had no aces up his long shadda sleeve in dealing with insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and secessionists. Until IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu was seized by Nigeria’s intelligence agents from the streets of an as yet unknown country, that is. After that, many people sat up and listened attentively to Buhari’s strange phrases.
At the weekend, he repeated his threat to speak to bandits in the language they understand after they killed 40 people in a Thursday night operation in four Zamfara State villages. It was a gory and merciless massacre; the bandits shot at anything and anyone they could find, children and adults, set houses ablaze and drove away whole cattle herds. Quite likely, the bandits were on a “revenge” mission because local vigilantes might have killed some of their kind, which often explains the merciless character of their operation.
Now, if you are a policeman investigating this crime, your first clue is that they made away with whole cattle herds. Who else but a pastoralist can drive a cattle herd through the bush in the dead of night and knows where to hide them? If you give me one Sallah ram in the night this week, I will have serious trouble taking it home, not to mention a bull.
From all indications our current security arrangements are not working well, and there is urgent need to find that language that bandits and insurgents understand. Maybe we should begin with the cattle. In so far as cattle rustling was the original reason for banditry, first in Zamfara before it spread to other states, can we implant a chip in every bull, cow and calf in Nigeria and make them un-rustlable? Chips will send clinking signals to a command server as a rustled herd matches through the bush. It is a language that bandits will quickly understand and it will bring rustling to a screeching halt.
A second language that bandits will understand, even its pidgin version, is to take away their main asset, which is near-monopoly knowledge of the bush. By now, every inch of Nigeria’s forests and bushes should be covered by satellites and drones. Two types of drones; ones for surveillance and others for fast attack. Daring and fierce that they look to us, bandits are actually cowards and they will cut their losses and run once they realise that an instant technological answer has been deployed against them.
Bandit camps litter our bushes and forests. Local hunters and village chiefs know where most of them are. I say release hellfire missiles at as many of them as possible, and announce on the radio [which pastoralists earnestly listen to] that all bandit camps are known and will be wiped out unless they come forward, drop their weapons and pledge to abandon criminality. If the Air Force cannot do it, please President Buhari, put ego aside and bring in South African, Ukrainian, Czech or Kazakh contractors.
Sorry Sheikh Gumi, sermons will not work here. As apprehended male and female bandits tell the cops in videos that we see, they have neither religious nor Western education of any kind. It is almost impossible for them to appreciate what most urban folks can easily understand, that this career of wholesale murders, arson, rustling and kidnap for ransom cannot endure for long. How can anyone but the person without the least education believe that he can continue to waylay travelers on highways, raid school compounds, besiege villages and use cheap Nokia phones to negotiate tens of millions of naira in ransom from distraught families? Once some bandits got away with it, thousands of other pastoral youths also joined the action. Tell them in a language they understand that crime does not pay, in the long run.
Which brings me to the telecom challenge. Minister of Digital Economy, please, the most booming aspect of the telecom revolution in Nigeria is kidnapping and negotiating for ransom. Bring together MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9Mobile chiefs to a small table in your office and tell them this: they have a few weeks to deploy a telecom answer to negotiating for ransom. I don’t know how they will do it, since I am not a telecom engineer. When President Franklin Roosevelt assembled nuclear scientists led by Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi in the Manhattan Project and told them to produce a weapon that will destroy the Axis Powers, did he know anything about fission and fusion of atoms?
President Buhari, please don’t say again that government has the wherewithal to deal with bandits and insurgents. Did you ever state in public that government had the intelligence wherewithal to pluck Kanu from a foreign street? All we saw was Kanu in an Abuja courtroom. All we want to see in the next few weeks are Hellfire and Sidewinder missiles raining down on bandit camps, and them emerging in large numbers to surrender.
One final request. We want to see bandit leader Dogo Gide, who abducted the Birnin Yauri schoolgirls, handcuffed in a dock near Nnamdi Kanu. I think that was what Southern Governors meant by “selective administration of criminal justice” in their notorious communique of last week.
Monday, July 12, 2021.
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