Explainer: What Changes If Bandits Are Declared Terrorists?

There has been a gale of calls for President Muhammadu Buhari to declare bandits, who have been terrorising North West and some parts of North Central of the country, terrorists, for the Nigeria Military to undertake a crushing and decisive action against their criminal activities.

The actions of bandits, which started from cattle rustling, had overtime blown into a major conflict that has turned rural communities into scenes of carnage, cities into refugee camps and farmlands into danger zones.

The signature of the groups, drawn mostly from the Fulani ethnic group, has been kidnapping for ransom but its criminality tinged with killings and displacement has led to calls for a drastic action by the government to curb their dastardly actions despite the heavy-handed approach by the military to get rid of the groups, which has not yielded much result as anticipated.

With the federal government not giving the desired attention for the change, the hues and cries for the designation was brought to the floor of the National Assembly with a motion moved by the chairman, House Committee on Defence, Babajimi Benson, urging the president to make the declaration to save lives and bring to an end the menace.

While Benson argued that the president, through a Proscription Order, pursuant to section 2 of the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 (As Amended) can do so, the governor of Kaduna State disclosed that he had written a letter to the federal government in 2017 that bandits need not be shown mercy but sent to the gallows which the military can do without international repercussions.

According to him, “We in the Kaduna State government had always urged for the declaration of bandits as insurgents and terrorists. We have written letters to the federal government since 2017 asking for this declaration because it is this declaration that will allow the Nigerian military to attack and kill these bandits without any major consequences in the international law.

“So, we support the resolution by the National Assembly and we are going to follow up with a letter of support for the federal government to declare these bandits and insurgents as terrorists, so that there will be fair game for our military,” the governor added.

What makes a group terrorist?

The United Nations in Resolution 1373, defined terrorism as “Criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages with the purpose of provoking a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing an act.”

On its part, the Africa Union Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism 1999, which was supplemented by a Protocol in 2004, views it as actions that may endanger “life, physical integrity or freedom of or cause serious injury or death to, any person, their private property or natural resources environment” in a bid to force government to take certain actions or prevent it from doing an action.

The Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 viewed a terrorist as “any natural person who: participates as an accomplice in terrorist acts; or organizes or directs others to commit terrorist acts; contributes to the commission of terrorist acts by a group of persons acting with a common purpose.

By these definitions, bandits can fit into the definitions safe for the fact that they are yet to declare the resolve to establish their own government even though they serve as overlords and establish their authority in remote areas where governance is absent.

For proponents of the proscription, the brutality of the group was compared with Islamist groups, Boko Haram and ISWAP, wrecking havoc in the North East. The latter is hellbent on foisting its own system of government on places it wants to control and it is determined to do that through wanton killings and destruction.

How to declare a group terrorist

Apart from Boko Haram, the other groups that have been proscribed and declared terrorist groups are the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN). Their proscriptions came after clashes with military forces that were believed to have claimed lots of lives.

For IPOB, the labelling first came from military authorities, this may be from a section of the Terrorism Prevention Amendment Act, 2011 that bequeath security agencies the responsibility of “gathering of intelligence and investigation of the offences provided under this Act.”

Thereafter, the federal government made its proclamation. But this drew outcry and the pronouncement did not follow due process which falls under the purview of a court of law.

Giving reasons why IPOB was blacklisted, the then Director of Defence Information, Major General John Enenche, said the group had “clandestinely and actively been terrorising the general public with the formation of a Biafra Secret Service and Biafra National Guard, unauthorised blocking of public access roads and extortion of money from innocent civilians at illegal road blocks.”

It had “Militant possession and use of weapons (stones, molotov cocktails, machetes and broken bottles, among others) on a military patrol. Physical confrontation of troops by Nnamdi Kanu and other IPOB actors at a checkpoint on Sept. 11, 2017 and also attempt to snatch their rifles.

Declaring that “the Armed Forces of Nigeria wish to confirm to the general public that IPOB from all intent, plan and purpose as analysed, is a militant terrorist organisation.”

But with bandits doing worse than that and credited to shut down a military aircraft due to their sophisticated armoury, there is a perceived notion that the government is going soft on them due to lack of appetite to make the change.

The notoriety of the group is evinced to the government as the Minister of Power, Abubakar Aliyu, recently submitted that the growing insecurity challenges in Niger State (due to banditry) could prevent the inauguration of a multi-billion-naira project when completed in December as workers who are to operate the project could only relocate to the site and live there if their security were guaranteed.

What changes if the status goes terrorism

With the clamour and accusation to achieve a cheap political score, the federal government may eventually bow to pressure to declare bandits as terrorist, but requiring a court order to that opens up more hiccups.

In an article, a former Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Daily Trust, Mahmud Jega, while ascertaining that the vileness of bandit’s criminality could only be compared with that of Boko Haram or ISWAP, opined that bandits are disorganized and dispersed set of criminals who have no designated name or umbrella that can be tabled to a court to get proscription.

He, however, noted that there are “hundreds of small to large gangs, probably identified only by the names of their leaders. But the court registrar may not have enough space in his case file to accommodate the names of all bandit leaders if and when the Attorney General files his case.”

He added that since one of the aims of proscription is to stifle the means of income of proscribed organisations with pecuniary gain credited as a major factor flaming banditry, the groups have not been known to deal with a recognised financial institution to keep their ill-gotten proceeds.

Similarly, it is widely known that the money they make from their crimes is used to buy more and more weapons for superiority during their daring operations and to be feared among their criminal gangs.

However, the Director of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, stated that there is no difference whether the group is proscribed because the federal government has militarised its response to the gangs.

Though she admitted that the proscription would criminalise their assets and those affiliated to them, she said that it should not just be based on name changing but also government actions that would free the country from the viciousness unleashed on citizens.

“Either they are designated or not, they are still terrorists but the government will have to go further to designate some of those specific groups or their leaders or else, it makes no difference when we are focused on nomenclature to now refer to them as terrorists instead of bandits.”

She added that since some of their leaders are known, it would be a great step for a start.


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