By Sani Abdulrazak
True is the saying that, when it rains, it pours. And if the last few weeks have told us anything in Northern Nigeria, it is that we are immersed in an ocean of our own tears and that no one is safe. In the Northwest region especially, it is like we are all waiting to be abducted or killed. Banditry has taken over almost all the forests in the region, overwhelmed most of our villages and has now set sight on our cities, especially the ancient city of Zaria, the pride of the region and fortress of knowledge and ideas, crippling the amity and serenity of one of the country’s true cosmopolitan city with agita, nervosity and incertitude. The poignantly pervasive abductions and killings in the Northwest region recently is almost record defying, some make it to the news while others don’t, and it makes someone wonder what exactly is going wrong? What do these bandits burned in effigy aim to achieve and how much blood of the innocent will quench their seemingly insatiable thirst?
Banditry has crippled economic activities in the Northwest. In a region known for its agricultural prowess, farmlands today are being deserted with the ripple effect being a looming food crisis. We have abandoned some of our major roads linking strategic cities due to fear of being attacked, this has further worsened the economic condition of the region with unemployment hitting the roof. When thunderclaps bellowed few years ago, the region hurriedly bathed themselves in mud in anticipation of rainwater, now these thunderclaps are ceasing without raindrops. Truth is, when expectations are so high, the lows can feel that much worse. The seemingly outdated and predictable approach by the leaders of the region seem ineffective in halting the drift into abyss. They seem devoid of ideas and logic on how to realistically tackle the miasma of insecurities bedeviling the region that you wonder if their thinking is frozen in the Antarctic glazier. Hardly a day goes by without the sad news of abduction and killings by bandits. How do these evil forces carry out their operations and the life of their victims in captivity?
This army of hexed evil force receives their own intelligence report and swiftly swing into action like bees. Time of the day means very little to them because they believe they are well and truly above the law. Who wouldn’t in their own position after all? This ‘mobile mortuary’ swamp their target community in dozens and sometimes in hundreds on motorbikes, armed to the teeth, shooting sporadically and yes, because taking lives means nothing to them. And when they get to their victim(s) location, they care less about doors and windows or their sophistication, instead they raze down walls with all the weapons and tools available to them, and gain entrance. Boom! They have their target, and move out swiftly killing anyone that stands their way leaving behind trail of sorrow and pain. In a bolt of fear, the victims are tied and strapped like luggage in the most insensate manner and taken to the forest while the captive’s loved ones poignantly left behind receive condolences and prayers as they anxiously await the next line of action.
Back in their den, the victims regurgitated and palpable fear becomes even more seismic, it is an environment of fear, of destruction and blood. You see the excruciating torture meted out to other captives knowing fully well that the same or even worse awaits you. How women are serially raped in captivity and how in the most unhygienic and inhumane manner some pregnant women give birth in the bandits’ den. The migraine tension is amplified further when you watch how some captives are mercilessly killed because payment of ransom is delayed or negotiations have broken down with their relatives. You drink from the same water source as other animals, food is rarely available, so they feed on fruits and sometimes even leaves. Hygiene and disease contamination don’t exist in that part of the world. Life under this portmanteau of evil is so soulless, callous and capricious that you only live by the second, knowing every time you draw a breath might be your last because you wouldn’t bet against an obdurate one among them putting a bullet in you against the group’s wishes. In the bandits’ den, the captives could but only consistently seek divine intervention in the choicest of their righteous prayers because they may be alive, but they are literally not living.
A healthy percentage of captives make it out of the forest alive, and the ones that do are usually greeted to wild jubilation from family, relatives and the community at large. It is like another chance at life after death. Sometimes you break news of hope or despair about other captives. But sadly, it lasts very little as the situation is so overwhelming to communities that psychological aid to the captives are given very little thought, because they are either busy negotiating the release of others or working hard to avoid or repel further bandit attacks.
A captive becomes ‘reborn’ both psychologically and financially. He begins to pessimistically see life generally from a different prism. It triggers a shift in his view and understanding of life. He probably might never be the same again as a result. He also loses almost everything financially as a result of payment of ransom, the house he labored for years and sometimes decades to own must have been sold in order to get him or his loved ones freed. The farmland is also not spared as it is also gone. To the civil servant, the investment you worked so hard for might also be gone and then retirement is well and truly staring you in the face with nothing to fall back to. To the businessmen, his capital might also have been depleted along with his properties. The biting economic condition will not spare him either. This is happening not because they didn’t plan, but as the saying goes ‘it is what it is’.
There are enough reasons behind why banditry flourishes to fill a series of books, some of them clearly visible to the blind and audible to the deaf. All these are happening in a region already with the highest number of out of school children, this is further worsened by bandit attacks on schools in the region. Also, with an implausible number of higher education vis-à-vis population and further worsened by astronomical rise in cost of education in a state in the region. A region that is now the poverty capital of the world and further aggravated by an unprecedented rise in food inflation in the region. This is not unconnected to farmers in the region deserting their farmlands over fear of being attacked. Most of our industries especially the textile and glass industries that have sustained us for generations are in comatose with little efforts at reviving them, thus, escalating the inconceivably oceanic unemployment level experienced in the region. At the moment, we believe we’ll surmount these challenges because sometimes it may look like sunset, but in reality, it is dawn.
Sani Abdulrazak, author of “The Adventure of Ayya” is the National Public Relations Officer of Arewa Consultative and Synergy Congress (ACSC). He can be reached via Email at firstname.lastname@example.org