One month after the Nigerian government ruled out a potential amnesty programme for armed bandits, renewed calls have emerged. On March 25th 2021, Ahmad Gumi, an Islamic cleric and reported federal government-backed negotiator, held that if bandits are not assured of their safety and rehabilitation, they will not let go of their arms. He maintained that the Nigerian government should grant amnesty to the bandits just as was done to Niger Delta ex-militants.
In recent years, armed banditry has rocked the northwest and north-central regions with mass murders, abductions, and looting of communities. Some affected state governments in the hotspots had hastily extended uncertain peace deals to bandits, but it has not solved the bandits’ violence. On March 3rd 2021, Garba Shehu, a presidential spokesperson, said Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, has directed security agencies to shoot anyone seen with an AK-47. This is one of the latest efforts to flush out bandits.
While the Nigerian government insists on bandits’ total clampdown, Ahmad Gumi’s statement indicates the continuation of bandits’ violence if amnesty is not offered to them. Consequently, Nigeria must brace up for increased conflict between the Nigerian forces, residents in hotspots versus armed bandits. The no amnesty stance hints that the era of banditry is far from over without a revamped combat action. Therefore, the Nigerian government needs to match words with actions.
New steps must be taken to improve combat action in the bandits’ prone areas with community members’ aid. Securitisation of hotspot calls for a holistic action. Community actors have essential roles to play in the securitisation of the rural zones. Their collaboration will improve the efficiency of security personnel. The numerous non-state armed defence militias must also be incorporated in the securitisation of violent hotspots.
President Buhari-backed new security commitments in bandits-burdened states in Nigeria must factor in existing defence militias providing security needs. Military forces must work with state governments, civil society organisations and community actors to identify and register local security actors in target locations of renewed military missions. This will help to avoid a looming crisis of lumping bandits and informal security units that bear arms and alternatively turn them into productive assets for military engagements in the areas. Indiscriminate combat against defence militias may radicalise and turn them into enemies of the state, whereas they complement the ineffectual securitisation of the violent hotspots.