For an appreciable period during the currency swap from February to April, there was a drastic reduction in crime across the country. Pickpockets went on recess. Burglars didn’t dare break into houses because there was nothing to steal. Bandits and terrorists even had a harder time of it. Reason? No cash for ransom, period. So, they stayed in their dens, hideouts bemoaning their fate, cursing PMB and CBN governor Godwin Emefiele for putting a cog in the wheel of their money-making machine. Now, they are back and bolder, rampaging through dozens of communities in Benue, Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, Taraba and Zamfara as if the lull during the Naira swap for two months galvanised them to double down in their criminal escapades. THEWILL considers some recent incidents of abductions and killings. Michael Jimoh reports…
Career criminals used to say money is the root of all action. In the lingo of the underworld, it means that nothing much happens without money to be made at the end of the day. If you have to stick out your neck in any criminal enterprise – a bank heist, say, burglary, or an abduction, there has to be some pile to be made for your troubles.
But for once in the history of banditry, the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari took the bread out of their mouth with the currency swap policy initiated and implemented by CBN governor Godwin Emefiele. It was a hard and unexpected blow to the bandits.
True, Nigerians complained bitterly about the Naira redesign from old to new ones. The old ones were no longer legal tender at the time and the earlier you took them to the bank in exchange for new ones, the better for you. But the new ones were scarcer to get, resulting in the sharp drop of the naira in circulation.
It is also true that sometime in early February, soon after the naira swap exercise began, one Kachalla Baleri, a notorious bandit, displayed denominations of the new notes like a drunk out of kilter. Along with members of his gang, they made a video showing off the notes mostly in N1, 000 and N200 bills, chest-thumping at the same time they already had in their possession millions and millions of the new notes while ordinary folk were cash-strapped.
“They redesigned the naira, poor innocent people don’t even know about it,” Baleri spoke in Hausa in the video. “Some don’t even own up to N10, 000. He has to wake up early in the morning to go and hustle. What of those who have millions in the cities? You see, it is between them. The money they are saying people are changing, we that are in the bush are changing it, some people who are in the cities haven’t even received it.”
Continuing in a gloating manner, Baleri thundered: “But you see, the people they are referring to as terrorists have hold of the money. This is the new N1, 000 note; this is the new N200 note. We are just showing them a little of what we have. We have plenty of sacks of the new money, and only Allah knows the amount of the new notes that we have.”
Baleri’s was a premature boast because Nigerians didn’t get to read or hear of any more abductions for the period the currency swap lasted. From the criminal’s point of view, there’s no point storming a village in the dead of night looking for human victims that won’t bring in cash. It was not worth the trouble.
Against that backdrop, the bandits hung up their guns and remained unmentioned in the front pages for that period of time. It was as if nothing like banditry ever took place in the entire country. But then, the cash squeeze was becoming unbearable to ordinary Nigerians. Banks had no money to pay millions of depositors across the country. PoS operators charged astronomical fees in return for paltry sums.
Of course, there were the lengthy queues in banks and PoS centres where, because of time spent to collect money, Nigerians began to drop dead in their numbers. A woman or two gave birth in one or two such serpentine lines. A man went stark naked in a banking hall in Lagos. A headstrong and impatient lot, Nigerians began to grumble, which soon rose to a national murmur. There were two persons to blame for all this: PMB and CBN governor Emefiele.
Harassed thus, PMB promptly tendered an apology to Nigerians on account of the hardship caused by the Naira redesign policy. “I apologise to you for the hardship caused by the change of the naira,” Buhari said during a campaign for Uba Sani as governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Kaduna state. “It was done to boost the economy of the country, not to cause hardship to anybody.”
With that, the Naira redesign policy soon became history and a new date fixed for December when the old notes would have been mopped up from circulation. If Nigerians were happy at the presidential apology, it goes without saying that bandits would have been happier. The Naira redesign policy took them out of business and rendered them redundant. Now, with money in circulation, they oiled and took up their guns once again.
Back to Business
It would have seemed like an April Fools’ Day to residents of eight communities in Mashegu local council of Niger state when bandits attacked them on April 1st. But it was for real. Reported in the papers on April 2nd, the villagers were surprised by bandits who ransacked the communities.
Speaking of the raids, chairman of the council, Hon. Umar Jibrin Igede said seven of the eight communities have been deserted because of the attacks. Kulho, Sahon Rami and Tashan were specifically targeted by the bandits.
He stated that seven of the communities in the local government have been deserted as a result of incessant attacks from the bandits. “A total of 26 persons have so far been abducted from the affected communities,” Igede said, “while seven others were killed by the notorious armed bandits in their renewed onslaught against the residents of the local government.”
The renewed attacks by the terrorists, Igede continued, “is posing a serious security threat to the villagers as the attacks of these armed bandits in Mashegu is becoming unbearable and we need serious assistance from the relevant security agencies to come to our rescue.”
Still in Niger state but this time in the FCT, there were reports late last April that 29 persons in Kwali local government area were abducted by bandits. In the words of Daniel Ishaku, an aide to the council boss, the locals were attending a local ceremony when the bandits suddenly showed up guns blazing.
“They took people from the playground and then went into the houses and took some people,” said Ishaku. “They entered the bush with the people they carried walking on foot.”
Some victims, it was reported, escaped from their abductors.
Up north, the bandits were also hard at work, especially in Zamfara state described by security experts as “one of the epicentres of criminality in the country with armed men raiding vilages.”
In a recent attack last month, for instance, the bandits killed at least 35 people in five communities. The village head was among those annihilated. Babban Baye, Daki Takwas, Kadaddaba, Rafin Gero and Wanu were raided leading to the death of the head of Wanu.
Shawwal Aliyu, a youth leader of Anka told reporters the attackers targeted the communities because of their closeness. “You know the communities are very close,” Aliyu said. “When they stormed Wanu, they went straight to the traditional ruler’s house where some residents had also gathered and they started shooting sporadically. It’s possible that he (villàge head) was not the reason for the attack because they were just shooting while people continued running. It was in the evening that the dead bodies were gathered.”
“Those who escaped the bandits’ attack ran to Anka in the evening and despite that the villagers called security agents several times while they were being attacked, 15 people were killed just like that yesterday (Thursday).”
Barely a week after the attacks, Nigerians began to call out PMB once again, laying the blame squarely at the presidential doorstep. The irony of it all is that no one commended the president all through the ‘dry period’ for the bandits, a period of unavailable cash thus reducing cases of banditry in Nigeria.
With the return of the bandits and terrorists, Nigerians have once again turned their attention to the presidency. Publicity secretary of the African Action Congress, Femi Adeyeye pointedly observed that the AAC “is once again saddened by violent crimes and killings that have characterized the Buhari regime. It’s so sad that these terrorist attacks have so become a norm in our space that these killings no longer make headlines in our tabloids.
“One is also forced to ask why this torrent of attacks that seem to have subsided some weeks ago, just suddenly resumed after the elections. The Buhari regime has a lot of explanations to give. Just yesterday, 80 children were reported to have been kidnapped by terrorists in Tsafe Local Government of Zamfara State. Needless to say is the increasing number of school children in the nets of bandits.
“The killings in Benue seem to have resumed as hundreds of people have been killed and displaced by different grades of assailants who operate with little or no resistance from security agents.
“Between Monday and Wednesday, no fewer than 52 people have been killed by suspected killer herders in separate attacks on two communities in Otukpo and Apa LGAs of Benue State. We as a party find it embarrassing that till this moment, there has been no reasonable response from security agencies in the country. Neither has there been any decisive action from those who promised to secure the lives and property of Nigerians.”
Some daring bandits have also raided communities in Taraba state, prompting a youth leader Ure Danjuma to seek the assistance of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, National Emergency Management Agency, Nigeria Border Community Development Agency and North East Development Commission.
“What is happening in Takum and Ussa Local Government Areas and Yangtu Special Development Area is not farmers-herders attacks and reprisal attacks or search for missing cows,” Danjuma said. “It is a large-scale invasion of an innocent group of people by a set of bandits who are nothing other than terrorists.”
The situation for residents of those communities is “horrific and pathetic” because men, women and children have lost their lives in the process. ”The situation on ground requires large-scale humanitarian support for the displaced persons,” Danjuma went on. “Unless the Nigerian government rises to this occasion, more villages will be destroyed, more people will die, more children will become orphans and many more people will be displaced.”
With just about three weeks to go in the Buhari Administration, observers are worried that his government might not be able to do much in tackling a renewed surge in insecurity in places affected. Some even make the case that while the Naira redesign contained and checked the excesses of bandits for the period it lasted, blaming the Presidency now for the recent attacks by bandits is misplaced. In their view, it was the same Nigerians who asked that money in circulation should be increased to ease the suffering of the masses.
With the country awash in old and new Naira notes, you can say that from their moments of inactivity between February and April, the criminals now have something to kidnap and kill for.