banditry-and-atiku’s-‘90%-voters’

In a recent broadcast, the Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, mentioned that most of those who would vote for him are not on social media. During his interview with Arise TV last Friday, Atiku noted that 90 per cent of the people comprising his political base, the Northern region of Nigeria, do not use social media. This silent majority is his joker compared to his Labour Party opponent’s online following. Some people made predictable noises about Atiku’s claim, but the man was hardly wrong. According to data provider Statista, only about 53 million of us currently use social media. That is about a quarter of the projected 200 million population of Nigeria.

While a significant chunk of northerners might not be on social media, many of them also do not vote if we go by the statistics of the last two presidential elections. In 2019, all the votes cast to elect the President were a mere 28.6 million—less than 15 per cent of the country. Despite all the hype about a mammoth crowd of northerners who jump out on election day to dutifully vote, we do not record up to 50 per cent turnout of registered voters. Even the election that brought the incumbent President, Maj. Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to office in 2015 did not witness a remarkable turnout. For all the fanatical love they say the North has for Buhari, and their putative tendency to show up at the polls for their regional politicians, the votes were low relative to their estimated population. Either the country’s population is exaggerated, or people just do not have enough faith in democracy to expend their energies on the process.

Days ago, after watching the BBC Africa documentary on banditry in places like Zamfara and Sokoto, I wondered how many of the 90 per cent Atiku is banking on to show up for him on election day have voting on their list of priorities. The northerners I saw in the documentary look traumatised and beleaguered; helpless victims of a dysfunctional country. The documentary narrated the story of a region hard-pressed by increasingly hostile environmental conditions, the concomitant hardship such as communal clashes between farmers and herders, and the inevitable descent into criminality as people strove for survival. Watching the documentaries, you learn that many thousands of people had been killed. The thousands of those alive bear the trauma of violence and grapple with rage, grief, and survivor guilt.

Some months ago, TrustTV published a similar documentary, and it was just as insightful. Between BBC Africa and TrustTV’s daring foray into the enclaves of the bandits, we see the stories of a people besieged. Even children, born in the middle of a war they did not ask for, fight for their dear lives. Amidst the monstrosity of violence and displacement, one still sees the force of human resilience in the actions of brave parents/guardians teaching children their schoolwork since they can no longer go to school due to the state of insecurity. They manage to keep the lights in the minds of their children turned on despite everything. Several times during the documentary, I wondered if these people are a part of Atiku’s 90 per cent count. It would be ridiculous to ask them if they have considered voting either Atiku or his opponents.

Throughout the various narrations of the people in the BBC documentary, one struggles to apprehend heroes from the villains. From the criminal sovereigns whom we call bandits—the linguistic registers we have applied do not aptly capture what they represent—to the vigilantes repelling attacks and sometimes carrying out reprisals, to the Nigerian soldiers and police braving the war and whose roles as saviours and executors frequently collapse, life is complex. The bandits interviewed in the two documentaries were different, but they shared similar stories of an ever-decimating quality of life, social injustice, and disenchantment with the rudderless nature of the Nigerian state. Their stories do not justify their maniac violence against poor and innocent people. There is no circumstance under which we will acquit the blood on their hands and the suffering they have caused. Still, one can note that their bitterness against the country coheres with that of millions of young people in other regions of the country where violence has become endemic. The problems have a similar pattern of Nigeria failing Nigerians; a forewarning that the night might get even darker if we do not wake up.

At one end of the spectrum of Nigeria’s problems is the band of youths also braving all kinds of middle passages to leave the country before they are entirely enveloped in darkness, and at the other are those who cannot leave but put their resilience into action by taking to criminality as an occupation. According to one of the bandits interviewed, what they do is now big business. The more money these bandits are paid as ransom, the wider they expand their enterprise by procuring more guns, and the more intricate the web of conspiracy against Nigeria gets woven. An abduction of school children that one bandit group carried out netted a whopping N60m. One could diligently put in 35 years of meritorious service into the civil service and still not come close to a quarter of that amount. These young men have tasted blood, found an easy means to free-flowing money, and their conscience is dead. There is no single or simple solution to the crisis, yet the situation needs arrest before the children currently being traumatised by the violence and the displacement turn into another generation of killers. Today’s bandits were yesterday’s neglected children.

From the look of things, our leaders have run the limits of their wits in tackling these problems. Unused to the art of social reengineering, they appease the criminals by offering money, amnesty, and other forms of pacification. A senator once sponsored a bill proposing to send repentant bandits to school abroad. The Emir of Birnin ’Yandoto in Zamfara, Aliyu Marafa, turbaned Ado Alero, a bandit kingpin currently on Katsina State police list of wanted criminals. The Emir must have assumed that ennobling a man like that with a chieftaincy title would put him on the side of the people, but those measures only work in the short term. While each state must work out its own salvation, Nigeria still needs to urgently fashion out an overarching agenda that will confront problems of desert encroachment and other fallouts of environmental changes causing tension in those rural areas. We need reforms and resources at all levels of society.

The news about yet another gunmen attack in the Federal Capital Territory on Tuesday came in just around the time I finished watching the documentary. This time, they hit the presidential guards and killed eight of them. The violent attacks that have been taking place everywhere in the country are lodging itself in the nation’s capital. It is an unfortunate development that highlights how much the debates around next year’s elections have been substantially lacking. People have wasted valuable time hyperventilating over a Muslim-Muslim ticket when the hunger and pain assaulting us is irreligious. The harder the conditions in the country get, the more the insecurity situation worsens. Our presidential candidates need to start coming up with concrete agenda to resolve the myriad problems of insecurity and the failing economy. Enough of ‘agbado and cassava’ economics; a ‘demand and consumption’ ideology with little bearing on the reality of the people who have sold their farms to ransom themselves and their children from abductors.The challenges ahead of us are enormous; we need a leadership that can systematically improve life for all Nigerians.

Ironically, some Fulanis in the BBC Africa documentary complained of marginalisation, saying they are poor victims of Hausas’ nepotism. If you ask the Hausas (and the multiple ethnicities that constitute northern Nigeria) for their side of the story, I am almost confident they will share similar grievances. Unfortunately for the Fulanis, their southern counterparts think of them as the oppressors. They imagine that the Hausa-Fulani (always categorised as a singular identity) enjoy some benefits because they share ethnicity with the current occupant of Aso Rock. I wonder what the ‘Fulanisation agenda’ means to those Fulani and the bandits among them who think they are victimised because of their ethnicity.

Come to think of it, almost every Nigerian group alleges marginalisation. One wonders, for whom has this Nigerian contraption ever paid off? From the North to South, we have been equal victims of a perennially irresponsible, corrupt, and radically evil leadership. Who even gets any benefit from being Nigerians? The apparatchiks of darkness begging for our votes should be begging for our forgiveness for how they have decimated us.

By Tochi

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