GUEST COLUMNIST

THE BANDIT ECONOMY by Alex Agbo

I will not go into the story of how or how not banditry became a burgeoning industry in Nigeria. I will leave that for historians to worry about. My concern should be about analysing the consequences of such a trade and giving vent to it.There seems to be a pattern nowadays in the bandit business. They go about kidnapping people, with a particular focus on school children. They enter into the forests and then the government or a self appointed moralist goes searching for them with a band of journalists.He negotiates with them, he even preaches to them. After that he hands over to them a largesse running into hundreds of millions of Naira, that the people would pay back in the form of taxes.I want to quickly point out the economic side of this catastrophic pattern that Nigeria is setting for itself. First of all, we need to be open minded to read this and not be bitter, no matter how it gores our horses. The ongoing evil is a recipe for a thoroughly underdeveloped country in the next 20 years, especially in  the northern part of Nigeria. It is the region with the highest rate of poverty in the country as I write. Maybe it might change in the next hour. Miracles still happen. But as of this moment, the statistics  are damning. With over 10 million children out of school, palpable malnutrition, alarming birth rate and high mortality rate in a subsistence society , one cannot wish the situation away. Yet, the government is not doing anything about it. My major concern is how the northern elite, in collaboration with the religious top class, have turned poverty into a virtue, thereby perpetuating wretchedness among the ordinary people. Banditry in the north is a brainchild of extreme and biting poverty. Without mincing words, it has become every clear that the northern elite, from their statements , are in full support of it, to the point of turning it to another pet project.Recently, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, a former captain in the Nigeria army turned cleric, admonished the government of Nigeria to give blanket amnesty to the bandits. Let me ask what is the economic implication of borrowing to buy arms for the military which they’d not use because they either cannot locate the criminals or simply refuse to do so?If Gumi, obviously with a third eye, could locate the bandits, what is stopping him from leading the army to arrest them or annihilate them? The implication is that while the government globe trot trying to borrow money, it is not committed to any meaningful development but paid to bandits and criminals. It can only mean only one thing. We are owing a lot and we are not even using it well. Generations to come will pay for it, yet they would not see what they are paying for.Secondly, the scare of being kidnapped or being killed would keep many parents from sending their children to school. From Chibok to Dapchi to Abuja to Kankara to Kagara, the news of school children being carted away reverberates across the entire nation. Place that side by side with the seemingly reluctance of the military to delay with the situation and you get a damning apathy to education in that region.  It is only logical to conclude that the trained, innovative and creative human resources that would drive other factors of production in the region will not exist in the next ten years if this continues.I do not intend to lecture anyone on the importance of giving your people quality education in the 21st century.  The leaders of the north are eroding value, resources and all in their game of politics. And they know it.Another critical thing I want to point out is this. Placed side by side the devastating inflation caused by the inability of the country to diversify its economy and manage its abundant natural resources, banditry will cause unprecedented food scarcity if not nipped in the bud .With the herdsmen running rampant destroying farms and food storages across the country, we may end up eating only cows. The southern part of Nigeria, especially the west, are great in farming crops like yam, cassava and so on. Many people borrow money from banks and other financial institutions to finance these projects. These things get destroyed by herds of cattle in a blink of an eye. We all watch on. Very soon, we would be operating a war economy.The terrorism spreading across the country is causing many to lose small scale businesses and returning to poverty. Take for instance a school owner. The government schools are nothing to write about. And this gave rise to the private schools. The government cannot competently manage a transportation system.  That’s why individuals own transportation systems. The government cannot even build houses for its citizens. That is why private businesses in the real estate sector have sprung up in all corners of the countries. Okay, so houses have been built. The herders march their cattle, carrying AK47 assault rifles and all the ammo. They gun down people and the estate burnt down.  Billions of Naira lost! In all of these, no one is ever arrested. The situation begins to give impetus to other criminals. The police and the military seem to have redefined their own targets. On the 13th of February 2021, we saw the police come out in full force to stop a planned protest against the reopening of the Lekki toll gates. My wonder has been since then that if the police could muster such a number and sophistication just for unarmed protesters, what’s stopping them from arresting criminals and dealing with them?I came to one conclusion,  and I’d like to be proved wrong. There is a deliberate refusal to deal with crime in Nigeria. It appears that someone is making huge profits from the unfolding lawlessness and brewing anarchy.This is a call on the elder statesmen in the country to rise up and take a position before we are all consumed. The Igala people believe that the sky cannot fall on just one person. It will fall on the young and the old. Enough of the killings and savagery.God bless Nigeria. 

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