The making of civil bandits, jobless billionaires

One phenomenon for which the Buhari administration will be easily remembered even long after it has departed is the issue of banditry. While the problem was not entirely new to the country before President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in 2015, it has since evolved into a monster that threatens the very foundation of the country. Whereas it was initially limited to some parts of the north before 2015, there is no part of the country now where the people can walk without watching their backs or sleep with both eyes closed. The ugly development has drawn the country into the realm of Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature where life, according to the 17th Century British political philosopher, was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

Each passing day, the nation wakes up to the news of hordes of people abducted on their journeys, in their homes, at their places of work or even at worship centres by dare-devil gunmen demanding abominable sums as ransoms. And the dimensions the demands for ransom have assumed are both befuddling and frightening.

In Kaduna State, for instance, poor parents had to cough out a whopping N180 million to secure the release of 13 students abducted from Greenfield University after 38 days in kidnappers’ den. The parents told of how they sold their property to raise the said sum paid to the gunmen who invaded the university campus on April 20 and took away 18 students and three members of the institution’s staff. One of the students had been killed during the raid while another five were shot dead by the kidnappers in their den to drive home the threat that they would all be killed if a ransom of N800 million was not paid on time.

 

In Zamfara State, there were reports of some bandits’ leaders making it a condition for farmers in some communities to work on their (bandits’) farmlands before they would be allowed to cultivate their own farmlands as the planting season approached. The hapless farmers had no choice but to comply. A resident of Babbar Doka community was quoted as saying that farmers from Kura Mota, Ruwan Mesa, Unguwar Makeri, Mai Taushi, Danbaure, Hayin Madi and Chabi loaded in three Canter trucks were made to work on the farm of a notorious bandits’ leader known as Black. Some desperate communities have also had to negotiate with bandits on the monthly sum they would have to remit for the residents to live in peace.

In some communities, residents have formed themselves into cooperative societies for the purpose of raising the sum needed as ransom each time a member or their relations are kidnapped while others have resorted to borrowing money from banks to pay the ransoms demanded for the release of their loved ones from kidnappers’ dens. Invariably, the nation is faced with the rise of billionaires who add no other value to the GDP than threaten people’s lives with AK-47 rifles. And the fear of these gun-wielding bandits appears to have been compounded by the rise of another set of bandits who wield no guns but whose actions are not any less lethal with regard to the nation’s finances.

In recent weeks, the news media have been awash with stories of mind-boggling sums pilfered from the public purse. There were reports during the week of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovering the sum of N1 billion from the bank account of a federal permanent secretary. EFCC Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, had hinted at it last month while appearing before the Senate Committee on Finance. “We have recovered over N1 billion sitting in the account of a civil servant last week,” he said. During the week also, the EFCC boss spoke of a female minister who allegedly bought $37 million worth of property from a bank and made a cash deposit of $20 million conveyed from her residence with a bullion van. Appearing at the ministerial briefing organized by the presidential communication team at the Presidential Villa on Thursday, Bawa also revealed the discovery of the sum of N6 billion stolen from the treasury of an unnamed state.

The rise of civil bandits like the unnamed minister and the permanent secretary is seen by many as the fallout of armed banditry. Many public office holders are now desperate to store up as much money as possible so they would be in a position to easily pay whatever sum is demanded as ransom when they or their loved ones are abducted. It is the unfortunate consequence of the failure of the nation’s leadership to nip banditry in the bud and heed the age-long aphorism that a stitch in time saves nine. Now the nation’s wealth is being redistributed in a way that individuals and groups whose activities add nothing to the gross domestic product (GDP) are in control of its wealth. That partly explains the galloping inflation that has become the lot of the country and why the naira continues to crumble against other currencies like a pack of cards.

Source: The Nation

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