On Sunday, September 22nd 2019, the Zamfara state police command triumphantly declared that it had rescued 372 kidnapped victims and seized two hundred and forty guns from Yan Sakai bandits.
For a while, the deadly cattle raids in Zamfara were widely regarded as Nigeria’s ignored security crisis, due to the fact that its casualties were eclipsed by those of the Middle Belt Crisis and the Boko Haram insurgency. As an unfortunate consequence, the conflict escalated until it reached a point where it could no longer be ignored. The conflict began with Fulani mercenaries attacking
predominantly Hausa settlements and occasionally kidnapping affluent individuals for ransoms. Since the government was unable to stop this initial violence, a vigilante force called the Yan Sakai emerged to carry out a vindictive campaign against Fulani people.
There are two important factors to consider here. The first is that the cattle raids initially descended into indiscriminate violence due to a lack of effective policing in the region. The second is that an equally indiscriminate counter-insurgency vigilante movement emerged to address the crisis, also due to a lack of effective policing. So, this is what it has come to. Some parts of our country have descended into a state akin to warlordism, a system in which any trained, armed militia can seize control of a region at any given time.
Another factor which inspires increasing levels of violence in insurgent groups is media coverage. Studies have shown that media coverage inspires increased radicalisation and increased activity levels among terrorist groups. Even more compelling is the fact that Yan Sakai’s trajectory closely resembles that of early Boko Haram. Both groups initially began in a nonviolent manner, with Boko Haram pursuing Islamic fundamentalist advocacy and Yan Sakai pursuing protection
from the violent actions of bandits in the region.
It could thus be argued that such security challenges emerged as a form of protest, forcing the government to pay attention to the people’s grievances through violent means when nonviolent means have failed to garner the desired attention. Terrorist groups such as the Yan Sakai are able to gain public support by providing limited public goods to those that support them, often those that the government fails to provide.
Several experts claim that the Zamfara crisis is a result of the fact that there is a large population in Nigeria struggling for rights over ever-dwindling resources. This means that security crises in Nigeria, as trends indicate, are caused more often by institutional failures and political discontent than any significant ideological or inter-tribal tensions. That said, the Zamfara state police command unit should be lauded for its successes in taming the crisis. However, we must not forget that unless the underlying issues behind these insurgencies are solved, similar movements will continue to have a hold on the nation.
Unless the federal government resolves to solve the underlying institutional and political issues at the heart of many of Nigeria’s insurgencies, nothing will change. We will continue to play this never-ending game of whack-a-mole in which one security challenge is addressed only for two others to surface in its place.
Funmilayo Adetokunbo A-A, a political and International Affairs Analyst, writes from Somerset, England, United Kingdom.