President Muhammadu Buhari’s media aide Garba Shehu has denounced the claim of information minister Lai Mohammed that bandits terrorising the country, especially the North-West, are common criminals.
According to Mr Shehu, the murderous bandits are terrorists just like Boko Haram insurgents.
“But this too, the Economist inaccurately described: ‘bandits’ who have the resources and technology to shoot down a military fighter jet are not bandits at all – but rather highly organised crime syndicates with huge resources and weaponry. Yet, they are essentially no different to Boko Haram in this regard who are now cornered,” argued the presidential spokesman in response to a UK-based paper, The Economist, which reported on the worsening insecurity under Mr Buhari’s regime.
A few days ago, information minister Lai Mohammed described the bandits ravaging the North as ordinary criminals, as pressure mounts for Mr Buhari to activate measures to treat them as a terrorist group.
The Economist noted that terrorists and armed bandits are increasing their activities due to the corruption and laziness from Mr Buhari and his administration, adding that Nigeria’s insecurity could be curbed if the president would focus on Nigeria’s unemployment crisis by cutting government waste.
Mr Shehu’s comments come amidst the Buhari-led regime’s reluctance to declare the extremist groups as such publicly.
Government officials and other prominent individuals have aired opposing views regarding designating the bandits as terrorists.
Islamic Cleric Sheikh Ahmad Gumi also warned against Mr Buhari declaring bandits as terrorists, saying it will mark the end of Nigeria as a sovereign and united entity.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna had also expressed his displeasure at the reluctance of Mr Buhari’s regime to declare the bandits as terrorists.
Mr El-Rufai noted that just two years after Mr Buhari assumed power, he had requested the regime to declare the bandits as terrorists in several letters.
Mr El-Rufai’s Kaduna has been amongst the most devastated by the violent marauding criminals terrorising Nigeria’s northwestern region in recent years, abducting hundreds of schoolchildren for ransom and plundering communities.
They were responsible for the multiple abductions of students that have forced schools to shut down in Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, and Zamfara. In July, the bandits shut down a Nigerian Air Force jet in Zamfara and raided the Nigerian Defence Academy Kaduna.
Although Mr Buhari acknowledged bandits have been terrorising the country, his regime has been reluctant to declare bandits as terrorists because they have yet to declare a political or religious goal, a key requisite in designating a movement as terrorists under international regulations.