The Coordinator of the Nigeria Customs Service Sector 4 Command, Joint Border Team in the North-West, Aliyu Mohammed, told newsmen last week in Katsina that he gave bandits seven bags of rice in order to avert kidnapping. He said he and his team encountered the bandits in Dutsinma Local Government Area of Katsina State who demanded the quantity of rice in exchange for their (Customs officers) freedom.
Said Aliyu, “I sacrificed my life to enter the bush where the bandits are — the last time we had contact with them — to the extent that they were a little bit friendly with us. We seized 37 bags of rice and they said if we are to go, they have to take seven bags. So, we gave them seven bags to save our lives. So, you see the risks we take, but people, especially those living along the border communities, engage in attacking our officers.”
Notably, the Customs joint border team coordinator said this with an air of self-pity, obviously expecting to draw sympathy from his audience. It is not known how much of it he got. Nevertheless, being a victim of these vicious bandits is not a pleasant experience. Not all that enter their custody come out alive. It is, therefore, something worth thanking God for or being celebrated – as some would prefer – if someone encounters the bandits face to face and escapes unscathed.
But in the case of the Customs officers it cannot be celebration all the way. There are vital questions that must be asked, such as: how many were the bandits? Were the security officers not armed? Were they outnumbered by the bandits that they could not fight their way through, or did the bandits look too fierce to be confronted? Why were the Customs officers consumed with fear of the bandits?
These questions have to be asked because the Customs joint border patrol team is well-equipped, and the encounter with bandits should have been a time for action. Instead, the Customs officers demonstrated apparent weakness and helplessness. It is sad to observe that when the occasion calls for Customs patrol or anti-smuggling teams to use their weapons, they usually develop cold feet, but are ready to pursue unarmed ‘smugglers’ or even an ordinary citizen that crosses the border to buy two bags of rice to his house or to a crowded market, shooting and sometimes killing innocent people in the process. That Aliyu and his team easily gave in to the demands of the bandits, thereby negotiating their freedom, can only be described as ignoble and a reflection of the general helplessness of the Nigerian security agencies in the face of the menace of bandits and terrorists in the country. It is this ‘settlement’ of the bandits that has sustained the crime all these years.
And come to think of it, the Customs or the joint border patrol team’s business is at the borders, not inside the bush. They are not detailed to go into the bushes where their lives might be endangered, in search of smugglers. But from Mohammed Aliyu’s narration, one can infer that the Customs team often enters the bush where the bandits reside, and may have struck some kind of friendship with them.
One inescapable inference from the narration of Mohammed Aliyu is that he and his men know where these bandits are in the bush. The security agencies also know, and so does the government. Yet they have been pampered, negotiated with and rewarded with ransoms whenever they strike. It is only now that President Muhammadu Buhari has given orders for them to be flushed out of the country. Hitherto, the fight against these bandits had been half-hearted and placatory for reasons only known to the political leaders.
If truth must be told, feeding bandits with rice seized from smugglers cannot pass the test of nobility. This amounts to empowering the bandits who can only ask for more. Of course, when they finish the seven bags of rice, they will definitely come for more, as they appear to know where to find the Customs officers. It is an irony of the Nigerian situation that bandits that wreak havoc in the communities: burning, maiming, kidnapping, raping and killing people would be fed with rice that should have been used to feed people languishing in hunger in some Internally Displaced Persons camps and elsewhere in the country.
Aliyu and his team’s encounter with the bandits is cowardice in action. What they did was simply negotiating with bandits and paying ransom, contrary to the stance of President Buhari and the Federal Government.
In view of all these, it is difficult for the Customs North-West Coordinator to draw the sympathy he expected from Nigerians for ‘risking his life” in entering the bush to face bandits. Rather he deserves to be censored for portraying Nigeria’s security forces as weak before bandits, and for negotiating with them and paying ransom contrary to the position of the Federal Government.
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