The rise in banditry has led to a dramatic increase in sexual and gender-based violence, which was already high due to prevailing cultural norms in the North West, according to a report by the Center for the Development of Democracy (CDD).
The report which is, titled ‘Northwest Nigeria’s Bandit Problem: Explaining the conflict drivers’ obtained by CIRI also noted that there are approximately 100 bandit groups constituting between 10,000 and 30,000 militants operating in the region.
It highlighted the historical factors and fundamental drivers of the conflict, the bandits’ identities, motivations and modus operandi, as well as the role of other actors in the conflict such as anti-bandit vigilantes and federal security forces. .
The report also looked at the roles of traditional leaders and institutions, the relationship between bandits and jihadists, the gender dimensions of insecurity in the northwest, and the insufficiency of current government efforts to resolve the conflict.
Regarding the gender dimension of the conflict, the report noted that the rise in banditry has led to a dramatic increase in sexual and gender-based violence, which was already high due to prevailing cultural norms, adding that bandits in the North West frequently rape women and capture them as “war brides” during their raids.
“The conflict has exacerbated the commodification of women, as some families give their daughters (many of whom are still children) to bandits as wives in exchange for protection.
“Children are also victims of the conflict, both in terms of direct violence and because many are orphaned or forced out of school,” the report notes.
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Although women and children have been victims of banditry, they are not entirely passive actors in the conflict.
“Children joined the bandits as well as Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN) and Yan Sakai in large numbers, often against their will. In bandit attire, the youngest fighter was nine years old. Some women also work with the bandits, serving as informants, wives and camp attendants or, in rarer cases, combatants,” the report read in part.
The report further states that women have also been smuggling food and weapons as bandits and will scout and infiltrate communities disguised as traders or beggars ahead of attacks.
He added that women also attracted victims in their abduction; although some are coerced, others do so for financial gain.
“Beyond banditry, some women are involved in crime in the northwest on their own initiative. One of the biggest drug traffickers in Sokoto State is a woman known as Mama Jazina,” the report states.
100 bandit groups, 30,000 militants operating in the North West
As a high point of banditry in Nigeria, the report revealed that at least 100 bandit groups operate in the northwest, constituting between 10,000 and 30,000 militants.
Although the bandits are predominantly Fulani, they also include Hausa, Kanuri and Tuareg, who engage in illegal activities, are adaptable and wield sophisticated weaponry, perhaps more so than Nigerian security agencies.
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“Some bandits command over 1,000 fighters, though these groups tend to be loosely organized, granting significant autonomy to sub-commanders, often colloquially referred to as lieutenants.
A former bandit noted that in some groups, lieutenants can even request permission from their commanders to form their group once they have obtained enough weapons and fighters. If the commander thinks his lieutenant “has shown courage” then the commander can give his blessing that they form their own group,” the report said.
Despite being responsible for thousands of deaths and destruction, the report notes that bandits such as notorious arms dealer Shehu Rekep have attempted to rally support around political grievances, but they are not promoting a political agenda. coherent or proactive such as regime change, secession, or greater ethnic autonomy.
“Many bandits claim to be fighting in defense of the Fulani and demand that the government respect the rights of herders by respecting traditional grazing arrangements, disbanding the Yan Sakai, and otherwise ending harassment of the Fulani,” reads in part. The report.
Drivers of conflict and why banditry persists in the North West
The report further notes that the vigilantism and activities of the Yan Sakai have played a central role in the growing conflict in the northwest, which has fueled tit for tat violence.
He said that Yan Sakai and vigilantes engaged in behavior similar to bandits in the Northwest.
“In addition to their ethnic profiling, harassment, and extrajudicial killings, vigilantes and Yan Sakai have at times engaged in bandit-like behaviors, including cattle rustling, looting, and kidnapping for ransom,” notes The report.
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He said that although there are not sufficient explanations of the origin of the conflict, it is currently rooted, to a large extent, in land disputes which have intensified and taken on a dimension of increasingly ethnic due to official corruption, lack of capacity and professionalism, deficiencies in the criminal justice system, environmental degradation and the breakdown of traditional mechanisms for resolving conflicts between farmers and herders.
The report said the formation and intervention of self-help groups such as the Yan Sakai and self-defense forces, while state or community responses indiscriminately targeted the Fulani ethnicity, aggravating of the conflict as well as the proliferation of small arms and light weapons had contributed significantly to the breakdown of public order that we are now experiencing.
“These factors did not produce a cohesive insurgency or simple farmer-herder conflict, but instead criminal violence in the form of banditry increased dramatically due to the general breakdown in community relations and order. This section provides a detailed overview of the following insecurity factors in the North West,” it reads.
The report notes that any solution to the banditry crisis will depend on reforming the security sector and improving trust between security agencies and local communities to bring peace to the North West.
He noted that the bandits would continue to find recruits as long as the Yan Sakai operated as violently as they did and should instead look to the experience of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) militias in the north- is from Nigeria for how to temper excesses. vigilantes and make them more accountable, although the CJTF should not be used as a rigid model for the Yan Sakai without considering unique local factors.
The report also said that any future peace agreement or amnesty involving bandits and state governments should be closely coordinated with the federal government and formally documented to avoid the pitfalls of previous agreements.
He added that because of the harm, dispossession and trauma that communities have suffered as a result of the conflict, federal and state authorities should consider how a transitional justice initiative could begin to restore trust and social cohesion in a post-conflict context.
“There is a need for accountability. However, humanitarian priorities are more pressing. State government officials have often downplayed the severity of the humanitarian crisis in the northwest, refusing to acknowledge the high number of displaced people or to establish a transit camp for the displaced. But the humanitarian situation is worsening day by day and confidence in the government is diminishing,” the report notes, among other recommendations.