The northwest banditry may be regarded as one of the most topical issues in Nigeria’s security space at the moment. On Friday 19th February, reports claim that Ahmad Gumi, a reported Federal government-backed negotiator for bandits in the northwest, asked the Nigerian government to give bandits “blanket amnesty” as a way of tackling the security situation in the area. The demand is the latest item in reported peace deals to end banditry in the region. But new concerns may be based on the impact and sustainability of an amnesty programme for bandits.
Since the birth of democracy in Nigeria, amnesty deals have become a way of managing seemingly insurmountable non-state armed groups. In 2009, amnesty was extended to warring Niger Delta militants after a period of violence, human and revenue losses. The presidential amnesty programme for Niger Delta came to restore fragile peace in the oil-rich region. In 2016, through Operation Safe Corridor, the Nigeria government granted amnesty to low-risk repentant Boko Haram fighters in her efforts to end the years of insurgency in the northeast. In the last few years, some banditry-impacted states governments in the northwest have extended olive branches to bandits due to escalating violence.
With daily news reports in mind, a quick look at the peace deals to manage violence and conflicts suggests the following. First, the restored peace in the Niger Delta is fragile with episodes of violent threats by aggrieved ex-Niger Delta militants. Worse off, many conflict experts argue that the amnesty package is unsustainable. Second, although the Nigerian Army has rehabilitated about 893 ex-Boko Haram fighters since 2019, the insurgency has not ended. There are still brazen attacks on hard and soft targets. Moreover, many terror-impacted communities are reluctant to accept rehabilitated insurgents. Third, the hasty peace deals by some northwest state governments have not ended the banditry in the region.
The northwest banditry requires collective action by affected state governments with support from the federal government. State governments in the region may consider setting up a similar regional security framework like the Amotekun in the southwest to complement formal security units in the violent hotspot. A regional security unit in the area may bridge the gap between community residents and formal security agencies. Such potential partnerships will improve the securitisation of rural communities and ungoverned spaces.
Additionally, robust discussions and stakeholders consultations are required before any comprehensive amnesty is extended to bandits in the region. It must also involve evidenced-based advisory from conflict experts to determine the most sustainable amnesty programme. A comprehensive and well-thought-out peace deal is required to address issues such as exclusion, mobilisation of repentant bandits, community buy-in, arms mop-up and a realistic amnesty transition strategy. A hasty and unsustainable amnesty may temporarily manage existing issues. However, state governments in the region will have a hard time keeping up with the realities of a poorly mapped out strategy. The Nigerian government must learn from other amnesty programmes it has initiated before holding conversations on a potential amnesty deal for bandits.
Recommended Reading: Amnesty for Bandits