By Ikeddy ISIGUZO

SOON all parts of Nigeria would be boasting about the quality of their bandits. Since criminal atrocities have been down-graded to banditry, the perpetual battle for ownership of Nigeria has assumed newer, more intriguing dimensions. Where is South East in the on-going restructuring of Nigeria?

Some indicators:

Nigeria deploys full military might on the Eastern Security Network (ESN), but negotiates with AK-47-bearing bandits in the forests of Northern Nigeria. Governors of those parts, their leaders, intellectuals are locked in multi-layered debates about appeasing bandits. Is this option with the knowledge of the Minister of Defence, Maj-Gen. Bashir Magashi who has ordered self-defence?

South East’s biggest headlines were the intra conflicts of Governor Hope Uzodinma and his predecessor Senator Rochas Anayo Okorocha. Governors of South East, whose tongues have been tied about the massacres in Orlu found, their tongues – they would intervene in the tangles between Uzodinma and Okorocha. They have chosen their fight.

Wines were on the table, the event was celebratory, when brand new President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Professor George Obiozor and his officers visited Ndigbo Lagos secretariat. Military air and land strikes on Orlu did not make the agenda. Instructively, Uzodinma, Okorocha, and Obiozor are from Orlu Zone, the centre of the most recent attacks on South East.

Elsewhere, Professor Obiozor was on zoom meetings on re-structuring Nigeria. He does not realise that Nigeria is being re-structured along ownership of forests and bandits to populate them.

Does South East have leaders – spiritual, special, specious, or temporal – who can negotiate with bandits? Let us create a dictum, “Where there are no forests, there are no bandits”.

There is a hope, no matter how blighted. Governor Uzodinma claims South East has dreaded forests on the Anambra-Imo boundary that harbour criminals (alas, not bandits). He said the forests were inacessible. They may therefore not be worthy forests for negotiations we see in other parts of Nigeria.

Did you notice that South-South militants have revved their arsenals though they have creeks and unconfirmed forests? Someone just drew my attention to the thinning lines in the definitions of bandits, criminals, freedom fighters, marauders, and terrorists.

Minister of Information, the imitable Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has ruled out any chances of ridding forests of bandits. Government must protect the forests in line with global clamouring for pro-climate change practices. So, all the arsenals we spent millions of dollars acquiring would only be used on forests that are unimportant to climate change. Had Alhaji Mohammad not been away battling for his rightful ownership of the All Progressives Congress franchise in Kwara, confusion over bandits and forests would not have risen. The military would not have sent the craft that crashed last week to climate-change protected forests in Niger State.

Enter Dr. Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour, and former Governor of Anambra State, who threatened to conquer Anambra, not its forests, by all forces available to him. Ngige knows about forests; after all, he publicly admitted that some processes that erected his governorship were sealed in the feared woods of Okija. Ngige niggled about everything except the non-recognition of South East’s bandits and forests.

National President of the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AUFCDN), an affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Muhammad Tahir had served notice of a strike after loss of property and several members. AUFCDN wants N475billion compensation from the Federal Government or it would stop trading its vegetables, tomatoes and onions, in Southern Nigeria. What does South East export to Northern Nigeria? Not even bandits to contest space in the North’s forests.

Who will save 29-year-old farmer, Sunday Jackson of Dong community in Demsa Local Government Area, Adamawa State, sentenced to death by hanging for stabbing Buba Ardo Bawuro, a herdsman to death in a bush in Kodomti community, Numan LGA. Buba’s cattle destroyed his farm. Sunday said instead of the herdsman to heed his plea to take his cattle away, he stabbed Sunday, who seized the knife, and stabbed Buba to death. Justice Fatima Ahmed Tafida ruled that on gaining control of the knife, Sunday should have sought safety, not kill Buba. The 11 February 2021 judgment was ahead of the Minister of Defence’s orders that we should shun cowardice and defend ourselves. The lacuna is that the Minister position was on bandits who had AK-47, not knives.

Other zones would remind South East of an additional reason it cannot produce a President in 2023. How can a zone that cannot protect its bandit protect Nigeria from bandits, including foreign ones who enjoy diplomatic immunity to lug Ak-47s across Nigeria, kidnap, kill, maim, rape, and their activities are explained away by a culture that abhors forgiveness of a wrong, no matter how long ago it was?

As these issues raged, a proposed meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and Governors would be on the more important matter of increasing the pump price of fuel. Government has decided we would use fuel if we are alive or at our funerals. It is unfair then to keep accusing President Buhari of not thinking about the welfare of Nigerians.

.Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues

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