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Growing threat of bandit-insurgent collusion in spate of attacks in northern states

President Buhari rejects northern state governors' planned amnesty for gangs after latest armed abductions

The grim toll of armed attacks over the past week in northern Nigeria has reopened debate about the response from the over-stretched military and under-staffed national police force. Southern states are pushing ahead with plans for regional security formations, such as Amotekun in the south-west, while northern governors have proposed some form of amnesty deal with the armed gangs (AC Vol 61 No 22, Generals tighten their grip & Vol 62 No 3, The guard changes, at last).

Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari rejected both ideas but promised a more targeted approach by the armed forces, adding that he expected the management of educational institutions to bolster local security arrangements. That comes down to hard economics: who will pay to make the schools safer if the federal police can't protect them.

The crisis spiralled last week with a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, followed by bandit attacks killing 36 people in Kaduna and Katsina states on 24 February and then late on 25 February. Over 300 schoolgirls were reported to have been abducted from a science secondary school in Jangebe, Zamfara state.

It's unclear whether the kidnapping is a criminal operation to raise ransoms or an action by one of the Islamist insurgent movements, Islamic State West Africa Province or Boko Haram. Earlier in February, Bello Matawalle, governor of Zamfara State, was one of a few governors in the north to propose offers of amnesty to kidnapping gangs.

Despite copious denials, schools and local authorities have been paying ransoms to kidnappers for the return of captured students. Ahmad Gumi, an Islamic scholar, has been urging local officials to open negotiations with the armed groups in the north over security arrangements and an amnesty programme.

Such ideas have outraged militant activists in the Niger Delta, where groups fighting for a larger share of oil revenue have benefited from amnesty programmes over the past decade. They argue their fight is specifically political as opposed to the armed groups in the north, especially in the north-west, who are mainly robbers, kidnappers and cattle-rustlers.

Security experts differ on how these criminal groups are linked to the Islamist insurgents. But there is evidence of traffic between the two (AC Vol 61 No 17, All power to the governors).

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