Despite everything, thugs refuse to be ‘written off’ Borno politics



Thugs in Borno have proven to be true the saying that a chameleon can only change its color, but never its skin.

Despite several efforts by the government—and even more reassuring commitment from their end—thuggery does not seem to be an easy thing to clutch down. In recent weeks, few violent activities from some of them have only helped to remind pundits that it is not yet over.

Prof. Babagana Umaru Zulum, governor of the state, came into office with his arsenal wide open against the practice. Among his earliest instructions and actions as the state’s seventh civilian governor was nipping them in the bud.

He gave an order of both banning their operations out-rightly and arrest of anyone who still paraded as one.

'Any politician, no matter how highly placed he is, if found harboring or sponsoring thugs, we will deal with him accordingly. This administration will not condone any act of indiscipline,' came the governor’s redline warning.

The government moved further to provide alternative source of livelihood to those who are ready to repent, including new jobs and monthly stipends—in what seemed like a state pardon, given the record of their past crimes.

To this end, the government has said it had so far spent over N2 billion in various programmes.

Just last month, the governor presented start-up grants, amounting to N100m to 152 of them who have repented, after undergoing a one-month intensive entrepreneurship training in fisheries and animal rearing, among other things.

The condition set for the grant is a commitment of total repentance.

Similarly in August of 2019, the governor directed the enrollment of 2, 762 youth into a ‘waste for cash’ sanitation program, to clean drainages and carry out other sanitary needs. They receive a monthly stipend, which is an effort to prevent their future recruitment into thuggery.

But despite all these efforts, recent activities have shown that a few of them have not been adequately affected by the warnings, neither do they take as generous the efforts of the government.

Their resurgence has seen political loyalists harassed, critics molested and members of supposed opposition camp intimidated. These were only a few that have made their way to public attention. Others went unnoticed, among people who had no means to post it on social media or newspapers; and with the some victims already scared off to report it where there is the means.

A recent incident that had made its way to the social media was of one Fadila Abdurrahman.

The young lady was molested by a group of political thugs over her criticism of Ahmed Satomi, a member of the house of representative, representing Jere Federal Constituency.

A video emerged in January of how she was violently attacked and assaulted by thugs, who identified themselves as the lawmaker’s political ‘foot-soldiers’ who would not stand any criticism of the lawmaker.

The thugs, about four, were led by their gang leader, one Suleman Saidu Nakande, to the lady’s restaurant, where they manhandled her.

They slapped her several times and destroyed her restaurant, saying that it was a ‘payback’ for her betrayal of the lawmaker as he had previously helped her.

They were heard in the viral video threatening to ‘even anything’ to anyone who criticized their ‘godfather’.

Satomi later had a press conference where he disassociated himself from the attack, vowing to ensure justice for her.

Our findings revealed that Nakande is the lawmaker’s loyalist, even though that is not a confirmation of the latter’s involvement in the crime.

Those familiar with the antics of the thug say that he is used to political ‘foot-soldiering’, even as they condemn his attack on the lady as going over the board.

He was mentioned in another yet-to-be confirmed video released by (of) a supposed victim of another violent attack by thugs.

In the video, a man seated inside a car, looking traumatized, claimed to have been beaten by the same syndicate, alleging that it was led by Nakande.

There is no any proof yet; however, the man appeared to have been in a ‘pulp’—which is regardless, not enough evidence to prove his accusations.

More than the fact of its truth, the incident is a sad reminder that the stories of thuggery are not yet over in the state.

Implications Residents and pundits are hugely concerned about the short and long-term implication of the recent unfoldings.

According to Abubakar Haruna, a journalist and political scientist, the effect of this has two major implications.

He said the short-term implication is likely to be felt in the forthcoming election—especially if nothing is done urgently to address it.

He is afraid that thuggery will still be programmed into the operating manual of politicians to influence the course and result of the upcoming election.

‘We have witnessed this crisis in Maiduguri in the past when thugs launch attacks on voters to disrupt electoral political processes. Many politicians have used these processes to influence the outcome of electoral results,’ he added.

He said that that runs the risk of plunging the state back to the days—now largely forgotten—of political thuggery and gangsterism.

Many still argue that thuggery is a major factor in the evolution of terrorism—which comes in the form of Boko Haram—in the state.

Mr. Haruna further explained that the other problem is in the long-term.

The continuous operation of the thugs, and more so without being effectively sanctioned for their crimes, will have an effect on the mindset of young people.

They will grow up, he explained, to see these gangsters as ‘role models’, after whom their lives will hence be modeled.

In recent history, thuggery became popular between 2003 and 2011, during which Ali Sheriff reigned as the governor of the state.

It also survived the regime change in 2011, with their practices still in effect even after Kashim Shettima ascended the throne.

The thugs are in the habit of intimidating political opponents and instilling fear in the public, on behalf of their paymasters.

They enjoyed what seemed like a ‘state protection’, often boasting about how invincible and irrepressible they are.

In campaign rallies, they feature prominently in the entourages of politicians. During elections they openly snatch ballot boxes, assault electorates and harass electoral officials. As a result of the protection they enjoy from state officials, even security officials have little or no guts to tame them.

They are known to the people as ECOMOG, which takes after a West African 1990 joint special force to intervene in the civil war in Liberia, standing in full for Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group. It is unclear why they adopted the name, as their objectives are walls apart.

They have gone as far as establishing an order of hierarchy.

Their leaders are known as super youths.

The supreme leader is Super Youth 1—and he was followed by others, who were also numbered accordingly, as Super Youth 2, 3 or 4…

The major yardsticks in their pecking order are such things as one’s level of charm, ruthlessness and political connections.

Residents are worried, because they do not want to be returned to the days they had thought has been put behind.

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