President Muhammadu Buhari has warned that under no circumstances should bandits and kidnappers be allowed to hold the country to ransom even as he ordered security forces to be ruthless in dealing with criminal elements. The warning came after the 2019 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) report revealed that attacks from Fulani cattle herders killed more Nigerians in 2018, compared to the number of deaths caused by Boko Haram.

The GTI report released ranked Nigeria, for the fifth consecutive time since 2015, as the third country with the worst impact from terrorism, globally. The report, however, showed that Afghanistan has overtaken Iraq to become number one on the list, while Iraq moved down to the second position. Syria, Pakistan, Somalia and India are ranked fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh respectively in the GTI report, while Yemen, Philippines, and Democratic Republic of the Congo are eighth, ninth, and 10th.

The report, according to an online newspaper, Premium Times, said terror-related incidents in Nigeria increased by 37 per cent, from 411 in 2017 to 562 in 2018 and also deaths from terrorism in the country rose to 2,040 in 2018, a 33 per cent increase. “The increase was due to a substantial escalation of violence by ‘Fulani’ extremists, whilst Boko Haram recorded a decline in deaths from terrorism,” the report said. Dispute over ownership and usage of land has remained the major cause of the violent conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria.

A concern was raised in the 2018 GTI report over the killings by herders. The report had warned that terrorism was shifting from the North-east region to the country’s Middle-Belt. “Violence between Nigerian herders and farmers intensified in early 2018 with approximately 300,000 people fleeing their homes. The most recent escalation in violence follows increased militia attacks and implementation of new anti-grazing legislation,” the latest report said.

“In 2018, Fulani extremists were responsible for the majority of terror-related deaths in Nigeria at 1,158 fatalities. Terror-related deaths and incidents attributed to Fulani extremists increased by 261 and 308 per cent respectively from the prior year. Of 297 attacks by Fulani extremists, over 200 were armed assaults. Over 84 per cent of these armed assaults targeted civilians.

“However, also active and not recorded as terrorist activity are pastoralist militias who target the Fulani, increasing the likelihood of reprisals,” the report said. The deadliest terrorist incident in Nigeria in 2018, according to the report, occurred on May 5 when assailants attacked Gwaska, Kaduna; killing 58 people in the attack, which was attributed to “Fulani extremists.”

The GTI report attributed the decline in Boko Haram attacks to a multinational task force fighting the terrorist group. The GTI, which is in its 7th edition, is produced annually by the Institute for Economics & Peace, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think-tank with offices in Sydney, New York, and Mexico City.

The GTI monitors and measures the impacts of terrorism in 163 countries, which covers 99.7 per cent of the world’s population. The GTI uses a total number of terrorist incidents, total number of fatalities caused by terrorists, the total number of injuries caused by terrorists, a measure of the total property damage from terrorist incidents in a given year to arrive at its ranking.

Speaking against the backdrop of the GTI report, presidential spokesmen, Malam Garba Shehu, quoted Buhari as challenging security forces and communities to be alert to the unwholesome activities of criminals due to the unpredictability of the security situation and recent reports of heightened violence and kidnappings after a period of relative inactivity.

Buhari warned that murderous criminals could take advantage of the complacency of the communities and security forces to strike. He said: “The bandits should under no circumstances be allowed to hold the country to ransom on account of security loopholes, which they seek to exploit to strike at their victims. The criminals always look for loopholes in our security system in order to remain in business and active, but we shouldn’t give them the space to achieve this diabolical objective by pre-empting them.”

He described complacency as a hidden or unnoticed enemy that should not be taken for granted, as doing so could weaken government strategies. Buhari noted that the worst hit communities also have a responsibility to help the security agencies with the critically important human intelligence in order to stop the banditry.

“The bandits maintain networks of informants among the communities they attack. By identifying and reporting these informants to the authorities, it would be by far easier to foil the bandits before they reach their intended targets,” he added.

He commended the security agencies for their dedication and sacrifices, while asking them to redouble their efforts and make life uncomfortable for the bandits. “You should spare no effort in breaking the backbone of these savage mass killers and don’t hesitate to attack them with merciless intensity until they are crushed and ultimately defeated,” the president said.

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