By Sam Omatseye
To define a bandit may come easy to most Nigerians.
He is the fellow with guns, sometimes in hoods, often in the hunt, utters swear words and threats, hoots in forests, snorts in huts, kidnaps boys and girls, looms over schools, is a bigot, brings down planes and derails trains, darkens highways with hails of bullets and corpses, skewers the police, razes down prison walls, snarls with blood on his hands, defiles the nubile, casts his shadow on the presidency, browbeats senators, governors, generals and ministers and commands a huge haul of cash to the bargain.
But it is too simple. It is giving the bad guys a bad name to excuse the others. For bandits are everywhere. There is one near you. He might wave at you out of that SUV and emit a benign smile. He might even hand your son a lollypop. He may control guns but cannot shoot. He does not utter swear words or threats. He is no forest habitue and has no liver for the theatre to duel the cops.
But he is even more dangerous than the familiar bandit. He inhabits a palace, holidays in Dubai or south of France, flies a private jet to say hi to a son or daughter in Harvard, flies again to Germany to ascertain his blood pressure, another plane plops down for him to chair a wedding in London when it is not an excuse to give a lover a furtive kiss. But he is apparently without harm.
He may direct the way of bread and butter in the land. He may be a perm sec, a minister or a top army officer. He condemns the bandit of the familiar definition. But he is the real McCoy. He kills but has no blood case to answer. He steals but no jail awaits him. He upturns justice, but he recommends the law.
When the bandit in Zamfara known as Ado Aliero fanned his wings like a peacock to be turbaned, it was not different from an upper-crust citizen getting a chieftaincy title. His was announced, and so is the glamour bandit. Aliero came with about a hundred bandits. Our other bandit strolls in with jets, limousines, soldiers and police and a retinue of fellow bandits puffing ahead of hangers-on. Those who argued that the BBC documentary glamorised them are not sincere.
What glamour? Theirs is clipped beside our other bandits. Ours would cook a storm. They didn’t even cook on a stone. Ours flaunt wealth. They go back to their spare forests and huts. They have no TV, or settee, or rugs or even air-conditioners. They are spare but oppress. Ours flourish in plenty.
So, it is in the other bandit’s place to squelch over 109 billion naira, to spend food money in billions for schools when students are not in school, to spend a trillion naira a year on security and only those secure are the other bandits. ASUU strikes. Doctors strikes. They however strike out on their own in luxury and cynical pleasure. A state governor is not a bandit when he gets 270 billion naira through a state house of assembly without debate?
These glamour bandits gave birth to the forested ones. We cannot forget that Boko Haram grew from abandoned election foot soldiery. The Niger Delta goons had the same origin. The glamour brutes gave us the crude. Don’t just blame the crude oil. Blame the managers.
Recently we learned that we lose 400,000 barrels of crude oil a day to thieves. But the goons are not spirits. They bring ships standing in broad daylight on the high seas waiting to get crude oil. Soldiers know. Police know. DSS knows. The political elite profit, preen and let us bleed. The locals have no water, schools, hospitals. It is the ‘better’ bandit at work, who carts the money to furnish an iniquitous lifestyle.
But they are not the only bad ones. We have them in the church and mosques, bandits in the name of the father and the son and the holy ghost. They fulfil the words of Christ that the thief and robber is the one that enters the sheepfold through any way other than the gate. They used to wait for the humble and generous giver. Now, they invite politicians. Now, they advertise seminars for a fee even when Jesus said to come and take the word freely. These are spiritual bandits. They are the Pharisees in our midst.
As we enter the era of the hustings, the churches are quick to welcome the tithes and prophet offerings. They are not in the game of holding the congregant’s conscience to the fire, to the scrutiny of fear and trembling. They embrace them and turn the pulpit into a spectacle of prayer rather than private solemnity. It is the hour of sanctimony instead of sanctity. They turn gradually into pulpit bandits.
They are, like the Nollywood mavens, in the thespian world. A Nollywood stalwart fell for exploiting a nubile. In the church, another one did a similar thing but thrives. He may belong to God’s dog-house. Lechers in high places.
We also have them as corporate bandits. They are the men in suits in alliance with the men in agbada. Agbada steals it, suit seals it. It is the high style of the sty, the combo for the office jumbo.
Nor are so-called intellectuals immune. We have bandits of the mind, bandits of theories ill-baked. They hide behind high-flown facades to unleash positions of the absurd.
We deplore the bandit of the forest, the killer who took boys in Nigeria’s version of the great trek through the Katsina forest, the ones that ferreted away school students in Niger State, the ones who made a little Leah Sharibu into a woman, the ones who swept the Chibok girls into world headlines and stained our map.
They are torturing Kaduna today. They are the ones who have made Zamfara emir to bow to a bandit and larked him as Sarkin Fulani. The ones who defied the banning of markets, the appeasement from Katsina governor to build them shops and homes, the ones who circumvented the wireless networks when it was shut down and blew up our Bastille in Kuje. Our incompetence has made them to walk on water.
Aliero or Dogo Gide has no time for a luxury lap on Miami Beach or for the foppish pastime of a colourful tie or shoe from Marks and Spencer or Gucci. As they lust for guns and blood, so our glamour bandits lust for lucre and leisure. They both enjoy their peculiar vanities. They are partners. They fear each other, look differently, speak differently. One defines the other by being refined. But the victims are the same: the Nigerian masses. They are brothers who cannot inhabit the same room. One gave birth to the other, which in biology will be a cruel joke.
The softer bandit is to us like Cain and the rest of us are Abel. The righteous man has no colour or charm, hence Satan arrested the reader of John Milton’s Paradise Lost than yawning grandeur of Christ. In his enduring novel, The Fisherman, Chigozie Obioma delineates how a duel of brothers can turn a family into turmoil. Obioma invokes the spectre of Cain in his masterpiece to unveil Nigeria’s fratricidal impasse. Cain must go down as the first bandit in recorded time.
But the bandit has to go, whether the security threat in the forest or the purse-string threat in high places. If literature has its bandit yarns like Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, so does the holy writ. Saul of the Old Testament was a colourful brute, making mincemeat of his anointing.
The forest bandit may feel equal to the other bandit. What they want they get. If the governor has his state, the bandit has his territory. They may even nourish a delusion of grandeur like the American bandit Jesse James who said: “We are not thieves — we are bold robbers. It hurts me very much to be called a thief. It makes me feel like they were trying to put me on a par with Grant and his party.
We are bold robbers, and I am proud of the name, for Alexander the Great was a bold robber, and Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte, and Sir William Wallace — not old Ben Wallace — and Robert Emmet. Please rank me with these, and not with the Grantites. Grant’s party has no respect for anyone. They rob the poor and rich, and we rob the rich and give to the poor.” If we are dealing with creatures of such a mindset, we need a clever man to banish the bandit.
Stamping them out, whether beautiful or damned, is the challenge of this election cycle.
@views exclusive rights: Sam Omatseye, Editorial Board Chairman, Nation Newspaper, and the Newspaper Columnist “In Touch”, August 15, 2022.