It is no longer news that taxes are levied on farmers, traders and locals by Boko Haram and ISWAP insurgents in some communities in Northern Nigeria, particularly in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States. There exists an unwritten code which makes the locals kowtow to the dictates of the insurgents, even giving out their daughters in marriage to them, to the extent that the loyalty of some of them appear to have shifted more to the insurgents’ enclaves than the entity called Nigeria. The locals see the insurgents as “messiah” that protects them not just from cattle rustlers and bandits but, as sad as it sounds, from agents of the Nigerian government who they now see as enemies! Before they are allowed to harvest their farm produce, they are forced to pay levies and forfeit some bags of their grains. What does this portend for these poor taxpayers as citizens of Nigeria; and what does this system of things hold in store for Nigeria as a sovereign nation? Are these communities under ISWAP and Boko Haram control to be regarded as a state within the larger Nigerian State given the fact that they now owe a civic duty to terrorist organizations in their own fatherland? What claim does the Nigerian State have over these swaths of land now under Boko Haram occupation and legislation? Are these locals still citizens of Nigeria or potential citizens of a yet-to-be-actualized Islamic state? These are troubling questions that the federal authorities must address squarely and without any form of dilly-dallying as had been the case since insurgency and insecurity took a turn for the worse within the last two decades.

Boko Haram was formed in 2002 in Northeast Nigeria. In 2009 its founder, a certain Mohammed Yusuf, was killed extra-judicially by security agencies, provoking massive attack by the sect that saw thousands killed and over 2.5 million people displaced.

Late last year, it was reported that a splinter terrorist group known as Ansaru operates a parallel government within the Birnin Gwari and Giwa Local Government Areas of Kaduna State, levying taxes on helpless residents, and issuing administrative guidelines on what residents should or should not do. Residents even take some of their issues to the insurgents for adjudication as some of the relevant institutions of government have deserted their workplace for fear of terrorist attack. At a point, a decree was issued by the insurgents that nobody should go to any school or have any form of formal education. Shortly before Emefiele’s CBN currency ‘colour’ policy, it was reported that ISWAP, another splinter breed of insurgents that cropped up in 2011, had fashioned out its own monetary policy and had actually gone ahead to order farmers and fishermen operating within their enclave around the Lake Chad axis to pay the so-called taxes in CFA currency used in neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroun in a bid to circumvent the redesign of Nigerian naira which was scheduled to exit from circulation by the end of January 2023, a policy that now appears as one that may die a natural death eventually.

Ironically, Boko Haram and Ansaru, and other splinter groups now ‘hustle’ to outwit one another in land grabbing and territorial conquest. This internal rivalry, in 2021, resulted in the death of Shekau, the radical Boko Haram, leader in the hands of Ansaru splinter group in the notorious Sambisa Forest. In 2022, inside this same wonderful forest, JAS, another splinter group, raided ISWAP where they were reported to have slaughtered over thirty wives of ISWAP militants. Now, how many more innocent Nigerians will be murdered before this madness is brought to an end? The time has come for the federal government to cudgel its brains thoroughly and fashion out a workable solution to this carnage before it is too late.

A sinister dimension to militancy is now rearing its ugly head. It is in the news that the alQaeda-backed Ansaru group appears to have started hobnobbing with bandits in Northwest Nigeria, an alliance that could make life more difficult for Nigerians in that region and even beyond. Towards the end of 2022, terrorists made incursions into Niger and Kogi States and even had the audacity to operate in Abuja, the country’s seat of power, where many people were killed including security personnel.

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The North-Central and South-West regions that were relatively peaceful witnessed gruesome attacks as the insurgents pushed further south away from their traditional theatres in the North. On June 5th, 2022, forty worshippers were massacred at a Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, by a group linked to ISWAP. The terrorists were said to have taken abode for many years somewhere in the forests along Okpella, Uzebba and Ekperi. All these forests, like Sambisa, belong to Nigeria, but the Nigerian state cannot go there, as it were; and such places have even acquired fanciful nomenclature now known as ‘ungoverned spaces’ right here in the heart of Nigeria.

The face-saving claim by the federal authorities that no community in Nigeria is under Boko Haram or terrorist control is understandable. But the threat cannot be wished away because the fact remains that even when these terrorists retreat, they do so only to recoup and come back with greater dare-devilry. In any case, the forests they inhabit and retreat to, are those forests not Nigerian forests? If the forests are impenetrable for local vigilante and the armed forces of the entire nation, how did the insurgents get in there in the first place? It is rumoured that some of these bad boys have developed the capacity to disappear into thin air; the nation’s armed forces must also acquire that capacity if need be! A large part, if not all of Sambisa Forest, for example, totalling 518 square kilometres in Bornu State belongs to Nigeria, and there were indeed Nigerian communities resident there, at least before the insurgents chased them away.

As far back as the colonial era, much of Sambisa Forest was a game reserve even up until 1970 when it was used for safaris housing a large population of leopards, lions, elephants and sundry wildlife, which attracted tourists from far and near. In 1991, it was incorporated into the national park of the Chad Basin by the Bornu State government. Then in February 2013, four years after its founder was killed by law enforcement agents, Boko Haram struck at the forest and chased everybody away. Till date, the forest that was once a tourist destination has become ‘a forest of a thousand demons’ – if I may borrow the title of Fagunwa’s folktale.

As much as the military is fighting tooth and nail to push back the terrorists under difficult work environment encumbered by all sorts of challenges, the Nigerian State must face reality right now and confront this scourge ‘bumper to bumper’ instead of inundating citizens with the usual catalogue of boring excuses.

*Anthony-Spinks writes from Asaba, Delta State.