COMMENTARY: PROPOSED NATIONWIDE BAN ON MOTORCYCLES AND MINING ACTIVITIES IN THE COUNTRY

A little context

The National Security Council said on Thursday, 21 July 2022, that it was considering a national ban on motorbikes and mining operations in the country as part of its effort to combat insecurity. However, Nigerians are struggling to see the link between insecurity threats to mining and a nationwide ban on motorbikes, especially considering the economic consequences of such a restriction on Nigerian households who make a living from commercial motorcycle services, particularly in latent and inactive threat environments in the country.

However, with regards to the justification for the ban, in the words of the Attorney General of the country, Malami,

“So, regardless of the means that is being considered for the possible banning, this is a sacrifice that we see as what will help address the security challenges and I think no sacrifice is too big as far as that issue is concerned. Less than a third of Nigeria’s 200 million population would be affected by a ban on motorcycles and so it was worth the sacrifice. Above all, if you are talking of banning motorcycles, for example, I think the number of people using these motorcycles is not up to 20 per cent of the Nigerian population. So if that percentage is called to make a sacrifice that is all-pervading or affecting over 200 million Nigerians, I think that sacrifice is not too much and is worthy of being considered.”

While many have applauded this development, on the basis that it will enable the military to deal with the excesses of non-state armed groups (NSAGs), the view appears to ignore criminal modus-operandi and the uniqueness of certain threat environments, where motorcycle use by armed actors are possible one-offs or areas in which there are no occurrences of such, which does not warrant such a ban. Furthermore, these advocates underplay Malami’s “20% of the Nigerian population,” which is 43,720,262 (forty-three million, seven hundred and twenty thousand, two hundred and sixty-two) motorcycle operators for the offence of a few.

Call a spade a spade

Aside from the sentiment fuelled by the potential impact of a motorcycle ban, the actuality of risks posed by unregulated motorcycle operations appears to be at an alarming level, having been ignored for far too long. Various armed groups, require the use of motorcycles due to their manoeuvrability to transport members over difficult terrains, as well as being ideal for getaways because they can travel in areas where 4-wheel vehicles may be unable to access, and finally, in terms of aerial surveillance, bikes can be easily stashed.

Aside from mining-related armed groups, the violence perpetrated by motorcycle riders, particularly in Lagos, Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, and Borno States, is one too many. Many vandalism and murderous atrocities perpetrated by motorcycle extrajudicial mobs have received little to no accountability in terms of arrest and proper prosecution of perpetrators due to the country’s overabundance of undocumented operators.

The trend of motorcycled-enabled armed attacks goes to further question undocumented operators’ missing from our several vehicle user databases, also the possibility of many of these bikes being stolen questions our investigative outfits expected to track stolen motorcycles particularly since many of these motorcycles are expected to transport in large numbers from one region/state to another.

However, with the increasing popularity of criminals using motorcycles, states have several times banned the use of motorcycles to stem the tide. However, many of such bans have frequently failed to achieve the desired goal, due to loopholes in implementation and monitoring, and these measures tend to fizzle out after several months.

Who is in Charge?

Mining has been impacted by irregular interference from non-state armed groups (NSAGs) comprised of Jihadist armed organisations and a variety of other non-state militias, who actively operate around mining environments plagued by weak or absent Government regulations.

Armed groups’ thirst for resources such as gold and other mineral resources primarily for their financial worth in the illicit trade in return for money used in buy-ins for recruitment/maintenance of insurgency, intelligence, the purchase of weapons on the black market, and in some cases possible targeted economic sabotage.

However, the empowering of NSAGs largely comes from the illegality of mining operations undertaken by both Nigerians and multinationals, which most times necessitates the payment of large sums of illegal taxes to these groups for the usage of such mining sites which comes with protection from other NSAGs, law enforcement (except in cases where there is complicity), and possible local militias opposition. Failure to comply sometimes results in attacks on employees and properties.

For Instance, Chairman of the Katsina Minerals Processors, Tasi’u Abdullahi, confirmed an incident reported around 11 January 2022, where bandits imposed a ₦10,000 levy for uninterrupted running of a gold processing site in Bakin Korama community in Magama (Jibia border town) of Jibia Local Government Area of Katsina State, It is also reported at around 70 small-scale artisan gold processing Sites had just began operations about two weeks before the bandit attack. To buttress their point, 5 operators were injured, 11 abducted, and two killed.

One is the issue of complicity; institutions made up of regulators and security agencies that are supposed to stop such illegalities are accused of turning a blind eye for a price, of course. A former Director of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mike Ejiofor, in one of the national daily, framed how illegal miners make up what is presumed to be a syndicate in some parts of the country and how they are backed by individuals in government.

“If we cannot stop oil theft, how do we stop the mining activities? You see it is not easy for this oil theft without collaboration of some multinationals and locals who get involved in all this. For us to stop the theft, we should look at the multinationals our security agencies and foreign multinationals that come here; it’s a syndicate; it’s a cartel that is involved in this oil theft. They are not mere men; they are backed by powers in government. That is the issue of corruption.”

For instance, a daily Nigerian reports that on 5 January 2022, 2 soldiers and 7 miners were reportedly killed in a skirmish between military officers and artisan miners following a failed negotiation upon the discovery of N70,000,00 (Seventy-million Naira) worth of gold nuggets at a mining site in Magama, a border village in Jibiya LGA of Katsina State. It is believed that the artisans paid the soldiers the sum of N500,000 for 5 pits before they were allowed to start the mining, which totals ₦2,500,000 Million.

Multinationals aren’t omitted from these issues of complicity with illegalities enabling armed groups, such as reported in a daily post metro report where on 5 January 2022, the Nigerian police arrested 3 Chinese and 18 other illegal gold miners linked with criminal gangs in Azam village where the duo operated an illegal mining site having established a working relationship with bandits and kidnappers in the forest.

The government’s failure to strengthen the legal framework for natural resource extraction continues to fuel the illegal artisan mining industry, whereas opening the industry to big competitive companies accompanied by proper regulations and checks will undoubtedly reduce the boom in illegal industries, creating avenues for employment of artisans, education to localities, and the gradual clearing of adamant armed groups who rely and largely depend on the State weakness to thrive.

Bans don’t seem to work

Drawing on the attorney general’s statements, which posed no sympathy for the impact of such a situation on people, he talks from an elite perspective without comprehending the public’s reliance on motocycles as economically friendly modes of transportation and source of living. His calls for “sacrifice” to persuade the public to support the idea, is in conflict with the lack of Servant leadership shown by public officers. His calls resonates with several anti-people policies and bans which are practically self-centred on retaining reputation rather than winning Nigerians’ hearts and minds.

In the not-too-distant past, the same Government adopted regulations enforced to curtail the excesses of armed groups that failed to live up to their initial expectations. Some noteworthy unsuccessful bans by both the state and federal governments include, but are not limited to, tinted car permits, siren usage permits, disbandment of SARs, motorcycle restrictions, mining operations, the telecommunications ban border closure, and, most recently, the Twitter ban.

In Zamfara State, for example, the suspension and subsequent FG ban on all mining activities did not deter illegal mining operations or impact bandit crimes, instead, it only changed the direction of attacks to focus more on vulnerable civilians communities and commuters as well as movement to other state mines notably Katsina and Kano.

One of the driving elements for the failure is lack of foresight in designing appropiate measures and inconsistency in monitoring in order to get the job done.

First in designing appropiate measures on the part of effectively executing a ban, the government must take into cognisance the unique attributes of various criminal actors. As John Uwaya, Chief Security Consultant at John Uwaya & Associates puts it.

“Actually, crime and criminality thrive on anonymity. Criminals do not like to be seen or recognized. Hence they prefer situations conferring cover and ease of escape. Being able to move about unnoticed gives them an assurance of being in control and a low perception of risk of being detected.”

The failure to recognise specific characteristics that distinguish groups from one another, rather than generalising groupings under made-up monikers such as terrorists, bandits, and unknown gunmen, maintains the anonymity of crime, creating a large vacuum for other criminal actors to exploit, leaving many of their actions undetected and untraceable, and in some cases misdirected, which in turn keeps the original culprits active, driving insecurity and making measures toward curbing insecurity difficult or ineffective.

Monitoring failures jeopardise process continuity since a lack of it indicates a lack of coordination of efforts toward achieving the desired objectives, management of resources, and “preemtively prodding” for loopholes in order to proactively develop solutions along the way. It is widely assumed that the absence of monitoring occurs when such initiatives are not profitable to some parts of the chain of command, resulting in a return to business as usual.

Impact of a Nationwide Ban

In its ideal form, national security protection encompasses all aspects of the country, including the economy, transportation, job security, food security, power and so on. The proposed ban is labelled as being in the best interests of national security, but upon closer inspection, the government appears to be hoping to solve a problem by creating another by not considering the impact on people amidst the country’s harsh financial situation, and how this may contribute to passive strife.

The question of an anticipated increase in crime as a result of the ban on motorcycle use has thrown up erroneous assumptions. But one thing is certain: The pressure to cater to everyday human necessities is tremendous; when a person’s primary means of living is taken away, human nature kicks in to discover an alternative or risk perishing. Individuals are more prone to pursue the low road in a culture/society where vices appear to be the norm.

In terms of transportation, motocycles have provided significant relief to towns with limited transit options which traditionally will require persons to travel vast distances due to lack of road infrastructure to connect bus stations. Also, with issues of traffic, motorcycles has helped in assisting persons navigate through these forms of difficulty.

Nigerians are resilient in the face of hardship, which implies that numerous people may decide to sit this one out if the ban is implemented, in the hopes of a brighter tomorrow with new leadership ushering in new chances for Nigerians in 2023. However, in terms of resilience, the thought of people looting a warehouse in Jos on 24 October 2020, is strong evidence that, given the perfect environment to exploit similar instability, people will embrace such a chance purely driven by the human urge for survival in the face of hardship and despair.

The bottom line, the mining ban did not curb insecurity, and the nationwide ban on motorcycle use is not likely to solve the insecurity problem either.

Here’s What Can Be Done

– Rejig the financial watchdogs: To find solutions, the government must first identify and rectify the failures of specific government institutions such as the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) tasked with monitoring illegal financial activities. Because, at this point, securing “the Nigerian financial system and assisting in the global fight against terrorist funding by providing financial intelligence” is critical, as it is absurd for insurgents and their financiers to continue exploiting the system due to the inability of institutions to trace ransom payments, in an era of using unique procedures to label ransom bills for tracing monies.

– Stimulate our internal security agencies: Furthermore, the failings of these financial watchdogs undermine other current efforts done by other security agencies fighting on land, sea, and air. Over-reliance on the military so far to combat both domestic and external threats is a recipe for disaster since it not only strains the military by diverting their focus but also leaves our internal security mechanisms in shambles as a result of neglect and ineptitude. Several opinions have previously pushed for the inclusion of mercenaries in our ongoing counterinsurgency fight, but the question is, why risk an unnecessary expenditure at the expense of continued decay with our police officers meant to keep the peace, our customs and immigration officials expected to checkmate illegal entry of goods and persons into the country and our Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps officials expected to protect our critical infrastructures, including but not limited to Petroleum Pipelines.

Our internal security architecture is in desperate need of rehabilitation in the areas of restructuring and stimulation via training, retraining, and better checks to guarantee that every unit meets defined Benchmarks. If the government sincerely wants to battle the supposed “fifth columnist,” it will do everything in its power to chop off the snake’s head, as we have seen in two distinct circumstances under the present administration.

– Threat Intelligence: Assessing the threat environment reveals the unique features of various crime syndicate operations, and therefore a strategy for preventing terrorism may not be applicable with pursuing armed separatist. Hence, for an effective approach, a regional, State, or area-specific approach to the ban is needed, as it not only ensures the effectiveness of properly executing but allows for effective monitoring within such boundaries since a ban that does not have a firm grip/control on the legitimate use of force for its enforcement nationwide, can often devolve into excessive and unwarranted use of force, at the end of the day messing every thing up.

– Documentation of riders: Lastly, on the issue of banning, the government has the right to ban anything to combat insecurity, but it must ensure adequate measures are in place to provide some level of recompense to the hardworking Nigerians amid the country’s dire economic situation; thus if such provision does not exist, there is no need to punish the everyday Nigerian for the government’s inaction in combating insecurity. Also, Government through its relevant agencies must step up its approach to registering riders and ensure that loopholes caused by undocumented riders are covered, so that adequate measures are in place to ensure proper coverage of riders and representation of members through appropriate transport unions to improve strings of control on the activities of riders and information collection for the purpose of crime fighting at the local level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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