Inside the terror den of Area Boys

Inside the terror den of Area Boys
By Abdallah el-Kurebe 

Against the portrayal and use of popularity to garner votes of supporters, Nigerian politicians have over the years, resorted to the use of youths for political thuggery, a method seen by pundits not only as derogatory but also defeatist
“They use us because we are not educated and make all sorts of promises to us. Although they hardly fulfill their promises to us, we still engage because of the paltry amount of money they give us. They buy influencers for us to get charged and become lawless. We have no option because we have no other thing to do.” – A youth. 

Do-or-die-affair is a phrase that best describes the desperate nature of Nigerian politicians. At all cost, the Nigerian politician wants to lead the people whether or not he is best suited for the leadership. Although the only method for elective position is “free and fair” election, the political atmosphere in the country has always been tensed and violent.

The politicians use one tool, the youths as facilitators for election rigging, stealing of ballot boxes, intimidation and threats to opponents, assault, assassination, harassment, maiming and killing. This violent political behaviour has been referred to as political thuggery perpetrated by what in Nigeria is today call, Area-Boys simply because the act is performed by the youths. As easy prey because of their idleness, this group of youths are ready tools in the hands of politicians and influenced by drugs, they are there to do the politicians’ bidding.

Newswatch investigations reveal that as 2015 general elections draw near, the nefarious operations of these youths are being enhanced at the watchful eyes of security agencies. Newswatch went to talk with some youths; it talked with some of their alleged sponsors; it talked also with some security agencies.

Yusuf Mohammed, a youth told Newswatch that “the youths get into the act of area-boyism especially when government stops programmes that promote their well-being. The politicians take advantage of our idleness by inducing us with drugs and paltry money. They engage us in thuggery with mouth-watering promises only to be dumped after they win elections.”

For Muhammed, former governor Bafarawa did well for the youths in the state. “Many were sponsored to school while those that could not go to school were skilfully trained.” At that time, there was no youth that would be used for political thuggery and all sorts of illegal activities. None! That is not democracy.

But taken up on why political thuggery by the same youths still obtained during Bafarawa administration, he said: “The youths were still ignorant of life itself. And let me assure you, political thuggery was not as pronounced during Bafarawa as there is now. Bafarawa has always said that anyone who supports him should not hold sticks, cutlasses, or any other weapon.”

In spite of the fact that Bafarawa had defected to the PDP, the youths are still being seen at the headquarters with all kinds of weapons, Muhammed says that “Bafarawa has every intention to rehabilitate all the youths that are supporters of the PDP. These youths you are talking about are products of the present administration. They have been thought how to use cutlasses, etc.”

However, he is optimistic that the PDP would be able to correct the anomaly if it comes to power come 2015. He also feels that only the illiterate youths are used by politicians for political thuggery.

Nura Hussaini (alias Mai Barandami), another youth told Newswatch that he used to sell Irish potatoes and eggs but observes that he is always found at a political party office because “business does not move without politics. If you want to engage in successful business, engage politics because government could award contract to you for the supply of goods.” He has never been awarded one though. Once you support a political party and it forms government, you are sure to be patronised as a businessman,” he reasons.

Mentioning names of big-wig politicians that support them in the state, Nura further told Newswatch that as it obtains now, “except you belong to the ruling party, no support comes your way. Take example of me, if not for my business, no one gives me anything at the end of the month in form of allowance or assistance.”

Newswatch investigation further reveals that all political parties have such groups of the youths that it supports towards political thuggery. This could be confirmed when you visit the party offices or during political occasions, including electioneering. These youths are seen with all kinds of weapons and influencers at the watchful eyes of security agencies. They speak in favour of the political parties they have linage. “Politicians use us for campaigns but after they win election, we are prevented from seeing them in their offices. They wouldn’t want us to get better jobs to do. That is why skills acquisition programmes do not last,” Nura further told Newswatch.

Nura explains why they are not enrolled in government’s skills acquisition programmes. “They brought forms for us to fill after which they selected only their boys. And, even after they chose to recruit their own, the boys did not stay to learn the skills. If we have better things to do, I bet you that most of us would not waste our lives here.”

Link between drugs and area-boyism: “To engage in political thuggery, one needs to get enhanced through influencers although there are those who do not take anything at all. I take,” Nura told Newswatch.

Corroborating Nura’s assertion on the area boys’ use of drugs, Amos Bamidele, Assistant Commander of the National Drugs Law and Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) told Newswatch that since the youths have nothing to do they are waiting tools in the hands of the politicians, especially during the electioneering. He added that what influences in major degree to the youths’ act of thuggery is drugs, which are available everywhere.

“NDLEA fights illicit drugs usage and abuse from two ends. We reduce supplies by arresting dealers and putting them in jail and destroying the substances and cut down demand by engaging in enlightenment campaigns, workshops, symposia, etc in order to enlighten, particularly the youths not to take drugs,” he said.

But why do the youths still display these substances at gatherings, in spite of what the Agency claims to be doing? “There is nothing you can do to prevent a pig from swimming in the pond. In spite of what NDLEA is doing, you still find drugs because the Agency cannot be everywhere. The harvest is plentiful but labourers are very few. In NDLEA today, if you look at staff strength in Sokoto, we are barely a hundred and we are expected to police a population of over two million.

“Lack of logistics is another undoing against our efforts. The whole of this command has only three functional vehicles, which cannot cover Sokoto metropolis, let alone the 23 local government areas. These are some of the problems but in NDLEA, we try our best.”

What is the role of political parties? Ibrahim Milgoma, the state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) told Newswatch that the party in the state does not support area-boyism in any form. He added that the leader of our party, Alhaji Dalhatu Bafarawa has always dissociated himself from these groups. “It is not in the party’s tradition to promote political thuggery. We are doing our best to rehabilitate any youth that we identify as a political thug. During the 2015 election, I am assuring you that you will not witness any political upheaval,” he said.

Milgoma further told Newswatch that those now in the PDP were well-meaning citizens who would not associate themselves with anything bad. But asked why there were still some youths found at the party headquarters, not only displaying some substances suspected to be illicit drugs, but also taking them publically, “I have never seen such thing. If I saw it, I will definitely stop it. But anyone who claims that he has seen such thing, he should come up and inform me so I can take drastic measure against it. I want you to know that something could be going on in your house that you may not know about and which if you know, you would stop it.”

Aminu Bello, State Secretary of the All Peoples Congress (APC) told Newswatch that the problem of political thuggery, using “Area Boys” in Sokoto state is an inherited one. “Before the advent of this Magatakarda administration, area-boyism was one problem that could only be compared with the present insurgency being experienced. The Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) administration believed in area-boyism to win support or election,” Bello said adding that the Magatakarda administration tried to rehabilitate the youths by rolling out skills acquisition programmes the result of which some are now gainfully engaged in various businesses.

“The APC does not believe in area-boyism. But now that the leader of the DPP, who cherished that idea is now the leader of the PDP, some of these youths have now found abode where they hatch their heinous act. I challenge you or anyone to go to all political party offices to see which harbours, equip and use the youths as thugs. You will see these youths, at the watchful eyes of the PDP leadership, displaying and using substances that influence them to be violent when directed to,” he further told Newswatch.

Abba Sidi, Chairman of Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) told Newswatch that sponsors of political thuggery are potential political losers are responsible for breeding “area-boyism.” “Because they do not have popularity and cannot win election by mere peaceful campaign, they take to the use of youths as thugs during. They sponsor violence to disrupt and possibly rig elections,” he said adding that lack of free, fair and credible election are some of the reasons that would make politicians to employ youths as thugs. With political thuggery taking its toll in Sokoto state even before today’s elections, what could exacerbate the problem is if INEC and security agencies go back on their promises to conduct free, fair and credible election, today.

Jega, once worried by the level of area-boyism in Sokoto state said: “We have apprehension in Sokoto. Our apprehension is about youths who are going about with all types of weapons. This might affect the peaceful conduct of election here. I urge you officials and candidates of political parties to call the youths to order. Please, advice your supporters on the need for the conduct of peaceful election.”

Of worry is that these acts are committed while security agencies watch almost helplessly. In spite of the Police assurances that they would treat weapon-carrying supporters of all political parties, these youths still go about freely with these dreaded weapons, in fact, in the watchful eyes of the security agencies. This is worrying.

Inadequate manpower and logistics are some factors that give vent to their helpless situation. In addition, pundits have cited the recent happenings in Rivers and Ekiti states as acts of compromision.

Dr. Tukur Baba, Head of Sociology department, Usmanu Danfodiyo University (UDUS) told Newswatch that the reason for area-boyism was straight-forward. “The issue of area boys; who they are and what they are doing and why they are doing it is straight forward. They are a product of the times. They reflect a deep-rooted problem in the society – the problem of social dislocation arising from social exclusion. When people are excluded from normal activity – social, economic and political, processes in society, they should give them membership; a feeling of belonging and stakeholders, then the structures of society will hold.”

He reasons that when people are dislocated and feel they don’t have a stake; they are no longer stakeholders or the system does not treat them fairly, or they see no future, “they become despondent and desperate. So, they engage in what Sociologists call, “retreatism” (they withdraw) or they engage in rebellion (reject the system and seek to create other avenues rightly or wrongly).

Baba further observed that area boys engage in anti-social activities because the values are under assault. “They are told one thing but they turn around and see something else. They are told to work hard; that this is the price of hard work – fulfilment, recognition but they see the avenues are blocked. So, they now engage. Furthermore, those who are at the helm of affairs, blocking those processes and avenues now hire these people who are ready-made,” he told Newsatch.

He sees these youths as reserved army of trouble; to be recruited for anybody who can pay for it. “When corruption has become so deep-rooted, every aspect of national life and in the political economy, public or private, the avenues for legitimate aspirations is blocked,” he said.

Area-boyism reflects the decay and hopelessness that the youths see in the society. These are the fundamental issues responsible for the problem of area boys in Nigeria, in my opinion. The deliberate conscious and unconscious manipulation of this same bitterness, hopelessness and despair by those who are in position of power and authority, give these youths avenues of venting out anger. This is because every other avenue is either closed or full of potholes.

Solution: We have to go back to the basics; we have to apply good governance. People in power and authority have to reflect the social contract. People give up their freedom, their personal liking to the state in return for the state to guarantee their security and privileges, etc. We have to change the structure of governance. Government at every level has been dislocated. We have been taken over by a gang of hooligans (if you will excuse the word) that live in a different society from majority of the people. The reality on ground is different from what every government official is telling us. No part of Nigeria is immune from the decay, the dislocation and social exclusion that have enveloped the people of this country, irrespective of party affiliation. Our leaders have let go of the values. We must redefine our values in line with the realities of the Nigerian society and the globalised world.

Politicians benefit from area-boyism in the short term. This will catch up with every one of us. The problem of social inequality; of social dislocation; of stratification are policies that are man-made and seem insurmountable but they can be solved by the same person that made them. It was tackled in former Soviet Union. In fact police stations were constructed from transparent materials so that you see what happens inside from outside.

Posted by el-Kurebe.