In a rare case, a military jet was shot down in northern Nigeria on 18 July by armed gangs that have been rampant in the area, under the local name “bandits.” The Nigerian air force plane was completing an air strike against the bandits when it “came under intense enemy fire,” as reported in a military statement, and crashed. The pilot, Flight Lt. Abayomi Dairo, survived by ejecting from the jet and made it safely to a village where he met the army. The crash is just the most recent show of violence from the criminal gangs, as crime has been on the rise in the northern states of Zamfara and Kaduna. Much of the crime has involved kidnappings of schoolchildren, who have been released after large ransoms are paid or are killed, and armed robberies. The air force has been called in to conduct air strikes in an effort to contain the bandits, which has been effective, but this crash shows that the gangs are becoming stronger and more powerful, to unknown ends.
With this most recent incident comes fear and alarm for many, since it signifies the gangs have the “capacity and capability” to bring down an armed fighter jet, “meaning they could have an air missile[s]”, says security analyst Senator Iroegbu. That could mean serious danger in a country that is already dealing with issues of security and stability. As Nigerian security analyst Okon Nya discusses, Nigeria isn’t readily equipped with the “manpower and resources to deal with these bandits,” making the proliferation of the gangs’ strength all too easy. But, since President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered the military to start operations aiming at the bandits and their bases, “hundreds…have been neutralized and several of their hideouts destroyed” as claimed by the Nigerian Air Force. Even though this approach seems promising, it remains to be seen whether air strikes will be successful in the long run, especially in regaining control and stability.
The issue with the growth of banditry and armed gangs in Nigeria seems to be reaching a peak, where the bandits are gaining enough strength to compete more equally with the military and so far, are unable to be defeated. That is distressing in more ways than one, for not only are innocent lives at risk as long as the gangs are uncontrollable, but thousands of Nigerians have also been displaced due to the conflict and their power could only continue spreading. The government has responded by authorizing air strikes, but more action is needed to effectively support the agencies that are working to reclaim control in the northern states. If security forces are better equipped, perhaps the bandits could be more easily contained and handled by the Air Force. However, there are other underlying socio-economic issues that need to be addressed.
Nigeria has had a long-lasting history of dealing with organized crime. The lack of proper governance and poor standards of living in the northern parts of the country have left an opening for groups such as Boko Haram to become active. Informal mining has also brought gangs from other parts of the continent looking for an extra source of income, coupled with younger Nigerians who turn to banditry as a result of high unemployment rates. These factors have contributed to the significant increase in violence and crime within recent months, but it can be said the core reason draws back to the poverty and instability that dominates the northern states. Without more development and resources for the younger generations, the presence of organized crime will continue, as well as the issues with the bandits.
There is some joy in knowing that the Nigerian pilot survived a plane crash that could’ve easily taken his life, but fear in that this incident could be the first of many as bandit groups gain more power. It seems more than likely that without something done soon, the number of Nigerians that are forced to leave their homes will only keep rising, as well as terrible tragedies such as schoolchildren being kidnapped and possibly killed for the sake of money. This crash is a warning sign for Nigeria’s government that more needs to be done to quell the rising crime rates, and address the root issues that are causing increased criminal activity. Otherwise, who knows what the bandits will target next, that could be bigger than a fighter jet plane?