Information minister Lai Mohammed on Thursday said violent extremists collecting taxes from citizens across the northern parts of the country constitute the same security threat as street thugs extorting cash from citizens in the southern parts of the country.
The minister said bandits and terrorists operating across the northern region should not be seen as running their own enclaves outside federal jurisdictions just because they have the ability to amass financial gains through violence and intimidation.
“The issue is not about bandits collecting taxes,’’ Mr Mohammed said. “But that’s not the same as saying there is a new caliphate.”
Mr Mohammed said there are several communities across the South where armed thugs impose levies on residents without consequences.
“Do you know how many places in this country where area boys collect taxes and there is no banditry there?
“I don’t want to mention names. In many of our cities, they carve out their own territories. So what they are writing is nothing. It is not indicative that the bandits have taken over,” the minister said at a press briefing in his office on Thursday.
Whereas there are street thugs in Lagos and other southern cities, they operate largely under the shadows. But insurgents and bandit gangs in northern communities often sack security forces and introduce quasi-administrative roles to government trapped locals.
Mr Mohammed’s comments come as the regime ramps up its pushback against The Economist’s latest issue that criticised President Muhammadu Buhari. The publication noted that under Mr Buhari, Nigeria had become a crime scene of destructive magnitude on the African continent, pointing out that terrorists and armed bandits are running wild because the president is corrupt and lazy, failing to do anything but render lip service following every deadly attack.
The minister also criticised the Nigerian media for publishing Western outlets. Peoples Gazette was the first Nigerian outlet to publish a follow-on story based on The Economist’s report, which was soon followed with two additional stories, including the military’s rebuttal.
“The point is about you (Nigeria media) swallowing hook, line and sinker, a report by a foreign organisation, which you have not even interrogated yourself, that’s my problem,” the minister said.
Mr Mohammed’s new position on the credibility of Western media marked a stark breakaway from his days as opposition spokesman, especially between 2013 and 2015 when he was in charge of talking points for the then-opposition APC. Many party members repeated Western media claims that Boko Haram was controlling large swathes of the country’s territory the size of Belgium.
The minister also used several Western media reports to knock President Goodluck Jonathan. And when The Economist endorsed Mr Buhari ahead of the 2015 presidential election, Mr Mohammed held media tours on the back of the report to mock the then-ruling PDP as a failure.