By Sola Ojo, Kaduna
Kaduna and Niger States appear to be the current epicentre of kidnapping for ransom while Zamfara remains the headquarters of this nefarious activity of ‘bush boys’ in Nigeria’s North-west region.
This unhealthy and inhumane development has further taken the region backwards in terms of education, cohesion and even the economy as evident in a high number of out-of-school children and dwindling economy because no investor will put his money where the safety of his investment cannot be guaranteed. These are in addition to countless killings, Maiming, livestock rustling, destruction of property and mass sack of rural dwellers.
For over a decade, the problem remains the most formidable security threat ever faced by the region in its recent history, and of course, its effect has no discrimination. This development has been giving scholars, policymakers, media and the public a serious headache as they use every avenue to join the search for a lasting solution to the phenomenon.
The term “banditry” according to scholars like Okoli and Ugwu (2019) refers to armed robbery and related crimes such as kidnapping, livestock rustling, and raids on villages or markets. These scholars divided banditry into two types: criminality, which is frequent in agrarian societies, and social banditry, which is aimed at redressing social injustices meted out to peasants and has a peasant base of support.
Recently, the man in the eye of the storm, the Governor of Zanfara State, Mohammed Bello Matawalle was invited as keynote speaker by a group called Arewa Media Writers during the inauguration of its new executive members held at Kabir Gymnasium, Kaduna.
Matawalle’s talked to a paper titled, “The Fight Against Banditry in Northwest Nigeria: Challenges and Solutions” where he alighted the lack of vision by the region’s elite as a key contributory factor to the banditry expansion across the North.
During that thought-provoking paper delivered by the State’s Commissioner-designate, Ibrahim Magaji Dosara, the governor agreed with scholars that the people of the North-west are familiar with the pastoralist cultural practice of cattle raids which is seasonal, localised, conducted with traditional weapons. But, these scholarly position has not been able to stop the menace.
Its goal was to express bravery and valour, and the rustled cattle were utilised for mundane purposes such as payment of dowry.
Meanwhile, the modern banditry that relies on modern weapons disregards the customary rules of engagement, aimed at the market rather than meeting the mundane needs of the rustlers is entirely alien to the people of the northwest and the entire north.
According to the governor, as of May 29, 2019, when he took over as Zamfara State governor, the unpleasant news of banditry, livestock rustling, kidnapping, and a host of other crimes had already been mired in serious security manifesting in bloodletting, fire, pillage, and significant displacement of people, particularly those living in rural areas.
“The historical economic, social and cultural ties between the dominant communities of Fulani and Hausa were ruptured; farming activities across the State were halted, and commercial activities were crippled.
“With poverty on the increase and food security seriously affected by the crisis, the State was on the verge of a catastrophic social eruption capable of destabilising our communities and the northwest subregion”, the governor noted.
He said his administration had carefully assessed the situation and weighed the options available and n the end, it was agreed that dialogue and reconciliation were the best ways to deal with a protracted situation that was gradually taking on an inter-communal and ethnic tone.
Being a former Chairman of the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence helped him understood that not all problems could be solved solely through police or military action just as he realized that no significant progress could be made until definite and practical efforts were taken to address the problem.
As a result, he was able to reach out to the Fulani community’s leadership and ‘yan sakai’, eventually brokering a peace and reconciliation accord.
Following the agreement he said, hundreds of kidnapped people were unconditionally released by their captors; hundreds of assorted arms and ammunition were surrendered by both the bandits and the ‘yan sakai, and the horrendous bandit attacks that had previously made life miserable for residents were drastically reduced, markets, which had previously been shuttered were reopened.
“Apart from recent attacks in some villages by groups who have yet to embrace our peace deal and those infiltrating the State from other states, normalcy has virtually returned in all sections of the State”, he added.
For his administration to work the talk, some measures taken to promote that peace accord he brokered with ‘waring’ parties including but not limited to the establishment of Ruga settlements for Fulani communities across the three senatorial districts of the State – beginning with 20,000 hectares at Ranji, Sakida, Maradun local council area, has reached an advanced level of completion.
Matawalle said the Ruga settlement has veterinary clinics, cattle ranches, 210 housing units of 3- and 2-bedroom flats, primary school of 12 classroom capacity, secondary school, Islamiyya school, Primary Healthcare Centre of 30 beds capacity, Earth dam, cattle cottage and grazing yard.
Other facilities expected to see at the settlement are modern abattoir, Jumu’ah mosque, cemetery, Police station, a mini-market consisting of 140 open and locked-up shops, livestock market, access roads covering the entire vicinity of the settlements, Irrigation farms and canals, grass band that matures within 16 weeks which will improve the quantity and quality of cow milk, and is medicinal and social centre for sporting activities, ceremonies and other community engagements.
In addition to this, Matawalle said his administration had purchased 200 operational vehicles (pick-ups) for security operatives in the State to further address the problems of mobility and logistics in the fight against banditry and related crimes.
He however hinged the challenges of his race efforts on the reluctance by the affected states to embrace peace dialogue, which would have deprived the recalcitrant bandits currently tormenting region of safe corridors in the region, lack of support from a section of politicians and the need for the Federal Government to key into the peace initiative so that appropriate resources can be allocated to make it more comprehensive.
“Despite the persuasive arguments in its favour, it is clear that many Nigerians are opposed to the idea of dialoguing with bandits. Perhaps this explains why many state governments have been hesitant to embrace the dialogue initiative fully.
“We in Zamfara State, on the other hand, will support any initiative that works for us and will continue to explore any other workable option”, he clarified.
To him, Northern leaders should be ready to take responsibility for the present plight for failing to provide a good vision that will chart a progressive course for the region instead of busy themselves in gaining political power and selfish wealth unlike what is obtainable in developed countries where they rise in unison on all matters concerning the development of their country or region.
The governor then concluded that until and unless the leaders from the region wake up to the situation, the war against banditry in the North-west would remain a significant security challenge that has the potential to swallow the region and the country.
“The destruction that banditry is wreaking on the region’s people and the economy is unfathomable. This is a siren appeal to leaders of the region to wake up from their lethargy and unite in combating this grave challenge. We need to get to the roots of the situation, stop politicizing and act decisively”, he submitted.