President Muhammadu Buhari has made considerable gains in the fight against Boko Haram, but that menace is being replaced in one of its grotesque mutations by a wave of deadly banditry playing out in Zamfara State in an intensity not seen in the country before.
In Zamfara, life has become so cheap that the mass media no longer report on the killings that now take place there every day. It happened yesterday, it happened the day before, and it happened even the day before the day before. And most probably it will happen tomorrow if nothing is done today.
During the waves of attacks, pregnant women have been pressed into forced labour while fleeing; children, the aged and other vulnerable people have been left at the mercy of the bandits; and people’s wives and daughters have been kidnapped and used as sex slaves.
On Friday, 15 communities in Zurmi LGA were left with no fewer than 37 people dead. In a pathetic cry for help, the speaker of the state House of Assembly, Sanusi Garba Rikiji, said, “We are calling on security agencies to wake up and do what is right to protect our people.” The principal officer of the state, precisely the No. 3 man, continued: “As I’m speaking right now, three districts under Zurmi emirate are under the control of these bandits and not under the control of the Nigerian government, which means they have taken control over all the land.”
Two weeks ago, 10 communities in Gusau LGA came under attack from no fewer than 200 bandits; they killed people, kidnapped young girls, rustled cows and forced villagers to flee.
The federal government should quickly intervene and stop these bandits that kill for sport, apparently because they hardly encounter any resistance or face any consequence. Governor Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar has openly declared that the job is beyond him. He has since stopped pretending to be the chief security officer of the state, as according to him, he has no control over the security machinery. Traditional rulers in some of local government areas have been suborned to collect levies for the terrorists. What could be more frightening?
One of the main reasons former President Goodluck Jonathan was voted out of office was the catastrophic security situation in the country. Though Boko Haram predated Jonathan, the murderous group came of age on his watch, killing hundreds of innocent people and seizing parts of the country nearly the size of Northern Ireland in Europe, where the group planted its flag and collected taxes.
Yet, the wildfire started like a spark in one or two enclaves before it began to spread to other states, mutating as it did so. In time, the evil group started targeting places of worship and vital institutions and assets, literally bringing the war to the nation’s capital where the Nigeria office of the United Nations was bombed and scores of workers killed.
We are particularly worried about Zamfara, not because any Nigerian life lost to violence anywhere else in the country is less important, but because the multiple security challenges we are faced with today got out of hand as a result of excuses, delays or negligence at the early stages. Killings in a few other states can be ascribed to either Boko Haram, farmer-herder clashes, ethnic clashes or religious clashes (none of these should be condoned anyway), but it is only in Zamfara State that people kill without a reason, even if warped – they kill just for the fun of it and because they know nothing will happen. The bandits no longer flee the scene of the crime. They just stay and occupy the land. Scary!
The killings in the state are more than all the killings in all the other states in the country put together. The situation has gone on for too long and too far that the only thing that seems certain is more brazen killings day after day for no cause at all.
Now that the Zamfara State government has failed in its duty – the state is effectively a failed state – we should stop pretending about it. If the governor who collects millions of naira as security vote and has a plethora of security men guarding him has fled the state, what is the point pretending that a normal intervention will end the banditry? Excuses or delay, no matter how seductive or politically convenient, is not a substitute for the safety and security of citizens.
The governor should have found out how more successful governors secure their states. If he worked together with the overstretched security agencies in his state, helping them where he could, and not spend most of his time outside the state playing politics at the expense of the longsuffering Zamfara people, things might have been a lot better. But schools have been shut down, farms cut off, markets closed, and businesses locked down. Even President Buhari’s signature achievement of abundant and affordable fertilizer has no meaning in Zamfara anymore, as people have deserted their farms. What started as skirmishes in remote parts of the state have become a catastrophe, bringing the state to its knees.
It is gratifying that the federal government has deployed 1,000 security officers from the services with air assets to support their operations. They need to be properly supported by the state government; that is what happens in other states.
We are concerned that with the state government effectively shut down, not much progress would be made unless the federal government declares a state of emergency and takes direct control of affairs in the state until normalcy is restored. And it is the considered opinion of this newspaper that such action should happen NOW.
We do not call for a state of emergency lightly. The safety and security of citizens are the first and most important duties of government, and we are convinced that the only way to send a strong message to the bandits and their sponsors is to let them know that one more life lost in Zamfara will attract the full weight and resources of the Nigerian state. A state of emergency will help keep the state firmly in the President’s focus. It is no longer a laughing matter – Zamfara is on fire!
Everyone is tired of hearing about one committee after another looking into security problems, politicians suggesting this or that exotic form of policing, or government issuing statements of condolences, while innocent people are being needlessly murdered. To save the state, and indeed the country, from descending into chaos, the federal government must declare a state of emergency in Zamfara immediately.