In times like this, Northerners are having it rough trying to explain their humanity. How come that an area known for its peace and security has suddenly turned into a hellhole of bloodshed? The wars that have pitched several ethnic groups against herders in some states of the North-central states, which some refer to as the Middle Belt region, are far yet to be resolved. If Boko Haram was the major source of insecurity during the era of former President Goodluck Jonathan, herdsmen’s attacks in several states of Plateau, Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Kogi and Kaduna, among other states, have become a major security headache for the current government of President Muhammadu Buhari who is seeking re-election in next year’s general polls.
However, for those who see the herders’ battle in the aforementioned states as inspired by alleged Islamisation agenda of the current administration, the massacre in Zamfara State debunks such allegation. In the state governed by Governor Abdul Aziz Yari, Muslims of the Hausa/Fulani stock have been engaged in an internecine battle that has claimed thousands of lives and property. The former Northern region is now turning into a human barbeque. The recent coldblooded killings of Nigerians in the state by brigands attracted national and international attention when no fewer than 40 lives were lost in some villages located in Maru and Tsafe local government areas of the state. These pitiless killings angered residents of Tsafe who trooped out to they local government secretariat and reduced it to rubbles in response to what they alleged to be government’s insensitivity on the incessant killings. President Muhammadu Buhari has described the killings as horrendous and vowed to bring perpetrators to book. Not many are excited at the president’s response, as similar promises in the past are yet to be translated into action. The Ministry of Defence has debunked allegations of lacklustre disposition by government to tackle the festering massacre by outlining efforts to safeguard lives and property. The additional deployment of no fewer than 1,000 troops to combat banditry remains one of the highpoints of determination by the government to bring peace to some states in the North that are troubled by banditry and other types of criminality.
The truth is that not many Nigerians are aware of the catastrophe that has been visited on the state in the last three or four years by these blood-thirsty bandits who have made life miserable for the people. What is ailing Zamfara is basically the failure of the state to combat small fires that have now become a raging inferno. It is about injustice and the seed of discord that the nation’s justice system has failed to address. Those who think that the current battle against these criminals can be won without the engagement of the conflict actors to evolve a roadmap for peace are only chasing shadows. During a recent tour of some five troubled states, including Zamfara, by an interfaith platform for peace, a revered monarch in Zamfara noted that banditry is partly sponsored by politicians, just as mutual suspicion between the Hausa and Fulani has fuelled the massacres.
An official of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) sees the problem beyond the bloody present. The herders, according to the official, are victims of injustice through the collaboration of village and district heads in collaboration with security agencies, especially the police. According to him, “When cows belonging to our members stray into farmlands, village and district heads, in collaboration with those mandated to resolve the matter, most times impose heavy fines. If the supposed cost of destroyed crops is N20, 000, the herder whose cows have destroyed crops is forced to pay between N50, 000 and N70, 000. Where then is justice? And for the herdsman to pay the fines, he has to sell some of his animals. That is why some of our members are without cows and have gone to the bush for survival.”
With cows belonging to the Fulani being depleted through imposition of fines for destroyed crops, the Hausa communities now have larger number of cows they rear in their homes. These cows are often rustled when herders attack communities and leave behind footprints of mindboggling destruction. With some of the communities left to their fate, besieged areas soon came up with the idea of a vigilante group known as ‘Yan Sara Suka.’ The group comprises charmed men who regularly assist in confronting these bandits anytime they show up to unleash terror on people.
With the deployment of troops to combat rustling becoming a success, kidnapping and robbery became the new criminal activities. Communities who were saved from rustling gangs soon started receiving letters of threats from these bandits to either pay money running into millions of naira as insurance against planned attacks. Sometimes, influential family members of politicians are kidnapped and only payment of ransom without involvement of security officials would facilitate their safe return.
Those mandated to secure the lives of people in Zamfara are obviously overwhelmed, and the confidence of the people in the security agents to resolve the massacres is at the bottom. Instead of aligning with security officials to combat these bandits, they prefer to go with the criminals to gain momentary respite. These besieged communities are willing to pay a little more to satisfy the monetary lust of the bandits for a fleeting peace. That explains why the criminals have taken over most of the communities and are operating with devastating consequences.
The communities and those deployed to tackle the Zamfara bloodbaths are aware that the bandits are Nigerians, and not some foreign herders as claimed in some quarters. Some of these bandits who wreak havoc and destruction at night roam markets with their sophisticated weapons at midday without a whim of resistance from security officers. Any person who is out to combat them is seen as an enemy that must be taken out. In some of the communities, these brigands have their spies who benefit from their criminal activities. The inability of the political class and traditional leadership to forge a common alliance against these bandits provides fertiliser for these killings and destruction.
The present efforts at tackling the heinous massacres in Zamfara cannot be realised through the deployment of military might alone. The actors of the conflict must be involved in the search for peace, with the active engagement of clerics who are far more trusted than politicians in finding amicable resolution to the bloodletting. The killing of the notorious armed bandit, Mallam Tsoho Buhari, popularly known as ‘Buhari Daji’, in March 2018 by security forces in the state only ignited yet another gory phase of the deadly conflict. The Zamfara banditry should be seen as a symptom of a disease and not the disease itself. Like other killings in several states, the Zamfara massacres are slowly defying the military option. What should be done is for the relevant authorities to come together and take a complete review of the issues and address mutual suspicion among the warring groups. Fundamental to the resolution of the crisis is economic empowerment of youths and prosecution of politicians who are engaged in sponsoring violence for political power.
As long as there is unemployment, injustice and mutual suspicion among groups, so long will the Zamfara massacres and other killings in other states continue to threaten the survival of our country. We may superficially resort to hiding the problem for political exigencies, but at the cruxes of these bloodbaths and destruction are economic survival and subterranean plots by devious politicians to remain in the corridors of power at all cost.
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