At last, the conscience of Nigerians and the international community has finally been lanced over the cruel killings by bandits in Zamfara State. Midweek, President Muhammadu Buhari cut short his foreign trip and returned home to attend to the raging insecurity plaguing the country. On Thursday, the President met with security chiefs to review and appraise the ceaseless human carnages that had attracted national and global outrage. Earlier in the week, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had visited Gusau, the Zamfara State capital, where he declared that no effort would be spared to smoke out the bandits from their holes and bring them to justice. He had consoling words for Zamfara people who have become strangers to peace.
Not many are well informed about what is happening in a state that was once peaceful. While some are wont to simply define the raging banditry as a fallout of illegal mining activities in the state, others relate the crisis to herdsmen/farmers’ clashes that have led to loss of lives and property. Some have accused politicians of being behind the crisis. The truth is: all of these form part of the raging crisis, but do not fully account for turning the state into a galling oasis of perpetual and mindless murders.
Sometime in September 2018, I was a part of a four-day advocacy visit to Zamfara State. The trip was organised by the Interfaith Dialogue for Peace (IDFP), an interfaith initiative founded and funded by the Vienna-based KAICIID Dialogue Centre. The purpose of the visit was to interact with critical stakeholders like the Zamfara State government, traditional rulers, security agencies and organisations engaged in the search for peace in the state. Most members of the team, including yours sincerely, had our perspectives on issues fuelling the bloodshed, but by the time we were through, it was clear the visit had illuminated our knowledge of the crisis.
The result of the visit was amazing as it opened my mind to all sides of the story. Critical stakeholders insisted that the absence of political will and sincerity of purpose among the people are some of the factors that make peace unattainable. To many of these stakeholders who participated in programmes organised by the IDFP advocacy team, peace is not the product of government only; the citizens must also be involved. Considering the enormous cost of maintaining security, no government is capable of shouldering the cost of providing security to the country. When citizens are unwilling to cooperate and collaborate with government over the matter of security, there is little government can achieve.
In the course of the trip, members of the advocacy team were made to understand that herdsmen had allegedly suffered from long years of injustice perpetrated by traditional rulers who were assisted by security agencies, especially the police, in the imposition of heavy fines over destroyed farms caused by grazing cattle. According to one of them, “It is normal for a herdsman to pay as much as N100, 000 fine over a destroyed farm that should not have attracted more than N20, 000. Due to these heavy fines, some of these Fulani herders have been forced to sell their cows to pay up whopping fines that are allegedly shared among the police, owners of destroyed farms and, most times, village /district heads. In some instances, where offending herdsmen are unable to pay up, they are forced to surrender their cows. The consequences of this is that many farmers now rear cows in their homes, while Fulani herders who were engaged in rearing cows now roam the streets without cows.”
As the saying goes, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. With harsh economic realities confronting Fulani youths who now do not have cows, the resort to other forms of occupation to survive the hard times becomes imperative. Initially, it started with cattle rustling; thereafter, banditry, kidnappings and other criminal activities were introduced. At the height of these criminalities, bandits/kidnappers wrote letters to towns and villages demanding them to pay up whopping sums of money or risk the invasion of their communities. In the absence of job opportunities, it was easy to penetrate some Hausa youths who serve as informants to bandits for a fee.
A key member of a community-based organisation told the advocacy team: “Fear has taken over the hearts of people who should ordinarily volunteer information to security agencies, but they are afraid for their own lives. That explains why the bandits enjoy some sort of invulnerability. These bandits are seen on market days carrying their deadly weapons, while the police look the other way as these criminals extort and rob traders in broad daylight.”
Amidst the ravaging crisis, there is increasing distrust between Hausa farmers and the Fulani herdsmen. Unlike before where intermarriage is the normal practice, both ethnic groups are now unfavourably disposed to encouraging intermarriage between them. More than anything, the Hausa and Fulani are engaged in promoting mutual exclusivity and standing up only for group’s survival, with subtle threat to their unity as they confront these barbaric bandits.
Last week, the Nigerian military authorities warned that some traditional monarchs were engaged in aiding bandits in the current insecurity bedeviling some parts of the country. In Zamfara, following the non-intervention of security agencies to end the bloodletting, some of these traditional rulers have been alleged to be engaged in subtle support of vigilante groups to confront these bandits. In some local government areas of Zamfara State, the police and other security agencies have depended on these vigilante groups for support in the fight against banditry and kidnappings. A top security official said the security agencies had initially underestimated the sophistication and prowess of the bandits.
He said that after over three years of banditry, “We have discovered that we are being overwhelmed on all fronts by these bandits. If we must end their hold in the state, we must review our strategies and work towards getting the people to support us. Without superior power to deal with these criminals, the dream of tackling them will continue to be what it is – a mere dream.”
One key issue that has been left unattended to is negotiation with conflict actors in resolving the current quagmire. A sincere approach towards tackling the crisis must take into cognisance a template that allows for fruitful talks aimed at launching appeals against the evil works perpetrated by the bandits. The killing of Buhari Daji, who was then the acclaimed leader of the bandits, should teach us that unleashing death on bandits’ leaders will not, in itself, end such nefarious criminal acts.
There is absence of political will from elected politicians to deal with the problems. While the bandits’ firepower has become fearsome, politicians are only interested in strategising for power without focusing on the welfare of the people. When political leaders abdicate their responsibility, they leave the space for bloodsuckers whose only desire is to entrench fear and control the populace. The crisis in Zamfara, as one of the monarchs aptly captured it, is hinged on reaction to injustice. Security is not enforced but restored through the cooperation of citizens. Not even the deployment of more troops to the state can bring peace, if nothing is done to restore economic development, provide jobs to the restless youths and ensure that justice is delivered on all matters, no matter whose ox is gored.
Zamfara and other states in the North are suffering from destruction because those responsible for societal peace are only engrossed in the pursuit of personal wealth and shutting the doors of opportunity against those who are desperate to come out of the poverty hole. For peace to be restored, those whose dream of economic empowerment must be allowed to walk through the door of economic opportunities devoid of any form of discriminations.
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