Banditry was at its peak in Zamfara State when Bello Matawalle emerged governor. Killings and kidnapping were the order of the day.
However, barely weeks after the new administration assumed leadership of the state, there seems to be sustainable respite from the activities of bandits as 300 kidnapped person have been released so far.
In the last 10 years, the security crisis in the state had evolved from incessant farmers/herdsmen clashes to cattle rustling and outright killing sprees and kidnappings.
The bandits ravaged towns and villages in state, frustrating businesses among neighbouring states as most motorists refused to ply the Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi and Niger Republic route.
Commuters travelling to Abuja, Kano, Kaduna and other parts of the country from Sokoto or Kebbi also had difficulties because of activities of the bandits.
Worried by the rising nature of the banditry, the federal government had relocated One Brigade from Sokoto to Gusau, the Zamfara State capital. It also established Operation Sharan Daji and much later, Operation Hadari Daji, as well as other security formations in a bid to tackle banditry in the state.
While the banditry raged, reports have it that over 10,000 persons were killed with many communities destroyed.
The Intervention Mindful of the inability of the previous administration to tackle the banditry menace, the Governor Matawalle was determined to use necessary peace mechanism to end the killings and kidnapping in the state. He also gave assurances of extending all logistics support to the security.
The assumption of a new commissioner of police, Usman Nagogo, also signaled a fresh road map to tackle banditry in the state.
The commissioner of police Usman Nagogo had on assuming duty last June, also expressed his resolve to employ dialogue as an approach to solving the menace of insecurity rather than using force.
The Nagogo’s resolve to initiate peaceful resolution was greeted with applause by aggrieved parties in the crisis.
Nagogo with the support of the state government embarked on consultations with leaders of the warring factions.
All the warring parties engaged in the lingering scourge of banditry and unabated killings in the state were invited to meeting to strategise on a lasting solution to the menace in the state.
The parties, comprising all arms of security organs, leaders of Fulani associations, Vigilante groups, the volunteer groups known as ‘’Yansakai’’ and the traditional chiefs, were invited by Governor Matawalle to a meeting under the chairmanship and supervision of commissioner of police.
While similar meetings held in the past, the new meeting seemed different as it was unprecedented in light of the mass attendance and representations from all stakeholders.
Indications that the meeting would be fruitful manifested in the way leaders from various warring parties voiced out his grievances in the presence of the Governor, the chairman council of chiefs Emir of Anka Alhaji Attahiru Ahmad and all arms of security organs. It was a no-holds-barred discussion.
The national chairman of the Fulani Miyetti Allah association, Alhaji Muhammad Kiriwa in his presentation, blamed the ‘’Yansakai’ volunteer group for initially fueling the problem.
He alleged that the spate of insecurity was ignited by the Yansakai group who unlawfully engaged in indiscriminate and extra judicial killings of Fulani in open market session with no lawful reason, but merely on the assumption that the Fulani had once been engaged in stealing.
He stated that no sane person would continue to watch the killing of his or her relations in cold blood without retaliating against such barbaric action.
He said this situation provoked the herdsmen who began to engage in reprisal attacks over the merciless killings of their family members.
He however suggested the creation of a committee comprising all the representatives of the embittered parties so that any violation of the peace agreement would be referred to the leaders of the particular groups who would be held responsible.
Another spokesman of the association, Alhaji Ahmed Hussaini Matawallen Tudun Wada, blamed the preceding administration for failing to heed the complains and suggestions submitted by the traditional rulers and community leaders
He said part of the major causes of the problem was the indiscriminate destruction and conversion of grazing lands to farm lands just as politicians continue to buy the grazing lands
Hussain stated that this action forced the Fulani herdsmen to migrate in frustration, explaining that it subsequently led to violence.
He suggested that traditional institutions must be fully utilised and respected if ‘’we are sincere in our bid to solve the lingering scourge.”
The secretary of the Vigilante group, Sani Babbar Doka, after expressing appreciation to the peace initiative, also promised to strictly adhere to the agreements.
Responding to submissions by the various groups, the governor who reminded the warring parties that ‘’we have no other home other than Zamfara’’ noted that no developments can flourish in a society bedevilled with insecurity challenge.
While he disclosed that his government has concluded plans to embark on various sectoral development in many rural areas, he noted that the insecurity crisis is affecting the government’s desire to send workers to execute the projects.
‘’My major concern now is the security challenge facing the state’’ lamented the governor, while assuring that he will spare any effort to restore peace for the development of the state.
Soon, after the stakeholders meetings and signing of the peace agreement, the police commissioner Mr. Usman Nagogo embarked on a visitation to the enclaves of the bandits and the Yansakai to secure the release of persons in captivity.
The brave police boss, so far secured the release of about 100 persons in captivity from the bandits and the vigilante group.
“The ongoing peace reconcilliation had paved way for the bandits to face the committee freely” he said.
According to him, both bandits and members of the vigilante group, popularly, known as Yan’sakai were engaged in the kidnapping of people.
“I stated that my priority will be community participation and interaction in achieving peace; this is because the policing in modern world has become global village, community partnership and intelligence led policing approach is more than necessary,” he said.
The police commissioner stated that several meetings were held with all stakeholders in order to reconcile the warring factions.
“As follow up to the meeting held with Yansakai, on the 24th of June 2019 all cultural associations of Fulani’s that comprised Miyetti Allah, Sarakunan Fulani and Ardos from the 14 local government areas had expressed their bitterness on the way they were deprived of their ancestral lands, grazing reserves and marketing activities in the state,” he added.
According to him, after the meeting, the Fulani’s constituted mini-committees in different sectors among themselves, which they contacted their kinsmen that engaged in banditry activities.
“The resultant effect of the Fulani’s meeting was the stoppage of banditry activities by about 98% in the state.”
He maintained that on the 7th of July 2019, 11 additional captives who were held at gidan dawa in Kaura Namoda and kamarawa in Shinkafi were released.
The state government further constituted a fact-finding committee on banditry in the state under the chairmanship of the former Inspector General of Police, Muhammad D. Abubakar.
Abubakar said apart from the continual release of their victims, the bandits have evidently demonstrated strong will to terminate the killings and kidnappings in the state. He added that there are visible evidences of a gradual return of peace to all parts of the state.
He acknowledged the efforts and combined wisdom of Governor Matawalle and the Police command for strategising a very effective approach to tackle the menace of insecurity in the state.
He called on the public to report any suspicious element to the relevant authorities and that they should not feel afraid to expose anybody no matter how high his or her place is in the society.
He stressed that in the course of the peace mission, a Korean Doctor, (names withheld) attached to Tsafe Hospital who was kidnapped in his residence by bandits about seven months ago and an Igbo man have regained their freedom.
However, the anchor of the peace initiative and state commissioner of police, Usman Nagogo confirmed the freedom of over 300 abductees through the peace efforts.
Some of the GAFDAN members who spoke at the meeting however, identified foreign herders, particularly from Togo and Republic of Benin as part of the problems compounding the bandit and security challenges in Nigeria, while not also ruling out the possibility of collaborators.
GAFDAN secretary from Oyo, Garba Umar said the Fulanis and their farmers in Oyo State had evolved ways of settling disputes until the arrival of the foreign herders.