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Is Masari’s Dialogue With Bandits A Game Changer?

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ANDY ASEMOTA examines the intervention of the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, over banditry in the state

When the news emerged that the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, visited leaders of suspected bandits in the eight fronline local government areas of the state, there were mixed reactions across the country.

Some were shocked and wondered why a governor would under undertake such an adventure. For others, the governor’s move to persuade the suspected bandits to release the kidnap victims showed tenacity in light of fulfilling the primary responsibility of government which is security lives and properties of the people in the state.

In this school of thought are the Speaker of the House

of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; Katsina State House of

Assembly; Katsina traditional institutions and legal experts. As the saying goes, he who wears the shoes knows where it pinches. Masari and other major stakeholders in the polity clearly know what they want.

Evidently, Masari, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives from 2003 to 2007, needed to take such a bold action in light of restoring the people’s confidence in governance.

Masari began his first amnesty programme aimed at protecting lives and property in the state as governor in 2015 after realising that no meaningful development can take place in an environment where insecurity and all forms of criminality abound. For the better part of his first term, his daring disposition towards security issues contributed to the development of the state.

He provided roads, health facilities, classroom blocks and dams among others. To reduce poverty and illiteracy which experts identify as a major cause of insecurity in the several parts of the eight frontline local government areas in the state, the governor built new schools where there were none. Veterinary clinic for livestock and health centres for men and women were also established in the rural areas.

These efforts dramatically reduced the plights of communities in the areas before they collapsed in the face of the unprecedented wave of banditry in the state.

Masari who spoke in an interview with LEADERSHIP recently said: “After the first amnesty, we constructed 10 primary schools. We constructed clinics for veterinary medicine and human medicine but unfortunately, the resurgence of crisis (banditry, kidnapping and killings) made almost all the schools in the affected areas dormant. Some of them were even taken over by bandits as their headquarters but they (bandits) were also afraid.”

Indeed, efforts to lift the people in communities across the bandits-ravaged-areas of the state have been severely hampered.

The situation deteriorated to such an extent that women and children fled in their thousands to different towns as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) following the acts of inhumanity perpetrated in those communities by bandits.

They attacked fellow harmless citizens trying to eke a living from their small farm lands. The bandits, at random, went from one village to another stealing money, rustling livestock and in some cases kidnap women and children for ransom.

This was a frequent scenario in most of the communities they visited. It was as if there was no government in place, even though the ugly situation started early in 2014 when cattle rustling began unchecked in the state.

No doubt, there was succour for the Katsina people between 2015 and 2016 following the first amnesty programme initiated by the Masari-led administration but because the programme did not receive the needed strategic buy-in from neighbouring states, the effort collapsed.

However, the resolution of Northern governors and the Nigerian Police to grant amnesty to suspected bandits has renewed Masari’s dream of restoring peace and security of lives and property in the state.

His views: “You know we had a meeting with 11 governors, comprising the governors of Northwest, two from North Central and one from (Yobe) North East. Not all the bandits came and we rescheduled the meeting for only bandits in Katsina State where we had a meeting (of major stakeholders) including the Emirs of Daura and Katsina and the herders: their leaders (Ardos) and the (bandits’) commandants in the forest, but not all of them turned up.

“Since we are serious about the issue of peace and we want to start it from the lowest level, that is the forest itself, we asked the herders to choose a particular place in their respective local government areas; a place they feel safe and free to express their grievances and suggest ways of really addressing this issue of insecurity and they agreed and fixed dates,” he said.

Asked why he had to put his life on the line for a dialogue with the suspected bandits and herders on the fringes of the Rugu Forest, Masari said, “I feel it is my responsibility to get there, after all, everyone residing in Katsina is a Katsina indigene. So, it’s my responsibility to go.

“For me, to sacrifice and take that risk, it’s worth it because life is life. If that will stop them (the bandits) from coming to villages and towns, killing and maiming, I will go and offer myself to them because my primary responsibility as a governor is to ensure protection of lives, property, honour and integrity of people of Katsina State. So, I don’t see it as a big deal to go there,” he stated.

While the news of bandits invading some villages in Katsina became a regular deplorable situation, the issue on the lips of some pundits was how the governor was going to tame the situation.

Some argued that military offensive against the suspected bandits should have been adopted rather than dialogue.

“You see, we are dealing with vast areas being populated by all kinds of people; the people in the forest are not only Fulanis, you find the Hausas, you will even find the Tuaregs and people from Niger among different tribes in Nigeria and from other countries. So, we believe that no matter how hard you fight, at the end of the day, you will come to the dialogue table where you will draw the terms and conditions for peaceful co-existence.

“These people, who are the drivers of  banditry, are Nigerians, though they have hired mercenaries, they are Nigerians. So, we need to open up again and discuss with them and find out what are the problems and why? Unless you want the military to go to war with them and the military is fully occupied in the North East dealing with Boko Haram and in the Niger Delta trying to secure the zone and the high seas among so many places,” Masari said.

Be that as it may,  Masari’s intervention is already attracting solidarity.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabimila, and principal officers of the green chambers recently paid a working visit to the state. Their mission: To assess the security situation on ground in view of the recent security situation in the state that has been on the front burner for some time.

It was a one day visit that offered the law makers an opportunity to see the conditions of IDPs in Katsina and consider those things which need political will to be done at the federal level. At the end of the visit, the IDPs were given N60 million and thousands of bags of rice among other assistance.

Gbajabiamila, who also paid a courtesy call on Masari, affirmed that the governor was doing well in curtailing the security challenges in the state with tremendous success.

“Going back to Abuja, we hope to be able to work with you to make these things a thing of the past,” Gbajabiamila said.

Following Masari dialogue that has renewed the hope of an enduring peace and security in Katsina communities; the members of the Katsina State House of Assembly  unanimously passed a resolution commending Masari and his team over the bold steps taken to end banditry and other forms of insecurity through dialogue.

The resolution was passed following a matter of urgent public importance raised by the member representing Kaita constituency, Musa Nuhu Gafia. He applauded the governor for initiating the dialogue with the suspected bandits to secure the release of all kidnap victims and called on him to continue with all necessary measures for the return of peace across the length and breadth of the state.

The House also assured the governor of its full support for the peace accord including the provision of necessary legislative measures and called on communities in the frontline local government areas to have the courage to forgive those behind their ordeals and support the governor’s initiative for peace to reign in the state.

The point to note however is that Masari’s peace accord with repentant bandits is a game changer adjudged by political and security stakeholders in the state and country as the right move in addressing such a delicate issue as banditry.

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