Not a few eyebrows were raised recently when the Kaduna based Islamic teacher, Sheikh Gumi suggested that amnesty should be granted to bandits and cash compensation paid to them as some of the measures to get them to renounce their acts of criminality. Gumi who had earlier met with different groups of bandits in the North West also said that dialogue is the only option that can end banditry and insurgency in the country. He further stated that most of the bandits he came in contact with during his visit to Zamfara forests have declared interest to surrender and embrace peace, lamenting that there had not been enough room for negotiation.
As a Newspaper, our position has not changed, the government must not negotiate or grant amnesty to bandits. We have been relentless in our campaign that bandits can never be trusted to keep their own end of the bargain. They are criminals and cannot be trusted.
We recall that when the Katsina State government granted amnesty to those blood thirsty bandits, on this page, we cautioned against the move. Months later we were proven right. After a period of false sense of security, the bandits resumed their trade with full force, prompting the state governor Aminu Masari, to vow never to grant amnesty to the criminals again following their failure to honour previous agreements he had with them.
We are persuaded to ask as this amnesty argument progresses, what are the bandits bringing to the table as claims to justify the demand for amnesty and compensation? In what ways has the state wronged them? These are pertinent questions that should be answered by those on the forefront of the clamour for amnesty and compensation.
According to reports by the International Crisis Group, in the last decade more than 8,000 people have been killed in the states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Niger and Zamfara. Sadly, within one week, bandits killed 23 persons in different attacks on soft targets in Birnin Gwari, Giwa, Chikun, Igabi and Kauru councils of Kaduna State within 24 hours. Also, within the same week, the criminals killed 19 persons in Birnin Gwari and Kajuru local government areas of the state. In January this year, bandits ambushed Kungi village in Birnin Gwari Local Government in Kaduna kidnapping 30 people and killing one villager.
That’s not all. In Katsina, more than 100 people were killed in attacks between April and June last year .We also recall the abduction and rescue of Kankara school boys in December last year in Katsina the very day that President Muhammadu Buhari visited the state. Available reports indicate that kidnapping is now an established thriving industry in Zamfara state, overtaking cattle rustling.
Niger State has also caught the bandits bug. In January this year alone, bandits abducted at least 37 people in two incidents in the state. From January 14-16, at least 20 people were kidnapped in Duguru in Madaka Ward, Rafi Local Government Area, while going to a local market. Also up to 17 people were abducted during attacks in the Bassa/Kukoki area of Shiroro LGA.
As if these were not bad enough, these bloodthirsty bandits in some North West states now demand statutory “harvest fees” from farmers to access their farms at the beginning of the season and at the end of the growing season.
The few farmers who managed to cultivate are denied harvesting until they pay between N300, 000 and N900, 000 per village. These practices sure has an adverse effect on the food security of the country. Most of the kidnappings around Abuja – Kaduna road, Birnin Gwari and some states have been attributed to criminal herders.
Should the government succumb to this obvious blackmail, what is there for the victims of banditry and kidnapping? What about persons who lost their loved ones, the traumatic experience of having their loved ones kidnapped and killed by these bandits? Some military men were killed by these same bandits in the line of duty. What message are we sending out to their comrades who are still in the frontline? That their lives do not matter? The focus ought to be on the security of citizens who are undeservedly tormented by these bandits. Celebrating criminality cannot be the way to go.
In a study by Chitra Nagarajan, who investigated the violence in Zamfara , it was suggested that amnesty on its own is not enough. She contended “You need proper DDRR (disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration) processes, and to build social cohesion and transitional justice that allows communities to reconcile and heal,”
Accordingly, we advise that the state should show strength rather than weakness. Treating bandits and insurgents with kid gloves in the name of amnesty or such other arrangements will not earn governments the people’s respect and control. Relapsing into despondency and helplessness is cowardly, in our view. Bandits are terrorists and should be treated as such. Crushing them with state security apparatus will be the right thing to do now.