Zamfara is at the epicenter of the rising criminality that spreads across Northwest Nigeria in form of massive kidnapping of students in schools, communities and travelers along highways. Recently, the government of the state took drastic measures aimed at curtailing the menace. Key among such measures include indefinite suspension of weekly markets and riding of motorcycles at any time of the day; controlled sale of petroleum products and suspension of all telecommunication services in the 14 LGAs of the state. The intention is that these are services that criminals use to facilitate their evil actions against innocent people. While this is the case, it is important to consider the potential implications of these measures to the daily living of the people vis-à-vis their disposition to yield commensurate lasting results.
Three weeks since suspending telecommunication services for example, there are sketchy details around the prospects of the operation. What we hear from people escaping from the state to make calls and other necessities like bank transactions, checking their e-mails is that there is little to show as gains from the operation while the people have been terribly pauperised. While we hear that the bandits were being killed here and there, we hear more horrendous stories of communities around Shinkafi, Birnin Magaji, Zurmi, Maradun, Maru and Bakura LGAs still under heavy threats from the bandits. Also, hundreds of people abducted from Goran Namaye in Maradun LGA and Rini in Bakura LGA are still in the custody of the bandits who often write letters and send one of their victims to deliver to the communities to specify the ransom needed to release the rest of the people in the absence of communication services.
Mid-way in the operation, we hear voices of discontent that the army deployed to the state were not really as mobilized to make the necessary assault on the criminals as people ask the question, “where are the TUCANOS?”; the daily living of people has been affected beyond imagination; displacement has set in with thousands trooping in local government headquarters without places to settle. Two major voices gave these insinuations significant credibility. The interview on Hausa Service of the Voice of America with a former military governor of Kaduna State, Col. Dangiwa Umar (Rtd) who questioned the level of army mobilization in the country and state as well as faulted the idea of suspending markets and communication services. In Dangiwa’s view, these are issues of livelihood that can make life even more difficult to the masses and could have been things to leverage in dealing with the criminals.
On the other hand, a former governor of Sokoto State, Alh. Attahiru Bafarawa who took the bull by the horns and travelled to his hometown of Bafarawa that shares border with Zamfara State gave an interview to the BBC Hausa service that came with the lamentable image of suffering caused by the operation in Zamfara State. Bafarawa revealed that bandits were still in control of most settlements around Shinkafi LGA and environs even after all the measures. He was particular on how people cannot go a kilometer away from their settlements to harvest their produce from farms for fear of the bandits and challenged Governor Matawalle to take a similar tour and see things for himself. The interview also revealed the humanitarian situation of hunger and zero support from the state.
One thing that is clear from the concerns of the people that we hear daily and the interviews from Col. Dangiwa and Bafarawa is that the operation in Zamfara was initiated with minimal or no strategic thinking. There is more emotional drive to demonstrate that something is being done than for what outcomes.
Strategic thinking requires taking into account the commitment of the federal government in deploying troops before taking the measures of locking the state up in business and communication. It also requires engaging the neighbouring states as we are not an island state. The plan for palliatives should also not come as an afterthought -a good assumption of displacement should be made and consider providing relief services in advance. For an operation like this, the chief executive must resist any pressure and temptation to leave the state for any reason -every minute counts in a context that requires adaptive management to save lives and livelihoods. The governor’s trip outside the state and the country in the pretext of the invitation to join presidential entourage to the U.S for the United Nations meeting was a serious squandering of goodwill and faith in the operation.
We are pleased to hear that telecommunication services have been restored in Gusau, the state capital. It was a great breath of fresh air for many. We hope that more of this opening is strategically done in other settlements around the state to ease life to already suffering masses. It looks like the idea of using vigilantes (Yansakai) alongside the military as done during the former governor Yari administration is one strategy that truly works. The bandits who are mostly from the communities they terrorise find a good match in the knowledge of the terrain demonstrated by the vigilante. An organised deployment of the vigilantes to work strategically with the military with a view to creating an atmosphere where people can harvest their produce and go to select markets is necessary before hunger and deprivation make life even harder than bandits can make it. Zamfara should learn from the neighbouring Kaduna, Sokoto and Katsina in its security measures by using strategic and partial applications for the simple reason that one cannot protect lives by sacrificing livelihood!
Dr. Barau writes from Wurno road Sokoto.