…As discordant tunes greet amnesty programme for bandits
• Deal collapses in Niger ν Partially working in Zamfara
John Adams, Minna and Mohammed Munirat Nasir (Gusau)
Almost on a daily basis Nigerians have been bombarded with news reports of more killings, kidnappings and other acts of banditry in the North-western parts of the country. Added to the mounting body counts in the Northwest are the hundreds of hapless citizens mowed down by Boko Haram in the Northeast.
Seeking to end the killings, kidnapping and cattle rustling being perpetrated by criminal gangs in the Northwest and some parts of the North-central that had turned communities into ghost towns, the Niger State government in September 2019 entered into a peace deal with leaders of armed bandits in the state. The people had been forced to abandon their ancestral homes and relocate to refugee camps scattered across some local government areas of the state.
Worried by this development, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State sought to address the security challenges by aligning with the resolution of the governors of the 19 northern states at their 2019 summit held in Zamfara State to go into a peace deal with the bandits and implement an amnesty programme for them.
Even though he made it abundantly clear that the peace deal was not in any way a sign of weakness by his government, he emphasised the peace option became necessary in the face of the negative impact of bandits activities on the people and the pressure on the state government to provide a safe and secured environment for its citizens.
More importantly, in opting to explore the peace option, Bello believes that no sacrifice was too small. As a show of good faith and commitment to the peace deal, the government secured the release 13 bandits who were in police custody, to mark the World Peace Day on September 21, 2019. Though details of the peace deal were not disclosed, two weeks after the deal took effect, about 35 bandits voluntarily surrendered their arms in a quiet ceremony (as requested by the bandits) and agreed to be rehabilitated and welcomed back into the society.
The bandits, it was gathered, told the government that more of them were ready to surrender their arms, but needed assurance of rehabilitation.
The development brought great relief to some of the communities as gradually people began to return to their homes after spending months at the IDPs camps. The people were actually full of praises for the government for taking this bold step towards ensuring that peace returned to the communities, to enable them resume their farming business.
Back then, Adamu Abdullahi from Kusherki community told Sunday Sun: “We thank God for this development; at least we can now go back to our homes. We want the government to continue with these efforts because we are tired. We have lost everything to these bandits. But now we can sleep with our eyes closed. I lost much property during the attacks, but I thank God peace has finally come.”
But it was a short-lived peace as the process was short-circuited less than two months after the deal was celebrated as more vicious groups of bandits unleashed horrendous attacks on communities.
Today, the farming communities of Shiroro, Munya, Kagara and Rafi local government areas have been facing the onslaught of bandits.
Although the government had not been forthcoming with any official reasons for the collapse of the peace deal with bandits, Sunday Sun learnt from a credible source that the inability of the state government to meet the huge financial demand from the bandits led to the failure of the peace agreement. By all accounts, 2019 was the darkest year in the five-year run of banditry in the over 180 affected communities.
Like Niger State, Zamfara State, before the advent of the Bello Mohammed Matawalle administration, was the hotbed of banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling. However, the scenario has changed significantly as the rate of crime has reduced drastically in the state, apparently because of the different approach adopted by the governor.
During his inauguration on May 29, 2019, one major policy statement that dominated the inaugural speech of Governor Matawalle was his determination to bring an end to the lingering security problems that had bedevilled the state for more than seven years.
Within just first 40 days of the new administration, the Zamfara State government initiated an amnesty programme, ‘Zamfara Peace and Dialogue Initiative, which was aimed at ensuring that those involved in the dastardly acts would have a rethink and embrace peace for the development of the state.
And on July 2, 2019, the governor walked his talk when he sat down to dialogue with commanders of the bandits or their representatives and other security stakeholders at a round table held at the JB Yakubu State Secretariat, Gusau, to fashion out a framework for ending the security crisis in the state.
The meeting had in attendance leaders of the two groups, namely Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), whose members were alleged to be behind the banditry activities and the local volunteer vigilante groups known as Yan Sakai in Zamfara State, whose members were alleged to be involved in banditry activities and accused of conducting extra-judicial killing of the Fulani, thereby making the Fulani launch reprisal attacks.
Matawalle said that his administration was ready to cooperate with all the bandits willing to embrace the peace process, warning that the government would not hesitate to tackle the recalcitrant ones with the full force of the government.
“I have given orders that no Fulani herdsmen should be arrested unjustly or extra-judicially killed. I expect the Fulani to warn the bad eggs among them to end banditry as the state government will not tolerate criminality,” the governor said.
He disclosed that part of the amnesty to be granted to the bandits would encompass construction of RUGA settlements for the Fulani herdsmen in the state.
The amnesty programme has been in operation for about one year in Zamfara. When asked about the programme, the Director General, Media, Public Enlightenment and Communication, Alhaji Yusuf Idris Gusau, said that the state’s amnesty was worthy of emulation.
While granting the amnesty, the governor assured only the bandits who showed true commitment to all the conditions of the amnesty would benefit from it.
“Repentant bandits who surrender all weapons and stop banditry activities would get the carrot while the bandits who refuse to stop terrorising the people would get the stick from the security agents,” he said.
Alhaji Idris added that the amnesty had brought back sanity to the state making it possible for people to freely go about in the rural areas without fear of banditry.
“The repentant bandits are now working with security agencies to fight those who refused or are yet to accept the amnesty and this is leading to success in the bid to rid the state of all crimes,” he said.
A native of Zamfara, Malam Aminu Abdullahi, however, dismissed the amnesty, which he said was not working because some of the bandits granted amnesty turned around to terrorise the people.
“Some of them will go to shops in the rural areas and buy items and refuse to pay for what they bought,” he pointed out.
Abdullahi said that in some of the rural areas where bandits got amnesty, if any of the bandits saw you wearing good clothes, you would be asked to remove the clothes at gun point.
The Emir of Tsafe in Tsafe Local Government Area, Alhaji Muhammad Bawa, whose emirate was hitherto under the thumb of bandits said that the amnesty initiative was gradually restoring peace and security to the state.
“The initiative by Governor Matawalle has curbed the activities of bandits who have been terrorising not only Zamfara State, but the entire Northwest,” the Emir said.