Zamfara State Police Commissioner, Barrister Usman Nagogo, has given an insight into the enormity of security challenge Nigeria is currently contending with, detailing how bandits from Niger Republic invade the nation to wreck havoc. The police chief is the one coordinating the Dialogue and Peace Initiative of the state government. He believes that the ongoing dialogue with bandits is gradually returning sanity and total peace back to the state after several years of insecurity. In this interview with MOHAMMED MUNIRAT NASIR in Gusau, he spoke about the challenges and the reason for his adoption of dialogue, in place of brutal force, against the bandits.
As a police officer, you are trained to use force to combat evil. So what motivated you to decide to dialogue with bandits?
The impression you have that we are trained to use force is not correct. We police officers are civil police. We are subjected to civil procedure and processes in tackling issues because we intermingle with civil populace. Ours is to follow things in such a way that the use of force should not arise in the first place. We are to persuade, to lecture and, in some instances, to interact so that we influence issues, just like what we are doing in Zamfara.
How do you recognise a bandit to negotiate with because anybody can claim to be one just to take advantage of the situation?
Prior to this time in 2016, the immediate past administration set up a special committee on Disarmament and Amnesty. I chaired the committee as the then Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zamfara State Police Command. The committee succeeded to some extent, because we were able to build a trust between the government and the bandits. Channel of communications were opened and contact was made easy. The committee was able to recover different calibres of arms including rocket launcher. However, the committee has to wind up prematurely due to some reasons. In fact when I met with the most notorious bandit, ‘Buharin Daji’, I met him in his enclave in a place they call ‘Bokani forest.’ I was there. It took me about four hours to reach without having even a needle on me, because I believe he is a human being and I believe for you to advance you need to identify your target. When I got there, I was able to identify him and start negotiating. That opened my eyes to other bandits because a lot of bandits attended that gathering. That gave me an ample opportunity to recognise a lot of them and also to discover that they are humans like any other person and that they are not as dangerous as we see through their acts. The gathering also showed that they can easily be intermingled with and easily influenced, if you have the power of persuasion which I did have. So through that I was able to identify these bandits. When I came in as the Commissioner of Police, I had a lot of their names. I got their phone numbers. I built trust and confidence and that trust that I have built allowed me to have their direct contacts to interact with them and to have control over them.
What do you have to say about the objection particularly by top politicians that dialogue with bandits is not the way out?
When I came in June, the first shock I received six hours after I took over was about 34 people being killed in one of the villages in Shinkafi Local Government Area. So you can see the level of agony for a man who had just taken over, to have to contend with this kind of devastation. I have to sit down and think of what to do. That’s what led to the first press conference. In my first briefing, I promised that my stewardship will be that of engagement and interaction with all the stakeholders in the state in order to nip in the bud all forms of militia groups, armed banditry and other act of savagery in Zamfara State. I also stated that my priority would be community participation and interaction in achieving peace in the state. This is because, policing in the modern world, in this age of technology where the world has become a global village, community partnership and intelligence-led policing approach is more than necessary. I’ve got the support of the state government and the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mohammed Adamu. So I am not bothered or distracted by anybody who thinks the use of dialogue is not the best. Whoever has contrary view, that is his own opinion and that opinion has not worked in the past but my dialogue and resolution has worked and is still working.
Are the stakeholders living up to expectation in the fight against crime?
The zeal and enthusiasm displayed by the governor of Zamfara State, Bello Mohammed, Matawalle Maradun, is very commendable because since he came on board, he has shown leadership by example. He has taken on anybody that matters in assisting him to achieve peace in Zamfara. To him, achieving lasting peace in the state is his cardinal principle in the first tenure. That gave me confidence. I briefed the governor on my plans about the use of dialogue which he said coincided with his plans. That’s why he gave me the nod. I appreciate the IGP Mohammed A. Adamu for having confidence in me in assigning this important assignment to me as the Police Commissioner of Zamfara State. I owe him a lot for continuing to guide every bit of my action in the state.
How were you able to bring the Yan Sakai and the Fulani together to embrace peace?
I started with the volunteer vigilante groups ‘Yan Sakai’ and all other militia groups associated with these groups. These are the people that are triggering the Fulani to go for a kill. You kill one Fulani and the Fulani kill the whole village and destroy the whole village through their reprisal attacks. The meeting with the leaders of Vigilante, Yansakai, and Civilian JTF drawn from all the 14 LGAs of the state had positive impact in the peace that followed. During the meeting, which you, journalists, witnessed, I took the initiative by using persuasion and, in some instances, threats, and it worked because as soon as they left the forum they allowed peace to reign in market places and other recreational areas where Fulani used to visit. I also invited all the cultural associations of the Fulani that comprised Miyetti Allah, Sarakunan Fulani and Ardos for a similar meeting and interaction which even some bandits attended. That meeting yielded same result as they ceased attacking. The Fulani after the meeting immediately held another meeting among themselves and came out with mini committees in different sectors to contact their kinsmen that engaged in banditry activities. The resultant effect of this was the stoppage of banditry activities by about 98 percent in the state. Finally, I called Yan Sakai, the Vigilantes, Civilian JTF, Miyetti Allah, Sarakunan Fulani and Ardos to a meeting at the same time, same venue in order to reconcile the warring factions. In this meeting, and in the interaction that followed, the Governor and all Security Council members in the state were in attendance. The meeting, no doubt, brought out tempers, grievances, and in some cases, insinuations by one group against the other. But at the end of the day, they all agreed that Zamfara State is at the receiving end of their egocentric tendencies. They then forgave and embraced each other. That was the magic. I felt the use of force is not feasible in this. The only thing left for us to use is dialogue. Dialogue is what is used all over the world. It is dialogue that is solving the problems in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is dialogue that is being applied in all war zones in all parts of the world. Dialogue is what leads to peace and I applied it and it worked.
How many people have so far been released from captivity by their abductors?
As at August 2, 2019, 303 people who were previously abducted in various parts of the state have been released by their abductors without them paying a kobo or we firing a single bullet. These 303 people do not include many others that were released by the kidnappers to go home without going to the government medical facilities. If you put together the number of those officially received by us and those who did not report to us the figures are astronomical. The 303 victims are those we documented as being treated by government in heath facilities since the release of the kidnapped victims began on 4th July. We are still expecting many more to be released.
Don’t you think there is foreign connection regarding the banditry in the state?
Banditry in almost in all parts of West African sub-region, I can say, is interwoven. Those perpetrating the evils are everywhere in the West African sub-region, so, naturally the influence of foreigners will not be ruled out. Even the bandits we interact with, some of them told us that there are some of them who came from Niger Republic who also participate in these activities. So the influence is always there. They have that cooperation to come to Nigeria to attack and also have another cooperation to go to Niger Republic to attack. So the influence of foreign elements is there in the crisis.
Apart from negotiating with bandits, what are you doing to curb crimes and criminality in Zamfara State?
We have put a very good structure on ground to tackle crimes not only in Gusau but in the entire state. We are making some in-roads; in fact, a lot of arrest has been made. One of the arrests we made was the kingpin who was supplying drugs to the bandits. That shows that we are not only concentrating our attention on negotiation but also vigorously fighting all forms of crimes in the state. As we are here, we also spread our dragnet to other sections. We are able to make some arrests in Niger State which led to the recovery of over 281 cows and arrest of three suspects who have been charged to court for prosecution. So our concern is not only bandits. We have not neglected the urban areas as testified by the one we had. The chairman of Miyetti Allah in the state said people can now sleep with their eyes closed because we have put good security architecture in place in the state.
In all these, what can you say is the greatest lesson you have learnt?
The greatest lesson I have learnt is that as a leader, you select the right type of person at the right time. Always take advantage of vintage position given to you to bring desired result to end crisis.