It was apparent that Alhaji Bello Matawalle, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in the April governorship election in Zamfara State had no premonition of becoming the governor until the Supreme Court delivered its controversial judgement that sacked all 34 elected candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC). With Matawalle’s victory coming through series of litigations in which neither he nor his PDP was party, this left the new governor with a dilemma before the people of Zamfara State who hitherto rejected him and his party at the polling booths.
There was, therefore, a desperate search for a legacy project or policy to embark upon to entrench himself in the minds of the people of the state. Banditry, which for some years now has become a recurring decimal in the state, quickly made itself the project. Governor Matawalle utilised all available fora to blame the activities of the murderous bandits on the administration of his predecessor, Abdulaziz Yari, promising to invoke a magic wand to end the menace in no time.
To achieve this laudable objective, Governor Matawalle, in collaboration with the police, set up the Peace and Reconciliation Initiative, under the leadership of the commissioner of police, to “peacefully negotiate ceasefire by the bandits.” The bandits’ ceasefire is the most visible objective-cum-achievement of the PDP-led Matawalle administration in the state in the last four months.
What is not clear is whether the ceasefire being brokered by the government is making any meaningful and tangible headway. A careful content analysis of radio, television and newspaper propaganda materials would quickly indicate that the policy is working. But that is only before you compare it with the quantum of bloodletting being carried out by the same “repentant bandits.”
Only last Thursday, the same “repentant bandits” killed nine soldiers, with a dozen others missing in Sunke village of Anka Local Government Area, Zamfara State. The media reports revealed that dozens of bandits arrived the village, south of Anka town, on motorcycles, firing at soldiers and policemen. An unnamed government official was reported as blaming the killing on the soldiers. They described the gruesome murder of the soldiers as a reprisal.
“Soldiers killed some repentant bandits and they vowed to avenge the attacks. The repentant bandits mobilised their men and raided the army formation in the village,” one of the sources was quoted as saying.
This is indeed scary. Reprisal attacks by bandits, sorry, repentant bandits? This is coming after the celebrated ceasefire and disarmament by the bandits? Impossible. What is even more scary is the viral videos and media reports indicating that, some 24 hours before the killing of the soldiers, a long convoy of bandits was seen freely moving across the state. The reports stated that the heavily-armed bandits, numbering about 300 and riding on 150 motorcycles, were seen in Banga Ruwa in Maradun Local Government Area, passing through Maru and Mayanchi. The bandits stopped at Mayanchi junction, along Gusau-Sokoto road, chased away people, ransacked a petroleum filling station, refuelled their motorcycles, and took away over N300,000 from the vault of the filling station, and drove away in broad daylight. The videos showed villagers lining up the streets “hailing” the convoy of the bandits.
What is far more disturbing is the report that when one of the military commanders in the state called the Zamfara State command to ascertain the veracity of the mass movement of the bandits, the police reportedly confirmed the incident, explaining that the “repentant bandits” were moving to Birnin Gwari, another bandit enclave in neighbouring Kaduna State.
At the time of writing this, no bandit was arrested over the killing of the Nigerian soldiers. The questions many people in the state are asking is this: Is Governor Matawalle’s peace initiative an immunity for bandits? Are the bandits now above the laws of the land? Does Matawalle’s so-called amnesty on the bandits confer them with a license to kill at will with no consequences? Of what use is the governor’s initiative if Nigerian citizens and security agents could be killed at will?
Recently, the Zamfara CP, Usman Nagogo, told journalists at a press briefing that bandits’ activities have reduced by about 98 per cent following the Peace and Reconciliation Initiative in the state.
The police chief said his command had organised separate meetings with Fulanis, Hausas, members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) and various bandit groups before bringing them all together at an enlarged meeting chaired by Governor Matawalle.
Not long after the police commissioner’s bragging, at least 30 people were killed by bandits who raided Kware village in Shinkafi district in Zamfara State on September 5, 2019.
“I can confirm 30 people were killed by the bandits in the attack in Kware,” Zamfara State Police Command’s spokesperson, Mohammed Shehu, told the AFP. The fatality figure is much higher than the official figures released by the police authorities.
A villager told AFP that the bandits “came around 4pm and opened fire on the village, shooting anyone in sight and burning houses.”
The attack came just three days after bandits killed 32 vigilance group members in Kware at a checkpoint set up by villagers, police and residents told AFP. All these are happening despite Matawalle’s peace initiative.
It is now clear that security challenges are never political. The honeymoon is over for Matawalle and his repentant bandits.
•Faruku wrote from Gusau, Zamfara State