Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle, and Islamic scholar, Sheikh Mahmoud Gumi, are among the vocal canvassers of amnesty for bandits. Negotiating with criminals, Matawalle posited, had significantly reduced the frequency of their bloody attacks in his state. He further noted that his government had rescued dozens of kidnapped victims without firing a shot and that rural markets in his state were picking up.
Gumi, on his part, interacted with some of these bandits in some forests recently. He excoriated journalists for calling them criminals, demanding that they be described in nice words if the nation desired them to surrender.
Many groups and individuals have condemned Gumi’s stand. The Middle Belt Forum, for instance, said his suggestion lacked reasoning and basic common sense. Some others described the move as unnecessary. Afenifere, Yoruba Council of Elders, Urhobo Progress Union, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and many others have vehemently kicked against any form of amnesty for bandits.
In any case, why will any reasonable person ever think of granting amnesty to bandits? Not only have they waylaid, raped, tortured and killed many innocent travellers, they have also violated schoolchildren. In December last year, they kidnapped over 300 schoolboys from Government Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State. Last month, they abducted 27 students and some members of staff of Government Secondary School, Kagara, in Niger State, and over 200 young girls from Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State. Though these students had been released, the trauma they went through is unimaginable.
Matawalle might say his negotiation skills led to the release of the Jangebe girls. However, why must they be abducted in the first place? Do we need to keep enriching and emboldening criminals in the name of amnesty or negotiation? If we compensate or rehabilitate them, what then happens to their numerous victims? And what will be the criteria for those to be rehabilitated? Will it not amount to double standard or selective justice to grant amnesty to some criminals and prosecute others? Or are we ready to grant amnesty to all criminals in the country?
Gumi and co have also tried to equate banditry with the agitation in the Niger Delta region. The comparison does not hold water. The Niger Delta militants had clear and precise agenda and demands. They asked for resource control and an end to environmental degradation of their region. What is the grouse of these faceless bandits? What are their demands? Gumi had said they wanted schools, hospitals, and other amenities. Is this why they kidnap innocent travellers and subject them to harrowing experiences? Is this why they kidnap school children? Is this why they kill some of their abductees and terrorise hitherto peaceful communities in some parts of the country?
Since banditry borders on criminality, those behind it should never be treated with kid gloves. They must be apprehended and prosecuted. That is the only way their victims can get justice. Therefore, negotiating with them will amount to encouraging more people to go into crime. A responsible government should not be seen to be doing so.
What the government should do is to direct security agencies to smoke the criminals out and deal with them according to the laws of the land. There are laws against illegal possession of firearms, kidnapping and banditry. They stipulate stiff penalties for such crimes.
Let nobody be deceived by the antics of those who claim to have repented. The recent observation of the Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, is instructive here. Speaking at a recent meeting of the North-East Governors’ Forum in Bauchi, Zulum said, “it has been confirmed that the concept of deradicalisation or safe corridor is not working as expected. Quite often, those who have passed through the Safe Corridor Initiative, or have been deradicalised, usually go back and rejoin the terror group after carefully studying the various security arrangements in their host communities, during the reintegration process.”
This confirms that amnesty to bandits will most likely be a waste of time. It is alien to the civilised world. It will be a disservice to our vulnerable citizens. And it will embolden the criminals to get more sophisticated in their criminality.
Good enough, President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed his opposition to it. Recently, he was reported to have “ordered security agents to go into the bushes and shoot whoever they see with sophisticated weapons like AK-47.” He has also ruled out negotiation or amnesty for bandits, saying he had asked the new service chiefs to devise new strategies that would end the ugly situation where the lives of Nigerians had continued to be threatened by hoodlums and criminals.
This is how it should be. As it is now, the only way to tackle the evil is for the government to take a firm and decisive action against banditry, kidnapping and terrorism.