Northern Leaders Urge Tinubu to Remove Bandits From Forest

By Starrys Obazei | July 16, 2023.

As a way of finding a lasting solution to the problem of security in the country, some northern leaders have said President Bola Tinubu should take the fight to the doorsteps of bandits in the forest to clear them.

Faulting the idea of negotiating with the bandits as suggested by the former governor of Zamfara State, Mallam Sani Yerima, they said past negotiations with the bandits failed because bandits refused to respect them.

Elder statesman and former Secretary General of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony N. Z. Sani, said: Any thought of negotiation with terrorists is derived from the adage that if you kill one person you would be charged for murder; if you kill ten people you would be examined for insanity. But if you kill hundreds of people, you would be invited for peace talks in Geneva not because the comity of nations likes the killings but to stop further killing. I am not sure Nigeria has reached that level that would make negotiation necessary.

“All the government needs to do is to set its priority and have enough well-trained and equipped security personnel, sufficiently motivated to take the fights to the doorstep of the bandits in the forests and secure the nation. I am not sure if negotiation with bandits can be productive and helpful, considering the fact that bandits do not have common leadership and central command structure across the country. The groups are independent of one another. As a result, any resolution or agreement reached cannot be binding on all the different groups of bandits”.

Former Special Adviser to the immediate past Katsina State governor, Malam Bashir Usman Ruwangodiya, on his part said the people of the area have been left between the Devil and the deep blue sea. According to him, “The only development project we need particularly in the northwest region now is for President Bola Tinubu to clear our forest of bandits, whichever way he deems fit, to bring a lasting solution to our neighborhood. Our major problem in Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Niger, and Kaduna is this insecurity. If we can have this banditry wiped away, I think that will be the best we can say democracy has done for us. There are over 1001 groups of bandits in the forests, which among them are we going to discuss?

“That is one of the problems we have in Katsina. If you discuss with one camp, another one will tell you they are not part of that group, therefore, you cannot trust these people. If you say the government should go for dialogue and amnesty, you have to consider the past. Several attempts by different state governments were made in the past including Katsina State, we negotiated with them about three times. The same thing was done in other states, but these people are still operating, they have refused to stop.

“So, if you now say you want to repeat the same thing, it will look foolish. But even if it will be done, then there is a need to change the strategy as no special strategy was applied in previous negotiations. So, if the President can initiate something different, my appeal is for the government to do the needful. They have all the security apparatus at their disposal; they have the strategies; they have the manpower and the resources. So, they know what to do.

On his part, Alhaji Ahmed Ibrahim Katsina, who is a former Special Adviser on Security Matters in Katsina State said the Federal Government should adopt a multidimensional approach to end banditry. Katsina said: “In a security situation of this nature, you have to look at both the victims and the terrorists. If you give amnesty to the terrorists what about the victims? Whatever the government plans to do must be multi-dimensional. The concerns of both the victims and the terrorists have to be addressed to ensure lasting peace.

“So, it is not the issue of amnesty that matters, it is about doing the right thing that will end the problems. First and foremost, they have to look at the factors that led to the crisis. That is what the government should address first. The factors that led to why we are fighting today must be looked at. So, if you grant amnesty without addressing those factors, we will go back to square one. That was the mistake we did before. You don’t even require any amnesty if you address the factors. But if they are not addressed, whatever is done will end up increasing the symptoms responsible for the crime.

While in office as Secretary to Katsina State Government, Dr. Mustapha Inuwa had revealed why their previous negotiations with the bandits spearheaded by the then Governor Aminu Bello Masari failed which made the governor vow in 2020 never to go into negotiations with the bandits again and at some point in 2021 ordered the residents to acquire guns to defend themselves. He said then; “In this state, we did it twice. In early 2017 we had that and we were able to achieve relative peace for almost two years. But in the two cases, what we realized is that one, these people don’t have a common leader whom if you agree with, everybody accepts.

“They have different groups and even within the groups, they don’t have a common leader, unlike Boko Haram, which is based on a particular ideology. These are pure criminals and thieves. They don’t have a common leader that all others follow. If anyone enters into an agreement with the government, the rest will pull out that he has harnessed wealth and so he wants them to pull out and if he is not careful they can even kill him. That is why in the first peace deal we had, most of the 90 per cent of those who embraced peace and repented were killed by the bandits. Because as long as they remained in the forest, there will never be peace, they must have guns to protect themselves, and so on.

“Secondly, this non-kinetic approach is not something that is accepted by all the states. Kaduna for instance, has never entered into any peace deal with the bandits, Sokoto has never accepted it while Katsina has done it. So there is no way you can have this with only one state because the bandits move from one place to another. Again, even if you want to negotiate peace with these people, let it be from the point of strength.

“Let them demand or request for it after they may have been confronted and devastated and they realized that there was nothing they could do, and they now decided to accept peace, then you can give them a condition to surrender all their weapons. But if you allow them to hold their weapons then you will go back to square one. What is important in the non-kinetic approach is to make sure that all their weapons are collected and block their sources of arms supply.

“So honestly, the issue of a non-kinetic approach is not an option to me because they are not the kind of people that can reason. They are ignorant of all kinds of education (both Western and Islamic) and are under heavy influence of drugs. Some of their kidnapped victims who were later released when narrating their experiences said the bandits inject themselves (young people). So they know nothing but violence and criminality. And their leaders fear them because they can even kill their leaders.

“The strategy that should be adopted to bring these problems to an end immediately is when all the states concerned are involved, when there is a national platform, under one command that will direct this fight against these bandits. No matter what a particular state is doing, if the other states are not doing the same thing at the same time, the bandits will move to the place they consider a safe haven to hide, and from there they will continue to launch their attacks. For instance, in most of the attacks in Katsina, the bandits came from Zamfara.

“They organize and move from one place to another and as we all know, they are naturally mobile. So it has to be a well-coordinated effort by a national platform where you have the Army, maybe from the Defence Headquarters to command the operation at the center while the state governors, as political heads of their respective states, should also come together and take common positions on things that will help the military to achieve what they want to achieve. Security agencies also need to block their sources of firearms. But if you allow this proliferation of firearms, this issue will never end.

“Another important issue that the government will need to do is to sensitize the populace to the implication of paying ransom. Once ransom will continue to be paid, these people will find it very difficult to stop their crime, because in a situation where you kidnap somebody and receive millions of naira, what business will they do to earn this money within a week or so? People now connive to kidnap their relations, associates, and neighbors simply because of what they will get from the ransom collected and because it has become lucrative. We can understand it is a very delicate situation because you cannot tell somebody whose loved one is kidnapped not to pay the ransom because the major fear is they will be killed. It is a dicey situation but people have to make sacrifices.”

“Our people also have a role to play because most of the bandits have their informants among us, especially in the rural areas. In any village you go, you have these people informing the bandits about the movement of security. Sometimes, when security chases them, these informants give them where to hide. It is really an unfortunate situation where people connive with the bandits to carry out attacks on their communities. So it is important for the traditional, religious, and community leaders to continue to appeal to the people to be God-fearing to understand the implication of supporting these bandits and their activities.”

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