The ongoing negotiation to secure the release of 27 students, 15 teachers (including relatives) of Government Science Secondary School Kagara in Rafin Local Government Area of Niger State who were abducted by bandits has again given rise to the question of how best should Nigeria confront the raging banditry particularly in northwest and its adjoining Niger State; should the country dialogue and offer amnesty to repentant bandits or engage the bandits in military combat?
On Wednesday, February 17, 2021, gunmen suspected to be bandits stormed Government Science School Kagara killing a student and abducting 42 others.
While President Muhammadu Buhari on the one hand has ordered the Nigerian military and police to secure the safe release of all abductees, on the other hand, Kaduna based Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi has led top government officials in Niger State to engage the bandits with a view of securing the safe release of all those abducted.
Clearly, the Niger State Government has deployed both kinetic and non-kinetic approaches to secure the release of all the abductees. Undoubtedly, both approaches will produce results but to what extent would the result of the different approach translate to enduring peace? And what are the collateral consequences associated with each approach?
Kinetic or combat approaches may secure the release of the students and their teachers but the likelihood of losing some of the victims and security operatives in the process is high when compared to its alternative, dialogue approach.
One state where both approaches have been tested with empirical proof of results is Zamfara. And my experience of the outcomes of both approaches in Zamfara informed my preference for dialogue.
This article highlights the Zamfara situation and gives reasons why other states in the region and federal government should adopt dialogue.
No doubt, Zamfara is the epicentre of banditry in the country. Injustice and poor crisis management by the previous administration in the state allowed petty crimes to morph into banditry. And the consequences of crisis on the state are better imagined than experienced.
On a daily basis, Zamfarans in their numbers were being kidnapped, others killed, some others displaced from their homes and their properties destroyed while women and girls suffer rape. In addition to the aforementioned, farms, quarries, and grazing areas were deserted for fear of attack and rustling. This culminated into poverty and hunger, and rising numbers of widows and orphans in the state.
Before the introduction of dialogue by Dr. Bello Muhammad Mattawalle, the present governor of Zamfara State, a report of the presidential committee headed by a former Inspector-General of Police, IGP Mohammed Abubakar, constituted by the federal government to find a lasting solution to the crisis in Zamfara provides an impact statistics of the crisis in the state before Mattawalle took over as governor.
According to the report, between June 2011 to May 2019, there were 6,319 deaths and 190,340 displacements in Zamfara. In addition to the death and displacement figures, an estimated 4,983 women were widowed and 25,050 children were orphaned. Within the same period under review, the report also reveals that 10,000 cattle, 147,800 vehicles and motorbikes were stolen and 2,688 farmland and 10,000 houses were destroyed.
These impact statistics were in spite of military combat efforts to end the crisis. We are all aware that right from the onset of the crisis in 2011, the Nigerian military and the police have been contending the bandits. And President Muhammadu Buhari upon assumption of office gave their operations a boost by personally inaugurating Operation Harbin Kunama in 2016. However, because of the continued attacks, Operation Harbin Kunama was later complemented by Operation Puff Adder of the Nigerian police. Yet, the desired result of restoring normalcy to Zamfara was never attained.
However, upon assumption of office as Governor of Zamfara State, Dr Bello Muhammad Matawalle chose to try dialogue in order to restore peace to Zamfara. The dialogue is an admixture of dagger and carrot approaches and it’s hinged on a tripod of unconditional pardon for repentant bandits, provision of justice and infrastructural development.
No doubt, the dialogue approach is yielding unprecedented results as it is no longer news that different counts of notorious bandits are voluntarily repenting and surrendering their arms and ammunition to the government and security agencies in Zamfara State.
Just last week, to be precise, on Monday, February 8, 2021, Daily Trust reported that, a notorious bandits, Daudawa alongside six others voluntarily surrendered sophisticated arms and ammunition to the government of Zamfara State.
I can go on and on to cite verifiable instances of willing repentance and voluntary surrender of sophisticated weapons by repentant bandits to the government and security agencies in Zamfara. And should any Nigerian be in doubt of the reported cases, I encourage him or her to verify the claims with the Nigeria police, military and or other security agencies.
The successes recorded in the area of security of lives and property in Zamfara State is no accident. They are a product of the peace initiative of Dr Bello Muhammad Matawalle.
A 2019 independent study by West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), which documented fatalities associated with banditry within the months of January to December of 2019 in the Northwest shows that the months of August to November recorded a downward trend in fatalities and violence due to the peace and reconciliation initiative of Dr. Matawalle. I wished the study was extended to cover the whole of 2020 so that the good people of Zamfara and Nigerians would better appreciate the gains of Dr Mattawalle’s peace initiative.
I support dialogue with repentant bandits and I stand with the decision we took as Zamfara National Assembly Caucus to call for amnesty for repentant bandits. I wish to unequivocally state that my support for the dialogue approach championed by my dear governor, Dr. Mattawale transcends our shared party affiliation. My support is based on verifiable results of his open and sincere peace programme.
Aside from the continuous repentance and voluntary surrender of sophisticated arms and ammunition, the dialogue move saved Nigeria from a repeat of the Chibok schoolgirls abduction experience in Kankara last December. Over 300 schoolboys were rescued after being abducted from their hostels in Government Science School Kankara without payment of ransom or casualty- this is the power of dialogue.
The initiative has also commenced the establishment of a Rural Grazing Areas otherwise known as RUGA in each of the three senatorial districts of the State. The proposed RUGA are ranching clusters with modern settlement infrastructures that support human habitation and cattle rearing. On the one hand, the infrastructure will provide basic and social amenities such as electricity, water, shelter, schools, hospitals, police posts and places of worship for the herders. On the other hand, it will provide rich feed, paddocks, water, veterinary clinics, slaughter houses and feed mills for the rearing of cattle.
It is a holistic approach to ending the lingering herders-farmers clashes and transforming cattle rearing in the country, through land resource maximisation, discouragement of nomadic pastoralism and live cattle trucking practices and promotion of ranching and beef trucking.
Beyond the peace initiative, I commend Dr Bello Muhammad Matawalle for embarking on infrastructure development as a means of social and economic empowerment of the entire good people of Zamfara State. Just last week, he flagged-off the construction of 10,000 2-bedroom housing units for internally displaced persons, IDPs. Late last year, the governor also flagged-off the construction of Sankalawa road to add to the list of ongoing road infrastructure constructions in the state. These constructions are not only providing shelter and access to rural communities, they are creating job opportunities for the people of Zamfara. Other programmes in the area of employment, youths and women employment, education, agriculture, health, transportation, science and technology have repositioned the state and are contributing to the overall peace initiative.
No doubt, relative peace has returned to Zamfara and complete peace is achievable. However, because complete peace requires complete support, governors of all the Northwest States – Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Jigawa and Kaduna and the adjoining Niger State should adopt dialogue as a panacea to the crisis of banditry in the region. This will among other gains give room for a coordinated holistic engagement with all repentant bandits, organised rehabilitation and speedy return of peace.
Given the resources at its disposal, the federal government must consider the gains of Matawalle’s peace initiative and listen to calls for amnesty for bandits. Our position might not be popular but we believe it is in the best interest of the country. The same way amnesty to militants ended the frequent vandalization of critical oil infrastructure, kidnapping of expatriates and gave room for improvement in oil production and peace; amnesty for bandits will end banditry, rustling, stealing, kidnapping, rape, killings and ultimately promote ranching, and peace in the Northwest.
Like in the case of Niger-Delta, the amnesty programme for bandits should also provide scholarships, training and employment opportunities. While the scholarship opportunities will afford the repentees quality education and enable them to appreciate modern cattle rearing methods. The vocational training and employment opportunities will empower them with life skills and reduced youths redundancy and criminality in the region.
The federal government must learn from the Niger-Delta experience. Long years of military combat only led to loss of lives – militants, civilians and security agents inclusive. We must not forget that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memories in his wisdom introduced the amnesty programme for militants and what long years of military combat could not achieve, dialogue achieved in months. And this is the current situation in Zamfara, the peace initiative of Dr Mattawalle has recorded unprecedented gains that military combat alone could not achieve in years.
Finally, all stakeholders in the Nigeria project must set-aside party and personal differences in the overall interest of peace in Zamfara and the country as a whole and consider the gains of dialogue over military combat. Remember, every war ends in dialogue.”