Francis Sardauna writes that the dialogue between Governor Aminu Bello Masari, bandits and cattle rustlers in Katsina State has started yielding positive results as the hoodlums have so far released 51 kidnapped persons in their custody
For some years now, Katsina State has been under siege of bandits. THISDAY checks revealed that about 2,000 people had been killed, 500 communities destroyed and over 33,000 people displaced as a result of the incessant attacks.
However, under the dispensation of Governor Aminu Bello Masari, the tide seems to be changing for good. If his recent body language is anything to go by, his desire is to end the orgies of death imposed by the miscreants operating in eight frontline local government areas of the state who have held people of the councils hostage through banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling and other nefarious activities.
In the affected eight local government areas are Kankara; Faskari; Dan-Musa; Safana; Sabuwa; Dandume; Jibia and Batsari, it was more disturbing that the killings and abduction orchestrated by the bandits became so bad that no part of the affected councils was free from their grip.
Nonetheless, stakeholders noted that the pragmatic approach made by Masari in stemming the scenario in the state since his assumption of office in 2015 deserves commendation from all and sundry. This is because on November 10, 2016, he inaugurated a State Dialogue/Amnesty Committee under the leadership of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Mustapha Inuwa to checkmate the activities of the hoodlums and ensure that there is sustainable peace.
One of the terms of reference given to the committee by the governor was to open up for wider consultations and negotiations with the warring parties to surrender their firearms for the betterment of the state and the country at large. Thus, the committee had on January 15, 2017 organised a grand occasion in Kankara Local Government Area of the state, where 300 repentant herdsmen and other criminals formally surrendered their weapons to the state government.
Satisfied with the action of the repentant herdsmen, Masari then declared amnesty to all of them and paid the sum of N30, 000,000 as compensation to those who surrendered their guns to government, including some vigilante groups.
After the governor successfully tackled the menace of herdsmen/farmers clashes between 2016 and 2017, the issue of banditry and kidnapping resurfaced in early 2018 but the carnage could not deter him as he quickly swung into action by adopting modalities to end the menace. The governor in his wisdom decided to engage the armed marauders in dialogue. He therefore had a session with representatives of the bandits in order to arrive at some workable solutions with a view to stemming the spate of the attacks, killings and kidnappings in the state.
The meeting convened by the governor was attended by heads of security agencies, the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Mannir Yakubu, traditional rulers and districts heads led by the Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Abdulmumin Kabir Usman; Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Mustapha Inuwa; Transition Committee Chairmen of the affected frontline local government areas, representatives of Miyetti Allah and the Fulani herdsmen.
Masari, who spoke during the meeting which was held at the state secretariat, warned that the insecurity rocking the affected LGAs had become embarrassing to both the state government and President Muhammadu Buhari, who is also an indigene of the state, adding that “enough is enough”.
The governor during the meeting said: “We are ready to dialogue with the bandits and are ready to go anywhere they invite us, because we are not afraid to meet anybody to end this problem. As a leader, I must find the solution to the problem so that if today I die, I know how to defend myself before God. I will not allow this to continue. Enough is enough”.
Few days after the meeting, Masari not minding the horrendous activities of the bandits and the terrains where they operates, commenced the peace process by visiting leaders of the hoodlums in their closest hideouts across the eight frontline local government areas.
The governor’s first point of call was Dankolo village in Sabuwa Local Government where he met with leaders of the bandits from the council and those from Dandume Local Government and told them in clear terms that the bandits who attended the meeting to embrace peace or leave the state, stressing that his government was ready to give amnesty to any bandit who surrenders his arms and embraces peace.
The hoodlums, at the meeting urged the state government to release their members arrested by security agencies and detained in various prisons across the country before they would accept its dialogue. They also accused the Nigeria Army, police and other security agencies of fueling banditry, kidnapping and other heinous crimes in the state.
One of the bandits, Idris Yayande, told the governor that: “we have some complaints. Our biggest complaint is that some of our members were arrested and detained in different prisons across the state. Government should release them before dialogue. They are Alhaji Lawal Bandu, Ibrahim Nabutamu, Sani Marji, Sani Zafi, Lawal Mairuwa and there are some of our children that were arrested by the army in layin-Mahuta last year; Juro, Ali, Adamu, Abdulrahman and since then nobody told us where they are and what happened to them.”
On that note, the governor, because of his quest for sustainable peace in the state assured the bandits that the state government would secure the release of their members in detention as part of efforts to restore peace and normalcy in the state.
He said: “There are so many of them (bandits) who have been in detention for more than two years. They have not been charged to court for any offence. You cannot be keeping some people for over two years without any charge. So, for those kind of people we are going to release them on bail to them.”
At Ungwan Tsamiya village in Faskari local government area, the governor worried by accusations by repentant bandits that traditional rulers, police and army were fueling banditry and kidnapping in the state, warned that he would not hesitate to sanction any traditional ruler or transition committee chairman found complicit in the nefarious activities of the bandits.
He said it was worrisome that bandits had brought wanton destruction of lives and properties of the citizenry in the state, hence the need for stakeholders not to support their heinous acts, adding that “as a government we swore to protect the welfare, lives and properties of our citizens, we cannot allow this avoidable loss to continue. If traditional and religious leaders play their roles well, this problem will end.
“So, traditional rulers, district and village heads should listen. I swear, if we find any of you aiding the activities of these miscreants or destroying the efforts we have put in place to cure this problem, that person will be sanctioned. And you that call yourselves Ardos (leaders of Fulanis) that liaise with other people to cheat your brothers in the name of helping them, most of you are not helping them we know. I am urging residents to report anyone that cheats them to us for action”.
One of the bandits at the event in Tsamiya, Liman Mujana, commended the state government under the leadership of Masari for the amnesty granted to them and vowed to work with state government to end bloodletting in the state.
In furtherance of his peace move, the governor also took his peace initiative tour to Shinfida village of Jibia Local Government where four bandits terrorising the area surrendered two AK47 rifles and ammunition to the state government after denouncing their heinous crimes.
The repentant bandits -Abdullahi Mairafi, Audu Danda, Ardo Nashawali and Sale Dangote, assured the state government that the disarmament phase of the reconciliation meeting has just started, adding that more firearms in custody of their remaining members “are going to be surrendered.
“We will make sure that the peace process does not stop at releasing captives, but all weapons and ammunition in our custody and other militia group are surrendered to Governor Masari. Governor Masari is an indefatigable and courageous leader who has the interest of his people at heart. Therefore, we promise to work tirelessly to ensure that the people of Katsina State sleep with their eyes closed”, one of the bandits, Abdullahi Mairafi, said.
Mairafi, however urged the state government to provide basic social amenities such as health centres, dams and schools to make life comfortable for those in the rural areas, particularly the herdsmen. Masari who recieved the repentant bandits and the weapons surrendered by the hoodlums, said the state government would ensure that lives and property of herdsmen and other citizens in the state were protected.
Meanwhile, it was jubilation galore in Baranda village of Batsari Local Government when Masari announced to the gathering that repentant bandits have released five persons, including women detained in their custody as part of the ongoing dialogue between the state government and the miscreants to restore peace in the state.
Masari said: “Five people including three women that were kidnapped by the bandits have been released by them. Three women left my house this morning (Monday) to their houses. And the bandits also promised to free the remaining people in their custody.”
While directing security agencies in the state to protect the lives and properties of the citizenry residing in rural settlements, he also urged them to avoid extortion. He equally urged residents of the state to allow the repentant bandits to carryout their commercial activities in markets across the state.
Masari, who was speaking in Baranda village of Batsari Local Government Area during a reconciliation meeting with bandits, said the victims were freed on Sunday and had since been reunited with their families. In his remarks, the state commissioner of police, Sanusi Buba, urged bandits terrorising innocent citizens in the state to surrender their weapons and work with security agencies to maintain peace or face the wrath of the law.
While at Runka village in Safana Local Government, the governor took time to explain the rationale for the peace talks. He said: “The government took the decision to negotiate with the bandits so as to end the insecurity in the state and allow the people to go about their normal activities without fear”.
Some of the repentant bandits who spoke during the meeting, Yahaya Fulani Dangogo, Sale Liman, Shuibu Illele and Malam Abdulraziz applauded the state government for initiating the dialogue, adding that it would go a long way in restoring peace in the state.
Similarly, the governor also visited Dansabau, one of the worst affected villages in Kankara Local Government for another interface with the bandits where he told their leaders to call their members to order, insisting he wanted peace to return to the state at all cost. All the repentant bandits in the area welcomed the peace initiative and vowed to end banditry in the council.
The governor, as part of the ongoing effort to ensure peace in Katsina, also visited Dangeza village in Dan-Musa Local Government where he met leaders of the bandits. They all assured him of their unfliching support towards fostering peace in the state.
Thereafter, Masari released seven bandits arrested and detained by police in Katsina, Kano and Kaduna States in fulfillment of his pledge during the dialogue meeting with leaders of the bandits across the eight frontline local government areas of the state.
The repentant bandits have so far released 51 people including women and children. One of the freed women, who pleaded anonymity said they spent 16 days in captivity. As the peace deal intensified, more captives are expected to be released by the bandits.
While some pundits commended the governor for taking such bold steps, others think that the bandits do not deserve such treatment or any form of amnesty as they are simply a bunch of criminals.
Whatever might be the opinion of these political analysts in the state, the fact still remains that the peace deal initiated by Governor Aminu Bello Masari has started yielding postive results in Katsina.