Is Dialoguing With Criminals an Option?

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With the failure of the Nigeria Police to protect lives and properties, the Katsina and Zamfara State Governments recently opted to dialogue with bandits and criminal elements that had hitherto terrorised some parts of their states. But is this the way to go? Asks Gboyega Akinsanmi

About three weeks, Katsina State Governor, Alhaji Bello Masari announced amnesty for bandits and some criminal elements in the state. His decision was borne out of frustration, given sustained onslaught on the people across all the local government areas in the state that are coterminous to Niger Republic.

Masari’s resort to granting amnesty to bandits was tied to three concerns he had expressed at different public fora. First, he lamented the untold consequence on the farming communities across all the frontline local councils in the state. As the All Farmers Association (AFAN) claimed, local farmers had to abandon their farms due to pervasive insecurity that has spiked food prices nationwide.

Also, evidence from the Katsina State Emergency Agency (SEMA) showed that banditry escalated the state’s humanitarian crisis. Between January and July alone, SEMA’s records revealed, banditry and kidnapping had forced over 33,130 persons out of their ancestral roots and filial homes.

This has left people with the options of putting up with their relatives in Daura and Katsina or living in different camps the state government set up for internally displaced persons in nine frontline LGAs.
Masari equally claimed that the state government was coughing at least N100 million monthly to support security agencies in the fight against banditry without commensurate results.

Since December 2018, reports showed that the state must have coughed out at least N900 million to pay security operatives monthly allowances, which it set aside to boost their morale in the fight against the criminal elements.

This figure is not part of N181 million the state government allocated to procure no fewer than 50 patrol vehicles for all security agencies operating in the state.
With N100 million allocated for the operatives of the Nigeria Police, Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the state has yet to witness decline in the spate of armed attacks.

Amnesty for Criminals
Amid this dilemma, Masari announced the decision to grant amnesty for all armed bandits after a security and reconciliation meeting in Katsina on August 1. At the meeting, a communiqué was issued with a consensus that all security operatives “desist from attacking or killing any herdsman in any parts of the state and that sacrifice should be made by both sides to ensure peace across all LGAs.”

The communiqué, specifically, emphasised the need to allow all herdsmen and their families go about their normal businesses, attend markets and worship places without molestation provided they no longer carry arms.”
Likewise, it urged the bandits, who had rustled animals from communities, to immediately return them to the state government or Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBA).

Aside returning rustled cattle, the communiqué advised the bandits “to surrender their weapons and immediately release all the captives that are now under their custody. We have seen some kidnapped victims from Zamfara. All states will intensify efforts to provide basic necessities that will make nomadic life meaningful like hospitals, schools and grazing reserves among others.”

Obviously, the terms of the amnesty to glorified bandits and kidnappers as though they were freedom fighters or agitators for certain defined rights are worrisome. But they are mere criminal elements that had killed without restraint across the Northwest states; kidnapped for ransom; rendered over 33,130 persons homeless within eight months and destroyed public and private assets worth billions of Naira.

The communiqués further revealed the identity of those behind abduction, kidnapping and killing across all Northwest states, especially in Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara. It showed that they were Fulani herdsmen, who took law into their hands, because their cattle were rustled at one point or the other and because legitimate activities of farmers did not allow their animals graze without borders.

As reports revealed, most of these criminal elements were immigrants, who migrated to Nigeria from Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger Republic, among others. Reports claimed that most of them could hardly speak Pulaar or Hausa. Rather, they speak French, suggesting that they were homeless immigrants, who came into Nigeria due to porous borders with neighbouring countries.

IG’s Incomprehensible Justification
Since its declaration, however, the amnesty has yielded some desired outcomes. For about six weeks, at least, armed attacks and kidnapping for ransom have relatively ceased. Within this period, the Katsina State Government had released 17 bandits that were arrested in exchange for 61 persons that were abducted at different LGAs in the state.
Similarly, the state government announced N30 million as compensation to the bandits that eventually laid down their arms. But it was not clear whether the same government made provision for any compensation for the kidnapped that suffered psychological trauma for weeks in the captivity of the bandits. Already, some of the bandits had started surrendering their arms.

Given these instances, the amnesty produced results. But it spoke volume about the capacity of the country’s security agencies, especially, the Nigeria Police to restore public order and safety. It also revealed that the Nigeria Police could hardly provide internal security in virtually all states of the federation with support from the state governments that have been denied power to take charge their own security.

Rather than address intrinsic challenges undermining the capacity of the Nigeria Police to end banditry and kidnapping nationwide, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu justified the decisions of the Katsina and Zamfara Governments to grant the armed bandits amnesty on defined conditions.

He claimed that the need to provide security was at the heart of the peace initiative. He argued: “When we are talking about peace initiative, there are a lot of things that we take into consideration. You give out something to get something. This initiative did not start with the bandits in the Northwest.
“Some years back, we were having issues in the Niger Delta. Those kinetic actions could not solve the problem until amnesty and peace initiative came up. What we had in Niger Delta then had gone. I think part of strategy to deal with challenges in time of insecurity is peaceful negotiation too.”

The Unanswered Questions
Curiously, Adamu’s justification raised a lot of questions about the country’s misplaced understanding of security. First, Adamu claimed that Katsina’s amnesty programme was designed to bring about peace in the affected states. He compared the model with the amnesty the federal government granted the Niger Delta agitators under the administration of former President Umaru Yar’Adua.
Second, Adamu’s defence never took cognisance of the history of the Niger Delta agitation, which is as old as the Nigerian federation itself. Unlike the armed bandits, the Niger Delta agitators are not criminals.

But they decided to take up arms after decades of social injustice, outright neglect and environmental degradation they had suffered under different governments until the Yar’Adua administration declared amnesty in June 2009.

Third, Adamu claimed that the security situation had improved nationwide compared to the first two quarters of 2019. However, the inspector-general did not provide any evidence that showed correlation between crime reduction and improved economy, an important index globally accepted for the measurement of unemployment and internal stability.

As data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed, currently, unemployment rate stands at 23.1 per cent. The NBS data showed that the number of people classified as unemployed increased from 17.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 20.9 million in the third quarter of 2018, thereby indicating that over 3.3 persons lost their means of livelihoods within this period.

Since January, as shown in the NBS documents, the economic growth has been on a steady decline. For instance, the GDP shrank from 2.1 per cent in the first quarter to 1.94 per cent in the second quarter, which account for 0.16 per cent decline.
Even though inflation rate dropped from 11.08 in July to 11.02 per cent in August, the rate is an indication of economic hardship. These statistics indeed pose some questions, which the IG seemed to have forgotten to address.

Beyond the Pardon
Among others, all these data simply suggest that hunger is raging in the land more than anytime in Nigeria’s checkered history. Obviously, the data suggest that more unemployed people are being generated by the data amid poor economic performance. They suggest that the victims of the economic hardship are going into crime as alternative means of livelihoods.

The data also suggest that the bandits, who were pardoned today, may return to crime again if the economic hardship bites even harder.
Beyond these statistics, as a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, claimed penultimate Wednesday that the police were harassing law-abiding citizens while negotiating with bandits and terrorists.

Falana’s observation, however, raised questions about the approach of the Nigeria Police to public safety and security. This also suggests that the police need to review its operational strategies structured around professionalism, capacity building and public interests as against parochial elite interest.

The Masari administration, which spent over N1.2 billion to support security agencies in the fight against bandits, could not perhaps, have opted for negotiation if the security operatives had been able to restore public order in good time.
On this ground, only policing according to the rules of law, not according to the interests of the political elite, can guarantee public security and this time, engaging the culture of multi-level policing as imperative in a federal structure.
Pix: Masari with one of the bandits after a successful negotiation.jpg