•Attacks subside, 477 hostages released, 218 guns, including AK 47, SMG surrendered
•Kaduna, others yet to implement deal
Ejiofor Alike in Lagos, Francis Sardauna in Katsina, John Shiklam in Kaduna and Onuminya Innocent in Sokoto
Two months after Sokoto, Zamfara and Katsina States negotiated peace deals with bandits terrorising their states, the affected states have started to experience a drop in the attacks by bandits and cattle rustlers, THISDAY has learnt.
The governors of the North-west states and the Inspector General of Police had entered into discussions with leaders of the bandits and reached some agreements on how to end the violence that had claimed hundreds of lives and property worth billons of naira in the region.
Following the agreements, government undertook to release bandits in custody that had not been tried or convicted, provide social amenities, rehabilitate and reintegrate the outlaws. The bandits in turn committed to lay down their arms and turnover a new leaf.
THISDAY, however, gathered that some of the states, including Kaduna, Kebbi and Jigawa were yet to implement the peace deal.
Governors at the meeting were Mallam Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Hon. Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Abdullahi Umar Ganduje (Kano), Alhaji Mohammed Mattawale (Zamfara), Alhaji Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi) and the host, Mallam Aminu Masari (Katsina).
Earlier in May, Adamu, at a meeting of northern traditional rulers in Kaduna, had listed Zamfara and Kaduna States as topping the list of states with high crime rate.
Following the amnesty granted Zamfara bandits by Matawalle, the Director of Press at the Government House in Gusau, Mr. Yusuf Idris, told THISDAY that the bandits had released 427 hostages.
He also said the state had been enjoying peace since the governor resorted to pacifying the bandits.
According to him, the governor started the peace process a day after his inauguration.
“He was inaugurated on Wednesday and he started the peace meetings on Thursday with a meeting with security chiefs in the state. On Friday, he met with traditional rulers, followed by a meeting with Fulani leaders and local vigilantes. The governor spent 47 days holding meetings day and night. After the meeting, he embarked on consultations with a visit to the President, Vice President, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff and the Inspector General of Police to seek their support for the peace efforts,” he stated.
He added that the bandits willingly embraced the peace efforts and were not paid money to surrender to the state government.
Idris stated that in order to sustain the peace and rehabilitate the repentant bandits, the state government has mapped out a social intervention programme to recruit 18,000 youths, who would be paid N20,000 allowance monthly.
According to him, the governor is also building a RUGA settlement in each of the three senatorial zones to settle Fulani herders and curb the crisis between them and farmers, which he described as the root cause of banditry in the state.
THISDAY also gathered that over 216 rifles have been surrendered by the bandits, including AK47 rifles, LMG military rifles, LAR rifles and several caches of ammunition.
The peace efforts, however, suffered a major blow with last week’s attack on a security outpost in which nine soldiers were killed in Sunke village of Anka Local Government Area.
However, security reports showed that the attackers came from Niger State.
In Katsina State, the armed conflict started with the frequent clashes between the Fulani, who are mostly herdsmen, and Hausa that are farmers, over grazing on farmlands, which often lead to the destruction of farm produce.
The situation, however, became more horrifying when the volunteer groups popularly known as Yan-Sakai began to attack the Fulani they perceived as bandits or cattle rustlers.
This ugly trend was left unattended to by the government until when the Fulani began to launch reprisals, killing, kidnapping people and burning the villages of their perceived enemies.
Beside the number of people killed or kidnapped, the houses or property destroyed by the bandits, some sectors like education, agriculture and health in the affected local governments also recorded significant setback.
Since banditry reared its ugly head in the state, many farmers, particularly those in the frontline local government areas, abandoned their farmlands; many schools and hospitals remained closed, while some major markets were also deserted.
However, Governor Bello Masari was able to restore peace by granting amnesty to the repentant bandits.
On realising the importance of the peace initiative, the state government reached an agreement with the bandits that they would release their members arrested and detained by security personnel in Katsina, Kano and Kaduna States, while in turn, the bandits will free captives in their custody.
To actualise the agreement, the repentant bandits have so far freed 70 captives, including children and pregnant women in their custody.
Similarly, all those bandits arrested and sent to jail were released.
The repentant bandits also surrendered two AK47 rifles and ammunition to the state government.
Masari told THISDAY in an exclusive interview that more firearms were being retrieved and kept by leaders of bandits in different camps across the eight frontline local government areas of the state.
“What we know that is currently going on in the forest is that the bandits’ commanders have started retrieving arms and ammunition from their boys in different forests within Katsina and Zamfara States. So, after we restore normalcy, they will surrender the arms recovered from their boys,” the governor said.
The governor added that since the commencement of the peace deal in the state, the level of attacks orchestrated by the armed bandits and cattle rustlers had reduced significantly but expressed worry that the process was still fragile.
According to him, “To a large extent, there has been no new attacks but the whole process is still fragile; so, we need to maintain and sustain it to a certain level before we can say all is quiet.
“What we are doing now is to restore confidence and normalcy. It is only when you restore confidence that the bandits will be able to surrender their arms and under this fragile situation it will be very difficult for them to even hand over their arms except those who are willing.”
He said plans were on the way to disarm and rehabilitate all the repentant bandits to ensure that they did not go back to crime.
Masari explained the peace plan: “The second thing we are doing is to disarm all the bandits and rehabilitate them. Disarmament has to go hand-in-hand with rehabilitation because somebody who lost over 200 cattle and he has laid down his arms, what is there for him or what can he do to earn a living?
“We have started building schools for them. We built 10 for them when we had the initial amnesty; we started but unfortunately because of the reoccurrence of the crisis, the schools were abandoned some of them have become the camp headquarters of some of the bandits.
“The school we had the first meeting in Sabuwa, they said for eight months nobody could dare reach there but now we are rehabilitating the school, increasing numbers of classes, fencing it, providing borehole and we are going to make it a comprehensive primary school as soon as possible with a hope that by next year they will start admitting JSS one students.
“The last stage we are going to do is total integration. This means that nobody will be hindered from moving from one part of the state to another. So, the integration stage would involve Nigerian NGOs that would help us in re-establishing and abolishing artificial barriers between the warring groups,” the governor added.
But Masari did not disclose the cost of rehabilitating the repentant bandits, saying that the peace initiative would bring a lasting solution to insecurity problems and called on doubting Thomases to pray for its success.
He also said the state government had made adequate arrangements for sustaining the peace accord, expressing confidence that the amnesty is a permanent solution to banditry in the state.
“We were able to build trust and confidence between us and the bandits. They have come to believe that this process is not a deceit and one other issue is that the bandits themselves had been living in a terrible situation in the forest and were looking for a way out of their predicaments,” he stated.
In Sokoto State, THISDAY gathered that the residents had enjoyed peace until the border towns of Isa, Sabon Birnin, Rabah and Goronyo were overrun by bandits.
Rabah is the ancestral home of the late Sarduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was known as an apostle of peace not only in his state but the whole country.
THISDAY gathered that since the beginning of this year, over 60 people were killed by the bandits in the state.
For instance, in January alone, 26 people were killed in Gandi district in Rabah Local Government; in February another 16 people were killed in Dalijan , Rakkonni and Kalhu of the same LGA.
Also in July, 20 people were killed in Makau Faru , Dan Tatsoko , Kamitau village of Goronyo LGA.
However, the Commissioner for Careers and Security Matters, Col. Moyi Garba (rtd), told THISDAY that attacks by bandits have stopped since the last three months as a result of the peace efforts by Governor Aminu Tambuwal, who negotiated with the gunmen.
“I am telling you confidently that there are no more bandit attacks. I am from Isa Local Government. The people of the area can now go about their businesses without fear of being attacked,” he said.
He added that as part of negotiations, the state government is planning to rehabilitate any bandit ready to repent and to surrender his arms.
As part of the rehabilitation programme, he said the state government had approved the training of 1,700 youths in furniture making and plans were underway to introduce other vocational trainings to cater for repentant bandits.
On his part, the Commissioner of Police in Sokoto State, Mr. Ibrahim Sani Kaoje, said there was no case of bandit attack in Sokoto State any longer.
He was, however, worried about the rising spate of rape and homosexual cases in the state.
He attributed the reduction in banditry to the negotiations between the armed group and the government as well as the police.
Kaduna, Others Yet to Embrace Amnesty Option
However, while some of the states are counting the gains of amnesty for repentant bandits in their domains, some others are yet to embrace the peace deal, two months after the governors of the North-west region rose from a meeting in Katsina State and resolved to grant amnesty to the bandits.
Kaduna, Kebbi and Jigawa States are the three states yet to explore this option. However, unlike Kaduna, incidents of banditry are not so rife in Jigawa and Kebbi.
Although Kaduna is one of the states facing serious security challenges in the region, it is not among the states that granted amnesty to bandits.
THISDAY gathered that incessant cases of kidnappings, armed robbery and banditry had become almost the order of the day as gunmen terrorise communities and commuters along the Kaduna – Abuja road and Kaduna-Birnin Gwari Road.
People are being abducted by bandits either in their homes or on the highways with the relations of the victims paying huge amount of money to the bandits as ransom to secure the release of their loved ones.
Asked how the Kaduna State Government is handling the security situation, the Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr. Samuel Aruwan, told THISDAY that the government was making progress in tackling the situation.
He how declined to give any details about what is being done, saying it will undermine the security of the citizenry.
”For strategic reasons and in order not to undermine security of the citizenry and what we are doing, we wouldn’t give graphic details of the measures (being adopted), but we are making progress and by the grace of God, we will succeed,” Aruwan said in a text message.
But he was silent on why the state government had not considered amnesty for the bandits as was agreed among North-west governors in August.
However, the state police command, said it had adopted proactive approach by taking the battle to the bandits.
Spokesman of the command, Mr. Yakubu Sabo, said the police had succeeded in destroying 11 bandits’ camps in the state.