The Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari recently spoke to select journalists on the security challenges in the state and North-west, as well as how to tackle the predicaments. Francis Sardauna was there
What’s your view on Sheikh Ahmad Gumi’s call on the Federal Government to grant amnesty to bandits?
Amnesty for who? Look, Gumi is doing it in 2021, we did it in 2016. At least, there is something to learn from us. When we started the dialogue in 2016, 95 per cent of the herders living in the forest were not criminals, but what is the situation today? Majority of the herders living in the forest today are bandits. The general perception now is that every Fulani man living in the forest is a bandit. Once they come out to villages and communities, people kill them; when their women come to markets to sell milk, they will kill them. So, some of them have been forced into the forest and again forced to take arms to protect their own cattle and this is the situation now in the forest. Gumi should have been preaching to them on the fear of God; to understand the implications of killing somebody but certainly not amnesty because even animals are not allowed to be killed unjustly let alone human beings. He should also let the bandits know the value of their own religion.
When we started the dialogue, we were dealing with people that were being arrested and not being prosecuted. There was no established concrete case against them because of killing, because then it was cattle rustling associated with murder but today the situation has been different. I haven’t had time to discuss with Gumi. I was in a meeting where he was and he made his presentation about what he met. For me, I am not surprised because I did it before, twice, so what they (bandits) are telling him is not new to me. They said it and they will continue to say it but concretely they are not promoting any ideology. Are we all happy in Nigeria? Does it mean those who are unhappy would take arms against other people? They kept on saying we are been marginalised. How many people are being marginalised and neglected in Nigeria today? Look my friend, a thief is a thief and a criminal is a criminal. They are criminally minded and can’t justify killing innocent souls.
There are speculations that residents of Faskari have fled 20 villages following frequent attacks by bandits. How true is this?
It is not true. Yes, some villages are affected but not 20. Yes, Faskari in particular and, to some extent, Sabuwa Local Government Area have being under persistent attacks by bandits but I don’t think the number of villages or communities that have deserted their areas are up to 20. We discussed a particular village; Yar Mallamai which is under Ruwangodiya ward. The villagers recently have terrible encounter with bandits but the military moved in and saved the situation. But in those fringes of the forest, definitely some communities have moved into their local government headquarters or to a much bigger place than their own. You know, because of the population within the communities, it is easier for bandits coming from Zamfara to overrun those communities. Any village that is attacked, we normally send our officials to make assessment and offer immediate relief.
We have distributed relief materials to victims in Faskari, Safana, Danmusa and we also provide financial support for the displaced families. We are working daily to restore normalcy in villages and communities affected by the activities of bandits. The residents of those communities were just forced out of their places; their farms and natural abodes are there so they can not have meaningful life living outside those areas. So, it is a must and necessity for us to make sure that normalcy is restored in those areas so that people can go back. We, as a government, are working through the religious and traditional leaders and political leaders within the communities, while the military and other security agencies are doing what they are supposed to do in order to bring normalcy. But if you look at the spate of villages and the population of the military and police, it is not possible for them to be everywhere that is why we are working to restore community living.
It is key to providing security in the local communities because the military and the police would come and establish formations but after sometime they will leave. So, if we fail to bring community living, then the bandits can come back. So, restoring community living is what we have been doing and even today we met with some kingmakers here in Katsina and part of what we have discussed is about the plans we have for restoring community living. We tasked and mobilised them on the new local government law—what it has provided for them and what is expected of them and how to work towards bringing about communities living in peace. Some few years back communities were living harmoniously but today the story is totally different.
What do you think is responsible for endless bandits’ attacks on villages in the North-west zone despite efforts by governors and security agencies to restore peace?
First of all, let us accept there wouldn’t be crime-free society. It has never been before and it will never be. But what we have today are bandits and some few elements of insurgency among them that we must work as governors in the North-west and in the Northern part of this country to bring them under control. You cannot eliminate criminality but it should be at a level that cannot disturb ways and means of people let alone lead to losing their lives. So, I think there is need for synergy between state governments and even traditional institutions across the zones because these bandits travel through the forest from one zone to another. When we met last week during the northern governors and traditional rulers’ meeting, these were the issues discussed. We synergised and have a common approach in dealing with bandits. So, a criminal in Sokoto is a criminal in Kaduna, Taraba and is also a criminal in Gombe State vice-versa. We are going to have a systematic approach so that everywhere they (bandits) go they can be unplugged and taken care of.
President Muhammadu Buhari has warned governors against negotiating with the bandits, but some of you are still negotiating with the brigands, why?
Who is negotiating with the bandits? As for us, we are not negotiating with them. We did it before and it failed. You cannot negotiate with a thief because they don’t have any association and they don’t have an agenda rather than to steal. They are not people fighting based on any ideology so we cannot negotiate peace with them again. There are some herders in the forest that are not criminals or bandits. They should come out and surrender all they have so that we can know. Whoever inhabits the forest is a criminal and also herders living by the fringes of the forests should make peace with their communities and neighbours, we don’t have to come in.
For me, we will not sit on the same table because if to say they are fighting based on ideology, then there is basis for negotiation but they are fighting to steal. How can you stop anybody stealing? It can only be done by force or by bringing him under control by force—that is how you can deal with a thief. They don’t have associations, they are bunch of criminals. When banditry started, people thought it would be restricted to Katsina, Zamfara or Kaduna until they started finding themselves in places like Ogun, Ondo, Imo and other places. One of our problems is that we don’t look at this country as one body. If for example, your ear is sick and your leg says well it is not my business, it is the ear that is sick, the ear sickness would develop to the point that will affect the leg. Therefore, if there is any problem in any part of the country, we should look at it as our problem.
We should have learnt lessons from Boko Haram. When it started in Borno, some people thought these are Muslim extremists, so is not their business, but gradually many states, including FCT were affected and then it became a national problem. Likewise, when banditry started, it was a North-western affair before it has now become a national affair. So, we should learn to help each other. When there is a problem in a particular place, let all of us fight the problem and stop it because if we don’t, it will grow and affect all parts of the country. We should also look at all criminals as criminals irrespective of where they come from. It is not about looking at a certain community and say they are like this and that. In any group of people, either their tribe, ethnicity or religion, there must be good and bad ones among them. So, the idea of generalising or segmenting a particular group simply because bad people come from them is totally bad and unacceptable.
What is the fate of female boarding students in the state who are currently at home over the closure of their schools due to insecurity?
We are working on the physical security of the female hostels across the state and we have not completed the process. We are fully securing the dormitories with all what you can think of. It is after the completion of securing the dormitories that we can say we have taken what is humanly possible to provide the security and return the girls. Look, we must return our people to school. We shouldn’t look as if we are being defeated. We cannot allow ourselves to be defeated and our children must go to school. If all of us in the affected states are united and say okay let’s go back to school. Everybody is in the school, how many people will they kidnap? Would they have the capacity or infrastructures to hold them? We shouldn’t surrender.
I said the boarding schools being managed and owned by federal government, especially the ones managed by the security agencies, if they are satisfied with their security arrangements to reopen, they should be reopened for academic activities because they are federal government’s institutions being managed by military and police. All the security arrangements would be completed within two weeks to enable our female students resume academic activities. We are more concerned because it is easy for the boys’ boarding schools to go to day schools closer to them, but for the girls’ boarding schools, the girls come from far places. If you open the schools and say for day, some of the boarding schools will hardly get up to 20 students. Take for an example, Government Girls Science Secondary School Ajiwa, if you open it for day, maybe only well-to-do individuals who are in Katsina can afford to transport their children to the school and you will hardly find students for even two classes, but this is a school that has thousands of students. So, we have to do what we can to secure the area and return the girls to the school and we must not give up.
Katsina State depends largely on federal allocations for survival, what are you doing to revamp the revenue status of the state?
Diversification: we have changed the leadership in the revenue collection agencies and we have started seeing some improvements. We also have a committee which has already visited eight local governments holding town hall meetings. The committee would reintroduce community tax and cattle tax. Before middle of March this year, they would’ve completed collecting views and opinions of people. The 21-man committee has the traditional leaders, civil society organisations, government itself and leadership of all political parties, because we want to give it a non-partisanship approach and we believed that at the end of the day, based on the recommendations we receive, we will reintroduce community and cattle taxes and so many other taxes that are not being collected. I believed before the middle of this year, you will see real activities of restoring Katsina State to its lost glory. Like I said earlier, Katsina was depending on agriculture and livestock taxes, but the state was surviving. If we work hard, we will generate substantial amount of money that can assist us in carrying out some of the developmental projects.