After meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari last week, Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State told journalists that the raging banditry in his state would not end soon because some people and their collaborators were behind it. Louis Achi writes that the governor should name the bandits and their sponsors
A committee set up by Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State to find solutions to the raging banditry in the state had disclosed that over N3 billion was collected by bandits as ransom in the state. This flowed from the committee’s report which was presented to the governor two years ago on Friday, October 11, 2019, in Gusau, the state capital.
The committee, headed by a former Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar, also had the likes of Senator Saidu Dansadau; and a former Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mamman Tsafe, among others, as members.
The report, which covered the period from June 2011, to May 29, 2019, revealed the huge ransom money collected from 3,672 victims whose relatives paid to secure their freedom. Abubakar said a total of 6,319 persons were either arbitrarily or willfully killed, 4,983 women were widowed, 25,050 children orphaned and 190,340 persons displaced by banditry during the period in the state.
Abubakar said his committee had concrete evidence that five Emirs in the state were complicit in the spate of banditry while 33 districts and several village heads were also working with these terrorists. He did not publicly name the affected traditional rulers.
He also revealed that 10 soldiers, some policemen and civil servants were discovered to have had their hands smeared in the banditry which has lasted for about a decade in the state. The former IG, however, said some security personnel and one emir distinguished themselves creditably in the protection of the people.
He also said innocent Fulani herdsmen lost 2,015 cattle, 141 sheep and goats, 2,600 donkeys and camels to rustlers while 3,587 houses, 147,800 vehicles, motorcycles and others were burnt at different times and locations within the period.
The committee recommended unconditional disarmament and setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry backed by law to address all forms of banditry in the future. It also advised government to partner neighbouring state governments to rehabilitate all interstate roads, to ease movement of security personnel and the general public.
It also recommended that the state government should prioritise education and ensure all children, including those of nomads attend school. Governor Matawalle had promised to implement the recommendations, assuring that he would not be influenced by any sentiment.
His words: “I would like to make it clear that personal relationship, sectional, geographical, religious and ethnic interests will have no role to play in the decision l will take with regard to recommendations of the committee, especially those that relate to the recommended sanctions and disciplinary measures.”
It could be recalled that the Zamfara State Government had in 2019 entered a peace agreement with bandits. About 15 brand new Hilux vehicles were given to leaders of different repentant bandits in Zamfara State by Matawalle. The governor also approved millions of naira to be given to the ‘repentant’ bandits as compensation. But despite the accord, communities in the state are still being attacked and residents kidnapped or killed.
But two years after submission of former IG Abubakar’s report, the embattled Zamfara governor has made little headway in neutralising the bandits.
Just last week, bandits who have now been declared terrorists by the federal government put fear in the hearts of locals by writing Zamfara communities and demanding N34 million. This was a precondition from bandits operating from Gando Forest in Bukkuyum Local Government Area of Zamfara State to stop planned attacks in the state. The helpless communities were given a 30-day deadline to comply.
Incidentally, this latest threat comes on the heels of Maitawalle’s visit to President Buhari to solicit help to cage the ranging banditry.
Alluding to the failed interventions he had made to stem the bloody banditry, he recalled: “You know when I assumed duty as governor, I used so many options to bring this insecurity to a minimal level. First of all, I initiated dialogue and reconciliation between the herders and farmers and during that dialogue, we spent more than nine months without any crisis in Zamfara State.
“But unfortunately, people use politics, because they have collaborators. So, they went back to those bandits, telling them that the government is not serious about this dialogue, that we did not give them anything. So, the bandits decided to go back to their normal businesses. That’s why I backed out from the reconciliation programme. But definitely, it worked for over nine months.”
At press time, many Zamfara stakeholders are deeply worried over government’s inaction on committee’s report, which indicted top politicians, traditional rulers, among other members of the state’s elite.
More, allegations abound that some government officials who were indicted in the report are still in service. According activist, Salisu Anka, “It will be difficult to take an action against them. And this is not fair because we all know that most of the houses are owned by the civil servants, and we know some of these civil servants have rented out these houses to these criminals and their families.
“Indeed, the report which exposes the complicity of some traditional rulers, security personnel and some top government officials is not only worrisome, but it is a fundamental duty for the governor to act and bring them to justice in the interest of the people and state.”
According to the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Ibrahim Dosara, who confirmed some successes recorded in the military operations, majority of the bandits have relocated to neighbouring states of Sokoto, Katsina, Niger and Kaduna.
Two years on, Matawalle’s pledge to take needful actions with regard to recommendations of the Abubakar’s committee has largely come to naught. Given the situation on the ground and the extreme existential threats to life, limb and property, the governor should bite the bullet and take urgent steps to protect his state-wide constituency notwithstanding inherent constitutional limitations.
He should without further waste of time name both the bandits and their collaborators with a view to initiating stern prosecution