By Yemi Adebowale
Zamfara is on the list of top five states under the servitude of terrorists in Nigeria. Daily, scores of people are sent to early graves by brigands in this state. On assumption of office on May 29, Governor Dauda Lawal made it very clear that he would not negotiate or grant amnesty to terrorists, while urging security agents to be more proactive in dealing with the problem in Zamfara. For Lawal, the only way to end terrorism is for security agents to consistently pummel them very hard. Clearly, this is the truth.
Terrorism will start slowing down in Nigeria the very day security agents begin to kill guerillas caught on the field. Negotiating or granting amnesty to terrorists will never work. Previous actions along this line never yielded any positive result. They only strengthen the terrorists. In fact, money paid to terrorists by some state governors in the name of amnesty were used to acquire more arms and ammunition. Lawal has a clear plan on how to end terrorism in his state, regrettably, he does not control soldiers. He needs his own troops to actualise his dream. The Nigerian Constitution does not even allow him to own state police. Nonetheless, he is still aiming to actualise his plans of ending terrorism in Zamfara State in conjunction with Nigerian soldiers. The governor told security agents this much in meetings held with them within his first few days in office.
Unfortunately, some agents of the federal government recently decided to negotiate with Zamfara terrorists. Governor Lawal will not take this. That was why (this week) he bluntly attacked the federal government when some of its agents allegedly opened negotiations with the terrorists that abducted 30 students at Federal University, Gusau, on September 21. It was done without recourse to the Zamfara Government and heads of security agencies in the state. Lawal clearly has the facts and evidence on what transpired between these agents of the federal government and the terrorists during the negotiations in several places across Zamfara.
The Zamfara State Governor subsequently cried out for an urgent and comprehensive investigation by the federal government into the alleged secret negotiations. He wants the federal government to clarify the action of the “unscrupulous elements sabotaging the ongoing fight against banditry in Zamfara,” adding that the move is at variance with his administration’s adoption of a kinetic strategy in the fight against terrorism.
Lawal adds: “The Zamfara State Government has received reports of how some federal government delegation met with different bandit groups in Birnin Magaji, Maradun, Munhaye, Ajah, Bawo, and Bagege. Previous administrations in the state failed to achieve positive outcomes in their engagements with bandits. We must learn from these past mistakes and adopt a new approach to restore peace in Zamfara.
“The Zamfara State Government has taken a firm stance from the beginning – we will not negotiate with these criminals. The fight against banditry is a top priority of the Zamfara State Government, and we cannot afford to make any compromises in our efforts. We urge the federal government to take swift action by terminating the ongoing negotiations with the bandits in Zamfara, as it undermines progress so far made.”
Instead of properly addressing the issues raised by Lawal, the federal government, through the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, opted to be flippant, warning the governor “against the politicisation of the security situation in his state.”
While on the one hand, the minister said no FG official had engaged in negotiation with Zamfara terrorists, on the other hand, he tacitly confirmed Lawal’s allegations, saying, “The government, however, maintains its resolve to explore every available avenue that can lead to the de-escalation of tension and bring back peace to communities ravaged by banditry…the federal government is willing to listen and continue its ongoing engagement with all stakeholders across the country in working out a lasting solution to our security problems.”
So, Lawal was right. Federal agents were negotiating with the Zamfara terrorists as implicitly confirmed by the information minister in his reaction. What nonsense! Lawal exposed the locations where talks were held with bandits. Clearly, the federal agents leading secret negotiations with terrorists in Zamfara are the ones politicising insecurity, not Governor Lawal.
Lawal rightly stated: “Negotiating with bandits in Zamfara is a grave mistake we cannot afford to make again. It is not the solution to the problem and only encourages and emboldens the criminals. We urge the federal government to take a firm stance against such activities and investigate the motives of those who engage in them.”
Lawal’s position on tackling terrorism undoubtedly makes sense. All past negotiations and amnesty for terrorists in the North-west and North-east have failed to yield any result. The only language terrorists understand is ruthlessness. They must be dealt with brutally.
Many will not forget how Lawal’s predecessor, Mohammed Bello Matawalle compounded the problem in the state by heaping money on terrorists in the name of amnesty. One of the terrorists Matawalle empowered was late Auwal Daudawa, the man that masterminded the abduction of 300 school boys at Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, in 2021. Daudawa and his boys were operating between Zamfara and Katsina, with Zamfara State as his headquarters.
At a point in 2021, Matawalle invited Daudawa to the Zamfara State Government House, and was cuddling him. Of course, Daudawa (who eventually died by the sword) and his gang collected hefty ransom. The bandits got enough to buy more than the weapons submitted and returned to the field to abduct and kill more people. Daudawa eventually died on the field. He was shot dead in April 2021 during a gun duel with a rival gang at Dumburum forest, located between Zurmi LGA in Zamfara State and Batsari LGA in Katsina State.
Matawalle continued with amnesty for the brigands for almost two years, yet, the attacks persisted. It was a useless venture by this former governor that encouraged more militias to join the “flourishing business” of killing and kidnapping. This is the garbage incumbent Governor Lawal says must never be encouraged. Matawalle’s predecessor, Abdulaziz Yari, was also involved in the useless amnesty to the terrorists. At a point, he was paying N1 million for each AK47 rifle turned in by “repentant terrorists”. The pact was short-lived as the terrorists often return to their game after turning in worthless weapons and collecting money.
No doubt, the situation in Zamfara State is pathetic, with terrorists roaming unhindered in many local governments. More often than not, security agents arrive after terrorists must have crushed people and departed. It is also a big shame that the Nigerian Air Force base in Zamfara, established to curtail attacks by terrorists, has performed far below expectations. The federal government must work with Governor Lawal to end the killings in Zamfara State instead of antagonising him. The primary responsibility of governments at all levels is to secure the lives and property of Nigerians. The wanton killings in Zamfara and other states in this country are a direct assault on the Nigerian constitution which guarantees rights to life and liberty.
Needless Burdens Liable for Naira’s Free Fall
When the Naira reached one of its lowest points at N995/$ on September 21 in the parallel market, the Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Olawale Edun, admitted that Dollar demands had overwhelmed supply. What he however failed to admit is that federal and state governments and their agencies are also responsible for the overwhelming demand for Dollars. They are putting huge pressure on Nigeria’s forex through needless foreign trips with all its Dollar components. When any Presidential aircraft parks at foreign airports, daily, they pay with Dollars
A delegation, led by President Tinubu was at the Paris Summit for the New Global Financial Pact in June. Within a few weeks, a federal government delegation was at the G-20 Leaders’ Summit in Delhi, India. It was followed by a trip to the first “Stocktaking Moment Summit” in Rome, Italy. Then, the Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the G-77 summit in Cuba followed. Nigeria was again at the BRICKS summit in South Africa and UNGA 78 in New York followed. What has this country gained from these trips? Almost nothing!
Within few days in office, the Solid Minerals Minister, Dele Alake, ran to Australia for a useless mission. The Sports Minister was in Cairo this week on a failed mission to attract AFCON hosting rights to Nigeria. At a point, the state governors travelled to Rwanda for days, for a leadership programme. All these trips consume huge forex. So, how can a government that can’t check needless Dollar-consuming foreign trips convince citizens to reduce their appetite for forex?
On the part of the citizens, the demands for foreign goods and services are frightening. Foreign education, holidays abroad, foreign medicals, pilgrimages, foreign drinks, shoes and clothes, the list is endless. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation once observed that Nigeria has the highest number of students studying abroad among all African countries. So, why won’t there be pressure on our limited forex?
Within just five months – January to May 2022 – Nigerians remitted more than $378.77 million to foreign academic institutions. This figure was calculated by the CBN based on the data provided on the amount spent on educational service under the sectoral utilisation for transactions valid for foreign exchange.
The high demand for dollars to pay foreign educational institutions affects Nigeria’s foreign reserves and increases pressure on forex. The insufficient supply in the I and E window has pushed many to the parallel market to get Dollars for overseas school fees. This is happening in a country with a large number of World Class universities – public and private. Those running government in Nigeria (many of them with their children in foreign universities) evidently can’t convince citizens to send their children to Nigerian universities.
Airlines are usually filled with Nigerians when it comes to summer holiday abroad. This also consumes huge forex. Domestic tourism is dead. Besides, most of those in government in Nigeria also run abroad for holidays. A government that wants citizens to patronise Nigerian holiday destinations must provide security. This is key for domestic tourism. It is also vital to attract foreign tourists. Insecurity in beloved Nigeria is frightening.
In 2022, the then Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, during a tour of Duchess International Hospital in Lagos, disclosed that Nigerians were spending between USD1.2 billion and USD1.6 billion on medical tourism annually. This is another drain on the country’s foreign reserves. The conducts of former President Buhari and incumbent President Tinubu encourage medical tourism abroad. They ought to be leading by example.
The way out of foreign medical tourism is simple: Government must provide world class public hospitals and also create an enabling environment for state-of-the-art private hospitals. Then, to retain doctors, nurses, and all other health workers, the remunerations must be world class.
The pressure on forex will persist except there is a deliberate policy to reduce the terrifying demands for foreign goods and services by Nigerians. However, a government that wants to implement this must be ready to lead by example. This is the crux of the matter. Regrettably, we don’t have such a government in Nigeria at the moment.