By Olalekan Bilesanmi
The perennial armed banditry and its associated threats to human security in the North-West, comprising Kano, Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto and Niger states, have become a subject of national public concern.
The multifaceted layers of criminality involved and recurrent nature of the armed banditry call for effective mechanisms to mitigate the threat it poses to peace and security in affected states.
While the North-East is battling the insurgency, the North-West, on the flipped coin, is gripped with banditry.
The crime has become a daily occurrence in the North-West states. Armed bandits operate at any time of the day and they leave in their trail deaths, burnt houses and source of livelihood of their victims – farm produce and even goats and rams.
They operate brazenly without inhibition such that they even give notice of the attack. Zamfara, where banditry was initially most rampant, was nearly brought to its knees when the newly elected governor of the state, Matawalle, negotiated with bandits.
The negotiation option became imperative when the military option failed. The civil option worked for the state such that bandits attacked and even killed, one of their own who reneged on the agreement to down their tools with the state government. Traditional rulers, who were seen to be abetting and aiding the crime, were removed from office. It was a holistic approach to combat banditry. The strategy worked. That, perhaps, set the tone for Governor Masari whose state (Katsina) had become a battleground for banditry in the North generally.
He marshalled all resources to meet bandits in their den, to know why they were involved in the dastardly act and find a lasting solution.
For two weeks, he was moving from one hideout to the other, negotiating.
Then the bandits operating in the area met, agreed to lay down their weapons and embrace peace, or so it appeared.
It was not long after the short reprieve that they swung into action again, killing, maiming and carting away everything good their hands could take.
In April alone, over 47 people were killed in the state. It has now graduated to kidnapping, robbery and cattle rustling. The bandits were so sure of their craft that they went to kidnap a relation of the President in Daura, his hometown.
Unfortunately, the state government cannot single-handedly flush out the rampaging bandits. There are a lot of impediments.
All the states contiguous to Katsina are also affected. It is more pronounced in Katsina though.
The crime is further complicated by the
large unregulated and poor government-controlled forest areas in the region, some of which are situated within under-policed border areas between Nigeria and neighbouring countries. The porosity of these borders aids
cross-border criminality. This is, perhaps, the biggest problem and impediment to getting rid of the bandits. The bandits, just like the militants in the creeks of the Niger Delta, know the terrain of the forest such that they easily find themselves in the neighbouring countries. Of course, that ends it. There is little the military can do except of course to liaise with the countries affected.
The military is controlled at the federal level, not at the state level. This further explains why Masari, late last year, visited President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Rock to table his challenges of insecurity in the state before him.
But rather than the meeting bringing about the solution or, at least, a reduction of banditry, it seemed to have exacerbated the crisis. The people, victims, are also tired of the inaction of the Federal Government towards their plight. Unfortunately, it is Masari that bears the brunt of the people’s anger.
Masari himself was so perplexed recently that he was quoted to have said, “I don’t know what to tell them (his people). I cannot look at them in the face because we have failed to protect them, contrary to our pledge to ensure the security of lives and property throughout the state.
“I never expected the behaviour and the attitude of people living in the forests, the bandits, whose behaviour is worse than that of animals.
“In the forest, a lion or a tiger kills only when it is hungry and it doesn’t kill all animals, it only kills the one it can eat at a time.
“But what we see here is that bandits come to town, spray bullets, kill indiscriminately for no purpose and no reason whatsoever, like the recent massacre of people at Faskari and parts of Dandume local government area.
“They just killed the people. How can a human being behave the way an animal cannot behave?
“Our role is to complement the efforts of security agencies for which I believe we are doing nothing less than 90 per cent in terms of whatever is expected of us, based on resources available to us”.
Katsina State cannot combat this menace alone. The Federal Government must move swiftly to ensure that these marauding bandits are flushed out.
If this aberration is left unchecked, it may be very difficult for the President himself to return to Daura after leaving office in 2023. The shame should be on the President, not on Masari, that his town, not his state, is not spared of the shenanigans of the bandits, and, unfortunately, he could not find a lasting solution to it.
* Bilesanmi is a journalist based in Lagos