D r. Mustapha Inuwa is the Secretary to the Government of Katsina State, SGS who doubles as the Chairman, Amnesty Programme to end banditry in the state. In this interview, he bares his mind on series of challenges and setbacks they are facing in their fight against banditry.
Current waves of insecurity in Katsina have continued to be a source of worry not only to the state but also the entire country. What t is the state government doing to contain the ugly situation?
It is really an unfortunate situation we are experiencing and the worse we experienced was in the just past year 2020 when the rate of kidnapping and other forms of criminality increased in various places almost on daily basis. This is where the largest number, in our history, of students were kidnapped by bandits and fortunately we were able to rescue them within a period of just one week. I don’t think there is anywhere in the world where such a number was involved and the rescue operation lasted effectively within three days, because that was when the negotiation was started. So, it was really bad, sad and unfortunate and the government also has invested a lot of resources in supporting the security agencies in this regard.
Now, fortunately, the security chiefs of the nation were all here and they realized the magnitude of the problem and promised to strategize and address this security issue head-on, and from what we have seen especially from the police, they are really coming up with new strategies. They brought in a lot of personnel, stationed them in concerned Local government areas bordering Zamfara axis. They also brought vehicles such as APC that they use to access and penetrate difficult areas.
But like we always say, the strategy that should be adopted to bring these problems to an end immediately is when all the states concerned are involved, when there is a national platform, under one command that will direct this fight against these bandits. Because no matter what a particular state is doing, if the other states are not doing the same thing at the same time, the bandits will move to the place they consider safe haven to hide and from where they will continue to launch their attacks. For instance, most of the attacks in Katsina, the bandits come from Zamfara. They are in the same group, they organize and move from one place to another and as we all know, they are naturally mobile. So it has to be a well-coordinated effort by a national platform where you have the Army, maybe from the Defense Headquarters to command the operation at the centre while the state governors, as political heads of their respective states, should also come together and take common positions on things that will help the military to achieve what they want to achieve. For instance, all the governments should come together and agree, let’s say for instance, they ban selling of fuel in border towns and villages and they close the border markets along the areas. The request through the National Communication Commission, NCC, to temper with the communication system, because these people communicate with their colleagues in various areas and within no time they all converge in agreed places. So if one state is doing something and the other is not, it will not yield the desired results or impact. There must be joint effort and it must be spontaneous.
There must also be a synergy between what the state governments are doing and what the military are doing. With that, I believe this issue could be tackled within the shortest possible time, and I hope by 2021 this will be actualized because if we keep on using same approach in this fight we should not expect a different result. Because since we started the fight against bandits, it is the same approach. Now, it has not yielded results, so why don’t we change the approach?
Another very important thing that the security agencies need to do is to try to block their source of fire arms. It is very clear that most of the arms these bandits are using come from Niger Republic. So it is the responsibility of the federal agencies, especially the intelligence unit, to look at ways of how these things are coming and block it. If you collaborate with Niger government to block these sources, I believe you render them very ineffective and the few ones that are coming from Plateau state and other parts of the country, use the intelligence report to block them as well. But if you allow this proliferation of fire arms, this issue will never end.
Another important issue that the government will need to do is to sensitize the populace of the implication of paying ransom. Once ransom will continue to be paid, these people will find it very difficult to stop their crime, because in a situation where you kidnap somebody and receive millions of naira, tell me what business will they do to earn this money within a week or so? We can understand it is a very delicate situation because you cannot tell somebody whose loved one is kidnapped not to pay ransom because the major fear is they will be killed. It is a dicey situation but people have to make sacrifices.
Other countries stopped kidnappings by refusing to pay ransom but anybody killed in the process, government paid compensation to the family.
People now connive to kidnap their relations, associates and neighbours simply because of what they will get from ransom collected. Kidnapping has become lucrative. We must stop it by not paying ransom.
Our people too, have to be up and doing because most of these people have their informants among us especially in the rural areas. In any village you go, you have people informing the bandits about the movement of the security. Sometimes, when the security chase them, these people provide them where to hide. It is really an unfortunate situation where people connive with the bandits to carry out attack on their communities. And what they don’t understand is that if today they attack one family, tomorrow it may be your family that will be attacked by another group.
So it is important for the traditional, religious and community leaders to continue to appeal to the people to be God-fearing to understand the implication of supporting these bandits and their activities.
So the issue is not for only one sector. The security, government or communities must be collective and then we pray. But we must not pray without backing it with action because we Muslims believe there is nothing beyond Allah’s control. But it must be prayer with decisive action against these people.
Let me take you back on issue of ransom, here you are discouraging payment of ransom and there is controversy surrounding the release of the schoolboys. Does it means ransom was not paid to secure the release of the Kankara students?
Not a dime was paid. Take it from me that not a dime was given to those people in order to release these boys.
There are some uncomplimentary remarks that the government has not done enough on this issue of insecurity, what’s your take on that?
You don’t blame people for holding such opinions. Some say it out of ignorance because they don’t know how the government works. Some don’t know what is the responsibility of the state and what he federal government is supposed to do. What is important to them is that the government should provide security for their lives and property, and anything short of that, they can say anything. As you know, we inherited this problem and we promised to bring it to an end. So people have every right to expect the government to do just that.
But those who know, will understand that the state government can only support the security agencies. They are not under their command. The governor cannot direct the military or any other security agency to move one kilometer and conduct an operation without clearance from their superior officers. The governors cannot recruit one person into the security agencies. The entire responsibility lies with the federal government. So a local person may not know all these. But some know it but they like politicizing even issues that ought not to be politicized. Some do it out of mischief. So there is nothing you can do. What is most important to me is not the ignorant comment of the people but the efforts of the government to bring about positive results to secure lives and properties of our people.
The world celebrated the non-kinetic approach adopted by Katsina state government in securing the release of Kankara schoolboys, are you considering such approach in taming this issue of insecurity?
You see, in this state we did it twice. In the early 2017 we had that and we were able to achieve relative peace for almost two years. Later, of recent, the security agencies, under the influence of the Inspector General of Police, also insisted that we go with this non-kinetic approach which we did. But you see, in all the two cases, what we realized is that one, these people don’t have a common leader whom if you agree with, everybody accepts. They have different groups and even within the groups, they don’t have a common leader, unlike Boko Haram, which is based on a particular ideology. These are pure criminals and thieves. They don’t have a common leader that all others follow.
If anyone enters into an agreement with the government, the rest will pull out suspecting that he has amassed wealth and now pulling out. And if he is not careful they can even kill him.
Is that responsible for why the peace deals failed?
That is why the first peace deal we had failed. About 90 per cent of those who accepted amnesty (embraced peace) and repented were killed by the bandits. Because as long as they remained in the forest, there will never be peace, they must have guns to protect themselves and so on.
Secondly, this non-kinetic approach is not something that is accepted by all the states. Kaduna for instance, has never entered into any peace deal with the bandits, Zamfara is currently doing it, Sokoto has never accepted it while Katsina has done it. So there is no way you can have this with only one state. They move from one place to another. So it is difficult for us to get the understanding of everybody and all the groups. For instance, if you talk to Shekau and other splinter groups and they accept peace, it could be said to be okay. But here it is not possible.
Again, even if you want to negotiate peace with these people, let it be from the point of strength. Let it be on their demand or request, may be after having been confronted and devastated and they realized that there was nothing they could do, and they decided to accept peace, then you can give them a condition to surrender all their weapons. But if you allow them to hold their weapons it will not work. You will go back to square one. So, even if the security agencies want to continue with this non-kinetic thing, let it be from the point of strength.
Because what is important in the non-kinetic approach is to make sure that all their weapons are collected and sources of arms supply blocked.
So honestly, the issue of non-kinetic approach is not an option to me because they are not the kind of people that can reason. They are ignorant of all kinds of education (both western and Islamic education) and under heavy influence of drugs. Some of their kidnapped victims who were later released when narrating there experience said the bandits inject themselves. So they know nothing but violence and criminality. And their leaders fear them because they can even kill them. It even happened severally, Buharin Daji was killed by his associates, and all those we knew were killed by the same bandits.
If Kinetic approach will fail who and where do you look up to?
From the military. The problem is they have very inadequate personnel. The whole security agencies in Nigeria put together are not up to one million. The police is about 340,000, the army is about that figure or about 500,000. Those are the two that are involved in this kind of operation.
Then they also lack equipment. This is very serious. I could recall an incident, where about 292 army officers were brought for a particular operation with only four vehicles. It is either the state government supplis or they don’t move.
So also with armoury. There are times you find out there own weapons are not as modern as the ones used by the bandits.
Sometime ago, in Dutsinma, some bandits were arrested with their weapons, do you know that whenever the police want to go for operation, they use firearms seized from the bandits because their weapons are more modern and newer than theirs.
Also, when they are going for operations, they give them counted bullets but the bandits have unlimited bullets and that is why you find them shooting sporadically into the air to cause chaos and commotion before they start operation.
So honestly the government has to address all these issues surrounding personnel, general logistics for the agencies otherwise they will be handicapped.
So indirectly, what you are saying is the end to banditry lies solely on the Federal government?
No doubt about it. Constitutionally, it is the sole responsibility of the Federal government.
You were quoted to have said, the state was left alone to bear the brunt of the whole thing. Have the situation improved?
Improvement like I told you, the police have brought additional vehicles to there command including APV to all the Frontline local government areas and more personnel. But still you find issues around logistics, allowances and so on.
You see, if we would get the results, achieve peace, no problem because security is the most important thing. It is the most important thing that you do.
But what is saddening and frustrating that you are spending money but not getting the desired results.
Do we at this point in time, need any form of support from the international community?
At the Federal level, like I told you earlier, for instance Niger Republic, we need their support to address issues of arms proliferation into the country.
And this banditry in this area, honestly from what I know so far, there is no international influence or whatever unlike the Boko Haram issue which is been sponsored, encouraged and supported by International Islamic bodies and some countries that don’t want the progress of Africa and Nigeria in particular. But here, it is purely criminality. And it is purely carried out by locals, there may be a few from Niger which they consider themselves as one because Fulani man from Senegal, Mali, Chad, Cameroon, Gambia consider themselves as one.
So the international support the Federal government needs is in interns of acquiring firearms but because of the politics involved, we understand the Federal government is finding it difficult to get a country that will support it or agree to supply some of these requirements. It is very important that the Federal government looks into these issues because it is beyond the state government. Anything outside Nigeria is not the state government. We can only do a few understanding like that we did in Maradi but generally on this issue, the Federal government should ensure that the international community understands the situation.