Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari came out with a clear and resounding message on the current debate as to what best to do to end the menace of insecurity across the country by armed hoodlums: there will be no amnesty for them from the Federal Government.
In a message he sent to the meeting of the Northern State Governors’ Forum, Northern Traditional Rulers Council, a delegation of the Federal Government in Kaduna, Buhari said: “The government shall continue to deal with insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals who constitute a threat to innocent citizens across the county”.
This debate would not have arisen at all if not for the surprising visits that Sheikh Ahmad Gumi paid to the “bandits” terrorising states in the North West and parts of the North Central (especially Niger State) after which he called for negotiations with them and also an amnesty. Indeed, governors of many of the states embattled by the rampaging terrorists, such as Zamfara, Katsina and Niger states have embraced some kind of conciliatory strategies to pacify the hoodlums.
Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara and Sheikh Gumi have been at the forefront of this call for amnesty. It seemed the president initially appeared to be somewhat inclined towards negotiation with the North West terrorists after Matawalle appeared to have made some progress last year when he engaged the Zamfara bandits. Some of the outlaws even appeared to surrender their arms in exchange for amnesty. This had even encouraged Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State to personally lead his security officials into the bushes for a well-publicised meeting with the criminals. The effort eventually collapsed.
We are glad that the President has declared the mindset of this administration on his matter in favour of strict maintenance of law and order, though we would have preferred for him to have been at the meeting given the strategic urgency of the issue. We strongly believe that the President should be seen as leading the war against insecurity in the country from the front, being the Commander-in-Chief.
Anybody who picks up arms to kill, kidnap, rape, displace or terrorise innocent and law-abiding citizens must be treated as a terrorist irrespective of their excuse for becoming outlaws. Even armed robbers, cultists, fraudsters, ritual killers and other hoodlums who are routinely paraded by the law enforcement agents blame bad governance and neglect for going rogue. But no excuse is permitted under the law for criminality.
With this declaration, we expect the Federal Government to work with the state governments and community leaders to mobilise the people against all forms of violent criminality without favouritism or condonation based on ethnicity or religion.
To succeed, the Federal Government must eschew favouritism in fighting terrorism.