- We welcome his decision to stop dialogue with bandits
For a governor who only in February insisted that dialogue remained the best option to tackle banditry, Nigerians cannot but welcome the new tune from Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle, on the insecurity plaguing his state as indeed the entire Northwest. Penultimate week, the governor was quoted as saying the state government was no longer interested in holding dialogue with bandits who had spurned the olive branch once extended to them.
“They sent committee to us, begging that we suspend the ban on transportation of food items and allow them to supply, but I refused”, he said against the background of the latest wave of offensive launched by the military, even as he urged residents to be patient and to support new security measures to flush out bandits and their collaborators from the state.
The governor had, after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in February, touted the magic of his “initiative of dialoguing with them [bandits]” as a result of which he claimed that Zamfara had become calm.
“I have been calling my colleagues to sit down all the stakeholders to discuss this and find the causes of the crisis so that they can be able to initiate reconciliation and dialogue with those people so that they can be able to achieve what I achieved in my state”.
That was barely six months ago. And that was some seven months after his Katsina State counterpart, Aminu Masari, had vowed never to touch the issue of amnesty after his government was twice betrayed by the bandits, after their pardon. The first being in 2016 when his administration first initiated the amnesty programme until some of the bandits at some point reneged on the agreement and went back to carrying out their evil activities. The other in 2019 barely took off as the government soon realised that these – to use Masari’s words – were “bandits, criminals, and thieves” who were not under the same umbrella.
In the reckoning of Masari: “The reality is, there is nobody in the forest that can discuss peace. For me, anybody in the forest is a potential criminal, so I think it should be dealt with as such”.
Of course, the issue of appeasement for some class of criminals didn’t start with Masari or even Matawalle. In 2016, Kaduna State Governor Mallam Nasir el-Rufai admitted that his government paid some aggrieved foreign Fulani to stop the killings of Southern Kaduna natives and the destruction of their communities, all in the bid to address the violence linked to the 2011 post-election violence. He claimed that the measure was what the Gen. Martin Luther Agwai (rtd) committee established to look into the issue recommended. Yet, Kaduna has remained a hotbed of criminality of various shapes. Some five years after, el-Rufai, while ruling out any form of amnesty for the terrorists has made it clear that “the state is at war with bandits”, and that any bandit arrested in Kaduna State will be killed.
Unfortunately, neither the experience of el-Rufai nor the serial betrayals alluded to by Masari for the most part of the past five years moved Matawalle to change tack; at least not until now when the security forces have not only stepped up their offensive against the terrorists but are reportedly having a clear advantage. Could it be naivety – a case of the failure of the governor to read the signs correctly? Was it borne of pragmatism in the face of the inability of the security agencies to tackle the bandits frontally and decisively? Whatever the case might be, it is certainly a welcome development that the governor now accepts that the season of appeasement is finally over.