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Editor's note: In this piece, Deyemi Saka is a public affairs analyst, writes about the insecurity in Zamfara state.
Zamfara state has been in the news for the past six to eight years as being the hotbed of banditry in the country. It seems the insecurity which had plagued the state will remain unresolved as it had defied all efforts at tackling it.
At least, it seems so until Governor Bello Matawalle demonstrates the much-needed political will and leadership in putting an end to this huge embarrassment to the state and Nigeria as a whole. Zamfara was a killing field especially during the 8-year administration of former governor Abdulaziz Yari.
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During those dark days, the only presence of security was the escort services provided by security agents for workers on his (Yari)’s farm. There was hardly a week the country is not greeted with reportage of killings of scores of people or kidnapping in large numbers.
Unlike what was obtainable during Yari’s days, when as a Governor, he was directing the affairs of the state from Abuja in the face of crisis, Governor Matawalle is always on the ground and will only go out of the State if there is a need for such.
Also, in the face of an upsurge in the activities of bandits and terrorists, the National Security Adviser has once again proven that he is overwhelmed with the mandate of his office and demonstration of huge knowledge gap on counter-terrorism, national security, and counter-insurgency as there have been no COINS (Counter-Insurgency Strategy) to put an end to the crisis. It is safe to say Babagana Monguno has been “Missing in Action” as the silence from his office is deafening.
A few days ago, Governor Matawalle set the ball rolling with the announcement of some stringent measures aimed at curtailing the growing activities of bandits in the state. While innocent Zamfarans will also bear the brunt of what may seem like extreme measures, this is a monumental sacrifice that the people of Zamfarans are willing to make in a bid to rid their state of banditry and also a demonstration of support for the governor and faith in him.
The Executive Order includes a directive that all filling stations in the state are banned from selling fuel except in Gusau and the 14 local Government headquarters, while no eligible filling station is allowed to sell fuel of more than N10,000 to a single customer.
Also, the sale of fuel in jerry cans is prohibited in all filling stations while roadside purchase (popularly known as black market) is outlawed. This move is believed will deal a huge blow to the activities of bandits as it will create a huge logistics problem for their operations.
The Governor further directed that all weekly markets across the state are suspended but normal market activities of buying and selling for local consumptions are exempted from the ban. This is a move aimed at cutting supplies of daily needs to the various camps of bandits.
The Government further ordered that the transportation of livestock to and from the State is henceforth suspended while the transportation of food across the state and outside the state must be verified to authenticate its destination otherwise will be seized and taken to the orphanage.
The remainder of the order is banning riding on motorcycles and tricycles from 6 pm to 6 am in the state except for the state capital which starts by 8 pm to 6 am every day, tricycles which are covered will be stopped to verify its passengers, otherwise will be apprehended, and the ban on more than two persons riding a motorcycle and warned that those who break this specific provision will be dealt with decisively by security operatives in the state.
This move which many security experts have hailed as “ingenious”, is being adopted by neighboring states and has brought about a collaborative effort by all governors in the Northwest geopolitical zone of the country. Governors of Sokoto, Kano, Katsina, and recently Kaduna State have all adopted the same measure, thereby not creating any safe zone for bandits within the region.
While the nation is not availed the CONOPS (Concept of Operations) and COINS (Counter-Insurgency Strategy) in place by security agents through the coordination of the National Security Adviser, many watchers expected Babagana Monguno to swallow his pride and close rank with the governors of these states especially Governor Matawalle in a bid to understand this policy and seek counsel on how to incorporate it to the existing strategies in place in combating insurgency.
It is bewildering that as we speak, Monguno as the NSA has not come up with complimentary directives for the federal government to see to the effectiveness of the policy been implemented by these governors.
Any intelligence officer who is worth his training and justifies his stay in office will know that without collaborations with the Niger Republic and Chad, the measures put in place by these Governors might end up being counterproductive.
The Bandits will now see Nigeria as their target and source of funds through kidnappings and will be more brutal in their attacks and more ruthless in their negotiation and demands for ransom. This will avail them the much-needed funds to buy their daily needs from the Niger Republic and also put logistics in place for their operations.
Governor Matawalle as a Governor is resolute about protecting his people and he did not stop at these blockades, he made a request to the minister of communication and digital economy to ensure a temporary shutdown of GSM networks and this formed the decision of the Nigerian Communication Commission issuing a directive to all operators to comply.
This is not the first time such a measure is being adopted. A temporary shutdown of the GSM network in Borno State between 2012-2013 enabled the Joint Task Force to record huge success in the war against Boko Haram. It is not far-fetched that this is what Zamafara State Government set out to achieve. Once communication is broken, there will be no coordination in the activities of the bandits.
The measures put in place have been yielding results as bandits are not as daring and bold as they have been with their demands. This is also evident with the little or no attack since the new government policy came into effect.
Bandits are reportedly begging for food and other essential items which they now demand as “ransom payment”. A report has it that a resident of Sabo Birni, claimed a child of his neighbour regained freedom after giving out food items. He further claimed they (bandits) abducted a daughter of a man in his village and when he could not raise the money, they asked him to bring 10 measures of rice to collect the girl and they kept their promises,”
Another report from Sokoto had it that bandits who had become seriously hungry requested food items and drinks to release an abducted driver.
It was said they initially demanded N15 million before later agreed to accept N600,000 and asked his employer to use the money to buy bags of rice, crates of energy drinks, cartons of spaghetti, cigarettes and bring the remaining change to them.
It was also in the news how scores of armed Bandits fleeing the ongoing Military operation in Zamfara and Katsina states a few days ago met their Waterloo in the hands of soldiers at Maganda village near Allawa in Shiroro local government area of Niger state.
The bandits who were escaping through the notorious Allawa forest in their hundreds ran into the Military a camp stationed at Allawa and engaged the soldiers in a serious gun battle for several hours. After the gun duel, six machine guns and a number of AK 47 rifles and bags of ammunition were recovered from the bandits.
The criminal elements were said to have sent an emissary to Governor Matawalle pleading for ceasefire and amnesty which he rejected. The governor said there is no reason for such accord again as the bandits failed him and his government woefully.
He stated further they squandered the goodwill given to them earlier when they unleashed terror on his people, kidnapped, maim and killed them, despite reaching an agreement with them. Matawalle vowed he will send them to their graves for divine justice.
It is safe to assume that Matawalle’s defiance made the bandits realize their game is up and the odds are stacked up against them. It will be in order that this was responsible for the unconditional release of students and teachers of Government Secondary School Maradun who have been in captivity for some weeks.
It will amount to stating the obvious that Gov Matawalle is truly applying the “carrot and stick” approach as evident in his actions when he assumed office. He offered negotiation and other reconciliatory initiatives which have been disregarded by these bandits and this prompted him to go frontal on them in a move that will see to the obliteration of these criminals.
He must be commended for displaying profound initiative and leadership when those saddled with the responsibilities of ensuring public safety and protection of our territorial integrity have only exhibited extreme knowledge gap and cluelessness.