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Evaluating Katsina’s appeasement tactic on banditry

By Danjuma Michael, Katsina
18 September 2019   |   4:17 am
Although there was general outrage when Katsina State governor, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari, decided to engage with some leaders of bandits terrorizing the peace of the state, recent developments seem to be proving him right.

Although there was general outrage when Katsina State governor, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari, decided to engage with some leaders of bandits terrorizing the peace of the state, recent developments seem to be proving him right. But recently, the state heaved a huge sigh of relief when bandits recently released some of the victims they had kidnapped while carrying out their nefarious activities in some communities across the state.

As at last count, more than 40 persons, including women and children, have been released by their abductors, with more of the kidnapped persons expected to be set free in the coming days. Among those released last Saturday was a middle-aged woman, Mrs. Zinatu Sani and her two children. She had been kidnapped from her matrimonial home in Kankara Local Government Area, and was in captivity for 55 days.

According to her, her abductors had demanded N20 million as condition for their release, but her people were unable to pay the amount. It was later reduced to N6 million, but was still farfetched for her family to pay. She said during their captivity, they lived in squalid conditions; they were flogged or punished intermittently, and slept in the open forest, exposed to the elements and at risk of attack by wild animals.

The release of the victims came after the state government held an interface with some of the leaders of the bandits in eight frontline local government areas of Jibia, Batsari, Safana, Danmusa, Faskari, Sabuwa, Dandume, and Kankara. Governor Aminu Masari, who personally went and met with the bandits a few weeks ago, was given conditions to be met before a ceasefire could ensue, one of which was for government to facilitate the release of their colleagues detained by security operatives.

Worthy of mention is that the interface saw several of the bandits renounce their ways, and hand over their weapons to government. The state government kept its part of the negotiation and saw to the release of several of the bandits’ colleagues in detention, with six bandits released in exchange for 20 kidnapped victims in the first instance.

The commencement of the ‘prisoner’ exchange days ago has raised hope as peace and security, which had hitherto been elusive in the frontline council areas, was gradually returning. This is because farming, a major occupation for most people in the affected areas, is said to have commenced in earnest, with market activities that had waned somewhat in recent months, already witnessing improved commercial enterprise.

More so, movement of persons by vehicular transport, which had been restricted due to attendant cases of kidnapping, is said to have improved in these areas and other places across the state.

But critics are not taking it lightly with the state government’s decision to dialogue with the bandits, with a section of these vilifiers condemning the move outright. Leading this group is the civil rights advocacy group, Human Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). It described the effort as an affront to the constitution of Nigeria and all relevant laws which “obliges the government to legally punish felons and hoodlums”.

HURIWA, in a statement signed by its national coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and national media affairs director, Miss Zainab Yusuf, said, the emerging illegality in the state and others in the North, “entering into dialogue with mass murderers and kidnappers in the guise of seeking for peace can only achieve a peace of the graveyard and would amount to rewarding criminality.”

The group said the silence of both President Muhammadu Buhari and the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, “whilst these cocktails of illegality and mischief against the constitution go on is the greatest disservice to the constitutional democracy.”

It called on the president and stakeholders, including the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), to “speak out against the coup against the Nigerian constitution which these nocturnal meetings with killers and kidnappers” in the state and elsewhere, represent.

The group said, “It is said the culture of violence brings with it a class of cruel people who believe they are entitled to determine the value of other humans. This is a reality which dawns on a society with weak criminal justice system where crime is not only prevalent and under-reported and officially rarely documented, but also seldom meted with sanctions.”

HURIWA said the dialogue, rather than addressing security challenge, is breeding “a most vile, oppressive and daring criminal sets like kidnappers and arm bandits.”

Another set of critics has called on the state government to draw lessons from what happened during the first tenure of the current administration, when an amnesty initiative fell through within a short time period. According to reports, a similar banditry scenario had played out in 2015, shortly after the inauguration of the Masari-led administration. At the time, the security situation, inherited from past administration, had seen cattle rustling and banditry hold sway in the said frontline council areas.

Farmers were unable to go till their farmlands, and cattle owners were at risk of having their animals seized, or even worse, as hundreds of lives were lost as well as thousands of animals to rustling in the process. But the state government held meetings with the bandits and thereafter, granted them amnesty. This saw to the destruction of hundreds of rifles owned by repentant bandits, as well as the reintegration of the bandits into society.

Thousands of animals, including cows and goats, were returned to their owners. Security returned to the affected areas until it deteriorated a little over two years ago. The setback had followed military onslaught against bandits in neigbouring Zamfara State, which made fleeing bandits to relocate, only to continue their operations in Katsina and elsewhere.

This group has therefore called for measures to be put in place to ensure that what happened in the past does not repeat itself in the current effort to end the security challenge. Despite criticisms, however, Masari said dialogue was still the best option in saving the lives of captives from the suspected bandits.

Speaking while receiving some 30 people that were released by bandits a few days ago, Governor Masari assured that efforts were being made to persuade bandits to release more victims until everyone under their captivity was set free. He also assured that government’s dialogue with the bandits was based on sincerity, as government was more interested in the peace that would follow.   He also said his government was committed to tackling the issue of security and other related challenges by partnering with stakeholders within and outside the state.

But for now, the expectation among many is that with sustainability of the agreement between government and repentant bandits, the days of killing, looting and kidnap-for-ransom may soon become history.