The Zamfara Model is the Dismal Tunnel to Self-Destruction, By Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim
The Governor of Zamfara State is implementing what he calls a successful model for handling terrorism and banditry in the State. On 1st March, a long interview with him, carried out before the abduction of female students in the State, was published in Trust. He proclaimed: “Alhamdulillahi, since we started the peace accord, there have been tremendous successes achieved in rescuing people that were under captivity. Some foreign nationals were in captivity for over eight months but when I became governor, I rescued most of them without paying anything. This is an issue of understanding and diplomacy. It is not an issue that can be fought completely. There is nowhere in the world that war or fight resolved an issue. In the end, they still all have to come to the negotiating table to discuss peace for both sides to understand and agree on the peace by negotiating a way forward.”
He adds: “On the issue of peace, I thank Allah for giving me the wisdom to initiate the peace accord with these people and we have recorded a lot of successes.” His success, he explained is essentially due to his negotiating skills based on implementing their demands – that Hausa militia, Yan Sakai, be stopped from attacking and killing Fulani armed bandits and razing down their homes and preventing then going to markets. Just be talking and working out a peace agreement: “The disarmament has been going on smoothly and the good part of it is that we have not given anyone anything. They are turning in their weapons and so far, we have collected so many sophisticated weapons from them which were submitted willingly.”
On the claim that no money is paid to them, the only way to read it is the way well informed people do – when government says hostages were released with no ransom paid, the meaning is that HOSTAGES WERE RELEASED AFTER PAYMENT OF A LARGE RANSOM. The kidnappers have only one reason to take hostages, to make money. They take the hostages at great risk to their own lives and in the conduct of their work, often kill innocent people. The idea that sweet talk will get them to release hostages is told to us because that is the right thing to say. Government should not publicly admit that it is using the public treasury to transfer large amounts of public resources to criminals and gangsters who are abducting and killing innocent citizens so let us not drag the issue of “no money was paid.”
It was shortly after his interview that 279 schoolgirls of Government Girls Secondary School, Jengebe were abducted. Based on the “Zamfara model”, Governor Mutawalle decided to negotiate for the release of the girls by asking the bandits and kidnappers he had succeeded in convincing to exit the industry to go and persuade the kidnappers who had refused his peace offering to release the girls without any payment, and that was exactly what happened the Governor told us. The story does not make sense. If there are two categories of bandits – one refused and the other accepted the peace deal, why would the camp that took the decision to continue release the girls without payment. What is even more concerning is the information from the Governor that the two groups are talking to each other.
The current situation in Zamfara State is that there are two categories of bandits – repenters and non-repenters apparently working together. The repenters have secured a peace deal offering protection to bandits. The non-repenters continue with their activities benefitting from the protection umbrella secured by their “diplomatic” colleagues who intercede when there is a big kidnapping which embarrasses government. If their intervention involves exchange of money, it means they have conned the State Government into a situation in which they collaborate to secure impunity for their actions while the objective of their industrial scale criminality continues unabated.
The decision of the Federal Government to issue a shoot on sight order for criminals with weapons, the declaration of the “no fly zone” and the ban on mining in Zamfara State must have been precipitated by concern that the State has become a safe haven for bandits for too long and the security dynamics needs to change. Three weeks ago, Governor El Rufai of Kaduna State had complained publicly at the harm of States working at cross purposes in the North West with some negotiating and offering safe havens to terrorists while others are trying to take the combat to them. The core problem is that even when they reduce their criminal activities in “friendly” States, they increase the havoc they create in “antagonistic” States so we cannot but agree with El Rufai that the only way forward is to eliminate them. Katsina State had also tried the path of “negotiation” and regretted the outcome in the form of increased banditry, arson and kidnapping.
The crumbling of the Zamfara model should inspire the Federal government to be more resolute in combatting criminality. The Zamfara State Government on Wednesday imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Jengebe town, Talata Marafa local government, after violence erupted following the return of the girls. This followed riots by agitated parents of the girls who were being subjected to a long wait for the creation of photo ops for government officials proclaiming their great success in securing the release of the girls. When the agitated parents made their voices heard, the security agents turned their guns on them and some were killed. It is inconceivable that the army will shoot at the parents demanding the release of their daughter’s so they can get back home on time, but sadly, that is what appeared to have happened.
As I was writing this column, reports came in that terrorists have burnt down more than half of Ruwan Tofa, a town in Maru local government Area of Zamfara State and abducted at least 60 persons including women and children. The BBC Hausa Service reported that the residents have started fleeing the town to nearby areas for safety. A resident who spoke to the BBC Hausa said the terrorists have recently been frequently attacking the area to destroy lives and properties. The Zamfara model of appeasing the terrorists and bandits has failed woefully and our security forces should take the battle to them.
Meanwhile, it is important to research the root causes of the explosion of criminality and widespread insecurity in the North West. Zamfara became the centre of banditry because of the significant land alienation that had occurred which made it difficult for pastoralists to access pasture. Many herder families were accused of trespassing on land that did not belong to them and their cattle were taken in bribes by law enforcement officers working with the landlords. Arms procurement became widespread and what started as limited cattle rustling exploded into the mass criminality we have today. These issues must be addressed if we are to move towards a resolution of the underlying crisis of too many guns in the hands of competing Hausa and Fulani militia in the zone. We must exit the dismal tunnel to self-destruction.