Issues of insecurity, especially as it concerns an entire region, should beget regional and not standalone-state solutions. North-west Nigeria has been for while now a den of kidnappers and bandits operating mostly in forests of the states of Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, Zamfara, etc.
According to acaps.org, more than 1,100 people were killed in 2018 in the six states, over 2,200 were killed in 2019, and more than 1,600 fatalities were recorded between January – June 2020. By September 2019, such attacks had internally displaced over 160,000 people and produced more than 41,000 refugees. Displacement numbers now stand at over 247,000 IDPs and some 60,000 refugees.
The menace of banditry has continued with hardly any form of improvement in efforts by security agencies to curtail it. Most atimes, state governments like Zamfara and Katsina had rather engaged these bandits in negotiations, mode of which is not known to public. However, rumours making the rounds suggest that such negotiations include monetary offers.
In his quest towards contributing his quota in reducing the intensity of these crimes by taking the message of Islam to their dens, Sheikh Dr Ahmed Mahmud Gumi has been visiting the forests that house these bandits to preach to them, give them Islamic text and some relief materials for their families. He is also using that opportunity to broker peace between government and the bandits.
The causes of banditry are multifaceted but it is widely agreed that banditry is a product of a mismanaged farmer-herder crisis.
The North-west region’s mostly savannah climate (with characteristic huge forests) makes it home to both farmers and pastoralists. But with the recent changes in climatic and environmental conditions, arable land and pasture seem to be getting substantially lost to the deserts due to shorter rainy seasons and subsequent water source shortages.
These prevailing conditions have precipitated competition for farming and grazing lands among the inhabitants of the increasingly populated region and have led to violent clashes between predominantly Fulani pastoralists and Hausa farmers.
Other factors that have catalyzed this violence are some government’s policies that seek to allocate huge lands to farmers and clear a vast amount of forests and grazing reserves. This have eventually resulted in the displacement of many Fulani hamlets and the blockage of their grazing routes. And without alternatives, such blockages have paved way for increased cases of trespassing and destruction of crops by Fulani pastoralists troupes.
The violence escalated to the extent that both sides created armed groups in their defense. The Fulani group were tagged as “Yan Bindiga” while the Hausa group were tagged as “Yan Sa Kai”. Both groups have carried out deadly attacks and reprisal attacks against each other and are both often described as “bandits” by the media.
Hence, one cannot factor out that some of the major causes of banditry include neglect by government, arbitrary attacks on their formerly peaceful hamlets by vigilante groups, among others. There’s clearly a case of injustice in some quarters. That is what Gumi is seeking to rectify by bringing the two sides to the table. There are genuine grievances and they should be heard!
While almost all states affected have expressed readiness for such dialogue, only Kaduna state Governor Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai has voiced out his opposition for dialogue with the bandits. And this holds a great danger for Kaduna state. One could hear Dogo Gide, a prominent bandit leader, in a video clip seeking clarification while discussing on the possibility of dialogue between them and government where he asked if the dialogue would include all states affected or if there are exceptions. He said he was asking because they heard El-Rufai rejected dialogue and prefers military assault.
Now, this holds a lot of consequences as intelligence shows that the bandits might be planning to converge on Kaduna forests and unleash mayhem on innocent citizens of the state. While the governor’s stand is good, it holds some unobtainable elements as it is widely known that the security formations in Kaduna do not have the tactical and offensive capacity to effect such military assaults or even adequately defend the state just like in any other state in the North-west.
It is hence suggested that; first, the North-west Governors’ Forum should bring forth a uniform strategy to tackle this menace and collectively choose which avenue between aggressive methods and dialogue they will pursue in trying to bring a permanent end to this crisis. It is argued that the farmer-herder crisis was a challenge which needed economic solution as against brute force. The government should frown on open grazing and institute standard ranching systems.
Second, The North-west states should, through their federal legislators, push for constitutional amendment that would usher in state police. Vigilante activities have proven rather inefficient in this regard as it has been one of the major driving forces of the crisis.
Third, All North-west states should establish ministries or commissions specifically tasked for the maintenance of internal security. They should all have central security control and surveillance centers to serve as intelligence aggregation units to foster interagency collaboration in the fight against the menace. There should also be a central theatre for the coordination of operations for North-west states.
Fourth, The North-west governors should welcome the leadership of the bandits to the dialogue table. Dialogue is never a waste. The government should also try providing a panacea for this menace by bringing farmers and herders together. If ranching for modern livestock production is achieved, the government should tie a knot between the two sides and the binding factor should be economics. There should be a form of dependability across the value chain of both aggrieved sides. For example, there should be enhanced cow dung manure processing mechanisms so as to present it as suitable alternative to inorganic fertilizers for farmers in exchange for grains for livestock production.
Lastly, the rule of law should always prevail and the country should establish transparent redress and reconciliation programs aimed at solving problems around extrajudicial actions instituted by both state and non-state actors to restore citizens’ trust in the government. The government should also focus on peace building and peace sustenance mechanisms to avoid re-eruption of such cases after successful management.
Ringim, political and public affairs analyst, writes from Zaria via [email protected]