The Secretary to the Government of Zamfara State, Professor Abdullahi Shinkafi says Boko Haram largely responsible for the killings and kidnappings in the state and that it has spent N17bn on allowances and medical care of the internally displaced persons. In this interview with Taiye Odewale in Abuja, he also says Governor Abdulaziz Yari values peace in Zamfara than his position.
In the past, Zamfara State was regarded as one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria; what went wrong on security?
Zamfara State was known to be one of the most peaceful states in the country. But from 2009/2010, we started witnessing banditry attacks in some parts of the state, which initially started for the first three years as an unfortunate annual trend, gradually after 2011, it became a biannual happening and unfortunately gradually also it became a quarterly, later a monthly, now almost a weekly, some time even daily affair. We are witnessing insecurity in form of banditry attacks, and the abduction of people for ransom.
Sometimes, villages are set ablaze. From historic background, it all started with farmers/herdsmen clash, which is a general trend all over Africa. Where ever you have common interest in resources you find people clashing over it. But then in 2011, presumably when we witnessed war in our neighbouring African countries, precisely Libya, and Mali, which brought about proliferation of weapons all over the place and also coming in of mercenaries, I think that was what changed the whole trend. It is no more farmers/herders clash, it is more of criminality and even the criminality has changed to something else.
The emerging trend now it appears as if we are fighting ideology.You see elements of Boko Haram, you see elements of people fighting for unknown cause. It appears there is no clear vision of what they are fighting for. These are people who don’t wear good clothes, who don’t eat good food, who don’t sleep in good places, so why do you fight after all? Why do you abduct people for ransom? So it appears some Boko Haram elements are seen in the whole process, where they chant the slogan of Boko Haram before attack.
This is the unfortunate situation. We are concern here because it is something very new to us but this is the bitter reality. This is how it all started from historical background but then later changed to something else. We are trying to find answer through intelligence gathering and security to what is really wrong and why are we under siege.
Many people have been criticising Governor Abdulaziz Yari over this matter. How will you react to this?
You see, well, people are at liberty to say their opinion, but I want to tell you that it is only in Zamfara to me, it appears people share blame on issue of insecurity. Go to Maiduguri we are yet to be where they are, we don’t hope to be where they are, but go to Yobe, Adamawa, it happens all over the place but nobody apportion blame, but is only in Zamfara here I see people apportioning blame.
I don’t think any responsible leader will like his people to be attacked or abducted, otherwise who do you rule then? Who do you govern and what is the goodness about governance when there is insecurity, absolutely nothing. The governor and all of us don’t sleep, sometime you will be receiving calls making contacts to know what has happened or how to nip in the bud the ones about to happen.
It is unfortunate that it is this type of situation some people feel appropriate to settle personal scores or political rivalries. I think to me, if you have something personal with someone it is different, but let us see insecurity as insecurity in its own merit and let’s forge ahead and cooperate in the spirit of partnership and see how we can get out of it.
The recruitment of 8500 civilian Joint Tax Force (CJTF) has also been criticised in certain quarters, what is your take?
We don’t need to politicize insecurity. The genesis of engaging the civilian JTF and recruiting that number started from the elders’ committee of the state, headed by Ambassador M Z Anka. And there are other renowned members like retired General Ali Gusau and other elders. Sometime last year, they met and felt they will like to contribute and that is what we should be doing, instead of criticising. If you have an idea of the way forward bring it forward we are ready to listen, accommodate, and together we forge ahead.
So the elders’ committee sat and thought one of the best ways we can address insecurity menace is through community-based approach. So they brought a memo to the government, which was presented to the state executive council and other stakeholders, and we simply adopted the submission.
The summary of the submission includes: One, we should engage the community, let security affair become participatory, such that we should form committees from the State level down to the emirates, local government and ward levels for sharing of intelligence. It is also to advice government on onward transmission of such intelligence to the relevant security agencies.
It is also part of the mandate of this committee to recruit sufficient numbers of JTF. You can see, it is becoming very necessary to have the civilian JTF in place because of insufficiency of security personnel. Zamfara has one police command, five area commands, 15 divisions, and only 25 outposts, which are grossly inadequate to cover the 147 wards, 230 villages in the state. So, it implies that a gap has been created and this gap must be filled. In line with one of its mandate, the committee recruited members of JTF; it was not the government that did it. The traditional institutions, who know the people, were mandated to recruit competent, qualified and people with proven integrity and capacity to provide information in the three respects I told you about.
Secondly, it was to assist the security agencies because some of the security agencies, especially special troops, do not understand the terrain and geography. If you don’t know the geography and the terrain, you hardly can effectively attack the bandits. So,you need a guide and one of the things the JTF do is to guide security agencies on demand.
Also, it serves as local vigilante where there is no presence of security. It is very clear now we have presence of security in only 25 towns in Zamfara and you cannot leave other places.
There is nothing political about it. The governor did not know who has been recruited or not. I don’t know who was recruited from my local government, I have no business with that, it is the sole responsibility of that committee under the Emir of that emirate to screen and recruit members of the JTF, and it has yielded a lot of good result.
It is not political nor did the idea emanate from the government, rather it was brought forward by the state elders’ committee, and was found to be excellent and executable by the state executive council after studying it.
Governor Yari recently supported the call for emergency rule, does that mean the government is incapacitated?
The governor was lamenting what people in certain quarters were agitating. Some groups were agitating that emergency rule is the only way. The governor did not call for it, instead he lamented and he said, ‘if it is the only thing that can bring peace…..so shall it be.’ If today, I have to leave my office as SSG for example, and there will be peace, ’am ready to go. If you govern people and there is no peace and then someone says this is the way to achieve peace, as a good leader if that is the only way and everybody is convinced that it is the only way… so shall it be.
With that very patriotic submission, His Excellency, to me, values peace in the state far more than the position he is occupying which is always the best approach to life by leaders in saner climes.
But it is being insinuated that the state government initiated the emergency rule theory to buy time because the Zamfara APC may not be fielding candidates for the general elections?
That does not make sense to me because the issue is before the court. The APC is still hopeful that they are going to field candidates, and I think people just want to talk sometime even when they have nothing to say. People should not criticize if actually there is nothing to criticize. We are in an aeroplane as a community if the aeroplane is gutted by fire nobody is safe. The best approach is to cooperate in partnership. If you are in an aeroplane and it catches fire, will you share blame? I think it is better we share intelligence and come together and see how best we can address this issue.
There are reports that the dismissal of three vice chairmen of local government councils and suspension of four lawmakers of the state assembly is allegedly linked to their romance with the Deputy Governor, Ibrahim Wakala. What is your take?
That is an assembly affairs, it is not an executive matter. What I’m trying to say is that we don’t interfere in legislative matters; I have nothing to do with that. The vice chairmen are part of elected members and the assembly has the mandate to increase their tenure or decrease or leave it, so they simply did what they felt.
But Wakala has alleged that he has been sidelined by the governor on state matters, are you worried?
I don’t assign responsibility to the governor and I don’t assign responsibility to the deputy governor. I wouldn’t know what the deputy governor is doing or what the governor is doing. I simply concentrate in coordinating the ministries and other agencies. I am under the office of the governor and that of the deputy. I wouldn’t know. I don’t assign responsibility to the deputy governor, so I have no right to take it away. So I wouldn’t know what has happened, may be somebody else could be in better position to answer that question.
But of recent the Speaker of the State House of Assembly has been addressed as acting governor in the absence of the governor?
You are getting it wrong. Why somebody acts or why somebody is asked to represent is the prerogative of the governor. It is not a law, but the prerogative of the governor to say I am not around or not going for a programme, you go and represent me. I am not around, so you stay around for me. So, it is a prerogative thing. Let us not confuse between prerogative and rights, they are two different things.
Zamfara is the only state in the Northwest where the challenge of insecurity has escalated, could you give an insight?
That is a question we should answer scientifically. We need experts to tell us why. We have had seven committees from the federal government to discuss this issue, seek answers as to why this is happening and why here. It is not only here, but more prominent here. It has spilled over to Sokoto, it is happening in Katsina.
You can recall the governor of Katsina has cried out. It is alarming in the Northeast. It is not peculiar to this state, but one thing I can tell you from social angle is that criminals normally do look for a place that can give them a breeding ground.
Like I said in 2011 when the war started, Zamfara was one of the vulnerable states for certain reasons. One, we are too accommodating; our accommodating nature allows all manners of people to reside in our midst.
The level of accommodation we do have is different in the sense that from our culture we intermingle freely. There is always a place set aside for none indigenes, this is a cultural value which we have lost. In the past, even if you have to stay you have to be screened but that has to a large extent because of population explosion been impossible.
Secondly, we are neighbours to people in Niger Republic and it is easy for these criminals to come in because of the porous border and importantly because of the thick forest that surrounds the state. From the North, we are neighbours to Niger Republic, and surrounded by forest linking up to Sokoto State, and Birnin Gwari, so it is easy for people to just come in.
When in 2015 Boko Haram were dislodged from Sambisa, one of the places with a lot of similarities, it was easier, under the cover of religion, for some of these people to come here. Because of the forest it was fertile ground for the bandits to come in and stay.
What then is the way out of this challenge?
In clear terms as government and as people, we are not responsible for the insecurity, we have been doing our best to arrest the situation, but as God will have it this is where we are. Nobody will like Zamfara to be in peace more than us the indigenes and the government. From 2011 to date, we have cooperated with the security agencies to see that we are out of this mess.
We have done the best we could despite the fact that we are the least along with Yobe in terms of subvention received from the federal government. We are also the least in terms of internal revenue generation because of our socio economic characteristics; but I can tell you that we provided nothing less than 477 brand new vehicles to the security agencies to fight the menace. We have also paid nothing less than N17billion as allowances to those displaced and to pay for medications of the sick.
You know from 2011 up to 2013 when the problem became very prominent only the 1 base ammunition depot was present in terms of army formation. But through the effort of this government, in collaboration with the federal government, that the 223 battalion was established and this government provided office accommodation and residential quarters of about 20 plots of land to the troops.
Also, in 2016 the 607 Quick Response was formed squad. The Zamfara State government provided sites for the permanent residential and office accommodation of the Air Force and also provided another accommodation of about 20 flats worth over N1billion to the Air Force. Later, in 2018 the 1 brigade Nigeria Army was also formed and we provided another accommodation of about 24 flats for them and we still do support every now and then.
We have also provided accommodation for the GOC unit and we do hold meetings regularly. So, we have been supportive. Sadly, people are expecting magic, and I will like to say that we have done the best that can be done in the circumstance. We have three major responsibilities: cooperation with security agencies, coordinate their activities, which we have being doing, and to sensitize; inform the general public of what is happening, i.e dos and don’ts under insecurity situation.
We have provided logistic support including vehicles, accommodation, and funds to security agencies. We have done all that to the best we can. The only thing the constitution did not allow us to do is to take guns and go to the bush and fight the bandits.