Zamfara: Those under the tree

The state of Zamfara in North-west Nigeria would remain indelible in the minds of Nigerians for a very long time to come. The mention of Zamfara would immediately evoke rage, anger, anguish, horror, dereliction of duty by those constitutionally mandated to provide adequate and efficient security for the lives of the people of Zamfara, mostly peasant farmers and livestock rearers.

Now that it appears that the wanton killings and lavish rustlings of livestock have stopped, again Zamfara evokes human misery, want, hunger, and a huge population of orphans and widows. As at the last count, we heard over 40,000 children and 20,000 wives had been reduced to orphans and widows just as many villages and hamlets on the northern fringes had been wiped out, not because of any natural war or the ugly campaigns of insurgents as we know with the trio Northeaster states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.

As had been going round recently within the rumour mills, Zamfara was trapped in the hole by the unholy activities of illegal gold mining by the elite, mostly of northern extraction. Minister of Defence Mansur Dan-Ali sparked an outrage across the country when he said the hands of traditional rulers in the state are soiled with the blood of victims of Zamfara bandits. Nigerians raged and gnashed their teeth, calling on the minister not just to name these traditional rulers, but also immediately arrest and prosecute those he has accused of having a hand in this ugly episode, spanning three years of wanton bloodletting.

The Zamfara debacle represents raw greed and unbridled selfishness – the chase for wealth, and if you like call it blood money, by a tiny few in positions of authority and influence, and because it is Nigeria, they are above the law. It is about the rush for gold in very high deposit under the ground belly of Zamfara. The whole thing happened as if there was no government in the state. Governor Abdulaziz Yari did not help matters at all, as he was always on the road and on air, undertaking one trip or the other.

At a point, Nigerians were asking if Abuja was Zamfara as Yari spent more time in the Feferal Capital City than in Gusau, the Zamfara state capital. He would also be overseas when the state boiled intermittently.

When the heat got so intense, Yari had to resign to fate, saying he was no longer the chief security officer of his own state. And this was on account of his indifference to the whole insecurity and not cooperating with security agencies. And the bandits had a field day. What a mess that was! It was  this scenario that led to the belief that some ‘powerful’ people were behind the serial killings.

 At a point, the feelings and consensus were that the ravaging bandits were going to make Zamfara deadlier than the North-east, where Boko Haram insurgency has been on for close to a decade now. Zamfara killings are just three years, if not less. Indeed, it was a very scary trend. And something needed to be done before it gets out of control.

For Senator Kabiru Garba Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central), the heat in his home state has to and must be watered down, no matter what it was going to take. All avenues must fully be exploited to halt the ugly drift Zamfara was tied to. Marafa had to bring the ugly trend before the Senate for quick and proactive measures to be taken as the killings had recently escalated.

Apart from Senator Marafa, other Nigerians joined in the call for affirmative action to stop the waste of thousands of lives and property in the troubled state. This led to public protests in the FCT and other states as well as in the diaspora.

All these, with the constant vocal voices against the incident, got the Senate to resolve to commend all Nigerians who, irrespective of cultural, religious and tribal differences came out to show their solidarity with the plights of their brothers and sisters in Zamfara.

The Red Chamber also urged the National Assembly to appropriate N10 billion in this year’s budget and be christened Intervention Fund to cater for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and other victims of the armed bandits.

The Senate also resolved and agreed and urged the federal government to set up an ad-hoc committee to be known as the Presidential Initiatives on Zamfara State (PIZAMS), with a 10-year life span to manage the said funds and subsequent allocations and donations.

The Senate may have done its own bit, which is commendable just as it is timely. It is one thing to appropriate and another to back it up with the release of funds. At this juncture, given the very vexed nature of the Zamfara crisis, both the Senate and the Executive arm must drop whatever differences in order to resolve the Zamfara incident, though not the only one of such. The Birnin-Gwari incident, much older than that of Zamfara and that of Katsina spiraling up, are there to deal with too.

The federal government has halted illegal gold mining and ordered foreigners in the business to leave within 48 hours. Welcome as this step may be, it is indeed not enough. Both arms of the government must put their differences aside and face the Zamfara situation squarely. The two authorities must redeem their image and respect in the eyes of the affected communities who have lost hope in government to protect them against the rampaging bandits.

Yes, other Nigerians are indeed sad and worried with what is going on in Zamfara. The tales of woes – hunger, deprivation, psychological trauma – are better told by the victims. He who feels it, they say, knows it. It is only those under the shade of a tree that know how it suffers from the vagaries of windstorm.

The victims and survivours of Zamfara killings – the thousands of young widows and many under aged orphans  – need more than just succour. They need rehabilitation, they need restoration, they need reintegration with the originality that they were used to before the arrival of the forces of darkness, they need to be made to feel like humans again. The responsibility of all these rests squarely with the Presidency, the Senate, Zamfara state government and its lawmakers as well as its well-meaning elite, not those Minister Dan-Ali has accused of involvement in the killings. Those ones are suckers of human blood.

Kera writes from Gombe.

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