The Northern Governors Forum (NGF) held its meeting in Katsina last Thursday in continuation of its efforts to break the stronghold of banditry. Attended by eleven state governors out of nineteen, the meeting resolved to grant amnesty to bandits, if they would disarm and repent from unleashing mayhem on the people.
Armed banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling and killings have unsettled the North-West. Though it was more pronounced in Zamfara State where thousands of persons have lost their lives and many communities dislodged, the criminals took their trade to other parts of North-West, like Sokoto, Katsina and Kebbi in the last few years. As at August last year, Zamfara State government claimed that bandits had killed over 3,000 persons. The figure may be higher now as more killings have taken place in the last one year.
Also, the United Nations International Organisation for Migration (IOM), in its June 2019 report, revealed that the displacement of persons from rural communities in the North-West has reached an alarming proportion. The report said 16,257 persons had been displaced in Katsina State; 12,527 in Sokoto State; while 38,113 persons had been sacked from their homes in Zamfara. In this state, 13 out of its 14 local governments were practically under siege, the IOM report claimed. As a result of banditry some 20,000 Nigerians from North-West have reportedly fled to Niger Republic. The report said, “most have made their way to border localities of Madarounfa, Guidan Roumdji, Guidan Sory as well as to Gabi and N’Gnelwa townships in the Maradi region.”
Unfortunately, the condition under which these displaced persons live in camps is said to be horrible. The report says further, “Food is a major challenge for all displaced. Camps don’t have enough food for the IDPs and there are no provisions made by the government so far for IDPs living with host communities. Non-food items, shelter and clothes for children and the elderly are among the other immediate needs. Psychosocial support is also needed for the displaced persons, most especially for those living in camp.”
The NGF may have bent over backward in granting amnesty to bandits, perhaps, as a result of the dire situation those exposed to banditry are facing. Katsina State Governor Aminu Masari who read the communique to journalists said herdsmen and vigilante groups had been forbidden from bearing arms in public places, especially, inside markets. They are to surrender their arms as part of the conditions for the amnesty.
He said, “Herdsmen and their family members should be allowed to attend markets and worship places, as well as attend daily activities provided that they don’t carry arms into the public places. Herdsmen should conduct themselves and leave peacefully with one another. Those who stole animals should return them through government or the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association. Repentant bandits, including the Yansakai, should surrender arms and ammunition in their possession to the authorities and to release people that are in their captivity.”
We commend the governors for their large heartedness in their efforts to tackle bandits. It is encouraging that the Inspector General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, attended the meeting and promised to review compliance with the deal in one month. But it would not be the first time that a peace deal would be struck between government and bandits in the North-West. We suggest, therefore, that in addition to amnesty, the governors must work out a water-tight security measure to arrest, prosecute and punish those who breach the deal and continue to terrorize rural dwellers. For instance, though the agreement in Zamfara State has yielded some positive results, it has not stopped attacks. Every other day, there are reports of attacks in parts of the state. It is, therefore, necessary for the police and governors to come up with a Plan B in tackling the perennial crime instead of relying on this shaky deal with criminals.