The security concern facing Nigeria, and by extension, Niger State has attracted varied reactions. While some have remained objective in their analysis of the situation, others have exhibited outright and malicious falsehood and misleading rhetoric.
Niger State has its fair share of these mayhem and arson as no day or week passes without one form of attack or the other. There is no gain saying that the state is under siege from these criminal elements.
Security architecture is a national issue. It covers all the frontline states of Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Niger. All these states are affected by security challenges to some certain degree. The point must be laid bare that most of these bandits are not domicile in Niger State. They come from these neighbouring states, inflict pains and go back.
The economic cost of the insecurity in Niger State, is enormous, to say the least, as bandits cart away and plunder the valuables of their victims. People are not entirely free to carry on their farming and other economic or occupational activities.
However, worried by this development, the Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello decided to embark on a number of measures aimed at addressing these security challenges that are almost bringing the state and the people to their knees.
The governor, at a stakeholders interactive session on the general affairs of the state in Minna, recently, acknowledged that the issue of security has become a thing of concern to all and the government, therefore consider it necessary to reassess its commitments and reconsider its strategies through the stakeholders round table discussions.
The governor, while acknowledging the fact that “Niger state shares boundary with some North-Western states that are bedevilled by insecurity challenges, noted that this has made policing very cumbersome due to the influx of some criminal elements, taking advantage of the large expanse of forests in our state”.
It is as a result of this and in compliance with the recent resolutions by the nineteen northern states governors after a peace summit in Zamfara, that the governor decided to go into peace deal with the bandits with a view to engaging them in dialogue as a way of finding solution to banditry in the state.
Even though he made it abundantly clear that the peace deal is not in any way a sign of weakness by the government, the peace approach became necessary, considering the negative impact of banditry activities on the people and pressure on state government to provide safe and secured environment for its citizens.
In terms of security investment, the government has continued to support the security agencies.
The governor, in demonstration of his commitment to the peace deal, went further to release 13 bandits who have being in custody in Minna as part of activities that marked the World Peace Day, usually observed every 21 September worldwide.
The release of the bandits however paid off as with less than two weeks after deal took effect, no fewer than 35 of them voluntarily surrendered their arms in a quiet ceremony (as requested by the bandits) and ready for rehabilitation and integration back into the society.
The government did not go to sleep because of this fragile peace deal, he took steps further with the purchase of over 200 security vehicles to security agencies to support their operation. The blue and white painted vehicles were attached to the security taskforce.
The governor maintained that military operation, though not completely ruled out, it cannot bring permanent solution to the current insecurity situation in the state.
It is therefore, regrettable for fifth columnists, detractors and demented opinionists to insinuate that government is insensitive to the plight of the people.
Other steps taken include the 24 hours one-stop security response call center with the state of the art equipment to coordinate and respond to all distress calls from any part of the state.
This security response call centers have security personnel drawn from all the security outfits in the state with the sole aim of managing all the distress calls. The state government also embarked on the legislation of the formation of vigilante groups with a view to harmonising private security services in the state.
It is on record that the Niger State Government under the leadership of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello has made several moves amongst which are, building effective inter agency collaboration with his visits to high profile stakeholders like the Chiefs of Army staff, Yusuf Buratai, Air Staff, Saddique Abubakar. Also visited were the Inspector General of Police, IGP Muhammed Adamu, and the Commandant General of National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to solicit the commitment of their organisations towards eradicating the menace.
The state government went further to reinvigorate its support to the standing joint operations with logistics and welfare to enable them clear the crisis prone communities of Rafi, Shiroro and Munya local government areas of the state under siege by bandits.
Already, the collaboration between the state and federal governments is yielding some positive results as the impunity of the kidnapper and nefarious activities of bandits has been substantially pushed back. Currently, the joint force code named Operation Gama Aiki by security agencies in Niger State are combing the forest and destroying the hideouts of the bandits. Just a few weeks ago, the force neutralised several armed bandits at Maguga in Rafi LGA.
The governor maintained that military operations, though not completely ruled out, it cannot bring permanent solution to the current insecurity situation in the state.
The state government has gone further to use multiple approaches in tackling the menace. For instance, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello had in a bid to enhance the efficiency of the vigilantes in the affected local governments, presented more than 300 motorcycles, and over 20 Hilux vehicles due to poor accessibility of the roads.
The essence of empowering the vigilantes is to backup the security agencies and work in accordance with the law for maximum results. The governor also made it a point of duty to compensate families of any officer who lost his or her life or sustain injury in the line of duty.
To ease and enhance their operational efficiency, the governor has provided joint security operations control room, which is one of the best in the country and is been controlled and managed by all the security outfits in state.
Niger State is also challenged with the issue of mining activities, which is also under the control of the federal government, the mining though can not be aligned to be factors attracting the bandits, like we had in Zamfara, one can not specifically understand the modus operandi of these bandits as they are more on kidnapping, rustling, rape and killing. Unfortunately Niger state does not give mining licenses, as it is the exclusive right of the federal government.
All that is needed is the redoubled cooperation of all stakeholders: citizens of the state and the federal government as Niger State wangles its way out of the menace.
The state government will continue to sustain the war against the insurgents, we will continue to aid and assist the internally displaced and we remain hopeful that, sooner rather than later, the bandits will be completely flushed out.
Talatu Ibraheem is the SSA Media to Niger State Governor.