As the new governor of Zamfara State, Muhammad Mutawalle is exploring a dialogue option with the armed bandits terrorising the state, there are fears in some quarters that the process may suffer the same fate as the previous efforts that crumbled. However, in this interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, the governor, among other things, says he believes that lasting peace would return to the state.
- Why Yari’s dialogue failed
- We will not offer bandits monetary reward
- Why I don’t have a godfather
- I will remain in PDP
- What we’ll do to contractors that collected up to N25billion and did nothing
You assumed office when Zamfara State was facing a serious crisis of armed banditry. How did you start?
Immediately after taking oath of office, I called all the security chiefs and other stakeholders. We held several meetings. During the meetings, I got to know the true situation on ground.
I then analysed all the problems and resolved that dialogue would be the best option for the attainment of lasting peace in the state.
I first of all invited the local vigilante groups, otherwise known as Yan Sakai because they are the major stakeholders in the whole issue.
From there, I invited Fulani leaders for a meeting and we agreed to work on some areas for peace to return. Firstly, we agreed to work on a ceasefire, then releasing all captives from the sides of Yan Sakai and the armed bandits.
As I am talking to you, about 345 captives have been released unconditionally by the armed men. The Yan Sakai kick-started the release of the captives by freeing about 26 Fulani they held. All the freed persons were brought to the Government House, medically examined, rehabilitated for some weeks and eventually handed over to their various families. The release of the captives by the Yan Sakai became a turning point in the whole peace process.
Why did you believe that dialogue was the way out?
You know I was a chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Security and Intelligence from 2011 to 2015. I was also in many committees pertaining security issues within and outside the country. Again, I was part of the reconciliation committee constituted by former President Goodluck Jonathan to reconcile with Boko Haram.
We went round the country in pursuit of peace. I can tell you that reconciliation was part of my business when I was a member of the House of Representatives. I know most of the strategies needed to achieve peace in a chaotic atmosphere.
We know how the crisis started. It started in 2011, shortly after the emergence of former Governor Abdulaziz Yari. Yari tried to engage the armed men in dialogue, but along the line there emerged a deceit and mistrust, so it failed woefully. If you want to engage a rebel in dialogue you will have to first of all come out clean and with good intention.
Your dialogue should be guided by straightforwardness, honesty, frankness and sincerity of purpose, then you will succeed. But the moment you allow deceit and your selfish aim to come in, the whole process will crumble.
Why do you think you need experts from Dubai to address the Zamfara crisis, as you were quoted to have said recently?
I didn’t tell anyone I was contacting security experts in Dubai. It is just the figment of the imagination of those media houses that reported it. However, as a governor, I reserve the right to make numerous fruitful engagements. But things are being exaggerated and wrongly reported.
What happened was that I travelled to Saudi Arabia for the lesser Hajj, and after the worship, I had a stopover in Dubai. I met a business community there, in my effort to woo them for investment in our dear state. This is what I went to Dubai to do.
I have much confidence in our security outfits and they are performing wonderfully well. So I have no business inviting any security expert from anywhere.
Don’t you think your plan to ban the Yan Sakai is a dangerous endeavour?
We have even banned them. Governors of the North-West states met in Katsina last week, and part of the resolutions of that meeting is the outlawing of Yan Sakai. Yan Sakai are part of the problem. They are taking laws into their hands through extra judicial killing of the Fulani in market places. Based on the information available to us, the Yan Sakai were the people that created the problem that snowballed to banditry.
The Yan Sakai are unlawfully bearing arms. Who authorised them to hold guns? Since we are trying to introduce community policing, we are going to do a background check and pick responsible people in our communities. But they must undergo check and training by the police.
As peace is returning to Zamfara, it is said that the bandits are migrating to neighbouring Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna and Niger; hence the rise in attacks in those states. Don’t you think they might decide to come back to Zamfara?
That was what informed our decision to establish Ruga for the pastoralists. If we establish Ruga for them, they will not migrate anywhere. Don’t forget that Zamfara is the epicenter of the problem. If you go to various states like Taraba, Katsina and Niger and meet Fulani there, they would tell you that they are from Zamfara State.
So, if we use our initiative we would stop them from going anywhere. By the time we establish something that will make them comfortable, I don’t think they will migrate to somewhere else and perpetrate crime. We are providing schools, clinics and earth dams for them. Ruga will be established in each of the three senatorial zones.
Recently, you threatened to expose those behind the carnage in the state. Do you have any information on the sponsors?
Yes, in the cause of the peace talk, we had so many revelations on so many things. We will talk about it when the committee concludes its assignment. But we will not hesitate to expose the sponsors when we have the facts.
For quite a long time, there are allegations in some quarters that some traditional rulers are conniving with armed men, how are you addressing this?
Yes, I visited Kanoma district in Maru Local Government shortly after Eid-el-fitr. Something happened there that led to the immediate suspension of the Emir of Maru and the district head of Kanoma.
I inaugurated a committee headed by the former Inspector General of Police, MD Abubakar, and I appointed many senior citizens of the state as members. Most of the members are not even politicians. The mandate of the committee is to determine whether traditional rulers are involved in the carnage, among other issues.
The next phase of the peace deal should be the disarming of the bandits, when do you hope to start the process?
The committee we set up is going round engaging the armed bandits. When we are done with rescuing the captives, a high-powered committee will be constituted to disarm them. The armed men are ready to surrender their weapons.
Some people are saying that for each rifle collected, the owner would be compensated with money?
Where is the money? We are not giving any one a dime. Some people are fond of spreading lies. We are constructing schools, clinics and earth dams for their own good, but not offering them monetary reward. If you make the mistake of giving them money, tomorrow someone will go and acquire a rifle to submit and collect money.
Your predecessor, Abdulaziz Yari, was quoted as saying that using force to quell banditry remains the best option. How do you view his utterance?
He is a layman in security issues. Even in Islam, reconciliation is part of the process of resolving crisis.
It seems you are giving priority to the construction of the cargo airport you inherited, why?
You see, one of the areas of my priority is inviting investors to the state. We received a team from Sudan, who indicated interest to establish a medical university.
AFROEXIM Bank agreed to come to the state to invest. We are doing everything through public-private partnership. If you go to many states you would find airports constructed. And they are boosting the economy of those states, so why not in Zamfara?
We are doing this to develop our state. I used my initiative and business connection to get people that would come and do this airport. I was in Niger Republic before and I invited a lot of investors there, then why not Zamfara?
If Daily Trust wants to invest in the state, I have no problem with that. I will sign the agreement immediately and you can come for your businesses.
The failure of public education is said to be the cause of many of the problems facing the North; what plans do you have for the sector?
We have secured scholarship for 200 students that would go to various universities across the globe. When we came on board, we energised the scholarship board. Those 200 students are to come from poor families. No son of a privileged person will enjoy this scholarship.
We have various plans that will revive public education in Zamfara State, especially the provision of facilities, qualified teachers and their welfare.
Zamfara is among the states with high maternal mortality. How do you intend to reverse the trend?
We have three cardinal issues to take seriously: education, health and job provision for our teeming youths. I went round the hospitals in the state to see their conditions for myself. We are supplying ambulances and state-of-the-art equipment for our hospitals. In fact, we have even signed the contract. For decades, this has not been happening.
We have already brought in drugs for distribution to our various hospitals. So the health sector is one area that will receive our attention. This is why we have about 22 doctors from Korea. In fact, one of them was kidnapped, but we succeeded in setting him free.
We signed a memorandum of understanding with the Cuban government to help us with medical personnel. We are doing this to bring down the rate of maternal and child mortality rate in the state. I am using my connection to bring development to my people.
What about infrastructural development?
We are already doing a lot to breach the infrastructural gap in the state. We have signed numerous roads and other contracts. If you go round you would see how we started fixing some of the township roads.
We are developing our infrastructure to assist our businessmen and women. We are implementing a local content policy that would ensure that nobody goes to buy anything except those items we don’t have here in Zamfara. By the time we finish these works, Zamfara will be great.
Zamfara was known as the host of many textiles. Most of them have closed and now the ginneries are closing. Do you intend to look into this area as it has the potentials to assist farmers in the state?
The AFROEXIM Bank has provided money for the states and the ginneries are among the industries to be considered in sharing the facility. These developments will commence soon.
We are doing everything possible to assist our farmers. The president is assisting us in this direction with fertilizer and seedlings.
During campaigns you promised to introduce palm oil farming in Zamfara.
We are still on it. Consultants from Malaysia have taken our soil from all the 14 local governments for analysis and test. We have money for that project. So, immediately they come back we will kick-start that programme.
States in the federation are striving to improve their internally generated revenue, are you also thinking along that line?
We are blocking leakages in the system. We are taking measures to ensure that the companies that are not working come back to life, otherwise we will make them pay ground rent and other forms of taxes in order to force them to do the needful.
When these companies agree to come back, we will give them all the support they require. Our belief is that these companies can provide employment to our young people.
Many states visit their payrolls to clear ghost workers in order to boost their revenue; do you intend to do that?
I don’t think I will rush to do that. I will take my time.
There are insinuations that you would decamp from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) because Zamfara is an APC state. Is that true?
How can I decamp? Did you hear the number of people that decamped to the PDP because of me? A former deputy governor, two speakers, secretary to the state government, a serving vice chairman of one of the local governments, among others. So I am not going anywhere. We were the founding members of APP that gave birth to the ANPP and APC, but I left.
Forget about politics. What we are after now is how to help our people. As a governor, I am for all. People should join us to move our state forward.
You appointed a strong APC member as the chairman of your transition committee, yet you are denying links with the party.
I appointed him because of his capacity. He is in the APC, but he is a citizen of Zamfara, and all Zamfara people are my people. My coming to power is Allah’s wish. This is what is spurring me.
Who is your godfather?
Allah; or do you have anything to say?
Do you have any plan to probe your predecessor?
I don’t intend to do that. I am watching how events are unfolding. I have a committee verifying projects. Some of the contractors were paid hundred per cent, but they have abandoned the projects. Some have collected amounts ranging from N14 to N25 billion without doing anything.
We are generating the data. We will know what would happen after that. Happily, some of the contractors have come back to sites. You know the monies are not mine, they belong to the state. If it’s my money I would draw a line and continue. But complaints are coming from all angles. We would wait and see the findings of the committee.
Shari’a application is dwindling in Zamfara, what do you intend to do?
We have a committee that would look at the issue critically. We will work with their recommendation. However, if you look at what is happening in countries like Saudi Arabia, you would find that they have Mufty Council, an independent body in charge of the implementation of Shari’a, not government.
A significant percentage of the almajirai roaming the streets in the North are from Zamfara. How do you intend to address that?
We will establish special schools to take care of the issue. These schools will be from primary to secondary. The malams (teachers) teaching these pupils would be incorporated in the modern system, provided they have the requisite knowledge. Our intention is to make these students acquire both Islamic and Western education.
We will start with a pilot school. If we see how it succeeds we can go to the various local governments to establish them. These schools will be free, with all the necessary facilities, including staff houses.
I want the people of Zamfara to celebrate my 100 days in office by sleeping with their eyes closed because of improved security. This is better than celebrating 100 days with commissioning projects. However, our target is to have a lasting peace and meaningful development; and insha Allah, we will achieve that.