Armed bandits operating in Zamfara State will, from this week, start laying down their weapons as a state government-backed peace deal gained more acceptance, Zamfara State police commissioner, Usman Nagogo, told Daily Trust on Sunday.
The police boss, who coordinates the peace process that has so far led to the release of captives by the bandits and local vigilante groups, said the disarmament was part of the next phase in the peace process. He said the bandits would disarm after release of prisoners had been concluded.
Both bandits and vigilante groups who have been fighting each other in the state, have been holding a number of people captive, with the vigilante group claiming to be holding Fulani people captive, accusing armed men, mostly Fulani, of attacking and kidnapping members of rural communities, who are mostly Hausa farmers.
The police commissioner said bandits, on their own, were surrendering their weapons as a mark of acceptance of the deal.
“We are almost through with the issue of release of kidnapped persons. The disarmament process will begin next week. We are on top of the situation and we will sustain our effort to see that peace is restored.
“I can tell you that a bandit had already surrendered his two rifles to the national chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Muhammadu Kiruwa, and more are willing to follow suit,” Nagogo said.
He said the current peace pact of the command is ongoing, with a view to rescuing all victims in captivity of bandits and militia groups, as well as receiving all arms and other offensive weapons in their possession.
CP Nagogo last week said banditry attacks in Zamfara State had reduced by over 90 per cent, attributing the development to the talks initiated with the armed groups and vigilante.
Nagogo heads the state’s Peace and Reconciliation Initiative set up by Governor Alhaji Bello Mutawalle to negotiate “a complete ceasefire” between bandits and vigilante.
Last week, a deal many have described as a landmark achievement was struck between the local vigilante groups in Zamfara State, known as Yan Sa Kai, and leaders of armed bandits, leading to the release of dozens of captives by both sides. The peace deal was initiated by Governor Bello Muhammad Mutawalle shortly after he took oath of office.
The prisoner exchange was celebrated as a mark of acceptance of the peace process by the two sides, especially the bandits who have sacked many communities and barred farmers from tilling their lands, in addition to killing hundreds of people.
But there are worries about sustaining the pact, as a previous deal that resulted in the armed groups surrendering hundreds of weapons to government collapsed after both sides accused each other of breaching its terms.
Government officials and security agents backing the fresh process have, however, expressing optimism about it, fired by the release of captives and commitment to do more by both sides.
The vigilante members were the first to set free, people of Fulani extraction they held captive, after weeks of diligent and painstaking negotiations being perfected and spearheaded by the state commissioner of police, Usman Nagogo. They set 25 people in their custody free.
The released captives were held in captivity for almost five months and were mostly women they took as retaliation to a series of abductions of people working on farms, in rural markets, as well as towns and villages by the armed men.
They were received at the palace of the Emir of Dansadau and taken to Gusau, the state capital, by a team of mobile policemen, led by CP Nagogo.
To reciprocate the gesture, the bandits released some people in their custody.
Following a series of meetings and interactions that brought the two parties together, agreements have been reached that led to the exchange of more captives by the two sides.
Mr Nagogo led a team of security operatives to Shinkafi Local Government Area, where he successfully negotiated the release of 15 kidnapped victims, mostly Hausa. These victims were kidnapped by armed bandits and had been in captivity for about three months.
There was an unconditional release of four persons in Gidan Dawa village of Kauran Namoda Local Government Area and another seven persons in Kamarawa village in Shinkafi Local Government Area respectively. These victims were held for about two months.
Through the ongoing peace initiative, the authorities also perfected the release of 8 captives from Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State. The victims, who were kidnapped for about four months, are natives of Mai Awaki village in Dansadau Emirate of Maru Local Government Area.
Another 12 kidnapped victims, who were held in captivity at Shinkafi LGA but who are indigenes of Sokoto State were rescued by the police through the ongoing peace process. A team from Sokoto, led by the state’s deputy governor, arrived Gusau to take the victims back home.
Latest in the series of the release of kidnapped persons was when the armed men willingly returned 14 captives who were held in Rukuduwa forest for seven months.
The armed bandits had, Tuesday night, dropped the kidnapped persons at a location near Gobirawa, a village located 5 kilometres from Zurmi town.
“When the news of their release filtered, youths on almost 200 motorbikes rushed to pick them in jubilation because the victims could not regain their freedom, even after N1.5m was paid as ransom from their families,’’ a resident, Ashiru Zurmi said.
However, the state police commissioner, Mr Nagogo, told Daily Trust on Sunday that the armed men informed him of their intention to willingly free the victims, and he ordered the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) to pick them when they were released.
Disarmament begins this week
Our correspondent spoke to a representative of a cattle rustling kingpin, notoriously known as Ado Alero, who was one of the armed bandits terrorising the Tsafe-Mada axis in the state.
Authorities had earlier met with Alero in a forest near Munhaye community in Tsafe Local Government Area to pass a message of peace to him. However, sources privy to the meeting disclosed that he made three demands.
First, he demanded for the compensation of about 400 cows he lost to the crisis, a house burnt by Yan Sakai and the re-establishment of cattle routes and grazing lands.
“Alhaji Alero has just spoken to me now. He and other armed bandits are holding a meeting inside the forest. I will go and discuss with him about what transpired here at the peace meeting. I can assure you that we are committed to the peace pact,’’ the representative at the peace meeting told Daily Trust on Sunday
Meanwhile, Governor Bello Muhammad Mutawalle has warned against sabotaging the peace effort, saying the initiative is paying off.
The senior special assistant to the governor on public enlightenment, media and communication, Zailani Bappa, told our correspondent that potential saboteurs would be doing disservice to the people of Zamfara State. He urged them to have a change of heart for the sake of the state.
He said the government had asked all relatives of the captives to restrain themselves from making pledges of redeeming ransom they cannot pay as the government is in continuous dialogue with the bandits on not only the release of the remaining captives, but also disarming them.
The governor noted that his administration had succeeded in ensuring the opening up of Jibia-Koloni road and the resumption of Shinkafi market activities, which were previously deserted due to excessive bandit’s attacks.
In the same vein, the special adviser to the governor on security matters, Alhaji Abubakar Dauran, told Daily Trust on Sunday that he had visited the dreaded camps of the armed bandits to pass a message of peace to them.
Mr Dauran, himself a retired police officer and one of the state government lead negotiator, said the armed bandits were very much willing to drop arms and allow peace to return. He said he spoke to some of the leaders of the armed men and he understood that most of them were forced into carrying arms.
“I can tell you that the government is observing, with keen interest, the whole peace process. And we are going to look into the demands by the aggrieved parties as we are seriously committed to restoring peace to our communities,” he added.
Dauran said the re-settlement of Fulani and re-integrating them into bigger ruga settlements would soon kick-start in the three senatorial zones of the state.
He said schools, hospitals, earth dams and veterinary clinics would be constructed at the Fulani settlements as part of the peace deal. He said cattle routes and grazing lands would be re-demarcated.
Peace returning to Zamfara markets
Activities in the rural markets in the state have begun to pick up. Markets in Dangulbi, Dansadau, Yar Tasha, Kasuwar Daji, Dauran, Mada and many more have recorded tremendous increase in trading activities.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that bandits are now attending local markets without being arrested and summarily executed or intimidated by the local vigilante groups.
The development has bolstered the confidence of the armed men in the peace deal, it was further learnt.
One of the cardinal demands by the armed bandits before they could agree to halt deadly attacks on rural communities is that the Yan Sakai should halt further extra- judicial execution of people, largely of Fulani extraction in market places.
The blockade put on local markets against the Fulani, our correspondent learnt, had seriously put the armed men in dilemma and they became very much disturbed by the crude actions of the Yan Sakai.
The secretary of the Yan Sakai group in the state, Alhaji Sani Babbar Doka, told our correspondent that the reduction in the rate the armed criminals were attacking communities in the state had boosted their confidence in the whole process.
“Unlike before when you would hear bandits raiding about six or eight communities every day, now we spend three to four days without hearing about such horrific assaults on our communities,” he said.
Alhaji Sani Babbar Doka further said they had halted any attack on anyone and they would give the government all the needed support to succeed.
How the peace dialogue was initiated
A series of meetings and peace conferences involving the state commissioner of police, other heads of security agencies and numerous stakeholders aimed at ending the menace of armed banditry in Zamfara gave birth to the current peace process.
A ray of hope quickly came when the armed commanders of armed bandits sent representatives to a peace meeting, a move that convinced its organisers that the goal of restoring peace to the troubled state was closer home.
Subsequently, Fulani leaders, including the national president of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Muhammadu Kiruwa, the leaders of the local vigilante groups and many other stakeholders, attended the conferences.
At one of the meetings, Alhaji Kiruwa said more people who had volunteered to broker peace were on their way to Zamfara State to meet the armed men at their hideouts to help pass the message of peace and tranquility to them.
He said for peaceful atmosphere to be attained in the state, there must be a total and hitch-free disarmament of the armed bandits in the forests, as well as the local vigilantes. He also advised the warring parties to stop lamenting over the past misdeeds of one another, for the peace deal to work.
The secretary of the local vigilante group in the state, Sani Babbar Doka, admitted unlawful execution of the Fulani in marketplaces and towns, but added that they were carried out in self-defence.
“Mark my words, no Fulani will be executed again anywhere, anytime in the state. We are going to strongly abide by the terms and agreements of the peace pact. But the bandits should halt further attacks and disarm,” he added.
The state commissioner of police, Nagogo, disclosed that attacks and harassment of Fulani at markets reduced significantly after he held a meeting with leaders of Yan Sakai and Fulani.
Mixed reactions trail the peace pact
The peace pact has elicited a lot of reactions from residents, with many hailing government for the process, while others express skepticism on the sustainability of the deal.
“I have much confidence in this administration’s effort to end the carnage in this state. If you look at it, since he took oath of office, Governor Mutawalle has taken a number of commendable steps to bring back peace to the state,” a resident, Lawali Usman, said.
Another resident identified as Ali Aminu, said that with the armed men releasing the kidnapped victims in their captivity, the menace of kidnapping would soon become history.
“They won’t release the ones they are holding and then make fresh abductions. I believe the armed men are serious about it this time around,” he said.
However, another resident, Abubakar Bashir, expressed skepticism about the sustainability of the process, citing the botched peace deal during the administration of former Governor Abdulaziz Yari as an example.