Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Gombe - the Fight Against Political Thuggery

Gombe State government's policy of granting amnesty to political thugs, called kalare is going on, but will it survive another election season?

Gombe State government's attempt to end the menacing culture of political thuggery, popularly called kalare seems a tall dream, particularly with the current security challenges in the North East.

Even when the state governor, Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, said after his inauguration that the kalare groups should repent and surrender their arms to be absorbed into a special skill acquisition programme, observers still viewed the move as political, and not different from earlier ones made by past administrations which did not go far.

Dankwambo told the presidential committee on security in the North East geo-political zone, when they visited him, that youth restiveness and ethno-religious crises raging in the country is largely due to unemployment, lack of empowerment and standard system by which the youth could embrace education and become engaged usefully economically and socially.

The governor's resolve was viewed, like in the past, as ploy to dismantle the kalare groups under the control of the various political blocs in the state, while at the same time, strengthening his own.

The thugs responded to the governor's call and submitted their weapons, eliciting hope that the kalare menace, which dominated the socio-political life of the people of the state in the last eight years, is coming to an end.

1,200 number of youth were enlisted into the three week rehabilitation and reorientation programme held at the NYSC orientation camp, and were grouped into three, and trained as ward marshals, traffic marshals and environmental marshals, for onward deployment into the state.

The youth are to among other things, assist in the areas of security, crowd/traffic management and sanitary exercises. The training nicknamed Talba youths reorientation and rehabilitation programme, did not stop at empowering the youths, but tries to transform them from agents of violence and destruction into agents of socio-economic development.

This is coupled with the four vocational training centers established across the three senatorial districts of the state and the state capital. About 320 youths have recently graduated from this pilot programme.

Two prominent members of the Kalare group, Yakubu Adamu Bolari, alias, Lankiya or Bakasalanko, and Umar Faruk Kagarawal, alias, Rumbun Baushe, denounced their membership of the group.

They confessed that thuggery has been their source of livelihood. "We are the ones government and other politicians usually use against their perceived political enemies."

They said politicians usually send them to unleash mayhem on their political foes for a paltry sum. "We get at least N5,000 to N6,000 every week. However, since the coming of this government, the 'business' has stopped and we have to find alternative means of livelihood, that is why we welcome the state government's amnesty programme which seeks to train and re-integrates us into the larger society as responsible citizens."

They said all the major political parties in the state have thugs.

"The politicians don't use their relatives and children, but they put others at risk. We have since regretted our actions. Many of our colleagues are presently languishing in prison, while others have permanent disability, even as many others have lost their lives fighting for politicians who literally abandoned them in the end," they said.

It is not clear whether the olive branch extended to the political thugs would last beyond another election season when the services of these youths would be needed again by desperate politicians in their quest for power.

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