Nigeria: The North-West and Banditry

10 June 2020

The security agencies must do more to contain the increasing menace

Katsina State is in a mess. So are Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara and Kaduna States. They are all under siege by rampaging gang of bandits, armed robbers, kidnappers and cattle rustlers. The North-west, earlier insulated from the havoc and ghastly atrocities of the decade-long Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the Northeast, has become another major theatre of violence. In the last few months, Sokoto State has also become a dangerous territory with dozens of innocent villagers being killed almost on a regular basis. Late last month about 70 people were killed when suspected bandits attacked villages in the Sabon Birnin district of the state, near the border with Niger.

Desperate to find a solution to the widespread insecurity in his state, Katsina State Governor, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari last year did the unthinkable. He, along with other top government officials, security operatives, traditional rulers and representatives of Miyetti Allah, held sessions with representatives of bandits terrorising his state. At one of the sessions, Masari told the heads of the criminals who brandished an AK47 assault rifle: "We were advised by the President to talk to you. And we did." But the tone of the governor has changed. "We chose to sign a peace agreement with the bandits to avoid loss of lives and property, but it didn't yield a positive result. This time around, we will hand it over to security personnel", said Masari who lamented that while the government kept its side of the bargain, the bandits reneged on theirs. "In our efforts to honour the agreement between us, we cancelled all vigilantes and volunteer groups and we allowed them (bandits) to continue with their normal activities in the state," he said last week.

That all the security agencies of state have been rendered impotent led to the desperate bid of signing ceasefire "agreements" with the bandits and granting them "amnesty," the terms of which were undisclosed. But we raised several critical questions at the time. Some of them were: What assurances are there that the bandits will not relapse? Can a group of outlaws keep to agreement? Can they be taken at their words? Will cash handouts to some identified criminals stop the wave of violence?

While we are not surprised by the turn of events, there is a transnational aspect of this threat that the security agencies must deal with. The movement of cattle into Nigeria from other bordering countries is poorly regulated and with that, our country is being infiltrated by criminals and which has led to the intensification of cattle rustling in the region. Since many of the rural communities are located in remote areas where there is little or no government presence, with houses in some cases separated by thick forest, many of the inhabitants are at the mercy of these bandits. These acts of banditry also derive impetus from the poorly governed mining and small arms sector. Criminals have been drawn to the region by illicit and artisanal mining in states like Zamfara for instance.

Shortly before he died last year, Justice Mamman Nasir, a former President of the Court of Appeal and then Galadiman Katsina and District Head of Malumfashi lamented the helplessness of the people. "They (bandits) arrest rural people at will and demand ransom which, if not paid, results in the killing of their victims," he said. Now that the deal with bandits has collapsed, the authorities must get serious. Apart from the planned introduction of community policing, there is the need to reform the security network in the states. Indeed, the entire security apparatchik must be overhauled to be able to address once and for all these incessant cases of violence not only in the northwest states but across Nigeria.

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