President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, ruled out amnesty for bandits and insurgents terrorising the country.
The President stated this at the meeting of northern governors and traditional rulers in the north over the security situation in the region at Sir Kashim Ibrahim House in Kaduna.
Present at the meeting were the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, who represented Buhari, The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sa'ad Abubakar111; Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu; Director-General of Department of State Service, DSS, Yusuf Bichi; and Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
Also in attendance were the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Idris Wase,the leaderships of Northern Elders Forum, NEF, and Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF.
The governors of Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa, Nasarawa, Yobe, Plateau, Sokoto and Kebbi states were present at the meeting, while others were represented by their deputies.
President Buhari's rejection of amnesty for the bandits and insurgents came against the backdrop of demands by popular Islamic cleric, Sheikh Gumi, and Zamfara State governor, Bello Mattawale.
Both have been in the forefront in the agitation for amnesty for bandits and insurgents in the north.
At the meeting, the Northern Governors' Forum also cautioned their southern counterparts and leaders in the south to refrain from unguarded utterances that could set the country on fire.
The northern governors' statement drew the ire of South West governors and some leaders in the south.
NEGOTIATING WITH BANDITS
Addressing the meeting, President Buhari ruled out negotiating with bandits, saying that his government would continue to deal decisively with insurgents, bandits and kidnappers who have continued to hold the country to ransom.
Buhari, who was represented by his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, also asked Nigerians to stop the ethnic profiling of criminals, adding that criminals should be treated as criminals.
He said his administration would continue to deal decisively with insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, and other violent criminals terrorising innocent Nigerians, stressing that he had asked the new service chiefs to device new strategies to deal with the threats of hoodlums and other criminals to Nigerians.
The President said: "This meeting is coming at a time the nation is making steady progress in addressing the many challenges impeding development and progress.
"We are providing critical infrastructure such as roads, railways, airports among which are critical to economic prosperity of our people as well as opening up economic opportunities for our citizens to pursue legitimate aspirations that grow the economy.
"At the same time, we are confronting the various dimensions of security challenges that continue to slow down the emancipation of our people from poverty and economic deprivation.
"The government shall continue to deal with insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals who constitute a threat to innocent citizens across the country.
"Criminals are criminals and should be dealt with accordingly without resorting to ethnic profiling.
"I have already tasked the new service chiefs to devise new strategies that will end this ugly situation where the lives of our people continue to be threatened by hoodlums and criminals.
"I expect that at this meeting, your Forum will also discuss and devise ways of building stronger collaboration with the security architecture and the people in defeating criminality across the region and the nation at last.
"It is pertinent to note that the increased realization of our security, democracy and development indices are inextricably linked. Democracy and the rule of law promote stability and in turn, reinforces the power to assert freedom and economic progress of our people.
"This thread of interconnection needs the support of the Northern State Governors Forum and the entire citizenry of the country as any amount of positive sacrifice would be beneficial in bringing about national development and security of our nation."
Sultan of Sokoto
On his part, the Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammed Sa'ad Abubakar 11, who spoke on behalf of Northern Traditional Council, urged northerners to be patient with the regional governors.
He noted that the governors were trying to rebuild what had been destroyed in the north over a decade ago, assuring that traditional council in the region would continue to defend the action of the governors.
The Sultan decried the almajiri menace in the North which, according to him, is poverty-driven.
In his opening remarks at the meeting, chairman of Northern Governors' Forum and governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, said: "Our region continues to carry perhaps the heaviest burden of development in the country where the indices for quality of life are low within a large percentage of our population.
"Statistics have shown that we have a long way to go in terms of education, healthcare delivery, infrastructural development, food security, industrialization and human capital development among others. All these are exacerbated by the insecurity that has bedeviled us and the entire nation for many years now.
"This is why at several periods, we set up various committees to look into specific issues and advise us on what kind of measures to adopt in changing the narrative. I am glad that at this meeting, we shall be receiving and considering several reports from those committees, with a view to charting a new way forward. Some of the reports we are receiving are from the committees."
He said the committees had done substantial work on the assignments given to them and would give them (governors) a lot to work with in resolving some of the challenges confronting the region.
"Besides, their recommendations will also help us project a common position on national issues in such a way as to strengthen national unity and galvanise support towards a wholistic approach that will guarantee results.
"May I, therefore, remind us all that some of the issues mentioned above are not peculiar to our region, but the ways we handle them will to a large extent shape how they are resolved at the National level.
"For instance, the issue of insecurity has become a clog in the wheel of progress such that farming which is a major preoccupation of our people is being hampered. The result is that the economy of the nation is gradually being affected and food security also jeopardized."
"That is why we have remained resolute is supporting and advising the Federal Government, collaborating with relevant security agencies and also using opportunities at our disposal to work for a more secured nation.
"Just last week, we met here in Kaduna to engage the heads of security agencies on the way forward just as we did during the tenure of the former service chiefs. We shall continue to engage other stakeholders as we seek solutions to the cases of insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, and other criminal activities.
"The recent ugly incidences of kidnap school children in Government Science Secondary School Kagara, Niger State, as well as travelling passengers further reminds us of the difficult situation we face and the need for us to redouble our efforts in overcoming them. This meeting provides us the opportunity to do so.
" On the issue of herder-farmer clashes which has in recent weeks generated serious concerns because of the harsh rhetoric from various parts of the country, we remain firm that this is a matter that must be carefully addressed with an open mind and without sentiments.
"While we agree that open grazing is no longer sustainable for obvious reasons, the Forum has also keyed into the National Livestock Transformation Programme, NLTP as a veritable option that will go a long way in ending these clashes through organised ranching.
"We, therefore, continue to appeal to our colleagues in other parts of the country and, indeed, all Nigerians, particularly opinion leaders, to be cautious in their utterances and actions so as not to provide the oxygen for the exploitation of our fault lines to the detriment of our nation.
"At all times, we must identify, isolate and punish crime no matter who commits it rather than resort to labeling and generalization that shields the criminals and generates tension for the innocent."
This aspect of Lalong's speech elicited the response of some leaders and groups in the south, including the Pan-Yourba socio-political group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Agbekoya, Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, and the Pan-Niger Forum, PANDEF.
The South West Governors Forum said it would react appropriately after its meeting.
They're talking like colonial masters - Afenifere
In its reaction, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, said the governors spoke like colonial masters.
Afenifere's National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said: "They are overreaching themselves talking like colonial masters. We are not slaves to them; we have to solve these issues once and for all."
I'm not surprised--Ayo Adebanjo
Also reacting, elder statesman, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, said: "Whatever happens from the north, I am not surprised. These people have been getting ready to Fulanise us (South), they are only pretending and I have been telling you that.
"They are ready for war, it is left for the Southern governors to take action. No word comes from the north to show unity, it is always war because they are in control of the security of the country. The army and police are with them."
Do they expect us to keep quiet?, Agbekoya asks
On its part, the Agbekoya Farmers Society accused the northern governors of using diversionary tactics and also trivializing the issue of insecurity, wondering whether they want the South to remain quiet when being attacked.
Agbekoya's National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Olatunji Bandele, said: "The Northern governors are just using diversionary tactics, instead of being responsive to the solving of the real problem on the ground, which is tackling the problem of criminal herdsmen carrying arms and ammunition, bandits and kidnappers terrorizing Nigerians.
"They are trivializing the issue of insecurity of lives and properties, among all other problems confronting Nigerians.
"Yes, the Southwest governors should guard their utterances, but do they expect them to keep quiet when their people are being kidnapped and killed on a daily basis by other tribes?
"The fundamental question is: How did we get to this stage? The answer is simple: cattle rearing is an exclusive and popular business in the Northern part of Nigeria but the Northern governors have abdicated their responsibilities of modernizing and developing it in such a way as it is done in other parts of the world like America and Europe where cattle are reared in ranches.
"Open grazing of cattle is outdated and should be totally phased out all over the country because it is the major cause of farmers/herdsmen clashes. The Northern governors must come to realize that their tribes are the ones being accused by the Southwest and Southeast governors and their people.
"So, they must urgently proffer solutions rather than engaging in counter- accusations with Southwest governors."
Similarly, the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, cautioned the northern governors to watch their language, saying it been monitoring the meetings and selfish plot by Northern leaders against the south.
Noting that nobody can intimidate or subject the people of south again, MASSOB in a statement by the leader, Comrade Uchenna Madu, said: "The tendency and complex of being the owner of the Nigeria state is completely over.
"Nobody can intimidate or subject the people of the south again. Northern leaders have no power to caution the leaders of the south. We know that they are jittery over 2023 election. They have caused a lot of mess against the southern and middle belt regions.
"MASSOB advises northern leaders to focus on how to redeem their region from the deteriorating and failed governance of their land. Southern Nigeria is not their problem."
PANDEF lambasts Northern govs
In its reaction, PANDEF in a statement by the National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, said: "Where is the inflammatory statement governors of the South are making. That governors of the South are trying to leave up to their responsibility of protecting lives and property of the people who voted them into power cannot be considered inflammatory?
"The problem is that some people think they own this country, while others should just keep quiet. It is out of place and it is high time they got off that mentality and superiority complex.
"They have failed in their responsibilities as governors of their various states in the North and have brought into the country miscreants, murderers and killers who have got out of control and are now infesting the whole country with terrorism.
"They give themselves different colourations. In the North East, they are Boko Haram; in the North West, they are bandits and when they come down to the South, they are killer herdsmen. That is what North has done to Nigeria for failing to provide responsible governments in their various states.
"That is what we are saying about restructuring. Let every state manage its resources and pay tax to the federal government.
"There is too much concentration of power at the centre which has been abused to the detriment of the rest of the country. That is why some governors will stand up and begin to caution others, it is unacceptable. They should stop such comments in the interest of peace and stability of the country."
Vanguard News Nigeria