Lack of unity and cooperation among the governors of the North West in tackling banditry and kidnapping has worsened insecurity in the region, Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, has said.
El-Rufa’i said the governors have different approaches to ending banditry and kidnapping, adding that this would not bring a lasting solution to the security challenge, which has claimed hundreds of lives of recent.
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He also said he was not comfortable with amnesty for criminals terrorising the North West geopolitical zone, even as he called for an enduring approach to tackle the menace.
The states in the North West are Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara.
El-Rufai said if the governors did not coalesce into a single force and adopt a common approach, it will be difficult for any of them to tackle the problem.
Until a few years ago, the region was generally peaceful but recent events in Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna, Katsina, and to a certain extent Kebbi, the North West is now another major regional theatre of violence, like the North East where Boko Haram terrorists have wreaked havoc for over 11 years.
Governor El-Rufai who spoke in an interview with the BBC Hausa Service on Monday picked holes in the decision by some governors to engage in dialogue with the bandits, saying he will not negotiate or forgive any of them.
He said during their first tenure as governors they were united and recorded successes in fighting cow rustlers.
The second term governors include: El-Rufai (Kaduna); Abdullahi Umar Ganduje (Kano); Aminu Bello Masari (Katsina); Muhammad Badaru Abubakar (Jigawa); Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (Sokoto); and Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi).
Governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle of Zamfara is in his first term.
The governors had before the 2019 elections held meetings during which they reviewed their security approaches in tackling banditry, kidnapping, and other criminal activities in the region.
El Rufai said: “The first time we came as governors we were able to unite and fight against cattle rustling; that one has worked.
“But when we attempted to unite and fight against bandits and kidnappers, it was not successful. Every state is on its own.
“This issue of banditry and kidnapping, if we don’t unite and get support from the federal government, we cannot succeed.
“We need to unite and cooperate among ourselves and then the federal government supports us with the air force, army, and police to go into the bush and kill them at once. This is the only solution.
“Honestly, there is no unity among us, the governors. Everyone is adopting a different strategy.
“But like in Kaduna, we unite with Niger State (from North Central), we are doing everything together.
“The governor used to call me from time to time; we are comparing notes and doing things together. The other states are not like that.
“In some states, the governors think that they should dialogue with the bandits and forgive them to stop what they are doing. I don’t agree with that.
“In Kaduna, we are telling the bandits we will not forgive them and no dialogue with them…If we catch any of them he is dead.
“So, we are in a battle with them. But people like the governor of Zamfara State think that dialogue is the best solution, so there are differences and divisions among us,” El-Rufai said.
The governor further added that he does not agree with Dr Ahmad Gumi’s idea of going to the bush to discuss with the bandits that requested to be given compensation and be forgiven.
“Whoever tells me that a Fulani man that is getting millions from kidnapping will go back to his previous lifestyle when he has to sell his cow to get N100, 000 or N200, 000 in a year is deceiving himself.
“What have we done to the bandits that we have to compensate and forgive them before they will stop their activities? They kill people, burn down houses, kidnap many and they are waiting for us to pay them?
“Ahmad Gumi is my friend and I spoke with him. I told him that most of these Fulani don’t even have a religion.
“We have arrested many of them and they can’t even recite Fatiha. This is what I discussed with him.
“But what he went on doing that we should forgive and compensate them is not acceptable. We didn’t agree with this and we can’t forgive them,” the Kaduna governor said.
While some governors agreed with El-Rufai on his position not to dialogue with the bandits, others have a contrary opinion.
Governor Tambuwal said he was bound by the decision made at the last meeting of the Northern Governors Forum.
According to him, at their last meeting, they resolved to apply the “Carrot and Stick” approach in tackling the menace.
He maintained that “We all agreed that we should employ kinetic and non-kinetic strategies in tackling the situation.
“By this token, it means we could support the deployment of force where necessary and at the same time pursue negotiation where applicable.
“If anybody is in doubt, he should cross-check with the Chairman of the NSGF, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State,” he maintained.
On its part, the Zamfara State government said it would not backtrack on negotiation with bandits in the state no matter what people might say about it.
The Special Adviser to Governor Matawalle on Public Enlightenment, Media and Communication, Mallam Zailani Bappa told Daily Trust that the state government had seen the positive impact of the peace deal it initiated as such they would not abandon it.
He said those criticising the dialogue initiated by the state government should also tell where the use of force had worked, adding that it will be difficult to quell banditry militarily.
“We had secured the unconditional release of hundreds of kidnapped victims and negotiated the surrendering of arms in the state.
“This is not the same case in Birnin Gwari or along Kaduna-Abuja road,” he said.
“We are not saying that we have succeeded 100 per cent but we have witnessed a sharp reduction in attacks on communities and spate of kidnappings compared to what was obtainable in the past,” he added.
On the issue of unity among the governments of the affected states, Mallam Bappa admitted that there was no synergy between the states.
He said the affected governors held a meeting in Katsina and after the meeting, everyone went his way instead of working on the resolutions of the meeting simultaneously.
Also reacting, Governor Ganduje urged state governments to do their part in securing the lives and properties of their people, stressing that it would be simplistic to blame the insecurity in the North West on the lack of cooperation among governors.
The governor, who spoke through his media aide, Salihu Tanko Yakasai, emphasised that his government was ready to work with neighbouring states to ensure peace in the geopolitical zone.
“The issue of insecurity in North West is largely due to the action or inaction of state governments and that of the federal government.
“For us in Kano, we do our utmost best to ensure peace and stability for the safety of our populace.
“We are willing and have also been collaborating with neighbouring states to tackle insecurity,” he said.
Governor Masari could not reply to a text message sent to him as he was said to be in a meeting in Abuja when our reporter inquired.
Daily Trust, however, reports that Masari recently alluded to the fact that the governors in the region were not working in unison towards the issue of insecurity as some of them had embraced dialogue with bandits while others did not.
Efforts to get the reaction of Governor Badaru were unsuccessful as of the time of filing this report.
Several calls to his media aide, Auwal D. Sankara, were not successful.
However, a text message to his phone line seeking the reaction of the governor was marked delivered but was not responded to as of press time.
Experts, MACBAN speak
A security expert, Group Captain Sadeeq Garba Shehu (Rtd), says no government should be seen to be negotiating with criminals.
Group Capt. Shehu, while speaking with Daily Trust on phone, said criminals should not be given the impression that they were equal with the government or that they were in a position to sit with the government and negotiate.
“Each of the options you take, whether to negotiate with the terrorists, compensate them or go after them, none of it is easy but if you talk in the long term, in terms of governance, the government should not negotiate with criminals for the simple reason that you don’t want to set precedence.
It will not augur well for any government to show criminals that they are on the same footing, you are setting very bad precedence if you do that which in future will make others join,” he said.
Another security expert, Dr Kabiru Adamu, said while Governor El-Rufai’s position on not negotiating with bandits resonates with him, “negotiation is needed at a certain point, especially when poor governance is involved.”
On lack of cooperation and unity among states, Dr Adamu said: “Cooperation among the governors is important because the forests used by the bandits are all intertwined.
“They cut across borders and if one governor takes a measure and others don’t, it will be counterproductive. Cooperation between states and the federal government is important.”
The Acting National Publicity Secretary of MACBAN, Alhaji Adamu Lawal Toro, said they would not discourage any governor who wished to negotiate with the bandits if that would bring peace to the people.
He said those who decided to negotiate must have weighed in their options and found that it would be strategically okay to do so.
He said Governor El-Rufai must have his reasons for refusing to negotiate with the bandits just like his other colleagues who also must have their reasons for negotiating with them.
“We have lost hundreds of our members and thousands of cattle as a result of the banditry. We would like to see the end of this by any means possible,” he said.
By Fidelis Mac-Leva (Abuja), Lami Sadiq (Kaduna), Clement A. Oloyede, Zahraddeen Y. Shuaibu (Kano), Tijjani Ibrahim (Katsina), Abubakar Auwal (Sokoto) & Shehu Umar (Gusau)