President Muhammadu Buhari has given bandits in Zamfara two months to surrender, according to Governor Bello Muhammad Matawalle.
In a state-wide broadcast on Tuesday evening, Matawalle said the president also ordered the deployment of 6,000 troops to crush the bandits if they failed to surrender their arms.
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The governor made the statement a few hours after traditional rulers in the state told the service chiefs, who visited the state, that there were over 30,000 bandits in Zamfara forests, a number that far outweighs the less than 10,000 troops deployed to the state to tackle insecurity.
The directive by President Buhari came about a week after he declared Zamfara a no-fly zone and halted mining activities to stem what presidency officials described as “arms-for-gold swap” activities in the state.
In his broadcast last night, the Zamfara governor said he undertook a four-day working visit to Abuja to brief President Buhari and other critical stakeholders on the security situation in his state.
“In my discussion with President Muhammadu Buhari and the security higher commands in Abuja, it was resolved that 6,000 additional troops will be deployed to complement the effort of other security forces in tackling the security challenges in the state.
“The troops will soon arrive in the state for their operations and we are grateful to the federal government.
“The president has agreed to a time frame within which the recalcitrant bandits should surrender their weapons and key into our peace initiative…
“The peace deal initiated by my administration has recorded successes including the disarmament, securing the release of hundreds of kidnapped persons, reopening of markets and the resumption of other economic activities across the state.
“Even though we are enjoying relative peace as a result of this dialogue and reconciliation programme, some armed bandits refused to key into the programme and they sustain their attacks on our communities.
“The government has equally observed that there is sabotage by some unscrupulous elements within and outside the state,” he said.
The governor also directed traditional rulers and local council administrators to remain in their domains to monitor the movement or influx of suspicious characters.
“Conveyance of more than two persons on a motorbike is hereby banned with immediate effect. No movement of motorcycles in groups in all the nooks and crannies of the state and security operatives are directed to apprehend the violators of this order,” he said.
Governor Matawalle further reaffirmed the ban on the activities of Yan Sakai (local self-help groups) in the state, adding that whoever was found with a gun would be dealt with accordingly.
Emirs reject no-fly zone order
Emirs in Zamfara said on Tuesday that the state was being unjustly treated as evident in declaring it a no-fly zone.
They spoke through their chairman and Emir of Anka, Alhaji Attahiru Muhammad Ahmad, while addressing the new service chiefs led by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, who were on an official visit to the state.
The emirs said Zamfara had no airport to warrant the declaration, insisting that there were states worst hit by armed banditry but that were not declared no-fly zones.
According to the Anka emir, “There is no connection between mining and armed banditry. We have no evidence that aircraft are coming to provide weapons to bandits or that miners are giving arms to bandits.
“On two occasions, bandits had attacked mining companies, abducted staff and policemen and confiscated their guns.
“In the same vein, on the very day Jangebe schoolgirls were abducted, armed men attacked Sabuwar Tunga, a village located on the border between Maru and Anka, killed 10 people and kidnapped more than 100 persons.
“This happened at a mining site. So we can see that there is no connection between mining and armed banditry,” he told the service chiefs while the other emirs nodded in affirmation.
The emirs said artisanal mining activities in Zamfara had helped many jobless people, especially the IDPs, adding that banning the activities would amount to inviting more problems for the communities.
“The people that matter in the defence of this nation are here. The state government had initiated dialogue with the bandits and it has greatly reduced the bloodshed in the state. Many markets that were hitherto closed are now open.
“We see dialogue as the way to go because if we make a comparison between the number of deployed troops to the state and the armed criminals in the forest, there is a problem.
“There is no way the deployed troops can handle the number of armed bandits in our forests.
“We don’t think the soldiers in the state, including the police, are up to 10,000, but I can tell you that these criminals are more than 30,000 in the forests and have sophisticated weapons.
“I am not a soldier, but I sympathise with our armed forces because they are lacking the modern warfare gadgets,” the emir said on behalf of his colleagues.
Governor Matawalle also sided with the emirs and reaffirmed that there was no empirical evidence to prove there was a connection between armed banditry and mining in the state.
“The theory that armed banditry is aimed at controlling Zamfara gold resource does not hold water.
“My administration has facilitated the arrest of many foreign nationals, especially Chinese, engaged in illegal mining activities,” he said.
He said his government would support any move that would end armed banditry not just in Zamfara but in the whole of the North West, adding that the troops should go out and hunt armed men not willing to surrender.
Earlier, General Irabor said the service chiefs were in Zamfara to assess the security situation and meet the troops of Operation Hadarin Daji.
Need for tougher actions – Masari
Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State, on his part, has called on the newly appointed service chiefs to show more commitment and take tougher actions in the fight against insecurity, especially in the North West.
He gave the advice when General Irabor led other service chiefs to Katsina.
The governor said there should be a single command coordinating the military operations to decisively deal with the security situation in the region.
“I know the military has a central command, but we want a situation where the command will dissolve borderlines between Katsina and Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna and between the borders of all the affected states so that the operations will be going on simultaneously in all the sides such that the criminals will not have anywhere to run to if they come under attack,” he said.
He maintained that the bandits are the same group of people with the same source of arms and ammunition, moving from one point to another.
Masari said the state government would continue to support the security agencies.
Earlier in his remarks, General Irabor said the highest-level military delegation was in the state to meet troops in the state and to find out details of the military operational engagements following the marching order of the president.
“Then we felt that though that mandate is given to us, to achieve it there is a need for partnership with other stakeholders and principal among the stakeholders are the chief executives of the various states.
“Our visit will therefore be incomplete if we return to Abuja without reaching out to you,” he said.
ACF commends troops deployment
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), on Tuesday, commended President Muhammadu Buhari for directing the deployment of 6,000 soldiers to flush out bandits around Zamfara forests saying those are the measures Nigerians have been hoping he would take.
National Publicity Secretary of the Forum Emmanuel Yawe in a phone interview with Daily Trust stated that: “We commend him for making serious efforts to contain what has become an embarrassment to the Northern region and the country at large.
“These are the measures people have been waiting for and calling on him to take.”
Yawe also stated that: “We don’t know if 6,000 soldiers will be enough to flush out the bandits but the president is a general so he should know.
“These bandits must surrender their weapons and obey the laws of the land; no one should be carrying AK47.”
On his part, an elder statesman from Zamfara State, Senator Saidu Dansadau, said the deployment of 6,000 troops showed that the president was worried.
He, however, advised that for the security operatives to succeed, they must work closely with the locals, including farmers, herders, traditional rulers and other stakeholders.
“It is a good move by the president even though I am not sure if 6,000 troops would be enough to subdue the bandits,” he said.
From Shehu Umar (Gusau), Lami Sadiq (Kaduna) & Tijjani Ibrahim (Katsina)