The Federal Government yesterday dispelled the allegation by Zamfara State Governor Dauda Lawal that federal officials held clandestine negotiations with bandits in the state.
The governor, in a statement by his spokesman, Sulaiman Bala Idris, called for an urgent and comprehensive investigation by the Federal Government into what he called the secretive negotiations held with bandits in the state.
He alleged that reports indicated that a delegation sent by some agencies of the Federal Government had been holding talks with bandit groups in Zamfara without the knowledge of the state government.
He wondered why such negotiations would happen without seeking recourse from the state government and other security agencies.
Lawal said the Federal Government should clarify the action of those federal agencies which, he noted, was clearly at variance with the state government’s adoption of a kinetic strategy in the fight against banditry.
The statement read in parts: “Governor Dauda Lawal wishes to call on the Federal Government to clarify and investigate the actions of some unscrupulous elements sabotaging the ongoing fight against banditry in Zamfara.
“The Zamfara State Government has received reports of how some Federal Government delegation met with different bandit groups in Birnin Magaji, Maradun, Mun haye, Ajah, Bawo, and Bagege.
“Previous administrations in the state failed to achieve positive outcomes in their attempts to engage in dialogue with bandits. We must learn from these past mistakes and adopt a new approach to restore peace in Zamfara.
“The Zamfara State Government has taken a firm stance from the beginning – we will not negotiate with these criminals.
“Ensuring the fight against banditry is a top priority of Zamfara State Government, and we cannot afford to make any compromises in our efforts.” The governor urged the Federal Government “to take swift action by terminating the ongoing negotiations with the bandits in Zamfara as it undermines progress so far.”
Reacting, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, described the allegation by the governor as disappointing, saying his politicisation of security should be ignored.
The minister, in a statement by the Deputy Director of Press in the ministry, Suleiman Haruna, flayed the governor for choosing to play politics with “the sensitive matter for cheap political goals” rather than appreciate security agents and federal institutions for the prompt effort to rescue the abducted students of the Federal University Gusau.
He noted that Federal Government institutions are empowered by law to spring into action, with or without prompting, to ensure safe return of citizens illegally taken hostage, “like in the case of these hapless students.”
He said the fact that details of such delicate operations were not revealed by the institutions responsible did not make it in any way surreptitious “as the Zamfara State Government atrociously described this effort.”
The minister stressed that for the avoidance of doubt, “no official of the Federal Government is engaged in negotiation with any bandit or group of bandits.”
He, however, said the Federal Government maintained its resolve to explore every available avenue that could lead to de-escalation of tension and bring back peace to communities ravaged by banditry.
“However, if communities decide to borrow a leaf from what has helped quench unrest in other parts of the country to engage themselves in dialogue, the Federal Government would not be in a haste to condemn such people-driven initiative,” he added.
The minister assured Nigerians that the Federal Government and its institutions “are working assiduously to turn around the current situation and bring an end to the ebbing cases of banditry, kidnapping and all forms of criminality.”
He warned that “political differences or personal fight with anybody should not be brought into the serious matter of national security to avoid demoralising our troops or and derailing government’s effort.”
He said the Federal Government was willing to listen and continue its ongoing engagement with all stakeholders across the country in working out a lasting solution to security problems.
“We urge all to put hands on deck with us,” he said.
Varsity confirms rescue of 14 abducted students
Meanwhile, the management of the Federal University Gusau has confirmed the rescue of seven more abducted students of the institution.
The management of the institution, in a statement yesterday, said the total number of the rescued students stood at 14.
Bandits had, on Friday, invaded three of the school’s hostels, forced their way into the rooms through windows and abducted 24 students.
The university’s management said two other individuals abducted alongside the students were also rescued.
It appealed to the students and other staff of the institution to remain calm, assuring of safety of all on the campus.
The management thanked the federal and the state governments, and other stakeholders for their concerns and support to the university.