Recently, bandits’ leader Bello Turji Kachalla wrote an open letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle and the Emir of Shinkafi, in which he demanded the emir cause a meeting to hold between the bandits, traditional and religious leaders in the North of the country to include Sheikh Ahmad Gumi and security agencies. The bandits’ leader promised in the said letter that if such a meeting were to occur, he and his men would surrender their weapons and bring an end to banditry in the country.
While an appeal for peace should always be welcomed, it would seem that even in his letter, Mr Turji appears to be dictating terms to the country. This should not be condoned under any circumstances. It would also be wise to consider that this appeal for a truce by the bandits is to delay the inevitable—a crushing defeat of the bandits in the hands of Nigerian security forces.
In the first place, it is sad that the situation has deteriorated to this point, where criminals bearing arms would seek to dictate terms to the country. Secondly, there are literally hundreds of bandits’ leaders and thousands of foot soldiers, many of them unknown to or unrelated to Bello Turji. So what would a truce with just one bandit leader achieve for the long term? Third, and perhaps most important, recent events have shown that the bandits are not ready for any truce. A situation where the bandits went to several villages killing, maiming and burning buildings of innocent people, such as happened in Anka and Bukuyyum LGAs of Zamfara last week, does not present a picture of those who are willing to enter any truce.
It will indeed be a great disservice to the soul of the departed, their relations and other victims of the atrocities for the government to sit down with these bandits to discuss any truce. While the Nigerian government has made the mistake in the past of encouraging groups to win a seat at the table through violent agitations that cost far too many innocent lives, this is the time to put an end to that. The government must not encourage non-state actors to dictate terms to the country, certainly not after such actors have killed many hundreds of innocent citizens as the bandits have done. The government must make it clear to bandits and terrorists that no citizen’s life is worth the cause of any person or group’s agitation whether they are plausible or not.
Granting Turji an audience on his term would encourage others with legitimate or facetious concerns to resort to holding the nation to ransom to secure a seat at the table. No self-respecting government must allow itself to be pushed around by an army of violent people who have sacrificed innocent lives for a chance to sit at the table. Civil avenues for citizens to raise concerns over issues affecting them exist in a democratic structure as practised in Nigeria and citizens must be able to avail themselves of this means to canvas their issues. The needless killings of lives must be stopped.
As a matter of urgency, Nigeria must develop a clear national strategy on dealing with such issues. Since the bandits have been categorised as terrorists, the Nigerian government must pursue kinetic means to bring them to face the law, subject them to the full weight of the anti-terrorism law. While this option is fully pursued, it will however be wise to leave a channel open for those who are genuinely willing to submit to the Nigerian state who can be shown some level of clemency.
The carrot and stick approach has been useful in containing various crises in the world. Nigeria must not forget to deploy this method when it is convenient. The use of kinetic approach in dealing with this serious national threat should go hand in hand with the non-kinetic approach to finally bring it to an end. Whatever truce there would be must be on the terms of the Nigerian state, not the terrorists’. The federal government must be in a position of strength and must be seen to be so by both the bandits and the communities they terrorise, before any such talk of truce.
The government must take deliberate steps to pursue this crisis to a logical end. To do this, the government must ensure that more mobile policemen are recruited and trained to fully take responsibility for internal security in the country. This will ensure the military is not overstretched and will therefore not bring its usual heavy-handedness into internal security issues. This is a crucial step in improving the security situation in the country going forward.
But with specific regards to Turji’s letter, there should be no truce with the enemies of the country and its people.