WHEN Governor Masari brokered peace deal with some bandits
Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State held an interactive session with journalists against the backdrop of recent relapse in security situation in some border communities in the state that have experienced renewed killings. The governor said his administration is studying developments around the country aimed at containing the challenge of insecurity, especially criminal banditry. DANJUMA MICHAEL was there.
Recently, the Southwest geopolitical zone launched a joint security outfit. Is the Northwest planning to replicate it and would Katsina State spearhead such arrangement?
We have a lot to learn from other areas. We do not claim to have monopoly of knowledge or wisdom. Certainly, I have been following up with what is happening in the Southwest, and in the Northwest. I am the chairman and I will call for a meeting and look at the situation. We’ve agreed to have a common approach which I do believe those states that are most affected – Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna – are doing. You know, this issue of banditry, at a time, in Jigawa and Kano it was not as rampant as we were having in those four states, even though Kano had its own share through Belgore forest. Definitely, we’ll learn from the Southwest and see what they have done and see how we can borrow a leaf from what they have done and how we can improve our situation.
Would you say your government is getting due cooperation in the fight against banditry and kidnapping?
By the actions of the military in the last two days, you will see that the Federal Government is giving the needed cooperation. It has brought and created a Brigade and we now have three Battalions: one in Katsina, one in Daura, and the other in Malumfashi, and our Batalion has been upgraded to a Brigade, and even from these four states of Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi and Sokoto, we now have a Division. So the Federal Government has really shown interest and given us full support by bringing more personnel.
As chairman of Northern Governors Security Council, what are your thoughts on the recent plan by the Federal Government to withdraw the military from troubled areas, especially as it concerns Katsina State?
We haven’t received any instruction with regards to withdrawal of military from troubled spots. You can only remove the military from troubled spots if you have replacements. We are not aware of this, but we are waiting to see.
The security situation often revolves around the youths who use drugs and who lack formal education. What do you intend to do this year to improve the education standards of young people?
You are absolutely right. Influence of drugs, especially on these uneducated youths in the forest is dangerous. You’ll be surprised that the repentant bandits are asking us to do whatever it takes to stop drugs going into the forest, because drugs going into the forest influence their children to rebel against them. They are rebelling against their parents because of the influence of drugs. You are absolutely right. And the advice I gave them I will not say here. But the government through the closure of borders has been able to reduce the problem significantly. Also, members of the press and the general public can do better by helping authorities locate those places where they sell hard drugs and in some cases where they are even producing them. Because some of the drugs, we’re told, are being produced in some big cities, not Katsina. But I will not be surprised if somebody tries to produce it in Katsina. You are supposed to use your medium to create awareness in the minds of our people. Our people have a kind of attitude, which I don’t understand. You see something going wrong in your neighbour’s house, but you are afraid to talk. But if we can be the eyes and ears of our neighbours, I believe the problem will be significantly reduced.
When you go through the budget, education has 20 percent allocation. We are not counting what is coming in as counterpart funding from Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). And on this we are emphasising and continue to emphasise on the foundation, which is primary and secondary education. And we believe that once you have a sound education at primary and secondary levels, you can be a very good craftsman, or whichever profession you choose. Not all of us have to be engineers, doctors and professors, but all of us can have what we can do to support our lives, and we’ll do it better if we have a certain level of education. Even an educated vulcaniser would do better than an illiterate vulcaniser. A meat seller that is educated would do better in the trade in meat selling than somebody who did not go to school. So the reality is, if we can provide. What we are having problem with now are the forest people, who have no education of any kind. They have no Islamic education; they have no western education, because they have been abandoned in the forest and forgotten.
So these are the kind of children that have come up now who are fighting us, fighting the society. And if we don’t do more to address it, what would come out of the forest in the next 20 years compared with today, would be a child’s play. Because of that educational lack, they only know one pleasure – pleasure of the flesh. So they keep on producing. I was surprised when this evening I was told somebody can bring over 350 armed men from the forest. And I’m sure out of the 350 none of them has gone to any formal schooling, either Islamic or western. And they are all married and have children. So we have to move in; that’s why it’s important we restore normalcy in the forest so that we can move in and take education to them. No nation fights poverty successfully without education. No nation. So we are still giving number one priority to education, in terms of our budgetary spending.
At the time of dialogue with the bandits, one of them said he bought his weapon at N750,000. Are you going to pay such person or just collect the gun?
Somebody said he bought his weapon for N750,000. But like I said earlier, we have the military, we have the police. They know firearms; they know the cost of firearms. If you are purchasing, this would be the approximate cost of these firearms, not what was been purchased in the black market. So, I think black market price shouldn’t be a benchmark. It is in the interest of everybody who owns guns in the forest in peace time to return it, because those who play with guns are similar to those who play with snakes. Any snake charmer ends up being killed by a snake. So anybody who keeps guns would end up a victim of that gun. Naturally, and we’ve told them and they’ve seen it, where (a bandit known as) Buhari was killed by the same gun that he was holding and terrorising others. All the known bandits, not only in Nigeria but all over the world, were killed by the same weapons they were using in terrorising others. The weapons they were using to kill others were also used to kill them or dominate them. You know, they say ‘Those who live by the sword will die by the sword’.
You recently signed a law which stipulates death sentence and stiffer penalties for kidnappers, bandits and related criminals. Is the law achieving the desired objective?
I have signed the law. If police and other agencies don’t take a matter to court, I will not go and arrest an offender and take him to court. I have given them the ammunition to take offenders to court. They should come with a case in which the court pronounces the death sentence or other related punishment on an individual and see if I will not sign it. Whether it is cattle rustling, or kidnapping or rape, I’ll sign for maximum or related sentence once it comes to my table. But the issue is that the police need to take a matter to court, and there needs to be prosecution before I can do anything. I’ve given them the ammunition which is the law.
Has the peace initiative with bandits collapsed as is being alleged?
Let me say for the avoidance of doubt that the peace process has not collapsed. Whatever some people imagine, whatever their conclusion, the peace process is on course and is achieving results. When we started this process in 2016, what was on ground then were cattle rustling. By 2018 going to 2019, we saw a resurgence of invasion, banditry, kidnapping and rape. When we started the peace process exactly on 30 August, we saw the reduction and stoppage of invasion of villages and communities by bandits. What followed was kidnapping. And kidnapping is happening all over Nigeria, not only in Katsina State. The records are there. Why do we have resurgence of kidnapping? We need to stop what Hausa man would say, ‘Hitting the bag not the donkey’. A Fulani man or herder who lives in the forest does not know where you and I live in this town. So the criminality has now come to the cities, towns, and semi-urban centres, where they are inviting some of the bandits to come and kidnap for ransom. The criminals in the towns are more deadly than the herders in the forest for they are the ones inviting them. How can somebody who lives in the forest of Damburu in Zamfara know the place where Agaju lives in Katsina if the neighbour to Agaju does not invite him? And you ask yourselves, how many times have you heard about burglary? It has reduced because some of the burglars and criminals have now turned informants and also part of the kidnapping syndicate.
So for us, we need to start looking at how to make sure that we really work through technology to unearth those who are inviting the bandits among us. And again when we made peace, not all the bandits agreed. The problem we are having, like somebody said about Batsari and Jibia, simply because those leaders who live in the forest of Zamfara, who are very close to Batsari and Jibia, did not join the peace deal. Gang leaders like Dan Karami, and to some extent Dan Gote, did not. They never attended any meeting; they never participated, at least with us here in Katsina. Sometimes, they would send a representative who would go and tell them what had happened. But we never had any commitment from them as part of the peace deal. So for those with whom we have peace deal, from Sabuwa to Jibia, they are living up to the agreement we have with them. So the idea of breakdown is not correct. It’s false, it’s alarmist to once again put Katsina in the bad map of insecurity. It’s unfortunate. So we are on top of the situation.
But what about the recent issue in Jibia and Batsari Local Government Areas?
What happened in Jibia, if you could remember one or two months ago, those smuggling rice and other commodities from Niger, because of the closure, invited bandits to come and clear the road for them. These are the bandits now who have made their home in Jibia with the active connivance of the people living in Jibia. And I’m going to deal with it soon. We know them. We know who is doing what. We are going to deal with them and we started the day before. So, those we had peace deal with, from Safana going to Sabuwa, we have solid peace with them. I just finished meeting with the people from Faskari, from Safana, and from Sabuwa, and up till now I’m on the telephone with them. The same people who have embraced peace recent recovered 55 herds of cattle from rustlers in Dandume and were going to Kaduna State with them. So for anybody to imagine that the peace deal has collapsed, no, it has not. It has its own problems, yes, agreed. We hope it would be the last phase of this problem of kidnapping because we have graduated from cattle rustling to banditry, now to kidnapping. So, let us hope it doesn’t become something else tomorrow.
The reality is, as far as we are concerned, our peace effort is on course. Yes, we are having challenges; we expect to have challenges, no doubt about it. And our biggest challenge: we can control our border but 70 per cent of the bandits cross over from Zamfara State. The notorious ones, consisting of 90 per cent of the notorious ones, who refuse to embrace peace, live in Zamfara not in Katsina. We have our own number one gang leader, Dan Gote, who resides in Katsina State; we know where his camp is and we’ve sent word. We are determined. We have a responsibility; we are not afraid, neither are we ready to shy away from that responsibility. No way. So the reality is, our peace effort, like I said earlier, is on course; it has challenges and we are determined to overcome the challenges.
What about Batsari?
The problem with Batsari and Jibia is the same. Jibia incident is the one that affected Batsari. Some people in Jibia invited bandits to help them clear the road due to presence of customs to enable them to smuggle their contraband. Today, they finished sending away the customs officials and began terrorising Jibia people. Everybody knows now that Magama (Jibia) is trying to take another dimension, but God has helped us, and the people of Magama recently united against the bandits. They united and resisted the bandits who came to abduct a woman. The bandits had no option than to run away. They have united, and I’ll be going to Jibia to have a meeting with them. We have reports of those that invited the bandits, those calling them on phone. No bandit would move from Dumburun forest or Kwanar Jaja, or Dinya forest and abduct any person in Katsina or in Batsari without the connivance of someone in that community.
Let’s not complicate the matter by saying the Fulani we sat with and agreed to a peace deal are the ones carrying out such attacks. No. People living with us in society are those calling on them to come abduct people, and then share the monies realised. Also, those bandits would not stop abducting people so long as they are paid ransom. If you say you will not sacrifice your thumb for the body, then you may end up losing both in the end. Today in one of the local governments, they now call residents and threaten them to bring money or risk being abducted. And it is some of the bad elements in the area that are making such calls. The problem has moved from the forest into the communities. This issue has now become a source of concern for the Fulani that had embraced peace. We just finished a meeting with the Fulani from Sabuwa, Safana, and Dandume. They said it was with difficulty they were able to travel for the meeting because they were told that the peace accord was no longer in place and that they risked being arrested if they choose to travel for the meeting. We didn’t say our lapses should not be pointed out, but whatever you want to say, take the country into consideration and not man.
Today, the story going around is that the peace accord in Katsina has failed. That’s not true. Also, we need to look at what we are doing at a personal level. All these people coming to abduct victims of kidnap are not coming from the forest. If they do come from the forest, then they were invited by an informant. You journalists have interviewed several of those kidnapped where they have reiterated that their abductors were invited by someone. Where are the thieves amongst us today? They have now turned to informants for bandits. And the peace deal with Fulani in the forest was not with all of them. There are some that didn’t agree to the deal because they never attended the meetings, but we have been able to get 90 per cent to agree to the deal. When we were going round the state, we told them that 90 per cent of the bandits had repented.
Also know that human beings, if I may quote what one boss in a James Bond movie, ‘Man has conquered the moon but he is yet to conquer crime’; man has been unable to fight crime to a standstill. There’ll be no need for the courts and security personnel if we have conquered crime. Because of this, what we have been doing is to return peace to society the way it was before. Phase one was cattle rustling; phase two is reduction in cases of banditry; now, we have the issue of kidnapping. But everyone has a role to play on this issue. Don’t say you saw your neighbour doing something wrong and you decided to fold your arms; then tomorrow you say government is unable to address the situation. Governments work with information. It is only through such information that government can address problems facing society. Because of this, we have been taking measures, and after we signed the budget, we’ve held meetings with security agencies on measures to take on security issues. Some of these measures are of no use if mentioned and not implemented. We would first implement them and see where they take us. By God’s grace, we hope to come out successful. But journalists should know that I’m not against reporting what you see, and the same applies to government’s officials. But report it responsibly. Like a Hausa saying, it’s better to criticize than to condemn a person’s actions outright.
Look at the extent of this forest and the number of security personnel we have in the county, and not just in Katsina. There is a local government that has not more than 20 policemen. There is need to go back to community policing as seen in the past, and all of us have roles to play. You have information. You need to help us and the security, so that we know where the problems are coming from. Like I told you, this security challenge is everywhere, but what is surprising is that when it comes to Katsina, the problem is made to look new. A single community in Kano is bigger than Katsina town.
Some people allege that absence of constituted authoritiesat the local government level led to the return of banditry. And with the recent Supreme Court judgment, how soon would election hold in the councils?
There’s no way you can separate politics and security, whether you have local government councils in place or not; they are intertwined. But unfortunately, what we have today in terms of security affects everybody. Like I said when we were going out, when the bandits come or when the kidnappers or armed robbers come, they don’t request for political party membership. That’s why I say let us remove partisan politics in terms of approaching the issue of security. It is not about failure of the government of APC or governor Aminu Bello Masari. No. It’s about the lives and properties of the people of Katsina State. So, I think we have a problem that is not peculiar to Katsina, which has become more than a regional problem but a national problem. Any responsible person would like to see what could be his contribution in order to solve this problem., because if you don’t solve it, it would continue to grow. If you are from the other side, from outside, tomorrow if you are inside, you’d be confronted with this, maybe in a harsher way than now. So, obviously it is our responsibility.
Concerning council election, if today the Supreme Courts gives verdict on our case, we’ll comply. For the past 16 years of previous governments, they did not provide a permanent accommodation for the state’s Independent Electoral Commission. I did, because I believe that we need to have the umpire. But unfortunately, some people felt that we used the law they created in terms of abolition of local government councils. It is their law. We inherited the law; we used it and now they are challenging the same law that they passed in court. So having gone to the Supreme Court, they are dilly-dallying; they don’t want the case to move forward, and they are insisting that the court should decide. The fact that some pronouncements are made somewhere, they don’t directly affect Katsina State unless there is a pronouncement from the Supreme Court on our own case.
So, I think I consider it to be one of those stories. And the circumstances are different. What kills somebody here maybe a different disease that kills somebody there. The fact that some other states have dissolved the local governments and they said take them back does not mean that was what we did. Maybe they didn’t follow the law. We followed the law that was enacted by our predecessors to dissolve the local government councils. So until and unless there is a clear pronouncement on our own case that is before the Supreme Court we cannot decide. But I assure you that today, if there is a positive deceleration by the Supreme Court we would not take more than three months to have an election, because we are ready. As far as we are concerned, we are ready for election; we are not even afraid of it.
You said security issues in Katsina are being overblown. And was the resurgence caused by the government’s breach of agreements reached during negotiations with the bandits?
Any report that does not come from an authorised person becomes the personal opinion of that person giving the report. It’s not official, it’s personal. That’s why I said whoever, under whichever circumstances would comment on issues should do so responsibly while looking at the wider implication on whatever anybody is going to say or do.
We are not seeing resurgence as such. Yes, another phase of the problems that we inherited which is going into phases because you are talking of resurgence here and there. You must find criminals here and there. What is our responsibility is to make sure they are not at a level in terms of number and sophistication, to completely disturb our way of life. So the issue of resurgence, if you have heard the resurgence of cattle rustling, banditry, even at that, you have to have records like I do. We have what happened last 12 months, what happened last six months ago, and we compare it with what is happening today. Are we making progress or not? We have facts to prove that we are making progress in terms of the nature of the type of criminality we’re dealing with.
During the peace talks at the frontier local governments in Katsina, you promised to implement the second phase of the dialogue, which is the disarmament of repentant bandits. Where are we at the moment on the issue?
Disarmament, yes; I think it is the next phase of what we are trying to do. But we want to stabilise the existing situation. We have started receiving some arms and forwarding them to the military, who are assessing them for us to see their condition, and to see how much it would cost if you are to buy them from the market. All these factors we have to consider in the process of disarmament. It doesn’t make sense disarming you with two guns and tomorrow you buy four.
That is also one of the problems we are also having. But we believe the closure of the border and other measures taken by the Federal Government is reducing the inflow of firearms into the country. And we are seeing the positive results because in dealing with them, we are finding out that some of them have guns but don’t have the ammunition. I think it’s the next step we are going into, the area of disarmament. But the problem we have with those who have accepted peace is that in 2016, when they accepted and surrendered their arms, those who did not surrender in the forest used their arms to kill them. Almost all the leaders of those we had in 2016 were killed. And now, when we have key elements like Dan Karami, and to some extent Dan Gote, who had not embraced peace completely, holding onto their arms in the forest, and you disarm your own in the forest, what would be the consequences? I think we have to balance that, and I do believe that with the actions the military and other agencies are taking on those who have refused to accept peace, I think we would be in a comfortable position that we can say, okay, now there is relative peace so return your arms and ammunition to government to see how it can take it to the next level.
So, the agreement on arms surrendering by bandits is still in place. But not all those living in the forest embraced the peace process. Those that didn’t join, who are not more than 10 to 15 percent, are still holding unto their weapons and are leaders in the forest. If you say those that embraced the peace should hand over their arms, the other group still holding unto their arms may kill them or force them to go back into banditry. What those 10 to 15 percent group want is for the repentant bandits to come back and continue with them. The only way they can protect themselves is by holding unto their weapons. If all the bandits had agreed to the peace accord, the issue of arms surrender would have been addressed, and then we go back to the era when the Fulani man has one stick and one machete; stick for controlling the animals, machete for cutting trees or grasses. If it is not done at this level I earlier mentioned, all calls for them to surrender their arms would fall on deaf ears.
You’ve constructed clinics and schools for repentant bandits, which is part of pledges your government made to them. When would those facilities be put to use for their benefit?
Some of the schools are already in use. I think the one we recovered was the one in Batsari being used by one bandit. We have already completed arrangement to rehabilitate and reconstruct all the earth dams in Rugu forest, numbering over 30. A Federal Government team under the livestock improvement programme has come to re-establish some parts of Rugu forest for diary and other livestock production. A lot of things are coming up and they can only be successful if there is peace in those areas. And we are determined that when they come to do the project, there would be peace in those particular areas. We are on course and I think even the military has now built two schools, in Musawa and in Malumfashi and donated the schools to the state government, and we have taken them over. Schooling has already started in those two places. No part of Katsina is under the control of bandits. Unfortunately in some of the communities, the issue we are dealing with is that bandits have succeeded in converting people to their side. So, we have to do something in terms of talking to the people and bringing them back to their senses so that normalcy and normal schooling would take place.
– Jan. 20, 2020 @ 09:05 GMT |