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Beyond The Banditry in Zamfara

In what can be described as a vote of no confidence in the capacity of the Nigerian authorities to protect his people, the Emir of Anka, Zamfara State, Alhaji Attahiru Ahmad, last week threatened to seek the intervention of the United Nations (UN) to end the ceaseless attacks on his domain by gunmen. And in an apparent response to that desperation, Governor Abdulazeez Yari has directed security agents in the state to shoot and kill anyone caught carrying firearms. “This is an order from the president and from the governor of the state,” said Yari who added, “We cannot continue to watch criminals as a parallel government, doing what they want and carrying sophisticated firearms, maiming and killing innocent citizens in the state.”

Since Yari spends most of his time in Abuja as the chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), it is no surprise that bandits have practically taken over his state. But his order means nothing given how badly things have degenerated in Zamfara in the last couple of months. Not only have hundreds of innocent villagers lost their lives to the activities of these gunmen, there is now a feeling of helplessness by majority of the people in the rural areas. From cattle rustling to kidnappings and armed robbery, these gangsters roam the streets of Zamfara villages freely, carrying out deadly raids and forcing the dwellers to flee for their lives.

On Tuesday morning, I posted on my Twitter handle, a two-minute clip of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) report on the banditry in Zamfara State. By the last time I checked after the demolition of Manchester City by Liverpool FC last night, more than 40,000 people had watched the clip while the comments have come in torrents. Some expressed the usual outrage, some typically put the responsibility for intervention at the doorsteps of God while a few made very candid suggestions on the need for pragmatic solutions for what is clearly a national challenge.

In trying to interrogate the Zamfara crisis, I have found out that there is a nexus between illegal mining for which the state is very notorious and the level of criminality. “It is the criminal gangs behind illegal mining that supply most of the arms and they have godfathers among prominent people in Zamfara”, said a prominent northern politician with whom I recently discussed the issue. He told me that when President Muhammadu Buhari visited the state a month ago, a man shared with him and his audience the story of what happened in Birani community where several people were killed execution-style by bandits who had sent message ahead that they were coming.

Incidentally, the mining communities are also not immune from the activities of these bandits. On 8th November 2016, no fewer than 45 illegal gold miners were killed in Bindim Village, in Maru Local Government Area of the state. According to a survivor of the afternoon attack, the bandits, numbering about 50, cordoned off the entire area before ransacking the mines, demanding for gold and other precious stones from the miners. There is nothing to suggest that the culprits were ever arrested despite the pledge made by the police.

The entrepreneurs of violence in Zamfara and environs feel emboldened because they see themselves above the law and in a way, they are. In September last year, military troops working with the Department of State Service (DSS) arrested two suspected illegal arms dealers along Funtua-Gusau road. According to Army spokesman, Brigadier-General Sani Usman, preliminary investigation confirmed that the suspects, who drove a Golf Volkswagen car containing 1,479 rounds of 7.62mm (Special) ammunition, were on their way to deliver the weapons to armed bandits. Nothing was ever heard about the case again.

That perhaps explains why the bandits now thumb their noses at the security agencies. Early in February this year, the Zamfara State Police Command issued a two-week ultimatum to individuals in possession of fire arms, to surrender them. “The ultimatum will commence from today, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018; therefore the outlawed groups, especially herders, farmers, yansakai, repentant bandits, vigilante and militia groups, which activities are not in conformity with the laws of the land, should abide by this directives,” the police statement read yet the criminals are still in business, operating in broad daylight.

However, that the problem is not restricted to Zamfara can be glimpsed from what is happening in Kaduna State. When in February 2014, the Emir of Birnin Gwari spoke about criminality in his domain and the activities of cattle rustlers, he said: “They are in control of one village called Jan Birni. You can’t go there now if you are not a thief. If they don’t know you, they may kill you. These rustlers don’t care whether you put fire on your cattle, they will whisk them away. If your cattle are branded, they will slaughter them, cut them up and sell them in pieces. If you go to Birnin Gwari-Funtua axis, they are gradually taking over all villages and towns along the roads. They come out on market days and brandish their weapons without a care…”

Four years later in March 2018, just about three weeks ago at Kampanin Doka Village in the same Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area, 12 soldiers, deployed to protect expatriates and people working on a new road linking the state via Dansadau-Dangulbi and Birnin-Gwari to neighbouring Zamfara State, were brutally hacked to death by these bandits. There is also nothing to suggest that the culprits have been apprehended. That prompted the Emir of Birnin Gwari, to insist on self-defence by his people.

Indeed, what the emir told Daily Trust newspaper last weej sums up the state of our nation today: “A month ago, in one area called Anguwan Gajere, the bandits attacked a village, and the villagers fought back. In the process they killed more bandits than the people of the town. All of a sudden, we were told that the people who came were Fulani men, and Miyetti Allah was in the vanguard of protecting them. What we have been preaching to our people is that they should not sit down like fools and watch themselves and their families get killed. We can’t be fools to wait for somebody that will not come. Nobody can stop me from telling my people to protect themselves. And that is what we are doing now, because the policemen that are in Birnin Gwari cannot protect. The soldiers that are being brought sometimes make matters worse.”

That we have a serious national security challenge is an understatement but the situation is not hopeless if only President Buhari will rise to the occasion. First, he must recognize that many people, from a former Army Chief to respected emirs, have lost faith in the institutions that are meant to protect the people. Therefore, he must recognize that throwing $1 billion at them offers no real solution. He needs to do certain things. One, he has to revamp and reconstitute his entire national security team both for competence and inclusiveness so as to earn the trust of the Nigerian people. Two, he has to move the issue of recharging Lake Chad beyond rhetoric. It is both an economic and security challenge and he must lead the efforts for solution. Three, he needs to show more commitment to the Great Green Wall Project while encouraging the governors in the region to embark on massive tree planting to combat desertification. Four, there should be serious investment in education, especially in the region and on this score, many of the governors need to be more serious. Five, and this is a potentially explosive one: The authorities must work towards the safe return of Leah Sharibu, the lone Dapchi girl still with the insurgents on account of her Christian faith. Six, there is no way we can tackle the security challenge in the North without paying attention to cross-border activities.

Nigeria, I understand, has 149 borders with neighbouring countries but most of them are regarded as the easiest crossing points in the world, essentially due to corruption. That then explains why smuggling of contraband goods, human trafficking and mercenary activities are directly linked to these porous borders. But it is also important that we put the issue in context, especially regarding the North. The vast expanse of land in the region makes the terrain more difficult to secure than the South. For instance, whereas the total landmass of Lagos State is 3,345 square kilometres, Niger State alone has a landmass of 76,363 square kilometres! In fact, the first 13 biggest states in the country in terms of landmass are from the North.

Aside Niger which comes first, the others are: Taraba State, 54,473 square kilometres; Kaduna State, 46,053 square kilometres; Bauchi State, 45,837 square kilometres; Yobe State, 45,502 square kilometres; Zamfara State, 39,762 square kilometres, Adamawa State, 39,917 square kilometres; Kwara State, 36,825 square kilometres; Kebbi State, 36,800 square kilometres; Benue State, 34,059 square kilometres; Plateau State, 30,913 square kilometres; Kogi State, 29,833 square kilometres. I must state here that this has nothing to do with population distribution which explains why Kano State ranks number 20, with a landmass of 20,131 square kilometres.

The vast land in the North which should be an asset as we seek to boost food security and get our young population gainfully employed in agriculture is now endangered. And it should worry all critical stakeholders that millions of our people are being denied their means of livelihood and hundreds are being killed in cold blood almost on a daily basis. The challenge is that we have overstretched the military with a task of internal security while the police personnel are saddled with performing guard duties for our very-important-persons (VIPs) and unauthorized persons. That is aside the fact that almost a quarter of the total number has been found to be ‘ghost officers’.

While the security challenge is national, the gravity of the northern situation was brought to the fore in 2014 by respected retired federal permanent secretary, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, who is currently the Chief of Staff to the Senate President. While lamenting how rustlers carted away his herds, he also painted a pathetic picture of the security situation in many of the northern states: “For almost 400 square kilometers, from Abuja to Kaduna, Zaria and Birnin Gwari, there is hardly any farm with cattle [left]. It is the same in most parts of Katsina and Zamfara states. The backbone of the northern economy is farming and husbandry. Not anymore. We cannot keep cattle on our farms. Large scale farming is becoming less and less attractive. A huge swathe of the north is now bandit territory…”

What the foregoing says, as I tried to explain last week, is that whether in the south or in the north, we have a serious crisis that is predicated on the fact that the security apparatus of state is fast losing its monopoly of violence to sundry criminal cartels. And to arrest the drift, it would take the collaboration of all the critical stakeholders, including the media and the civil society. But President Buhari has to lead the charge. He must understand that the culture of impunity which pervades all sections of our country today will not end until people with criminal tendencies realise that when they infringe on the law, there is certainty of punishment.

Ayo Adebanjo at 90
Although the terminology, ‘elder statesman’ is being grossly abused in our country today, especially by the media, I doubt if anybody will contest the fact that Chief Ayo Adebanjo eminently qualifies to be so described. As a young man in the last century, Adebanjo fought for the independence of our country along with other notable individuals. He has also, for several decades, been a credible voice for the Yoruba people; right from 1951 when the Action Congress (AC) Youth Wing was formed. Today, he remains a strong advocate of a Nigeria that works for her people. And it is a testimony to Adebanjo’s personal integrity that even as he clocks 90, no scandal has ever been traced to his name despite his influence and political links.

However, if there is any word that adequately captures the person of Adebanjo, it is consistency. Any interested researcher can check anything he said or stood for 70 years ago and there is no difference to what he is saying today or stands for. He neither prevaricates on ideological positions nor changes positions to suit his audience. He does not sit on the fence nor tiptoe around issues. He says it as it is, brutally, frankly, without minding whose ox is gored. And he is never afraid to rock the boat.

In an age when the only thing trending is politicians jumping from one party to another, recanting and retracting statements, Adebanjo has remained strong and dedicated to the ideals of his mentor, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. From the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the Second Republic to the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) during the General Sani Abacha era to the Alliance for Democracy (AD) of which he was Deputy National Chairman at the beginning of the current democratic dispensation, Adebanjo has remained consistent in his worldview.

Adebanjo is also a very courageous man. I saw this first-hand in 1997 during the Abacha era. A group of opposition figures led by what was then known as The Ijebu Mafia (a quartet of himself and three other compatriots, now of blessed memory—Solanke Onasanya, Olanihun Ajayi and Abraham Adesanya) had organized a farewell reception for the then outgoing American Ambassador, Dr Walter Carrington. Determined to ensure the ceremony was disrupted, the Abacha regime sealed off the premises of Onasanya’s residence and deployed soldiers to all surrounding areas in Surulere. Undaunted, the organisers moved the event to Adebanjo’s residence about four kilometres away.

When soldiers eventually invaded his house to break up the party and throw out everybody, including Carrington and his wife, Arese, a furious Adebanjo confronted them without minding the risk to his life. Throughout the military era, Adebanjo fought alongside others for the enthronement of civil rule and in the process he was at a point detained.

Another thing that stands Adebanjo out is that he is a very contented man, perhaps because he is one of the few politicians in the country with a daytime job. He is a lawyer by profession and he has always practiced. Therefore, unlike many others, politics has been more of a vocation for him rather than a means of livelihood.

For the over three decades that I have known him, Adebanjo has been a passionate advocate for the restructuring of Nigeria and the establishment of a federalism that takes account of our diversity. For him, restructuring is not a mantra, neither is it confusing. It is simply reverting to the constitution as agreed to by the founding fathers, especially Chief Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. He participated at the 2014 National Conference and has, on different occasions, called for the implementation of its report.

However, Adebanjo is not by any means a perfect man. In fact, where some people disagree with him is that adhering to certain ideals should not foreclose looking at other viewpoints. A common charge against Adebanjo, which is not without foundation, is his rigidity on issues. As Zik Ziglar argued, people can be clear about their goals yet be flexible about the process of achieving them. But once Adebanjo takes a position on an issue, it is almost impossible to move him to adapt his plans even while keeping the dreams and goals.
Rigidity is not always a virtue but Adebanjo can be forgiven because it is a disposition that is common with many members of his generation who believe they can solve the problem of a 2018 Nigeria with a 1950 formula!

Ever consistent, ever courageous, ever resourceful, passionately engaging, a reporter’s delight, a reservoir of experience and a great blessing to our country, I wish Chief Adebanjo a happy birthday as he joins the exclusive nonagenarian club while still looking young and strong. I pray the good Lord to give him many more years in good health not only to witness the Nigeria of his dreams but to continue to be of service to the country he loves so much.

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