By Prof. Abdussamad Umar Jibia
It is now one and a half months since the Nigerian Telecommunication Commission (NCC) issued an order to all telecommunication companies to shut down their telecommunication sites in Zamfara state. According to the information released by Nigeria’s telecommunication regulator, it did so at the instance of the Zamfara State Government. The shutdown, according to the NCC boss was necessary to “enable relevant security agencies to carry out the required activities towards addressing the security challenge in the state”.
Soon after, a number of local governments in Katsina state, including mine, were shut down at the request of the Katsina State Government.
Although I had my reservations about the order, I kept my comments to myself and remained hopeful. This is for two reasons. One. I decided to believe that the decision was taken in good faith after due consultations and brainstorming among Government and security officials on the ground. In civilized societies such collective decisions are respected not necessarily because they are the best but because of the blessings associated with numbers.
My other reason was to avoid being misunderstood. Since banditry started in Jibia/Batsari area it has affected many of my near and distant relations. But despite that and the fact that all of us, including most of the direct victims, supported and voted in this Government, many people believe that we have no reason to criticize the present Government even if constructively. If you are kidnapped, killed, raped or injured the person you should blame is yourself or your Governor but not the central Government. I know the kind of negative reactions I receive from such people just for narrating that a bandits’ operation has taken place in my local government. That has not prevented me from saying my mind anyway.
It is almost two months now and so far, as far as I know, none of the known bandits’ kingpins has been killed or arrested. Is that because their locations are unknown? I don’t think so. When Government was looking for them to sign a peace accord, they were easily located. In fact, if Government sources are anything to go by, the Governors have their telephone numbers and they were always in touch.
“Since the bandits are isolated inside the forest, is it not easier to bombard them?” I am only repeating a question a journalist asked one of the Governors. The answer, please don’t laugh was, “They hide inside caves”.
Like that journalist, I also thought that the security agents had already identified the bandits’ locations and all that remained was to launch rains of attacks within the two weeks they requested. Alas! Here we are. Tens have just been killed in Sokoto state. In other states like mine, the stories are not different. However, the news does not travel quickly because of the telecommunications shutdown. I heard someone insinuate that to be the reason the Government asked for telecommunications cut.
Of course, some of the Governors like Aminu Masari are vividly helpless. We saw how he went around begging service chiefs to come and help him deal with bandits. In the end, when the kind of help he was looking for was not forthcoming, he started telling the people to acquire arms and defend themselves. Do you blame him?
Yes. I blame him for not buying the weapons and distributing them to the people. Most of the victims of banditry are villagers who are struggling to eat. Where does my Governor expect them to get the money to buy AK47 rifles?
But if I may ask, whose policy is it to burn the houses of suspected bandits but not to kill or arrest them? Again, how do you identify a bandit in order to arrest, kill or burn their houses? I wrote severally that the bandits living in communities should be identified and summarily tackled and I have no regret for saying it.
However, some of the activities of local vigilantes and security forces in the Jibia/Batsari axis leave much to be desired. Over the past month, many houses in selected villages were burnt to ashes and personal effects were taken away by local vigilantes backed by regular security forces. To my dismay, no bandit was said to be arrested or killed in the operations. In fact, as far as I know, no bandit was identified and declared wanted. This raises concern about the sincerity of those who carried out the attacks. Are they actually fighting banditry or is it banditry with another face?
I am particularly worried about one of the villages whose story I know very well. Matso-Matso is a small settlement about two kilometres from Zandam in Jibia local government. Matso-Matso villagers are some of the early victims of banditry. Their resistance to banditry is what led to the assassination of their Imam in 2016. The Imam, who doubles as my maternal uncle, had the habit of gathering people every Thursday to recite the complete Qur’an and pray against bandits’ activities. This led to his attack by a group of bandits on August 7, 2016. The following week, I led a delegation of the villagers to meet the Emir of Katsina and the Commissioner of Police. If PC Usman Abdullahi or the head of his CID are reading this they will bear witness that they promised to launch a raid to arrest the five key suspects identified by the villagers. On their part, the villagers promised to arrest Jatau (not real name) the principal suspect and hand him over to the police dead or alive whenever they set eyes on him.
Neither the police raided nor did the villagers set eyes on Jatau before the infamous peace agreement Governor Masari sealed with the criminals in November of that year. To their disappointment, Jatau came to their village with a full Police escort and they were told that they had no option but to accept him since the Governor had forgiven him and signed a peace agreement with him. After all, they were told, he was their “brother” from a neighbouring village in the Batsari Local Government Area.
With Government in it, the villagers had no choice. They were totally demoralized. They realized their limited power and had to submit. Many times the bandits would come with their cattle and devour their farm produce but they had nowhere to report. The village was attacked several times but calling the regular security forces was a waste of time. The only choice Matso-Matso villagers had was to be paying Jatau, the killer of their Imam to be protecting them against other gangs. And it has been working very well.
Matso-Matso also falls on a major bandits’ route from the forest to the eastern part of Jibia LGA. The armed bandits thus made it a habit to branch and rest in the village and the villagers had no power to repel them.
That is the village in which no less than 28 houses were burnt down by local vigilante and their military backers because “all the people there are bandits”. Meanwhile, Jatau, the leader of bandits in Jibia and Batsari LGA has not been arrested.
My call on Governor Masari, Chief of … (sorry, I don’t even know who to call upon now). Okay, whosoever is in charge should find a more scientific way of identifying bandits living in rural communities and neutralizing them. The advice given by the Chairman, Jibia People’s Forum, which I agree to, is to launch an unexpected house to house search for weapons and the like in the villages. As for the townships, I believe they have by now heeded the advice of the Governor and acquired sufficient rifles.
Anarchy….. Allah Ya kyauta!
Professor Abdussamad Jibia can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.