Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and a prominent Kaduna-based Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, have called on Nigeria’s federal government to set up special courts to try bandits, kidnappers and bearers of unlawful weapons.
Besides, they urged the federal government to work for a regional solution to the seemingly intractable security challenges facing the country, by seeking the involvement of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Also on Sunday, the Kaduna State government, again, ruled out negotiations with bandits, warning that anyone caught engaging in such negotiations would be prosecuted.
In a communiqué issued after a two-hour closed-door meeting in Abeokuta between Obasanjo and some Northern elders, led by Gumi, they charged the federal government to rehabilitate, train in skills, and employ kidnappers and other criminals who are willing to repent.
They, however, said the hardened ones should be smoked out and made to face the law.
In the communiqué jointly signed by Obasanjo and Gumi, they said the federal government was being overwhelmed by the insecurity facing the country and urged it to seek the collaboration of ECOWAS, to contain the situation.
“The federal government should take the issue up seriously within ECOWAS to work for a regional solution,” they added.
On immediate moves to rein in the kidnappers and other criminals, Obasanjo and Gumi stated: “Wean those who are ready to be weaned out of the bushes and crime.
“Settle and rehabilitate them; give them skills, empower them and let them have employment.
“The hardened criminals must be hard hit with stick. Unlawful carrying of arms should be very seriously punished.”
According to them, every community must be encouraged and empowered to fight criminals.
“Every community must be encouraged and empowered to stand firm and strong against criminals.
“There should be protection and reward covertly for whistle-blowers against criminals living in the community.
“Special courts should be created to deal promptly with cases of banditry, kidnappings, ransom demanding and unlawful carrying of weapons,” they said.
In the 21-point communiqué, they stated that the national slogan now should be, ‘Security is the responsibility of all Nigerians.’
They agreed to sustain their collaboration in finding a lasting solution to the security challenges facing the country.
Gumi also invited Obasanjo to Kaduna for a continuation of their meetings and consultations, which the latter graciously accepted.
Meanwhile, the Kaduna State Government has again ruled out negotiations with bandits, warning that anyone caught engaging in such negotiations would be prosecuted.
It also debunked reports that it had appointed representatives to negotiate with bandits.
The Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr. Samuel Aruwan, dismissed the speculations in a statement yesterday in Kaduna.
Aruwan said the state government’s stance against negotiation or payment of ransom to bandits had not changed.
The statement said: “The attention of the Kaduna State Government under the leadership of Governor Nasir el-Rufai has been drawn to reports in the media that it has appointed representatives to interface with bandits on its behalf.
“The Kaduna State Government hereby clarifies firmly that such intermediaries have never been appointed.
“The position of the Kaduna State Government remains the same: the government will not negotiate with or pay ransoms to bandits”
The statement urged “citizens to report the details of any persons posing as official government negotiators to the Kaduna State Security Operations Room.”
There has been agitations by parents of the 39 abducted students of the Federal College of Forestry, Afaka, Kaduna for the state government to negotiate with the their captors.
The students were abducted on March 11 at about 11:30pm when bandits invaded the school.
In a video clip that emerged on the social media few days after their abduction, the students had begged the government to negotiate with the bandits so that they could be freed.
Their parents, at a press conference in Kaduna on March 22, had asked the government to take urgent steps to free their children.
It was learnt that a meeting between the parents and security officials in the state, held following persistent protests by the parents.
Details of their meetings with the security officials were not known, but it was gathered that the parents were asked to be patient as everything was being done to ensure the return of their children.
They were also asked to stop talking to the media, so as to avoid jeopardising efforts by security agencies.
John Shiklam in Kaduna and Kayode Fasua in Abeokuta