Governor of Katsina State in Nigeria’s northwest, Aminu Masari, has said with the benefit of hindsight, his government should never have negotiated with bandits, let alone grant them amnesty. Although Masari said he never regretted his decision at the time, he admitted that information available to him confirmed that engaging the bandits was not the right thing to do.
Consequently, based on current understanding of the situation, the governor said he has set in motion plans to proscribe open grazing of cattle in the state. He said once certain structures were put in place for ranching, nomadic herding would be outlawed in the state.
Masari disclosed these during an interview on a national television station.
He insisted that open grazing of animals should not be encouraged in any form, adding that the practice is even contrary to Islamic doctrines, which forbid allowing animals into other peoples’ land.
The governor of the North-west state also identified informants as the greatest challenge to the fight against insecurity in that part of the country.
In a related development, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, yesterday, said President Muhammadu Buhari was worried about the selective abductions and killings in the North-west and North-central zones of the country. Baba said the president had directed all security agencies in the country to ensure immediate end to the situation.
Meanwhile, six additional Tucano fighter jets are expected in the country next week to complement the six already on the ground in the fight against insecurity.
Masari, who had offered marauding gunmen amnesty, after negotiations with them, said looking back in hindsight, he should not have done that.
He said, “I do not regret it. But the only thing I can say is that with the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it. We realised: who are you talking with, because they do not have an umbrella.
“They are not pushing for any ideological view; they are not pushing for any religious view. They are simply bandits, criminals and thieves. Any person in the forest is a potential criminal and should be dealt with as such.”
Speaking on the open grazing controversy, Masari said, “We intend to ban unnecessary roaming about with cattle. But before we do that, we will make provisions where the animals will stay. I think the situation in the southern part of the country is slightly different from the northern part of the country.
“The majority of the herders are from the northern part of the country. So, for us, we need a law that should be obeyed, not one that will be disregarded. For us to come up with the law we will first of all put some structures on ground, then, we will have the law that can back up the structures so that nobody would roam or move about with cattle.
“Even that is un-Islamic. It says do not have the numbers you cannot feed that you have to stretch over to people’s land or on somebody’s farm. I do not think that it is right. And, certainly, once we put in place ranching for the grazing of all animals, the issue of anybody roaming about will be a past.”
On the rising incidence of armed criminality in Katsina State, Masari categorically identified majority of those involved in the act as Fulani, saying, “They are the same people like me; who speak the same language like me; who profess the same religion like me. They are not aliens. So, what we have here on ground is banditry.
“They are people we know. They are people that had been living with us for 100 of years. They are also people of the Fulani extraction. Majority of those involved in this banditry are Fulani, whether it is palatable or not, but that is the truth.
“I did not say that 100 per cent of them are Fulani, but the majority of them are. They are people who live in the forest and their main occupation is rearing of cattle.
“Probably their fortunes dwindled over time with climate change and their lack of access to education, both Islamic and Western education, also aggravated the situation.”
While acknowledging possible infiltrations from some West and North African countries, the governor stressed that the fall of former Libya leader Muammar Ghadafi had encouraged instability and proliferation of arms and ammunitions. He urged the political leadership in northern Nigeria to summon courage and determination to end the crisis.
“I think it is our responsibility in Katsina and northern Nigeria to be determined to end this,” he said.
Masari added, “The biggest problem in our efforts and other places is their informants. They are everywhere in the markets and the villages and when they see military or police patrol they will inform.
“The problem is the support the informants are giving to the bandits, which empowers them with information. Once we are able to cripple the informants, especially, by taking away the networks, the informants can no longer help them. The armed forces have their own way of communicating.”
The governor explained that the bandits would be fished out and brought to book with the aid of technology and the determination of the armed forces.
He stated regarding the armed criminal gangs, “They live in the forests. The terrain is very bad and reaching them is also very difficult. But with the help of technology and what we have seen the air force is trying to do, we will be able to reach some of their camps, get their leaders and bring them to book. The efforts of the military are yielding success in reaching the most difficult areas.
“A lot of these areas are ungoverned, because they are forest areas. Access to them is difficult in rainy season but not impossible. With technology, we will be able to reach wherever they are and fish them out.”
Meanwhile, Baba, who spoke after Tuesday’s meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) at State House, Abuja, chaired by Buhari, said the president had directed sustained action to end the menace of selective abduction and killings in the North-central and North-west geopolitical zones.
Briefing newsmen after the close-door meeting, Baba stated, “The new marching order is that all the service chiefs and intelligence chiefs have been warned to go and reinvigorate efforts and to do more so that the North-central and Nigeria at large should enjoy better security.”
The IG, who acknowledged government’s responsibility to secure the citizenry, admitted that more needed to be done to change the insecurity narrative pervading the North-central and North-west, as well as other parts of the country.
He said, “The president also observed and made a remark that the constitutional responsibility of government is the provision of security, and he is ready to provide such. We should reinvigorate our efforts, which are yielding results in the North-east, South-east.
“But there is more to be done in the North-central, North-west, where people are worried and he has intelligence and information that schoolchildren and students are abducted, selective abductions and killings are done. This narrative must change.”
The IG added that the security chiefs had assured the president that they would try their best to improve the security narrative.
Baba said on their meeting with Buhari, “We have assured him and promised that we will make efforts to do more. He also thanked and praised us for what has been done so far; that we should improve much so that people can go about their lawful businesses within the quickest possible means.”
Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (rtd), also revealed after the meeting that six more Tucano jets would be in the country by next week to boost the fight against insurgency and other criminalities bedevilling the country. Magashi stressed that the initial six Tucano jets that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) took delivery of recently were currently being test run while the Chief of Air Staff would soon give further details on the issue.
The minister told journalists, “We are just testing the Tucano jets. Six are still coming by the end of, maybe, next week. So, when the 12 of them are here, I think the Chief of Air Staff will brief you on the operations that they are to undertake as soon as possible.”
Magashi expressed government’s concern over the unfolding insecurity in Zamfara State and the North-central, but assured the people of military’s determination to change the narrative.
According to him, “We believe that the rate at which these things are happening in Zamfara State and North-central is a source of concern to the government and to all agencies that are responsible for the execution of the operations in the North-central.
“We discussed the need for urgency in our dealing with the bandits. We believe they’re becoming a nuisance; killing people, they are doing what they like, they make careless statements, they say what they think they should say in order to solicit the kind of audience they want from the society.”
The defence minister said the meeting also appraised the developments, generally, which required all hands on deck.
He stated, “We have appraised our position, we’ve found that we are capable, we can do this thing, but we need the cooperation of every Nigerian in order to ensure a free society.
“Security, as far as this country is concerned, is the paramount important thing. Without security, nothing will happen and the Commander-in-Chief has emphasised this today that without security, nothing can go on. So, he has directed us to find ways, tactics and style with which we can get out of this and we assured him.”
Further assuring of the preparedness of the security agencies to end the menace of insecurity in the country, Magashi said, “We will do our best to ensure the mission is successful and we will do all we can to ensure the completion of this mission, especially, when equipment and other things are available to support the course of our tactical manoeuvres and that we will do very well from now.”
Deji Elumoye in Abuja, Dike Onwuamaeze in Lagos and Francis Sardauna in Katsina