Since the Boko Haram insurgency appeared on the scene in 2009, tens of thousands of lives of the civil populace and military personnel have been lost and a large swathe of the country’s territory seized. While the war at the North-East corridors is still raging, another frontier of conflict opened in the North-west with banditry and kidnapping.
In order to stem the tide of what became of Zamfara state where kidnap for ransom overwhelmed the government while the citizens suffered untold hardship, the Katsina state governor, Aminu Masari in the last one week has been shuttling in the dens of kidnappers and cattle rustlers who have taken refuge in Rugu forest and some dangerous spots in the bush from where they unleash terror on the people. The blood-thirsty disposition of the criminal gang is no respecter of anybody—an in-law of the president and a title holder in Daura emirate was once a victim. So daring was the bandits’ moves that, in Dugun Muazu, Sabuwa, Maigora, ransom on people has been paid over and over.
Without the capacity to resist, confront and drive away the kidnappers, people in Katsina state went spiritual and called for prayers to ward off the evil menace. But as it were, prayers without concrete and practical steps are an exercise in futility; criminality continued unabated. The people resorted to the risky option of negotiating for peace until recently, when the governor waded in with the same option of dialogue or perhaps amnesty in the end.
When I started reading about the rise and fall of empires in my history class in secondary school, I thought they were chronicles that belonged in ancient uncivilised mores, until I began to read about major wars among nations and World War I and World War II which ended in the formation of League of Nations and United Nations respectively; the latter has endured up till today. Again, I thought, naively though, that the lofty charter of the UN, whose foundational ideal of “worldwide peace and security” would make major wars nearly impossible. Now I know better. Conflict is part of our existential life; and as it was in the past, so shall it remain.
However, the bottom-line, at the end of any conflict is the desire for a truce; when men and materials have been lost on both sides and everyone and every side has become war-weary, the only way out is to search for peace, and at this level, who triggers the war becomes immaterial even as casualties only become statistics. In the last century alone, we had such seemingly unresolved Cambodian genocide between 1975 and 19790 that saw to the killing of three million people at the hands of Khmer Rouge, Spain’s separatist movement, Ireland crisis, Rwanda genocide, Nigerian civil war, and even the Niger Delta crisis, all culminated into resolutions and dialogue towards a truce, treaty, amnesty, a thaw, a peace deal; whatever, no matter how fragile.
In other words, it is neither easy for the aggressor nor the culprit/victim to discuss at a round table, but the alternative is more loss of lives. What to do? Negotiate if need be. It may also not be easy to negotiate with criminals that have killed and kidnapped for ransom, in their own turf, but when you live in a country like Nigeria where the challenge of banditry and insurgency has become intractable, and the fire-power of the marauders out-classes regular military-police’s, appeasement and diplomacy may not be a bad idea, at least to minimise damages in terms of loss of lives and property.
This fact of history must have prompted Governor Masari to begin reconciliation overtures with the criminal gang threatening at least eight out of 34 Local Governments affected by banditry. The LGs are Dandume, Sabuwa, Faskari, Kankara, Danmusa, Safana, Batsari and Jibiya; all of them are contiguous to the Rugu forest. Rugu forest, just like Sambisa forest is a notorious enclave for crime, drug and death.
The Masari approach attracted uproar, with people questioning the rationale behind negotiating with criminals and bandits when he should actually smoke them out or apprehend and prosecute them. But for Masari, that is more of theory, because in actual fact, all the practical methods initiated by his government failed to stop the menace.
Perhaps, he believes that confrontation even for a man who wields power can fail, and so opted for dialogue. As at the weekend, the Governor in company of the governors of the equally banditry- affected states of Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi were at the Prefecture of Maradi, Niger Republic, which also serves as a window for the criminals. According to his Director General (Media), Abdu Labaran Malumfashi, Masari’s decision to engage his counterpart in Niger Republic was “buoyed by the obvious success of the ongoing rapprochement with the local bandits” and with the conviction that alienating the enemy can be dangerous. The gambit seems to be paying, as there have not been major attacks since the dialogue mission started. Already bandits in custody have been swapped with over 20 kidnap victims and more will follow. For those released from the dungeon of hell, their freedom matters more than the morality or correctness of the governor’s actions.
Like the Katsina governor, the governor of Borno state, Professor Babagana Zulum has not been at ease since he assumed office over three months ago. His determination to consolidate on the efforts of his predecessor in increasing access to qualitative as well as quantitative education as an effective ideological antidote to the Boko Haram insurgency, Gov Zulum is courageously walking a dangerous path to sustainable peace, security and socio-economic development of Borno State.
He overcame all odds to show the might and resolve of the people to confront the menace of insurgency, and to never give up or feel defeated. The latest attack on him occurred on September 4, last week when the Boko Haram fighters opened fire on his convoy on his return from Bama LG after a visit to Bayo, Kwaya Kusar, Askira Uba and Gwoza on a “familiarity and needs assessment tour”.
Describing how the attack was repelled. “Immediately after they fired at us, our men in collaboration with the armed personnel from the Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad (FSARS) quickly retaliated and thwarted the ambush”, a source told The Cable. Such is the threat that has characterised governors’ leadership of the state; as the insurgents once attacked the former governor of the state, Kashim Shettima on his way to Gamboru Ngala.
Governors Masari and Zulum might not have won the battle yet, but being proactive, responsive, concerned, and alive to their responsibility, is the first step the leadership needs to overcome challenges such as banditry, and to some extent insurgency. At the international level, dialogue is still a preferred choice of ending conflicts. If force of arm, fire power and military might are sufficient, America would have wiped off Iran and North Korea from the face of the earth. And in spite of Trump’s recalcitrance, he went behind to talk to the North Korean leader and will one day do same with Iran. So, what is the fuss about Governor Masari’s peace initiative?