Secret negotiations with bandits: Stop playing politics with our lives; Northern leaders warn FG, Zamfara govt

Northern leaders and stakeholders in  the north have warned the Federal  Government and Zamfara state government to stop playing politics with the lives of the people of the region following the face-off between them over the allegation that the Federal Government was secretly negotiating with bandits in Zamfara state without involving the state government.

Governor Dauda Lawal of Zamfara, had accused the Federal Government of sabotaging the ongoing fight against banditry in the state by negotiating with bandits behind the state government. In a statement signed by his spokesperson, Sulaiman Idris, the governor said a delegation allegedly sent by some agencies of the Federal Government had been holding talks with bandit groups in Zamfara without the knowledge of the State Government.

The Minister of Information, in a statement by his spokesperson Suleiman Haruna on Tuesday night however denied negotiating with bandits and accused the Zamfara governor of politicising security matters. Reacting to the statement by the minister, Governor Dauda, insisted that the State Government possessed hard evidence of the Federal government’s sneaky negotiations with bandits, mentioning locations where such talks were held with bandits, such as Birnin Magaji, Maradun, Mun Haye, Ajah, Bawo, and Bagege. According to him, “We have facts and evidence on what had transpired between these agents of the Federal Government and the bandits during the negotiations in several places across Zamfara”.

He noted that the minister of Information should have conducted a thorough investigation before discrediting the state government. The Governor therefore warned that negotiating with bandits in Zamfara was a grave mistake, and not the solution to the problem as it would only encourage and embolden the criminals.

In their reactions, some leaders in the north expressed outrage that the Federal Government could be negotiating with bandits which never worked in the past and cautioned the government against such move. They argued that by engaging in talks with bandits, the government was indirectly legitimizing their criminal activities and creating a dangerous cycle of appeasement, adding that the move was sending a troubling message that crime and violence can be rewarded rather than punished.

It doesn’t make sense, it’s dead on arrival — Arewa Consultative Forum

In his reaction, the Spokesman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Professor Tukur Muhammad-Baba argued that these negotiations are weakening the rule of law and establishing a dangerous precedent for other criminal elements in the country and expressed fear that this approach might inspire other groups to take up arms and engage in similar acts. Describing the move as ‘weak,’ he urged the Federal Government to reconsider its stance on negotiating with bandits.

He said: “How will you begin a negotiation in Zamfara state without involving the Zamfara state government? You and I know this is a serious aberration and should not be taken lightly. There is no way you can come into my house without my knowledge, even if we are of the same father, and start doing this kind of thing is not good.

It’s incredible. We are a Federation, and the Federal government is in charge of all security forces but the governor is the chief security officer of the state. How can anybody, in any sense, engage in such an activity without involving the state government? Negotiation with bandits has not worked in the past, and there is no evidence that it will work. Look at the characteristics of those involved in the banditry; they don’t have a central organization, they don’t have a central leadership. What we know about them is that they are bandits who go about taking guns and taking the law into their hands. According to a report by UNICEF, there are over 300 such groups in Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara. So, if you’re going to negotiate with them, who will you negotiate with? Are you going to negotiate with over 300 groups? It doesn’t make sense. And of you’re going to negotiate, does it not make sense to involve the state government? In the video, the negotiation was being manned by soldiers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in a state where there is a governor, so it doesn’t make sense. I doubt very much if the central government or the presidency is aware of it.

Someone, somewhere, is trying to sabotage the government of Zamfara State; someone somewhere is doing that without thinking of the repercussions on the ordinary people in the rural villages and on students that are being harassed by these bandits. We heard on radio someone giving orders that the bandits should be allowed passage. Are you saying that they should leave Zamfara state and go to another state, and you’re providing them security coverage? This is a very terrible strategy and I call it dead on arrival.

It doesn’t make sense, whoever did that should be investigated and should be punished by the government in power. This is not just about sabotaging the government in power, it is also sabotaging the federal government efforts itself. You cannot do that. You cannot negotiate with a faceless group and allow them passage with their guns and everything. Our organization is not happy with that. There cannot be an end to this insurgency without synergy between the federal government and regional synergy in all the states that are affected by this banditry. From Sokoto to Taraba, from Kaduna state to Kogi state, from Borno to Nasarawa state, it has to be coordinated and a well executed strategy to involve all the state governments and communities that have been affected by this banditry.”

We’re sending wrong impression that criminality pays —Adeyanju

On his part, Human rights activist and Convener of Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju, said: “Such negotiations can never end well. Like I have said over the years, that once people negotiate with terrorist groups, whether they call them Boko Haram, herdsmen whatever it is, whatever nomenclature you want to give it, once government begins to negotiate with non-state actors who are armed, people who are causing mayhem all over the country, then we are sending the wrong impression to the public that criminality pays.

More people will tend to stick to criminality and people will not have recourse to constitutional order in the country. So, whatever money and whatever things they are giving to the bandits, the bandits are only going to use it to further regroup and cause more mayhem on the populace, so it’s a bad idea, it is a show of complete failure of governance. Such things didn’t even happen under Obasanjo. Obasanjo dealt with OPC and the militants but today you see that these militants are romancing with the president.”

There’s a complete failure of the governance system in Nigeria —Dr Zikirullahi

Also speaking, the Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr. Ibrahim Zikirullahi, while expressing his disappointment, called on the current administration led by President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to restructure the military and ensure it regains its lost glory.

According to him, “That singular act is a complete failure of the governance system in Nigeria because what it presents is that our security is no longer having the capability to deal with the insurgency and they are no longer trusted to do their work. And it’s almost like Nigeria is going into the abyss.

The other time Asari came out in the open to say that he secured a contract from the federal government, that he has his own private army, with all kinds of arms moving around. So, the work of the Nigeria police, the work of the military, the work of the Navy are now being ceded to private individuals in the name of contracts.

So, all these show that there are a lot of things that are going wrong in the system and my take is why do we still have to spend so much money maintaining these security outfits if they cannot do the job that they are employed to do.

Coming to Zamfara, I saw the reaction by the state government criticizing the federal government for not carrying them along in the negotiations. This brings us to the information in the past in the public domain that there are people in the government, people in security that are also aiding and abetting these criminals that we now call bandits or insurgents or whatever the name.

We have seen a number of times how some of our military officers risked their lives to arrest some Boko Haram terrorists or some bandits only for the government to turn around and say they have repented and then they go ahead to do worse things. So, for me the entire structure of governance in Nigeria, if we must move forward, needs to be restructured. We need various reforms.”

Negotiating with bandits is an indication of weakness  —Dr Bitrus Pogu, National President of Middle Belt Forum

In his reaction, the National President of Middle Belt Forum, MBF, Dr Bitrus Pogu said, “Firstly it is wrong for any government to negotiate with bandits, terrorists or any insurgents in a country. It doesn’t matter whether it is Federal or state. The issue here is that some people constituted themselves as outlaws and are attacking the state.

And what should be done is to wipe them out. If they see the superior power they will either stop or they are eliminated. Now for our government to be negotiating, it is an indication of weakness, that is one. It is an indication that we are not really sincere about the whole thing because here are people who are fighting against the state, and we have a military whose duty is to protect the territorial integrity of the country, and then secretly at the back you start negotiating. It is unfortunate and that may be one of the reasons this insecurity has not ended. Because the bandits believe that they are strong enough to force government to negotiate with them.

Then, secondly, we have locations of terrorists in this country that are known to the security forces. Some of them have never been attacked by our military. They tell Nigerians all sorts of things and lies, ground zero in Sambisa and all what not, they are all lies. Those people who know these things know that the military is not allowed because at the top there is some political compromise that stops the military as if the government has a hand or whatever in the whole process. It is unfortunate; and this exposure brings everything into question that it is possible that our government is not clean in this whole process.”

It’s simply insanity to engage in what never worked in the past —James Pam

On his part, James Pam, the Secretary, Association of Middle Belt Ethnic Nationalities, ASOMBEN, stated, “Gov Dauda Lawal of Zamfara has complained openly that some Federal Govt agencies were busy negotiating with bandits in his state behind him. The Nigerian Constitution makes the State Governor, the Chief Security Officer of the State (CSO). The Federal agencies therefore should have respected the Constitution and observed the normal protocol of informing the Governor of their operation.

The cause of the frosty relationship between Gov Lawal and the new Minister of state for Defence and former Gov of Zamfara, Matawalle may be responsible for this odd behaviour. Lawal of PDP defeated the then incumbent Matawalle of the APC in the March 2023 elections. Obviously, enmity will exist between these two individuals. Remember that PDP has never won the governorship of Zamfara State before.

The APC-controlled Federal Government will want to slight Gov. Lawal at any given opportunity. It should also be remembered that when Matawalle was the Zamfara State Governor, he attempted negotiating with the bandits to no avail.

Why should he now send Federal Government agencies to try the method he had tried as governor and it didn’t work? They say doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of madness.

I feel the Federal agencies were unfair to Gov. Lawal. We all know that security agencies always observe the protocol of reporting to their counterparts whenever they have an operation to carry out in a jurisdiction that is not theirs. As the legal CSO of Zamfara, all security agencies are duty bound to report to him upon entering his state. Before the US forces entered Nigerian territory to rescue an American who was kidnapped in Niger Republic and brought into Nigeria, they obtained permission from the Federal Government first. There was therefore no need for the breach of protocol. It was a clear case of political vendetta.”

Parties must stop playing politics with security matters —CAN, Kaduna

Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Kaduna State, Rev Joseph John Hayab said “governments worldwide engage in activities behind the scenes to achieve specific goals or missions, especially regarding ending insecurity. Accordingly, even though it is not conventional to enter into an open negotiation with lawbreakers, some issues require decorum and maturity in handling.

Therefore, we must tread softly in handling the Zamfara Governor’s and FG’s outbursts. Security agencies should find a forward-thinking approach to tackle the matter. Moreover, everybody should be mindful of their utterances and unite to defeat the enemy of our people and country.

Hence, at the moment, the blame will not help Nigeria. Besides, suppose there are any elements of truth that negotiations are ongoing behind the Governor, who is the state’s chief security officer; the question is, what knowledge does the former governor now have that he did not use to tackle the insecurity when he was governor?

As the immediate past governor, whose tenure heightened the insecurity in Zamfara, and he is now the Minister of State for Defense, there are grave concerns if negotiations with bandits occur behind the current governor. Despite the situation’s complexity, CAN calls for all parties to stop playing politics with security matters, as innocent and helpless citizens have been killed to the point that life has become miserable. So, the position of CAN is that no one, under any guise, should further exacerbate the already awful situation of insecurity,” Hayab said.

FG, Zamfara face off will embolden terrorists  —Anthony Sani

A former Scribe of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, Chief Anthony Sani said, “Even though there are international and national laws against negotiation with terrorists that might embolden the bandits, such laws are difficult for government to obey.

This is because if governments forsake their citizens in the custody of bandits, it could affect a sense of patriotism and loyalty to the government and the country. There is this adage that if you kill one person, you would be charged for murder; if you kill ten people you would be examined for insanity; but if you kill one hundred people, you would be invited to Geneva for peace talks, not because the comity of nations likes the killing of the 100 people but because they want to stop further killing. So the federal government may want to be belligerent as the lion and savvy as the fox, depending on the circumstance.”

A former Plateau State Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Mr. Katdapba Gobum added, “If the allegation is anything to go by, the federal government must retrace and engage the State government to play a part in the negotiation. The federal government, by this act is reducing the place of the State in fighting crime and criminality. The Zamfara State Government is right to disagree with the Federal Government simply on account that they should be made to play a part.”

CNG urges restraint

The Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) Spokesperson ;Abdul-Azeez Suleiman said the situation in Zamfara State has become increasingly alarming with the evident rift between the federal and the Zamfara State governments , resulting in a repetitive cycle of blame and counter-blame between the two parties, throwing the population into further confusion with the potential of exacerbating the security challenges in the state.

He said, “We condemn the recent security breach that shook the Gusau University campus. Adequate security measures must be put in place to safeguard these institutions, and the necessary resources allocated to ensure their effectiveness. Government must also work to provide students with the assurance of their safety by creating an environment conducive to learning. The ongoing instability in the state has led to numerous challenges, including threats from insurgent groups, terrorist attacks, and communal clashes. It is disheartening to see that instead of working collaboratively to address the security issues, both sides have resorted to pointing fingers at each other.

This blame game only serves to distract from finding effective solutions and undermines the trust and confidence that the people of Zamfara State desperately need from their leaders. It is therefore crucial to understand that the security challenges in Zamfara State require a unified and coordinated effort from both the Federal Government and the Zamfara State government. We therefore sound a loud clarion call on the Federal and the Zamfara State governments to exercise restraint and the maturity expected in leaders in order to face the security challenges head on and ensure the safe return of the abducted students.

“We call on the government, security agencies, and relevant stakeholders to collaborate effectively in developing and implementing strategies that will bring an end to this cycle of violence. It is imperative to prioritize the protection of lives and property, ensuring that our citizens can go about their daily lives without fear and apprehension. It is therefore necessary for the Zamfara state government to work closely with federal agencies responsible for security matters, such as the Police, Military, and Intelligence Agencies.

All stakeholders should prioritize the overall safety and well-being of the people of Zamfara State above any political differences. We call on the Federal Government to ensure the involvement of the state governments concerned and relevant stakeholders in the formation of policies that concern security. It is only through this synergy we can have an informed policy direction for enduring security in Zamfara and the entire Northern region,” Abdul-Azeez said.

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