The search for North West’s peace, security

On Thursday, May 16, 2024, a two-day ‘North-west Peace and Security Summit,’ commenced. The Katsina State Government House is the venue of the auspicious event, having President Bola Ahmed Tinubu as its keynote speaker.

Organised by the North-west Governors’ Forum, NWGF, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, the summit is themed: “Livelihood, Building Resilience and Promoting Peace and Security: Addressing the Nexus of Banditry, Extremism and Climate Change in North West Nigeria”.

Everyone knows that the states in Nigeria’s North-west geo-political zone, namely, Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna, Kano, Jigawa, Kebbi and Sokoto have been ravaged by the heinous activities of terrorists and armed bandits. Residents of the aforementioned states, particularly Zamfara and Katsina, are the worst hit.

Just law week, bandits massacred 30 people together with an Islamic cleric at some communities in Maradun and Tsafe local government areas of Zamfara. The victims, sources claimed, were mostly farmers. “It was a bloody week in Anka LGA, which suffered grave losses after bandits invaded five communities there over five days – Tuesday to Saturday.

“When the dust cleared, at least 49 persons lay dead. Anka residents reported that bandits slaughtered 18 persons in Farar-Kasa, 22 in Dangulbi, two in Duhuwa, four in Tsatsomawa, and three in Yar Sabaya communities,” according to a media report.

Similarly, 24 persons were killed and several others wounded in a fresh bandits attack on Unguwar Sarkin Noma community, in Sabuwa local government area of Katsina state, penultimate Friday. Those killed were mostly vigilante members, who reportedly came out to confront the bandits.

Two months ago, Nigerians were alarmed by the abduction of 287 schoolchildren in Chikun local government area of Kaduna state. “On March 8, bandits killed two residents during Friday prayers in the Kwasakwasa community, Birnin Gwari LGA, while many others were kidnapped.

“On March 12, at least 30 villagers were abducted from Budah village in Kajuru LGA. On March 13, bandits invaded Banono community in Kajuru, killing one person and kidnapping eight others. On March 16, bandits ravaged Maro ward, Kajuru LGA, kidnapping 14 villagers,” the media equally reported.

Take it or leave it, the North-west now looks more troubled than the North-east. This much was identified in a paper,  “The question of definition: Armed banditry in Nigeria’s North-West in the context of international humanitarian law”  written by Tosin Osanona and published in June 2023  by the International Review of the Red Cross (IRRC), a quarterly peer-reviewed international humanitarian law journal published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the ICRC.  

According to the study, while terrorists have killed about 350,000 people and displaced millions, the fatalities from the activities of the bandits at some point outweighed that of the Boko Haram terrorists. “In 2019, bandits were reportedly responsible for almost half of all violent deaths in Nigeria,” the research claimed.

With its once-upon-a-time robust economy now in disarray, the North-west is now the metaphor for underdevelopment, illiteracy and poverty. This is a sad commentary; one that seriously disturbs the NWGF, under the chairmanship of Governor Dikko Umaru Radda of Katsina.

The NWGF, by convening the summit, is bent on proffering lasting solutions to the woes affecting its region. The event however, is not the maiden attempt by the North-west governors to engage key stakeholders in tackling their regional security problem. Last month, members of the NWGF together with three of their colleagues from the North-central, were in the United States for a symposium on peace and security.

Organised by the Africa Center at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the symposium aimed to address the security challenges in the North-west and central. “Recognising the crucial role of state governors in mitigating security threats and fostering peace, the symposium aims to enhance their capacity in conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts across Nigeria.

“Through dialogue and collaboration, the Africa Center seeks to empower governors to address the underlying causes of instability and strengthen peacebuilding initiatives at local and state levels. During the symposium, Northern Nigeria governors and their counterparts will engage in panel discussions focusing on the drivers of insecurity and opportunities for Stabilisation.

“These discussions aim to deepen participants’ understanding of the complex security landscape, identify strategies for addressing security challenges, and explore opportunities for sustainable peace and development in the region,” said a statement by Ibrahim Kaula Mohammed, the spokesperson of Governor Radda, ahead of the forum.

The NWGF’s search for peace, integration and economic development in their region remains a herculean task, like it has always been. Therefore, it is expected that the discussions, speeches and papers to be presented at the event will be rich, insightful, well-researched, in a way that will highlight portent solutions to the North-west’s banditry malaise.

Delegates and participants at the summit should also not mince words in telling the NWGF that its members need to develop efficient strategies that will eradicate poverty and illiteracy in their states. Defeating terrorism and banditry becomes easier when people are educated and adequately empowered financially. The NWGF, as a matter of fact, should be told that their summit will not add any impetus to the fight against banditry if it is just all about talking and talking.

Concrete steps and implementable actions must be taken in the days ahead. This summit they have convened should be instructive in all ramifications of decimating terrorists in the North West.

One cannot but applaud Governors Radda and Dauda Lawal Dare of Zamfara for establishing local security networks in their respective domains, last year. Already, both the Katsina State Community Corps Watch and Zamfara Community Protection Guards (CPGs) are complementing the efforts of conventional security agencies in the two states.

As such, it is only imperative that other members of the NWGF expedite action in creating their own local security outfits, to assist our regular security forces in fighting criminals and bandits. In the South-west, we now have a regional but non-conventional security group called Amotekun.

Established barely four years ago, operatives of the network have been unrelenting in pounding terrorists, cultists, gunmen and other criminals terrorizing the zone. It won’t be a bad idea to have something like Amotekun being replicated in the North West. Governor Radda, as the NWGF leader, should assiduously champion that.

Time is running out. Anything hindering the creation of state police should be sorted out now. The North-west – pardon my bias – need more security personnel on the ground to fight bandits, or even take the battle to them in their hideouts. Again, the police officers attached to VIPs will be more productive when they are deployed to the field for combat operations against enemies of the state.

The federal government repeatedly says it has uncovered the sponsors of terrorism in the country. It is however unfortunate that the alleged criminals have not been exposed and prosecuted, allowing them to continue perpetrating their barbaric ‘trade’. This should stop.

Lest it distracts the focus of the North-west governors, who are doing everything possible to facilitate the swift return of peace and security in their region.

Mahmud, Deputy Editor of PRNigeria, writes via [email protected].