Zamfara state, North-west Nigeria, has suffered terribly from the nefarious activities of bandits who have made the state an easy target. No one can really put a number to the innocent people who have lost their lives to the activities of bandits in Zamfara. However, a rough estimate from numbers published in the media after every attack puts the number at about 2500. This number may be modest or bogus depending on which angle one is looking at the crisis from. Nevertheless, people have been killed in their thousands and many others have been kidnapped and raped while many have simply been made to vanish by these non-state actors.
“I Am A Bandit”, a collation of university seminars on the issue of banditry by Dr. Murtala Ahmed Rufa’i names Zamfara as the birthplace of banditry. According to the author, research shows that armed groups have been part of the history of Zamfara since the late 19th Century with local musicians insinuating that traditional rulers around Dan-sadau have been colluding with these lethal elements to negatively impact trade, farming, and other economic activities for years.
Contemporary banditry, as we know it today, can be traced to 2011, according to Dr. Rufa’i. And although there are several theories, about the rise of modern armed groups, the most plausible has it that it can be traced to Dan-sadau, Maru local government area of Zamfara state. It is said that it started when “politicians in the state sponsored and armed some youths as political thugs to achieve their ambition in 2011”.
It was said that after achieving their aims, the youths were abandoned and many of them went into drug abuse, cattle stealing before morphing into organised bandit groups attacking villages on motorbikes. As the author puts it, the first motorbikes used in bandits’ attacks were donations from politicians and this further solidified the nexus between banditry and politicians.
This may explain why the author posited that at the onset of bandits activities in Zamfara state “authorities remained adamant, confused and unresponsive; thus adding flavour to the politicians’ connection to the conflict. Instead of strengthening formal and informal security architecture in the state, the conflict was sedated and armed groups were lulled to sleep through amnesty and kangaroo state pardon”, emphasis mine.
This trend of massaging bandits continued through to 2019 when the then Governor Matawalle, having accused his predecessor, Abdulaziz Yari, of inertia and hobnobbing with bandits, also toed the line of amnesty for the non-state actors. Thus, the 2021 abduction of 276 girls from a school in Jangebe in the state and the subsequent claim that the girls were released, following negotiations led by the so-called repentant bandits, appear to be a spectacle orchestrated to give credence to the state’s amnesty programme.
It is perhaps in a bid to completely depart from this practice of handling bandits with kid’s gloves that Governor Dauda Lawal Dare, who rode to power on a strong public commitment to deal decisively with banditry, has taken proactive steps towards adding boots on the ground. The decision was in fulfilment of his social contract with the people and the need to strengthen “formal and informal security architecture” for the battle against bandits. And that’s why the governor approved the engagement of 4200 passionate youths from Zamfara state as Community Protection Guard (ZCPG).
In a recent visit to the training camp of the ZCPG, the governor said he “established the Community Protection Guard to strengthen the efforts of security agencies in combating banditry across the state”. From each of the 14 local government areas of the state, 300 able bodied and very passionate youths have been selected to lend a hand in the battle against the terrorists who have turned the lives of the people to a living hell.
The governor didn’t mince words when he expressed confidence that all the trainees will play a great role in the fight against banditry in the state. He said that he has witnessed the progress of the newly recruited CPG personnel training, and that he’s delighted with what he saw in the camp. “What I witnessed today has raised my hope, and I am confident that our rescue mission is on track in ensuring a better future for Zamfara,” the governor said.
The decision by Governor Dauda Lawal Dare fits perfectly with the age-long belief that a man fighting to defend his home is more dangerous than an army of criminals simply looking to bring harm to the people. Whereas the man defending his home fights for love, for family and survival, the criminal is simply out to gain where he didn’t make input, and this makes their motivation significantly different.
For instance, Boko Haram has failed to take hold of Biu in Borno state not because the security presence in the place is much more than what obtains in other places that have been ransacked by the terrorists, but because the people of Biu have taken responsibility for their security. A typical native of Biu is ever willing to face the armed terrorists with clubs where necessary. And since armed criminals feed on the fear of their victims, behaviours like the one that obtains in Biu turns the table of fear on them.
This is why the decision to engage youths whose lives have been negatively impacted by these criminals, youths who may have lost loved ones to the activities of these bandits, and many who may have watched their dreams fail because bandits happened to do something about the unscrupulous elements who have made their lives unbearable makes a lot of sense.
The battle will now be between those fighting to protect their homes and criminals used to obtaining through criminal means. However, the most important message from Governor Dauda Lawal through the establishment of the ZCPG is that it will no longer be business as usual. With an erstwhile governor, who is alleged to be using his office as an under minister of defence to utilise state actors in ways that betray their professional calling, it won’t be such a bad idea to have a body of state-controlled community police to help plug any gap left by formal security agencies.
The least one expects from the people of Zamfara state is total cooperation with these young lads that have reported for service. Our people must accord them every help necessary, whether in form of information or just plain support for their activities. The winner from this exercise will be Zamfara state and I reckon it is about time that peace returns to the place of my birth, our birth.
Sa’idu writes from Gusau, Zamfara state