According to acaps.org, more than 1,100 people were killed in 2018 in the six states; over 2,200 were killed in 2019, and more than 1,600 fatalities were recorded between January and June 2020.
By September 2019, such attacks had internally displaced more than 160,000 people and produced more than 41,000 refugees. Displacement numbers now stand at over 247,000 IDPs and some 60,000 refugees.
The menace of banditry has continued hardly with any form of improvement in efforts by security agencies to curtail it. Most times, state governments like Zamfara and Katsina had rather engaged these bandits in negotiations, mode of which is not known to the public.
However, rumour going around suggest that such negotiations include monetary inducements.
In his quest towards contributing his quota in reducing the intensity of these crimes by taking the message of Islam to their dens, Sheikh Dr Ahmed Mahmud Gumi has been visiting the forests where these bandits live to preach to them, give them Islamic texts and some relief materials for their families.
He is also using that opportunity to broker peace between the government and the bandits.
The causes of banditry are multifaceted but it is widely agreed that banditry is a product of a mismanaged farmer-herder crisis.
The North West region’s mostly savannah climate (with characteristic huge forests) makes it home to both farmers and pastoralists. But with the recent changes in climatic and environmental conditions, arable land and pasture seem to have started getting substantially lost to the deserts due to shorter rainy seasons and subsequent water shortages.
These prevailing conditions have precipitated competition for farming and grazing lands among the inhabitants of the increasingly populated region and have led to violent clashes between predominantly Fulani pastoralist sand Hausa farmers.
Other factors that have catalysed this violence are some government policies that sought to allocate huge lands to farmers and clear a vast amount of forests and grazing reserves. These have eventually resulted in the displacement of many Fulani hamlets and the blockage of their grazing routes. And without alternatives, such blockages have paved way for increased cases of trespassing and destruction of crops by Fulani pastoralists’ herds.
The violence escalated to the extent that both sides created armed groups in their defence. The Fulani groups were tagged as ‘Yan Bindiga’ while the Hausa groups were tagged as ‘Yan sa kai’. Both groups have carried out deadly attacks and reprisals against each other and are both often described as “bandits” by the media.
Hence, one cannot factor out that some of the major causes of banditry include neglect by governments, arbitrary attacks on their formerly peaceful hamlets by vigilante groups, among others. There’s clearly a case of injustice in some quarters.
This is what Gumi is seeking to rectify by bringing the two sides to the table. There are genuine grievances and they should be heard!
While almost all states affected have expressed readiness for such kind of dialogue, only Kaduna State Governor Mallam Nasir el-Rufai has voiced out his opposition for dialogue with the bandits. And this holds a great danger for the state.
One could hear Dogo Gide, a prominent bandit leader in a video clip seeking for clarification while discussing on the possibility of dialogue between them and the government where he asked if the dialogue would include all states affected or if there are exceptions. He further explained that he was asking that because they heard El-Rufai had said he would not condone dialogue and preferred that there be military assault instead.
Now this holds a lot of consequences as intelligence has shown that the bandits might be planning a mission to converge in Kaduna forests and unleash mayhem on innocent citizens of the state.
While the governor’s stand is good, it however holds some unobtainable elements as it is widely known that the security formations in Kaduna do not have the necessary tactical and offensive capacity to effect such military assaults or even adequately defend the state just like in any other state in the North West.
It is, therefore, important that the North West Governors’ Forum brings forth a uniform strategy to tackle this menace and collectively choose which avenue, between aggressive methods and dialogue, it will pursue to bring a permanent end to this crisis.
It is argued that the farmer-herder crisis is a challenge which needs economic solutions as against brute force. The government should frown at open grazing and institute standard ranching systems.
These states should also, through their federal legislators push for constitutional amendment that would usher in state police. Vigilante activities have proven rather inefficient in this regard as it has been one of the major driving forces of the crisis.
Third, all the states should establish ministries or commissions specifically tasked with the maintenance of internal security. They should all have central security control and surveillance centres to serve as intelligence aggregation units to foster interagency collaboration in the fight against the menace.
There should also be a central theatre for the coordination of operations for states in the region.
The governors should welcome the leadership of the bandits to the dialogue table. Dialogue is never a waste.
The government should also try providing a panacea for this menace by bringing farmers and herders together. If ranching for modern livestock production is achieved, the government should tie a knot between the two sides and the binding factor should be economics.
There should be a form of dependability across the value chain of both aggrieved sides. For example, there should be enhanced cow dung manure processing mechanisms so as to present it as suitable alternative to inorganic fertilizers for farmers in exchange for grains for livestock production.
Lastly, rule of law should always prevail and the country should establish transparent redress and reconciliation programmes aimed at solving problems around extrajudicial actions committed by both state and non-state actors to restore citizens’ trust in the government.
The government should also focus on peacebuilding and peace sustenance mechanisms to avoid re-eruption of such cases after successful management.
Ringim a political and public affairs analyst, writes from Zaria email@example.com