Sunday, February 25, 2018

Zamfara killings and perils of porous borders

Alabi Williams
The recent outrage from Zamfara State, where some mindless marauders visited several persons with untimely death, was not the first time defenseless citizens in far-flung and remote places in that axis would suffer such fate.
In that last slay, the bandits brought down 18 people in Birane village in Zurmi local govt area. They reportedly went to Isah local government, where they added 41 persons to their carnage, making it a total of 59 for just one outing. The exact casualties cannot be verified here, but citizens who are unarmed and are going about their lawful duties are being killed wantonly.

After the bandits had committed havoc and fled, the usual blame game took over. While the Governor of the state, Abdulaziz Yari was lambasted for abandoning governance in the state to get holed up in Abuja politics, he in turn placed culpability with security agencies, who were alerted 24 hours before the attack, according to Yari, but did nothing to rescue life and property. Yari said: “Whatever was humanly possible that needed to be done, we as a government have done to mitigate this disaster. But it does appear security agencies are failing in their responsibilities.”

Indeed, security agencies have been failing in their responsibilities to protect northwest communities for quite a while now. Bandits intrude into that flank of the country at will to commit dastardly acts and nobody seems to know what to do. Bandits in search of economic survival invade homes for booties. In January, two children of Yahaya Chado, the member representing Maradun/Bakura Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives, Abuja, were abducted from the lawmaker’s home at Gora in Maradun Local Government Area. The bandits were said to have arrived in 20 motorcycles and took away Muhammad Yahaya, 27, and his elder brother, Junaidu Yahaya, who is 35. The report said they killed six and injured four as they escaped with their human cargo. Sheer wickedness!

These criminals have been around for many years. They just got emboldened in the past few years, even sending emissaries to announce their arrival in communities, not for courtesy visits, but to plunder. Matters got to a head after attacks on communities in Shinkafi and Maradun Local Government in 2017, which prompted President Buhari to order a crackdown on the bandits.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu announced that crackdown order. According to him, the order was to enable the army carryout the mandate of fishing out the criminal elements terrorising. On that occasion, Garba announced the approval by the President of the request of the Minister of Defence, Brig-Gen. Mansur Dan Ali (rtd) for stationing of a full battalion of Special Forces in Zamfara State.

Despite the assurances and deployments, the predators have not stopped to unleash terror on the people of Zamfara. In the latest attack, it is difficult to explain why government has been unable to contain these elements, given the level of intelligence that is available to the local communities.

The Emir of Zurmi, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was reported to have said the bandits numbered about 600, riding on 200 motorcycles, with three sitting on a bike and heavily armed. According to him, the community was able to mobilise 500 vigilantes to repel the attackers, who now turned their frustration on travellers and on other defenseless villages on their way.

The Emir said: “These terrorists are known to us. Their major hideout is a village called Kagara, very close to Bafarawa in Sokoto State, and a few kilometres from Shinkafi in Zamfara State. But despite several appeals to security agencies to storm the area, our appeals have failed.”

The beleaguered Emir added: I need to state here that majority of the weapons used by bad people in this country are brought in from this area. I had reason to personally inform Zamfara State’s Director of the Department of State Services (DSS), sometime back of a large cache of weapons being brought into the country but no concrete action was taken until the containers were moved away.”

That is the level of frustration and anguish in those communities. It is compounded by the fact that the Defence Minister, Dan-Ali is from Zamfara State. Senator representing Zamfara Central, Kabir Marafa, has a different story to tell. His theory is that both negligence on the part of persons in authority and petty politics are responsible for worsening insecurity in the area. He thinks the authorities in Zamfara and Abuja are not doing enough to protect life and property of the people.

My concern is that government is gradually losing hold of internal security simply because persons in high places are playing ethnic politics with the serious issue of national integrity. Nigeria is a country with a clearly defined geographical space within which her sovereignty is exercised. Every other inch of space outside this entity called Nigeria, no matter the contiguity and sociological affinity is not supposed to interfere with the integrity and security architecture of Nigeria. It is for this reason that countries engage in bilateral or multilateral relationships in order to activate trade, culture, or sustain filial relations that colonial borders may have severed. In doing that, the territorial integrity and internal security of countries should not be traded for religion and unrestrained ethnic jingoism.

Unfortunately for Nigeria, she leaks endlessly at the borders. While the case for African brotherhood demands coexistence and love, even beyond physical borders, Nigeria’s case is often taken to extremes. The outlaws who plunder Zamfara communities repeatedly are not ghosts. Until Boko Haram became full blown, there were persons in high authority and among traditional rulers and politicians who lived in denial. When the previous government wanted to apply heavier force to deal precisely with the fledgling insurgents, there were elders who criticized government because the insurgents are their children.

This is the time to secure our borders and open them only to persons who mean well for Nigeria. The era of blind affinity with migrant herdsmen from the ECOWAS sub-region can no longer work. Even in the Middle East where all the countries are mostly Arab and Muslim, nobody plays politics with internal security. Israel does not. Saudi Arabia does not open its borders the way we foolishly do. Saudi borders are the most policed in that region because for them, internal security is not about consanguinity or religion. We cannot say because there are Yoruba in Benin Republic and Togo, therefore, we must throw the Southwest border open to every migrant. Economic migrants who mean well for Nigeria and have value to add to our economy can come in and work.

If that is not done, by the time these Janjaweed elements finish with Zamfara, they will go to Sokoto.

Another angle to the situation in Zamfara is that the communities are under-policed. There are no security posts within the communities. In place of that, the people have formed themselves into vigilantes. All they need now is for government to profile the volunteers, train them and give them soft arms. If the Emir of Zurmi actually possesses the knowledge he expressed of the situation, all he needs to secure his community is the backing of government. Call it community policing if you like.

The madness in Zamfara was also experienced in Kano, where cattle rustlers took possession of Kamuku forest in the northwest flank, just as the other insurgents took over Sambisa. From Kamuku, they go on raids of soft targets, killing and robbing. The northwest governors formed a coalition and partnered the military to smoke out the criminals. I think that forest requires sustained onslaught.

What is very urgent now is a paradigm shift in how we manage our internal security. For now it is hopeless!

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