The current trend of negotiation with bandits by some Governors, and subsequent warning by President Buhari, has continued to generate diverse reactions. Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, who spoke with some selected journalists in Katsina, advised his colleagues not to negotiate with bandits of whatever guise because they are criminals. Our Katsina State Correspondent, FAITH AWA MAJI was there for the Nigerian Pilot. Excerpts:
President Muhammadu Buhari has warned governors against negotiating with the bandits, but some of you are still negotiating with the goons, what is your reaction?
Let me tell you, as for us we are not negotiating with the bandit. We did it before and it failed. We cannot negotiate with a thief because they don’t have any association. And they don’t have any agenda other than to steal. They are not people fighting based on any ideology. So, we cannot negotiate peace with them. What I said and let me repeat it. I know that there are some herders in the forest that are not bandits and are not criminals. They should come out and surrender all they have. So that we should know whoever inhabited the forest is a criminal. And also, herders living in the forest should make peace with their neighbours. We don’t have to come in.
For me, we will not sit at the same table. If they say they are fighting based on ideology, then there is a basis for negotiation but when you are fighting to steal how can you stop anybody from stealing? Unless by force. You bring him under control by force. That is how you deal with a thief. They don’t have any association, is it an association of thieves or association of bandits? They don’t have any association. They are a bunch of criminals because if you negotiate with him as a thief he will not steal in your house. Then he will go and steal in his house or your neighbour’s house because he is a thief. So, for us is not protecting one state or protecting one community is protecting all.
When it started people thought it was Zamfara, Katsina, affairs until they found themselves in places like Ogun, Ondo, Imo and other places. So, one of our problems is we don’t look at this country as one body. You know if for example your ear is sick and your leg says it is not my business it is the ear that is sick. This ear sickness will develop to the point that it will affect the leg.
So, if there is any problem in any part of the country, we should look at it as our problem. At least we should have learnt a lesson from Boko Haram. When it started in Borno some people thought is this Muslim extremist. So is not their business. So, gradually many states including FCT were affected. Then it became a national problem.
When banditry started it was a north region affair and now it has become a national affair. So, we should learn to help each other. When there is a problem in a particular place let all of us move to that problem and stop it because if we don’t it will escalate and affect all parts of the country bringing tension among people. And again, we should look at criminals as criminals wherever they come from. Is not about looking at one ethnic community and say they are like this. In any group of people either by tribe or ethnicity or religion, there are good and bad people everywhere. So, the idea of demonizing or segmenting a particular group and branding them is bad simply because bad people come from them.
You are among the Governors that are making sure there is peace, especially in the North-West region. But it appears that banditry and other kinds of crime are persisting despite your efforts. What do you think is the inattentive tie?
Look! You know… I want to accept that a zero crime-free society has never been done before and it will never be since the beginning of time. But what we have today are bandits and some few elements of insurgent among them that we must work as Governors in the Northern part of the country to bring them under control. You can’t eliminate criminality but it should be at a level that cannot disturb the ways and means of people. Let along lead to losing their lives.
So, I think there is a need for synergies which we are working towards in the state, even the traditional institutions across the zone and across the region because this bandit moves through the forest from one zone to another.
So, we are working. When we met last week during the northern Governors and the traditional rulers meeting these were the issues discussed on how to synergize and have a common approach to dealing with bandits. So, a criminal in Sokoto is a criminal in Kaduna, is a criminal in Taraba, is a criminal in Gombe, viz-visa. So, we are going to help with a systematic approach. So, that wherever they go, they are blocked and taken care of.
Your dream and optimal satisfaction were bequeathing secured and prosperous Katsina State. Sir, considering the fact that the whole nation is facing security challenges, how realisable is this your dream?
Let me tell you, challenges are part of leadership. Challenge is part of leadership. I don’t think there is any leader without challenge. But securing the lives and the properties of the people is the primary role of any government. We believe in our part as the state government in which we are limited in terms of what we can do. But the little we can do and we are doing am sure we are on the right track in providing security.
We are looking at the local government laws and amending them for the involvement of the traditional rulers, interest groups and the returning the responsibility of the security to the community. Before the security was the responsibility of the local leadership to provide security to their localities and they were doing it very well. But somehow, the local government reform of 1976, in particular, took away some of these and transferred them to nowhere. So a vacuum was created. So, this was trying to restore security communities under our local government laws. And also, the reestablishment of the security council to be headed by the district head and all key players in the society.
The head of shepherds, the head of butchers, the head of transport, the Imams and the local hunters in those communities are all part of those to form the security committee including me because in every village now we have youth leadership, we have women leadership that should participate in helping secure the villages and towns. Katsina was doing well before. It was not through oil money; it was through agriculture and livestock. We have the land, we have water. I think amongst the states we have large bodies of water, dams for irrigation.
So, Katsina State is one place where you can have agriculture for almost twelve months in a year. So, with improved seeds, with market available, with extension services the protection will grow to meet the population and also, we have enough to sell, to export outside the State. Likewise, in the area of livestock, we are working with the federal government in the improvement of livestock generally which that sector has been totally neglected. So, we believe the restoration of agriculture, restoration of livestock are key areas that will definitely propel Katsina to becoming more dependent on itself than the revenue coming outside the State.
Sir, there are allegations that over twenty communities in Faskari Local Government have been deserted. As the chief security officer of the state, tell us the true situation?
What you are saying is not true. Yes, some communities are affected but when you say twenty then I should, first of all, ask you to find what you mean by the community before I respond appropriately. Yes, Faskari in particular to some extent, had been in a persistent attack by bandits but I don’t think the number of the villages or communities that were deserted in the area are up to twenty.
Yes, just now we discussed a particular village in Yanmallamai which is under the Rongodo ward. There is a village or small community that have their a terrible encounter with the bandit and the military moved in and saved the situation. But in those borders of the forest, some communities have moved into their local government’s headquarters. Because of the population, it is easy for bandits coming from Zamfara to overrun those communities. Definitely, some communities are affected but I don’t think whether they are up to twenty that are affected in Faskari.
What are the modalities put in place by your administration to make sure that these people return to their various communities?
You see any village that was attacked we normally send their officials for assessment and we provide immediate relief. We have been talking to Faskari, even last week, we have talked to Safana, and we have been talking to Danmusa. We also provided financial support for the displaced families. We are working with the security agencies to restore normalcy in those communities; it is what we do on the daily basis and it is what I told the AIG because an AIG has been posted to look into Kaduna and Katsina. And this is what we discussed with him; restoring normalcy in those areas so that villages and communities that left their places of living because they cannot live outside those communities. They were just forced out. Their farms are there; their natural abode is there. So, they cannot live meaningful lives outside those areas.
So, it is a necessity that normalcy is restored in those areas that people can go back to. But you know we as a government we are working through the religious leaders, through the traditional rulers and through influential political leaders in those communities. While the military on their own, when I say Military, I mean the entire security apparatus; the Military, the Police and the Air force are doing what they are supposed to do in order to bring normalcy. But you see if you look at the spread of the villages and you look at the population of the Military, look at the population of the Police is not possible that they will be everywhere. That is why we are working to restore community leaders to provide security in the local communities because the Military and the Police will come and re-establish order. After some time, they will leave but if we fail to bring community leaders then the bandit can come back.
So, the most important is restoring community leaders. That is what we are doing. Even today we met with some kingmakers. And part of what we have discussed is also about the plans we have for restoring the community leaders. And we have tasked them, we have mobilized them. They are meeting with the community and the village’s heads to sensitize them on the new local government laws; what is provided, what is expected of them and how to work towards communities living in peace. It was peaceful some few years back; the community were living before, the herders, the farmers we were living harmoniously but today the story is different.
Away from security let us look at education. Recently, you gave a directive through the Commissioner for Education, that only male students from the boarding schools should resume and to operate in day school system closer to their locality. Sir, the question on the lips of many in Katsina State, what is the fate of female students in boarding schools in the state?
We are working with physical security in the female hostels and all hotels. We have not completed it. We are putting in place some measures, securing the dormitories with all we can think of. Then we can now say at least we have taken what is humanly possible to provide security and return the girls. Look, we must return our people to school. We should be looked at as if we were defeated. We should not allow ourselves to be defeated. Children must go to school. I think if all of us in the affected states are united and say ok let us go back to school and everybody is in school. How many people will they kidnap? Would they have the infrastructure to hold them? We shouldn’t surrender.
Thank you for clearing the air, but how fast are you going to implement that?
Within two weeks we will complete the work. And even today during the executive council meeting the progress report was given. We are more concerned because it is easy for the boy’s schools. In most of the catchment area, you will find the schools to go to. But for the girl’s boarding schools the girls come from far and wide. If you open for a day in some of the boarding schools, you hardly get up to twenty because there are not many. Take for example girls science secondary school Ajuwa. If you say you open it for the day I think it is only those in Katsina that will be able to transport their children to the school. But all the same, you hardly find one or two classes and this is a school with thousands of girls. We have to do what we can do to secure the area. We must not give up.
Let us look at the economic aspect. Investigation revealed that after payment of salaries Katsina State is left with a small amount of money to handle some infrastructure or developmental projects in states. What are the modalities being put in place to revitalize the economic status of the state?
Diversification is one. We have changed the leadership of the revenue collection agency and we have started to see some improvement. We also believe we have a committee that has already visited about eight local governments holding town hall meetings to reintroduce community tax and cattle tax. They will continue tomorrow. By this month they will finish collecting dues and opinions of the people and they are a twenty-one-man committee. And then the traditional rulers are in the civil society; the government itself and the leadership of all political parties because we want to give it a non-partisan approach. And we believe that at the end of the day based on the recommendation we receive we will reintroduce community tax and also cattle tax and also sundry taxes.
I believe that before the middle of this year you will see the real activity of restoring Katsina State to its lost glory. Like I said earlier, Katsina was depending on agriculture and livestock taxes and survived all its institutions, including Police were under the native authority. So, I think if we work hard and hard enough, I think we will generate some substantial part of the money that will assist us in carrying out some developmental projects.
When there is a problem in a particular place let all of us move to that problem and stop it because if we don’t it will escalate and affect all parts of the country bringing tension among people.
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