Insecurity, Zamfara and ‘busybodies’, by Jibrin Baba Ndace
Zamfara State prides itself as one of the states in Nigeria where citizens are proud to be farmers. And the state has no doubt lived up to its slogan of “Farming is Our Pride”.
Created from Sokoto State in October 1996 by the military regime of late General Sani Abacha, Zamfara has always been a peaceful state, with Gusau as a cosmopolitan state capital.
As a railway community linking the Lagos-Kano railway line at Zaria (180 Km), Gusau, historically, was a major collecting point for cotton and groundnuts grown in the area. It is also home to the Nigerian Army Ordnance Depot, and yours sincerely was at one point, domiciled within the military formation when an uncle was commanding officer of the unit.
Tertiary institutions located in the state include Federal Polytechnic Kaura Nomada, perhaps, the most popular institutions in the state, Federal University, Gusau, Zamfara State University, Federal College of Education (Technical) Gusau and Zamafara State College of Art and Sciences, Gusau.
Zamfara has 14 local governments including Anka, Bakura, Brining Magaji/Kiyawa, Bukkuyum, Bungudu, Chafe (Tsafe), Gusau, the state capital, Gumi, Kaura Namoda, Maradun, Maru, Shinkafi, (hometown of second civilian governor, Alhaji Mamuda Shinkafi), Talata Mafara, and Zurmi.
To date, Zamfara has had one military administrator, Col Jibrin Bala Yakubu (1996-1999); and four civilian governors, Senator Ahmed Sani (1999-2007); Alhaji Mahmud Shinkafi (2007-2011); Alhaji Abdul’azeez Yari (2011-2019); and Alhaji Bello Matawalle (2019-date).
Some of the prominent citizens of the state include Alhaji Yahaya Gusau, first-generation politician and one-time vice chairman of PTDF, late Alhaji Ali Akilu, late Shiekh Ahmed Gumi, late Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, General Aliyu Gusau, late Alhaji Garba Nadama, civilian governor of Sokoto State (1982-1983) among others. It also has established industrialists such as late Alhaji Shehu Idris, late Alhaji Ibrahim Sarkin Pawa, Alhaji Isa Mayana, Alhaji Garba Rigiji, among others.
There are also prominent Nigerians that have resided in Gusau for political or commercial purposes some of whom include: Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was District Officer, DO; Alhaji Aminu Dantata (Dogo), now the patriarch of the famous Dantata dynasty and Alhaji Ismaila Isa Funtua among others.
Since 1999, new political actors have emerged on the political scene such as former Minister of Defence, Brigadier General Mansur Dan-Ali rtd, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq among others.
Many people have contended that Gusau had its own groundnut pyramids and that the pyramids in Kano would not have been possible without Gusau as a major link in the supply chain.
It shares borders with its mother state-Sokoto, and the Niger Republic to the north, Katsina to the east and Kaduna, Niger and Kebbi states to the south.
Like many other states in Nigeria, Zamfara state is blessed with abundant human and natural resources, waiting to be explored. A trading and industrial hub, when the state was created, it had the highest number of ginneries in Nigeria, in addition to Zamfara Textiles, one of the major textile companies in Nigeria and Gusau Oil Mill.
Research has indicated that the state is sitting on huge deposits of gold and other mineral resources. Nigerians will remember, how this resource led to the death of over 100 people between 2009 and 2010, as a result of ‘lead poisoning’ occasioned by illegal mining by villagers.
This background is necessary, especially because being a northern state, what pervades and will continue to shape the narrative is largely negative, and the place of Gusau as a melting pot of various people from different parts of Nigeria and one of the commercial nerve centres predating independence would be lost.
Zamfara state has, in the last three to four years, been in the news for the wrong reasons. The state has lost its innocence and pedigree; and has become safe haven for criminal non-state actors – bandits, kidnappers, cattle rustlers, armed robbers, illegal miners and all manner of criminals who have been giving citizens of the state sleepless nights.
Other states in the Northwest that have been experiencing similar security challenges include Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna, and to a lesser degree, Kebbi State, cascading to some parts of Niger State in the Northcentral.
The abduction of 279 girls from boarding secondary school in Jangebe on 26 February 2021 was one of the major attacks by criminals that placed the state on the national and international stage negatively.
Despite efforts by past and present administrations in the state as well as the Federal Government, it has remained a den of notorious criminal non-state actors, who have become entrenched.
Like with all such criminal non-state actors, their activities have continued to impact negatively on the lives and livelihood of the people of the state who are largely farmers – both small and large scale. While those in the state are direct victims of the activities of these criminals, citizens of the state who reside outside it are also collateral victims as they can no longer travel home with their families for visits during festivals. In the same wise, commercial and business activities have been affected.
In the last four years, there have been carrot and stick approaches by the federal and state government and other affected states in the Northwest. At some point, Governor Matawale tried the line of dialogue and encouraged bandits to surrender their arms but this has not provided the desired results. Security agencies, as well as local vigilante groups, continued to carry out operations to clear the state of the menace. There have been ground and air attacks carried out through joint operations.
However, recognizing the need to decimate the criminal elements, once and for all, the state government called for the shutdown of GSM networks in the state. It also directed the closure of major weekly markets, banned the selling of petrol in jerrycans as well as transportation of cows and firewood, as a step to break the supply chain of food and other logistics for the bandits. This decision, which is considered as a strategic way to ending banditry in the state is coming six months after the state was declared a ‘no-fly zone’.
A letter by the Nigerian Communication Commission, NCC, apparently in response to Zamfara State Government’s request, reads: “The pervading security situation in Zamfara State has necessitated an immediate shutdown of all telecom services in the state from today, September 3, 2021. This is to enable relevant security agencies carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenges in the state.
“In line with this requirement, you are hereby directed to shutdown all sites in Zamfara and any other site(s) in neighbouring states that could provide telecommunications services in Zamfara State. The site shutdown is for two weeks (September 03-17, 2021) in the first instance. Your urgent action in this regard is required.”
Despite this explanation by NCC and Zamfara State Government and the glaring success by the Armed Forces and other security agencies, some naysayers and ‘busybodies’ who do not reside within the state, or even in Nigeria, and are always quick to condemn the security agencies but downplay their success stories, are crying more than the bereaved.
While there are genuine concerns about the impact of the shutdown, which is expected, there is no doubt that gains have been made since the shutdown of telecommunications networks. Zamfara governor in an interview said: “The bandits are releasing their captives, they are abandoning their motorcycles after running out of fuel. Many of the bandits have been killed by security forces and security personnel will sustain the offensive against them until we wipe them out of Zamfara.”
Also speaking on the positive impact of the shutdown on the ongoing operation, the Director of Defence Information, Major General Benjamin Sawyerr, said: “The operation is still ongoing. We can’t say anything for now. Now that we are seeing the results, let us await the completion of the operation. Unlike, what we used to have when they say troops should go and carry out operations before they move out of their barracks, everybody is aware and those they are to go after will go and lay ambush for them.”
“There was an outcry when telecommunication service was shut down but now, Nigerians can see the result it has brought.”
In the same vein, a security expert and an indigene, Group Captain SG Shehu rtd, appealed to the people to persevere: “People of Zamfara… BEAR WITH IT. Call for more perseverance. As I had predicted, no doubt the communication blackout will negatively affect both bandits’ operations and the normal lives of innocent Zamfarawa. But bear with it and let’s see how it pans out. Glad to hear the interviews on BBCHausa where several respondents were saying we will ride it out as they know that medicine is seldom palatable.”
While I call for sustained bombardment through the ground and airpower, Nigerians must understand that wining unconventional warfare requires continuous and consistent support to government and security agencies.
Ndace, a journalist, security analyst and public affairs commentator, writes from Abuja.