The tragedy called Zamfara State, by Zainab Suleiman Okino
For almost two decades now, Zamfara State has been in the news; sadly, for all the wrong reasons. If it is not politicised sharia law today, it is lead poison tomorrow, which killed children and adults, or the dog-eat-dog combustible political rivalry of the elites. The only culprit of the sharia implementation is poor Jengebe, who stole one cow and was made to bear the insignia for the sins of all Zamfara people.
However, cattle rustling, which persists today ensures the stealing of hundreds of cows, that could be herded to as far as the Central African Republic. By far, the greatest threats to Zamfara State today is the elite’s lust and fight for power, political banditry as the governor called it and violent crimes now renamed terrorism, which is arguably the most imperilled state in the Northwest.
Bandits regularly take over roads or forests. They are a government unto themselves; they collect tolls and even hold party-like merriments and taunt the authorities with the video. This week, bandits in Gando forest in Bukkuyum Local Government wrote missives to nine communities demanding different amounts of money ranging from five million to 500,000 Naira, perhaps for their safety and protection. In some parts of Katsina and Niger states, farmers pay for access to their farms, so that of Zamfara is not new. They are that bold, daring and seem unstoppable.
But the latest attacks in Bukkuyum and Anka local governments that ended the lives of about 200 people (Governor Bello Matawalle put the number at 58) typifies the extent of the misery occasioned by insecurity in Zamfara state. 58 precious Nigerian lives wasted just like that in peacetime?
The massacre also reinforced another kind of war among the state’s influential personalities. To begin with, what’s the offence of these villagers that led to their merciless killing? For standing up to bandits in defence of their communities. That fateful night of 4th to 5th January, the bandits were fleeing from a military operation with about 3,000 rustled cattle and in the process visited mayhem on anybody and anything on their way; killed, maimed, and set houses on fire. Since then, and even before the latest crime, the politicians have been trading blames; accusations and counter-accusations about who did what or failed to do what took centre-stage. Banditry is now an extension of Zamfara dirty politics, and there is virtually no VIP that has not been accused of associating with it, as if it is now their pastime, even though there has not been any incontrovertible evidence helpful to our combat soldiers-the military and other security agencies in the frontline fighting to combat the menace.
At the last count, the deputy governor, Mahdi Aliyu who refused to decamp with his principal, Governor Bello Matawalle from PDP to APC; his father, General Aliyu Gusau, a former minister of Defence and National Security Adviser; controversial and hard-talking Senator Kabiru Marafa; former Governor Abdulaziz Yari and other political bigwigs have all been accused by the governor’s camp of sponsoring banditry, now second nature to the state, just as allegations of not being proactive and financial impropriety have also been levelled against the governor.
Only this last Monday, the governor said there was no end in sight for banditry in the state because of the powerful forces collaborating in the heinous crime, while he vowed to expose them.
“So, you see, with the kind of people we have in Zamfara, I don’t think this issue of banditry will end very soon. Because already some people are behind it. Some people are using it. And all they need is at least to show Nigerians that both the federal and Zamfara state governments are not serious on the issue of insecurity, despite the fact that some of them are involved in the crisis”.
After the Bukkuyum and Anka attacks, Governor Matawalle’s Commissioner of Information, Ibrahim Dosara told the press “that we have a lot of informants getting information to those people (the bandits). The moment you strategise, the moment the enemies also strategise”.
How could he be so sure? He who alleges, as the saying goes, must provide facts. Besides as a government official, why not share intelligence, through the governor to those in charge of Zamfara military operation, then come on air to allege. Except to gain sympathy or incite, what can the public do with such information? And if this is not about the 2023 election, I wonder how else it should be classified.
Such is the ugly face of Zamfara politics manifesting in many ways in over 20 years of this republic. If only Zamfara big men convert their energies, influences, and goodwill to intangible wealth, the state will be the better for it. How about the state’s natural resources (gold, lead etc.) contributing the tangibles to its ‘economic development’, the state would have been a goldmine. Intangible wealth is classified by the World Bank as factors such as the trust among people in a society, effective government, the value of education and social institutions among other things. All these factors are certainly absent in Zamfara state, and the rest is chaos.
Take for example the unthoughtful introduction of the politically motivated sharia law by the government of Ahmed Sani Yeriman Bakura and some other Northern states. Though it should encompass Islamic legal system like the sharia commission, zakat commission and hisbah, that of Zamfara was so politicised such that it focused on petty stealing and morality or otherwise of women. Under this law, only one man got his limbs severed. All the pen robbers and corrupt politicians went unpunished. Sharia law and attendant controversies have since fizzled out in Zamfara.
After Jengebe, has stealing stopped? I doubt if its implementation which led to religious riots across Northern states and the death of hundreds, made us better Muslims, nor did it sanitise the society. And of course, it did not bring any intangible wealth to Zamfara state.
The Zamfara woes were in 2010 compounded by the led poison fiasco. At least 163 people including 111 children lost their lives. There is also the issue of illegal gold mining fuelled by locals in Zamfara. Just like oil bunkering in the Niger Delta, the struggle for political control in Zamfara state is intertwined with the control of gold. At an annual lecture series on Anti-money Laundering and Combatting the Financing of Terrorism held at Nile University, Abuja in November last year, ICPC chairman, Bolaji Owasanoye attributed violent crimes in Zamfara to illegal gold mining.
According to him, “it is difficult to divorce the raging violent crimes in Zamfara from the illegal gold mining by Nigerians and collaborators from West African region and beyond, which had gone on for years unabated”, he said.
Not forgetting the intense and incessant political bickering by their politicians who have constituted themselves into a cabal deciding the fate of Zamfara people. The last three years or so when APC’s victory was legally upturned and given to PDP, the subsequent volte-face of Governor Matawalle in his cross-carpeting back to APC is upsetting the two camps—APC leaders eyeing the governorship seat (whose ambition may be truncated) and PDP members angry that the governor has turned their short-lived victory to a mirage and possible repeat of Edo where a sitting governor Obaseki decamped from APC to PDP and still won the election. Governors are that powerful because the state’s treasury which they control is also used as slush funds to procure electoral victory.
This toxic admixture of violent crime and political gamble has turned Zamfara state into a theatre of the absurd where innocent people lose lives and livelihoods in a meaningless fight they know nothing about, other than bearing the burden of victimhood.
If the federal government will genuinely put politics aside, prosecute and possibly jail anyone whose hand has been soiled in the blood of innocent people, directly or indirectly, that could help arrest the ugly descent, but only if the political calculations of 2023 is not in the mix.