In a hideous and macabre display, bandits massacred about 102 vigilante members in Bakori Local Government Area of Katsina State, recently. The official death toll was put at 41. But indigenes of the various communities where these dastardly acts were committed know better. They counted and buried their dead and stressed that the figures are even more than 102, as some of the victims were killed far inside the forest, where it was impenetrable for them to recover their bodies.
Much concern has not been expressed about this tragedy by the state and federal governments; and even by Nigerians. Everybody seems inured to morbid tales such as this, which have become a way of life here. President Muhammadu Buhari’s tribute to the dead as martyrs and prayer for the repose of their souls, in his spokesman’s statement, and the state government’s decision to set up a panel to unravel the immediate and remote causes of the carnage, signal that they are at their wits end. Patently, these are howlers, considering the synergistic reactions of security agencies and leaders in other jurisdictions, when just one soul dies in similar circumstances. The culprit(s) never go unpunished.
Time and resources should not be wasted on the so-called Katsina State government’s fact-finding panel. Certainly, it will not reveal anything different from what is already known or in the public space about banditry and failed counter-terrorism strategies in the entire North-West. In July last year, Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State disclosed that a local government area with 100 villages had only 30 policemen bearing just 10 guns. However, counter strategic responses from both the state and federal governments have, at best, been knee-jerk and weird, which provide oxygen for the felons to continue to wreak havoc on defenceless citizens.
Details of the attack show that the bandits had earlier this month invaded Kandarawa community and rustled 80 livestock from the house of a business man. Raids in other communities resulted in the loss of 50 cows and 30 sheep to the bandits, which incensed the local vigilance group called Yan Sakai. The only response was a reprisal from a few of them with Dane guns. To chase or pursue terrorists armed with AK 47 rifles and other sophisticated weapons, is an ill-fated charge. Unfortunately, these villagers have been mentally wired with the obsession to confront the bandits in the face of rising insecurity and abject failure of the Nigerian state to protect their lives and property.
The Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi, had in February 2021 set the ball rolling when he implored citizens to defend themselves with bare hands when attacked by terrorists. Ridiculously, he never saw anything wrong with that advice against the backdrop of the provision of security being a federal responsibility, as expressly stated in the Exclusive legislative list of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. And enamoured of such hollow entreaties, Governor Masari urged citizens of his state to defend themselves in December of the same year, decrying the number of police personnel at work in his domain. “What the public should know is that in Katsina, you don’t have (up to) 3,000 police. Therefore, we are calling on whoever wants to protect himself and his family to acquire arms.” He promised the government’s assistance in this regard. Masari alone knows how far such unwholesome policy was implemented and helped.
For certain, Masari regretted the ill-considered peace pact his government entered into with bandits in August, 2019, which required them to surrender their arms and leave the North-West belt. And to relocate to where? This is incredible! These hoodlums did not honour their own part of that understanding. The agreement smacks of naivety as a counter-insurgency response. No serious government forges a rapprochement with a band of criminals that has been kidnapping, extorting, killing, maiming people, raping women and children for some years now. The right thing to have done was to crush or subject them to the due process of the law. A villager, who witnessed the latest killings in Katsina, agonisingly said the magnitude could not have been so heavy if his kinsmen had had their own weapons to protect the community. He said, “The police and government have taken away our weapons in the name of peace.” Manifestly, self-help in a security breach of this degree offers little comfort, if any.
The state is vast, with far flung villages forming large swathes of ungoverned territories. The facts speak for themselves: it has 23,938 square kilometres; 34 local government councils; and a population of 5,792,578 as far back as the 2006 headcount. It is practically impossible for less than 3000 police personnel, most of whom are attached to very important personalities and corporate bodies, to provide even a modicum of security to those in the villages. This is the gravamen, which the state and others have been running away from until recently. The demand of governors for state police, working through the state houses of assembly almost scuttled the yet to be consummated fourth amendments to the 1999 Constitution.
With insecurity escalating across the country and the shortcomings of centralised policing becoming more and more evident, citizens’ lives are in danger, not only Katsina State, but across the country. A multi-layered policing system as practiced in the United States, Canada, Australia and other federations is now a desideratum. From available evidence, these attacks occur in communities where security presence is vacuous. Amnesty International Nigeria confirmed this much in its 2018 investigation. It stated, “Amnesty International visited communities in five local government areas of Zamfara State – Zurmi, Maradun, Maru, Anka and Tsafe. Although security forces were present in the state capital Gusau, researchers saw soldiers and air force personnel in only two of the villages they visited, Birane and Bagega.”
Again, adoption of ranching as is the case in all modern economies will effectively put cattle rustling and its associated killings in check. Many lives and properties have been destroyed in Katsina State, that Masari should take a modern husbandry policy seriously, despite being in the twilight of his eight-year tenure. He can lay a foundation for this, on which his predecessor should build.
Governments at all levels need to stop putting members of vigilance groups to the sword by encouraging them to confront dare-devil terrorists armed to the hilt with bare hands. This is the height of failure in governance. Banditry, kidnapping and other criminal conducts will continue to fester if there are no consequences for those who break the law. Masari is among the governors whose states have enacted capital punishment for such offences. How many have been tried, convicted and maximally punished in line with this law, to serve as deterrent to others, remain to be seen. A state does not need eternity to try and convict terror suspects as the Nigerian state irresponsibly displays.
President Buhari, whose state – Katsina – is bleeding, whose convoy was attacked last year; where 344 students of Kankara Secondary School were once abducted; and where angry citizens routinely organise protests against soaring insecurity, knows too well as the chief security officer of the country that the buck stops at his table. And the popular verdict, as he rounds off his administration, is that he has abysmally failed in this regard.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999