GOVERNOR Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State has asked President Muhammadu Buhari not to throw the book at armed bandits creating mayhem across the country pointing out that most of them took up arms in response to injustice.
Over recent months, armed bandits have been tuning riot across several states in northwest Nigeria, particularly Zamfara and Katsina states. Last week, Islamic cleric Sheikh Abubakar Gumi met with some of the bandit leaders in Makkai Forest in Zamfara State to thrash out a peace deal.
Sheikh Gumi, who met with bandit leaders Kachalla Turji and Kachalla Muhammadu Bello, as well as notorious gun runner and assassin Auwalun Daudawa, said that what is currently happening in Zamfara State is insurgency and not banditry. After meeting with the bandit leaders, the cleric met with Governor Matawalle to brief him on the situation.
Calling on the government to grant amnesty to the bandits so they could drop their weapons, Sheikh Gumi warned that it was important for government to meet with them urgently before they become religiously radicalised and uncontrollable like the Boko Haram insurgents. Yesterday, Governor Matawalle took these proposals to President Buhari at the presidential villa in Abuja.
During their meeting, the governor said not all bandits who terrorise parts of his state and other neighbouring states are criminals. He explained that most of the bandits take up arms due to the injustice meted on them by some members of the society.
However, contrary to the claims by the governor, there have been suspicions that the criminality is a fallout of the artisanal mining of gold, lead and other mineral resources in Zamfara State. While explaining the reasons for the attacks, Governor Matawalle said those saddled with the responsibility of protecting the community sometimes rustle the cattle belonging to the bandits and destroy their livelihood.
Governor Matawalle said: “Not all of them are criminals. If you investigate what is happening and what made them to take the laws into their hands, some of them, sometimes were cheated by so-called the vigilante groups who go to their settlements and destroy property and take their animals.
“They did not have anyone to speak with, so sometimes, they go for revenge. When the vigilante group attacks them, they go for reprisals, which is exactly what happened.
“Some of them are living in settlements close to villages or towns and when there are military operations, the military will go and destroy their property and animals. It is important for us as leaders to sit down with them and understand what is the genesis, as you can’t just conclude that this person is a criminal, you have to listen to him and ask what led him to go into such activities.
“It is not all Fulanis that are criminals. Some are good citizens but due to some circumstances, they subscribed to such criminality but when we had the information, we called their leaders and sat with them, they told us their grudges and we sorted out the way the communities and the Fulanis can resolve their issues without any serious crisis.”
He added that to address the problem, the Zamfara State government is building livestock settlements for Fulani herdsmen. Governor Matawalle called on other governors to do likewise and provide social amenities like schools, hospitals, veterinary clinics, markets and mini stadia.