MASARI AND THE IMPOSSIBLE GROUP BURDEN

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By Lawal Sa’idu Funtua, Katsina

The story of armed banditry in Katsina State is as complex as the
geo-economic dimensions and triggers of the crisis itself. It can best be
understood in the light of its roots and its component groups. What is known today as armed banditry, particularly in the North-west zone, is a union of convenience among four criminal groups: armed robbers,
kidnappers, cattle rustlers and trans-border criminals that deal in drugs and arms. When the crisis first reared its head in the Zamfara axis of the Rugu forest and Kaduna axis of Kuyanbana/Birnin Gwari forests around 2011, the country’s security apparatus paid little attention to forsee that
the crisis, left unattended, will spiral out of control to become the monster that it is today. A stitch in time, it’s said, saves nine.

By 2014, banditry had already come a vampire in Katsina State as bandits went on rampage in villages mostly in Local Government Areas that share borders with Zamfara and Kaduna States. To date, the most fatal raid was carried out in 2014 when armed bandits attacked Faskari Local Government
Area and killed over 150 people in Sabon Layin Galadima and sorrounding villages. While on a condolence visit at the villages in the wake of the attacks, then Ex-speaker of the federal House of Representatives, Aminu
Bello Masari, made salient observations on the best approach that would stamp out banditry in the state, and as God had it, Masari became the state
governor on popular mandate in 2015. So, what was done differently?

At the dawn of his administration he mobilised federal fire power in a series of joint security task force operations, particularly ‘Operation Sharan Daji’ which confronted the armed robbers, cattle rustlers and armed
bandits that operated in the forest. Those operations resulted in much casualty among the bandits and, for the first time in years, communities in the
Rugu Forest area felt a sense of security. However to some degree, the combat proved counter-productive to the agro-economy and social
cohabitation among communities that reside in the forest. At that point the strategy was reviewed, and after much consideration the administration
adopted a carrot and stick approach where combat operations were partly suspended while the administration rolled out an amnesty program which climaxed in November 2016 with the signing of a peace treaty. That process saw armed bandits submitting their
weapons to security agencies, releasing abducted people in their custody, and returning thousands of animals stolen from local communities in the
forest area.

This policy enabled the economy to pick up on a sound note, driven by the speedy revival of crop and livestock agriculture, trade, and smooth social co-existence. Likely more than ever before, the 2017 and 2018 Hajj goers from the state were predominantly farmers and pastoralists that reaped from the gains of the Amnesty Program. Instructively, at the launch of the program, Masari threw an open invitation to other North-west and some North-central state
governments to experiment with the Katsina model which had phased out banditry and restored peace for the first time in five years.

But there was still fire on the mountain, as banditry still raged in other
north-west states that share intimate borders with Katsina. Sooon enough, cattle rustlers that could no longer prey on people’s cattle fled Katsina and resettled on greener pasture, mostly in Zamfara and Kaduna States. Most of them migrated to Dansadau, and Zurmi in Zamfara State and the outskirts
of Giwa and Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State. A prominent example is
Buharin-Daji who handed over his rifle to Governor Masari in 2016 as a
reformed soul, but later moved to Zamfara State where he unleashed untold horror on Maru, Dansadau and environs until he was killed in March 2018. So did many young and middle-aged criminals that fled Katsina and resettled in the neighborhoods where they grew from ordinary cattle rustlers to hardened bandits.
By early 2018, these bandits were already crossing into Katsina border to carry out hit-and-run attacks on villages, and later returned in full force, more drilled, more ruthless and more numerous and erased most of the gains the state had recorded on the security front. With the wider scale and new modus operandi adopted by criminals in the state, hundreds of villages were attacked where people were kidnapped from the comfort of their homes. The attacks peaked in early 2019 where many people fled their homes as they lost abodes, loved ones and livelihoods to the bandits. Having borne the zonal banditry burden, Masari could do little more than resettle the IDPs in camps and mobilize relief assistance from the federal government and spirited individuals.

Such horror could be what Masari foresaw back in 2015 when he insisted on a regional cooperation among governments in the north-west to launch a holistic approach to end armed banditry that was still in its infant stage in some of the states. If that idea was embraced and implemented in good time many lives and livelihoods would have been saved, many villages would still be inhabited by their folk, farms would be tillable, thousands of farmers and traders would still be in business, many abducted people and impoverished families would still be living their normal lives.

In all fairness, if responsiveness and responsibility are anything to go by, Katsina would be a safe and secure place today, judging from the efforts and resources sunk in the peace and conflict resolution project since 2015. But in close-knit societies like the North-west zone security peace operations have to be simultaneous to achieve lasting results. And very importantly, the ultimate burden of providing security ultimately rests with the federal government, thus even with the best combat strategy or conflict resolution blueprint a governor’s power is greatly limited by constitutional limitations, being an official that neither issues orders to the military nor dictates the operations of the police nor yet coordinate the process of intelligence gathering. Even as Cheif Security Officer of a state, a governor’s role in matters of security is at best advisory.

Nevertheless, the Masari administration has since 2015 provided logistics support to police and military formations in the state and has been fully involved in every aspect of their engagement with armed bandits in the forest, from ‘Operation Sharan Daji’ down to ‘Operation Puff Adder’, playing the best it could as a key stakeholder, allbeit in advisory capacity. While these efforts are on, police and military bases in Katsina State must rise up to the new wave of armed banditry attacks that could prove quite catastrophic to the state’s agrarian economy as it could on the psyche of the peasant population that reside in the crisis flashpoints.

While Masari was putting all efforts to secure Katsina state, his major impediment was the lack of control of the security apparatus in the state. Security agencies in the state were left vulnerable without adequate and modern fighting equipments.The hands of Masari and the security agencies were tied by the Federal authorities failure to come to the aid of the state and it’s people.

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