•Ozekhome, Sani clash over amnesty for terrorists
•No responsible governor will grant amnesty to terrorists- CISLAC
To everything, there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot,” says the Holy Scriptures. Given the universal application of these words; it is safe to add that there is a time to declare a definite position and a time to shift from same position. Depending on where one stands, the figure ‘six’ can also be a ‘nine.’
Barely a year in office as governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai won the hearts of Nigerians when he revealed that the perennial reckless killings in Southern Kaduna were coming to an end. The government he led, he noted had identified the killers and gave them financial package to bury the hatchet.
Addressing a press conference in December 2016, the governor had said, “For southern Kaduna, we didn’t understand what was going on and we decided to set up a committee under Gen. Martin Luther Agwai (retd) to find out what was going on there. What was established was that the root of the problem has a history starting from the 2011 post-election violence.
“Fulani herdsmen from across Africa bring their cattle down towards Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria. The moment the rains start around March/April, they start moving them up to go back to their various communities and countries. Unfortunately, it was when they were moving up with their cattle across Southern Kaduna that the elections of 2011 took place and the crisis trapped some of them.
“Some of them were from Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Senegal. Fulani are in 14 African countries and they traverse this country with the cattle. So, many of these people were killed, cattle lost and they organised themselves and came back to revenge.
“So, a lot of what was happening in Southern Kaduna was actually from outside Nigeria. We got a hint that the late Governor Patrick Yakowa got this information and he sent someone to go round some of these Fulani communities, but of course after he died, the whole thing stopped. That is what we inherited but the Agwai committee established that.
“We took certain steps. We got a group of people that were going round trying to trace some of these people in Cameroon, Niger Republic and so on to tell them that there is a new governor who is Fulani like them and has no problem paying compensations for lives lost and he is begging them to stop killing.
“In most of the communities, once that appeal was made to them, they said they have forgiven. There was one or two that asked for monetary compensation. As recently as two weeks ago, the team went to Niger Republic to attend one Fulani gathering that they hold every year with a message from me.”
El-Rufai wasn’t alone in this push to use non-kinetic means to end banditry in the North. Speaking in Katsina on August 2, 2019, Governor Aminu Masari whose state of Katsina has had its share of bloodletting argued that a way out of the killings perpetrated by herders was for them to be granted amnesty.
Reading a communiqué issued by the North-West governors at the end of a meeting with security agents, vigilante group and herdsmen, Masari had this to say: “As from today, no vigilante group member or volunteers should attack or kill any herdsman, as sacrifice must be made by both sides to ensure peace reign.
“Herdsmen and their families should be allowed to go about their normal businesses, attend markets and worship places without molestation provided they don’t carry arms. Those bandits who rustled animals from communities should immediately return them to the government or Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association.
“Bandits should surrender their weapons and immediately release all those kidnapped and now under their custody. We are happy that we have seen some releases of kidnapped victims from Zamfara and other states.”
Echoing Masari’s remarks at the meeting, Zamafara state governor, Bello Matawalle told the bandits, “the governors took a uniform measure; you should also take a uniform decision not to rustle animals, kidnap or kill anyone. You should immediately release all people in your custody in order to show the world that you have truly repented.”
Masari was captured in a telling photograph with a bandit hanging AK-47 across his shoulders at the end of that meeting even as prominent Nigerians doubted the sincerity on the part of the bandits to honour the peace agreement.
Events of the past few years have so far revealed the futility in trusting criminals to keep the pledge of staying away from their evil ways. From Kaduna to Katsina, Zamfara to Plateau, Borno to Niger down to the Federal Capital Territory, gunmen have not stopped killing. When they are not slaughtering the throats of the innocent people including women and children; they are kidnapping students and demanding millions of naira as ransom.
Having seen the error in parting with huge sums of money in hope that the killers would renounce their evil doings, the governors have since taken a stand against amnesty for the criminals, with El-Rufai being the most vociferous.
The governor in many outings in recent times has continued to rule out negotiations with gunmen, insisting that security agents have a duty to crush them for peace to reign. In April this year as guest of a radio station in Kaduna, El-Rufai reiterated this position when he ruled out payment of ransom for abducted Greenfield University students, saying even if his child was among the abducted, he would rather pray for the repose of his soul than paying ransom.
“I mean it and I will say it again here. Even if my son is kidnapped, I will rather pray for him to make heaven instead, because I won’t pay any ransom,” he stated. “We will not engage with bandits or kidnappers. Private Citizens like clerics and clergy men can do so in their individual capacities, to preach to them and ask them to repent. We also want them to repent but it is not our job to ask them to do so,” he added.
Like El-Rufai, Masari is not prepared to be fooled twice as on September 7, 2021 as guest in Channel Television’s breakfast show, Sunrise Daily, the All Progressives Congress, APC chieftain regretted pushing for amnesty for the devils in human aprons, saying, “the only thing I can say is that with the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it (negotiating with bandits). We realised, who are you talking with because they do not have an umbrella.
“They are not pushing for any ideological view; they are not pushing for any religious view. They are simply bandits, criminals and thieves. Any person in the forest is a potential criminal and should be dealt with as such,” Masari had said.
The governor also said open grazing of cattle is un-Islamic and that a ban across the country had become imperative although only this week he went against Southern governors for enacting laws banning open grazing in their various states. His argument was that time was needed for the resettlement of herdsmen in ranches which have not been built.
His words: “We intend to ban unnecessary roaming about with cattle. But before we do that, we will make provisions where the animals will stay. I think the situation in the Southern part of the country is slightly different from the Northern part of the country.
“The majority of the herders are from the Northern part of the country. So, for us, we need a law that should be obeyed, not one that will be disregarded. For us to come up with the law, we will first of all put some structures on ground, then, we will have the law that can back up the structures so that nobody would roam or move about with cattle.
“Even that is un-Islamic (open grazing). It says do not have the numbers you cannot feed that you have to stretch over to people’s land or on somebody’s farm. I do not think that it is right. And certainly, once we put in place ranching for the grazing of all animals, the issue of anybody roaming about will be a thing of the past.”
On September 21, 2019, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger state at the 2nd General Abdulsalami Abubakar Foundation Annual Peace Lecture, granted amnesty to 13 suspected bandits saying, “after hearing them on why they decided to engage themselves in such activities, we had to go into a peace arrangement with them in the interest of peace and for them to help us with useful information to tackle spate of insecurity in the state.”
As it were the governors have since realized the futility of entering into a peace pact with criminals .
Matawalle on June 11, 2021 at a special prayer session to mark the second anniversary of his administration in Gusau, the Zamfara state capital, called on his people to return fire for fire anytime they come under attack from bandits.
“I am calling on the people of the state to defend themselves if the bandits attack them. My government has approved that whenever the bandits attack you, do not wait for the security personnel to come to your rescue. You should rise up and protect yourselves. My government has also planned to recruit the locals from each community who will be in charge of monitoring their villages to ensure that the bandits did not attack them,” he stated, a marked departure from his stance few years ago.
So what could have caused such a 360 degrees volte-face? Are the governors now better informed today than they were years ago? Were they deceived into parting with huge sums of money to criminals who only went back to their killing camps after realizing that they made more money to continue their evil enterprise than engage in legitimate business?
In similar fashion, Bello has backed out of amnesty talks with terrorists in the state.
On April 29, 2021 while addressing newsmen in Minna, the Niger state capital, Governor Bello said, “As it is today, the governors of Niger, Zamfara, Kebbi and Katsina states have agreed to come together and act as governments to confront these hoodlums realizing that the idea of granting them amnesty cannot work.
“It is regrettable that efforts by some state governments to grant these bandits amnesty have yielded no fruitful results and so, we have decided to go all out to frontally confront them.”
So what prompted these governors from ruling out amnesty as a solution having earlier embraced same?
Mike Ozekhome is a human rights activist and a constitutional lawyer who is not scared of barring his mind on any issue regardless of its sensitivity. In an exclusive chat with Saturday Vanguard, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, faulted the premise of amnesty for bandits/terrorists saying “amnesty for bandits is quite different from amnesty for the Niger Delta militants who were fighting for the liberation of their people from years of exploitation, oppression, marginalization and repression.
“What ideology were the bandits fighting for such as to make them deserve amnesty? They say western education is a taboo. How? Couldn’t the governors see that such a mindset was warped and sickeningly offensive? So, now that the bandits have barred their fangs in their blood-letting and satanic murders, kidnaps and killings, the governors have been forced to have a rethink. It is better late than never.”
Taking a different position is a chieftain of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Mr. Anthony Sani. According to him, the North-West governors did the right thing to advocate amnesty for terrorists, adding however that the clear lack of common ideology among the gunmen led to the failure of the peace move.
He told Saturday Vanguard: “When the trio of Governors Masari of Katsina state, El-Rufai of Kaduna state and Matawalle of Zamfara state opted for dialogue that could lead to amnesty for bandits, it was because they thought that was the reasonable thing do to end the spate of banditry and kidnapping in their respective states.
“But their desires and efforts did not find expression precisely because the bandits do not stand for any common political ideology beyond craving for money inspired by crimes. As a result, they are not centrally organized with common leadership. Without any political ideology under the watch of central leadership, it is difficult to dialogue with them. That may explain the change in approaches by the three governors in favour of application of hard power of military might.
“As regards amnesty, time will come when the bandits will decide to surrender their firearms and be subjected to due processes spelt out by our local and international laws which govern surrendering of arms. This will take place before their reintegration into the society,” he noted.
On his part, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, Ibrahim Auwal Rafsanjani said no responsible governor will consider the thought of pardoning murderers even as he noted that the nationwide condemnation of the activities of Boko Haram and bandits may have informed the decision of the governors to change their stand.
“Given the overwhelming continuous atrocities, extortion, starvation of the abducted persons and inhuman treatment against the innocent people by these groups including school children, no- right thinking and responsible governor will continue to advocate for amnesty to conscious criminals who have turned banditry and ransom payments as business.
“I believe that the popular condemnation of anyone pushing for amnesty to these gangsters, ruthless and human destroyers must have informed the change on their position. Again, they are also aware that more groups of kidnappers are emerging due to the easy money involved and are becoming a major business in their states. They have also tried to engage in dialogue with them but it didn’t worked as banditry is escalating.
“They also realized that business-wise, people will not be coming to their states and this will affect their revenues. The bandits are gradually visiting government officials and their families, so they know that this is no longer something to play politics with,” he noted.