By Yusuf Idris
Zamfara State has been in the news for a very long time for a wrong reason. The once peaceful state assumed the notoriety of bandits’ headquarters following activities of some unscrupulous elements that held it by the jugular and forcing it on its knees for years. It became a killing field and at some point, even competing with Borno State in terms of casualty figures from the daily bloodletting.
It was a disturbing daily scenario that has hitherto haunted Nigeria as a nation and dented its image across its shores until Bello Matawalle came into the scene and turned the table against the marauders.
The governor adopted a conflict resolution mechanism centered on dialogue which culminated in a series of peace deals with overwhelming outcomes that drew accolades across the country. The Matawalle approach to ending age long violence was the game changer which conflict experts had long advocated and craved.
Conflicts analysts believed the military option birthed more reactionaries and exacerbated the crisis rather than addressing it. They contended that in order prevent violent conflict from arising, societies need to be able to address underlying conditions that generate grievances and conflict, such as poverty, inequity, discrimination, and social exclusion. “Dialogue is needed to develop sustainable approaches to societal challenges and to build a culture of democracy. It’s an essential tool for breaking down barriers and building connections across the divides in society,” an expert had elucidated.
This is possibly the reason why the dialogue option by Matawalle had elicited commendations; and as expected and predicted, the peace deal has been achieving the desired outcome with hundreds of bandits surrendering arms and denouncing violence. The deal opened access to markets, farms, schools which shut down at the peak of the offensive which left behind trails of death and destruction.
“We applied the peace accord as a means of honest solution to the problem in Zamfara State, which has yielded tremendous results never expected in the last one year.
“However, our honesty and focus in the deal saw the near total drop in banditry attacks which allowed our roads, markets, schools and farms to be re-opened. In the same vein, nearly 1000 persons were willingly released by the ex-bandits and thousands of dangerous weapons willingly surrendered without payment of a single kobo” the governor had observed in one of his attractions with newsmen.
Understandably, many especially within the security circle, were surprised by the unprecedented success the move recorded in the lingering problem that have hitherto defied all solutions especially as similar efforts to get the marauding insurgents terrorizing communities across the North East to a roundtable have consistently failed in the past.
The peace deal also saw the release of many persons held captive by the bandits through negotiations from the areas of Dansadau, Kaura Namoda and Shinkafi and other areas, while discussion was ongoing between the contact committee and leaders of the bandits. The next step for the dialogue after securing the release of all the captives was the commencement of disarmament and collection of all rifles and other sophisticated weapons from the hands of both local militants and bandits.
However, the deal was not without its hiccup especially that some recalcitrant bandits backed down and resorted to mayhem and incurring the wrath of the governor which deployed the stick approach against them.
The carrot and stick approach has been impactful so much so that repentant bandits have joined the crusade in riding the state of criminal elements by working with the security agencies in tracking them and bringing them to justice. With the shifting of their base from Zamfara to Katsina, Sokoto, Niger and Kaduna states, it became imperative on the federal government to become more proactive by mobilizing army to set up Army Special Super Camp IV at Faskari, Katsina state, one of the local government areas sharing borders with Zamfara and a victim of several bandit attacks on innocent communities.
Beyond the bandit activities, the state government has also been reduced to the barest minimum, the raging conflict between farmers and herders through various initiatives. Key among the initiatives in this direction was the RUGA settlements drive which was intended to halt the migration of herders and their animals and avert their straying into farms and resultant conflict.
The gesture which was in tandem with the federal government’s livestock development plan, has been variously commended as a welcome development by many in the state and beyond. From its concept, a settlement has 250 household capacity, hospital, police station, modern diary, sales outlets, grazing area spanning 5km, veterinary, Islamic and western education schools, improved grass that can go all year round and can even be sold among others. Each of the settlements will be constructed in each of the three senatorial districts of the state.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai who was conducted round the RUGA Fulani settlement in Maradun local government area of the state recently was elated at the development, which described as a significant step in addressing the security challenges in the country. The Matawalle’s success story could serve as a model in stemming violence conflicts which are fast becoming our bane as a country.
Yusuf Idris is the Director General Media, Public Enlightment and Communications to Governor Bello Matawalle.