Don’t negotiate with bandits; Northern leaders warn Tinubu

By Peter Duru, Makurdi, Ibrahim Hassan-Wuyo, Kaduna & Ogalah Ibrahim, Katsina

Northern leaders have rejected a call by former governor of Zamfara State, Malam Yerima Sani, asking President Bola Tinubu to negotiate with terrorists and bandits in the country and grant them amnesty as it was done for Niger Delta militants by the late Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration. In their separate views, they argued that such negotiations will continue to fail because the bandits do not have a central command of leadership and they never kept the agreements reached with some of them in the past by some states and communities in the north.

President General of Mzough U Tiv, MUT, worldwide and Chairman of the three sociocultural/ethnic groups in Benue state, Chief Iorbee Ihagh said: “there is no way President Bola Tinubu’s government will negotiate with bandits and terrorists. These were people who were brought into this country from parts of West Africa to prosecute elections for some persons in 2015. After they won their elections they failed to keep to the agreement they entered with the criminals and that is why they took to banditry and terrorism and tormenting the North. Those who brought them into the country know themselves. They should be made to go and clean up the mess they created for Nigerians.

“I am happy that President Tinubu has brought in people who can tackle insecurity in the country unlike what we had in the last government when nepotims beclouded them. They had wanted to turn Nigeria into a Fulani state but God came to our rescue as a people. So, there will be no bargaining, President Tinubu should never accept that. He has started well and we are praising him, but if he does that, nobody will be behind him again. Government cannot go and beg criminals, they should come and surrender. More so, armed herdsmen should be made to go back to their respective places so that the millions of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, scattered in our state and other parts can go back to their ancestral homes.”

On his part the State Vice Chairman of APC Benue South District, Bishop Pinot Ogbaji said: “When I heard of the proposal of the former governor of Zamfara state advising President Tinubu to negotiate with terrorists and bandits, I was shocked. I know that in everything there is negotiation and dialogue but negotiation means that we encourage that attitude and character. Then when you negotiate with a deadly group in the North another group would probably surface in another part of the country seeking negotiation. Let me ask, what manner and kind of negotiation is he talking about? Is it to grant them amnesty or what? Or true repentance. We don’t even know the extent to which the negotiation will go, we do not know their demands. For me, negotiation is not an issue at all. Of course there could be amnesty which is not negotiation. It entails that somebody volunteers to repent, then he is brought back to the the society of normal beings and re-orientated”.

Also the National President of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Bitrus Pogu said: “Unless he is one of them and he is trying to protect them, otherwise who negotiates with terrorists. The problem we’ve had is a northern problem. People from the North took this Boko Haram and banditry as their own game. We have somebody there, though his election is till in dispute, but it appears that this person will not tolerate a situation where people will be serving some parochial interests rather than the Nigerian nation. And that is what I believe Tinubu is trying to achieve. To negotiate with terrorists means to endorse criminality and encourage non state actors to have the courage to come up and start something again in the future. The way forward is to crush them, to take them out of existence.

So, deal with them in such a way that henceforth somebody who will want to rise for whatever reason will think twice before he does something. It should even go beyond that, those who are involved in propagating this thing should be fished out and dealt with decisively because Nigerians have suffered enough and any call by such characters should be questioned and queried. And if you remember it is the same Yerima who started the Sharia thing under the then President Obasanjo. To me he is a suspect any suggestion from him should not be taken seriously.”

Chairman, Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressives Union (BEPU) Ishaq Usman Kasai, in his view explained that Yerima’s call reflected the lack of understanding of the structural formation and divergent goals of the armed bandits in their forests who have been causing mass destruction, deaths, and destabilization in the country. He argued that, “to successfully bring an end to armed banditry business in Nigeria, all bandits’ camps in our various forests must be dislodged as anything short of this will only be a window-dressing that will not bring lasting solution. Engaging in negotiations with armed bandits will never yield significant positive outcomes because past experiences have demonstrated that criminal elements such as armed bandits, often exploit negotiations as a means to buy time, regroup, and strengthen their positions.

They view negotiations as a sign of weakness of the government, which emboldens them to continue their violent activities. We recall that many of such negotiations were carried out with bandits by many state and local governments and individual communities in the Northwest region of the country. Past experiences from areas where this type of negotiation was carried out show that the bandits only exploited the opportunity to receive more money, easily trafficked illicit drugs, acquired more arms and raped women including teenagers and married ones. In fact, all the communities and governments that entered such negotiations with the bandits later regretted it.

Negotiating with the bandits will also send a dangerous message to Nigerians particularly rural dwellers signaling government’s incapacity, weakness and official acknowledgement of parallel governments within the Nigerian State. Our question to the advocates for negotiation is – which bandits’ group or leadership is the Federal Government going to negotiate or dialogue with? Are those bandits groups’ leaderships in Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Niger, Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa or Kebbi State? This is because, we are aware that, the armed bandits in Nigeria lack a centralized leadership structure, making it difficult to ensure compliance with negotiated terms. We could recall that Zamfara and Katsina States as well as various local governments and individual communities in the North West region tried the said approach.

“The Zamfara State Government, then under Abdulaziz Yari agreed that, for the peace deal to be perfected, the bandits must surrender their arms and never invade or attack any person or community. To ensure commitment to the peace deal, we are aware that, five Solar Boreholes were constructed by Government for the Fulanis in Subulu, Fakai, Maniya, Gangara and Manawa villages in Shinkafi Local Government Area with artificial ponds for feeding livestock. This was to show the bandits sincerity of purpose and commitment of government towards respecting the terms of agreement.

Huge amount of money was also alleged to have been given to appease the bandits to drop arms and accept peace deals. The Zamfara State Government then also came up with the idea of establishment of Ruga communities within the state for Nomads with the first Ruga project sited at Maradun Local Government Area which was almost completed. So much resources have been spent in that regard.

But the bandits didn’t respect the agreement thinking they were doing the government and the people favour. We want the President to be aware that, even in Zamfara State, where the negotiation was tried in 2016, it failed. Some of the bandit leaders who dropped arms and received monies from government used it to purchase additional arms. Negotiating with armed bandits in Nigeria will continue to fail because the bandits lack central command/leadership and common goal.

It will be difficult to bring them to a common negotiation table and any agreements made with one group may not be binding on others”.

Dr. Mikailu Barau, a northern leader and an academic from Zamfara State, lampooned Yarima for contributing to the escalation of the crisis while he served as Zamfara State governor. He however said “the issue is really controversial. The last thing that an average person from Zamfara would want to hear is making negotiation with the bandits. But from what we have seen so far, all attempts to use force against them have not been fruitful as they now reach out for support beyond the borders of Nigeria. The truth of the matter is that if you find a sincere leader who will speak to the warring parties and ensure that the bandits keep their own part of the agreement the problem would be solved. In Zamfara for instance, the past governments were not sincere in their approach as they would fail to monitor the bandits after reaching an agreement with them believing that they have dropped their arms.

There is no conflict that ends with the power of guns. People have to sit at a round table and negotiate to reach an agreement at one point or the other.