Katsina State’s governor Aminu Bello Masari’s engagement with marauding bandits to persuade them to give their arms and release their captives in return for amnesty has been criticized as giving in to criminality. However, this put down is misplaced. Instead, the governor deserves commendation for thinking out of the box. The delicate security challenge of his government required options other than frontal armed confrontations with the criminals.
Let us have an idea of the seriousness of the problem. One morning in April 2014, armed bandits massacred 142 people at the border between Faskari, Sabuwa and Dandume local government areas in an operation lasting 7 hours. At that time, President Goodluck Jonathan, his ministers and leading lights of then ruling PDP were with Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema in Katsina to commission “development projects”.
Cattle rustling was another daunting challenge as was the destruction of farmlands and produce by herdsmen. So destructive were their actions that Masari, then as the candidate of APC in the 2015 governorship election, called them KIWO HARAM, referencing the deology of Boko Haram terrorists. He won the election on the platform of security of life and property. On taking office, Masari sought a regional approach to the insecurity challenge because it was not Katsina State alone that was affected. Indeed, all the states in the North-west were. We are talking of Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Kaduna and Niger.
In mid-2019. Masari called a meeting of the governors of those states in Katsina. Some far reaching decisions were taken at initial meeting, including a monthly contribution of N100 million by each member state. He was unanimously adopted the permanent chairman of the meeting and Katsina State the permanent secretariat. However, the forum never met again in full, after the first meeting, and the monthly contribution of N100 million never came to pass.
It was at that juncture that Katsina government took matters into its hands. It resolved to allocate N120 million every month to federal security agencies operating in Katsina State. The result was immediate. The Nigerian Army that had only the 35 Battalion, with a colonel as its head, in the state, NOW has a brigade under the command of a brigadier general. In addition, there are four battalions, one each at Katsina, Daura, Dutsinma, Malumfashi and Funtua.
The Nigerian Airforce, for the first time, has berthed in Katsina State with two formations, one each at Katsina and Daura.
On its own part, the Nigeria Police Force has increased its personnel and formations,. It now has three additional Area Commands and created more Divisions. All these is to beef up security.
The non-kinetic approach of persuasion led to an offer of amnesty to repentant bandits in 2016. The bandits were led by the infamous’Buharin Daji, considered the Capo de Capo in the banditsdom. During a formal ceremony to seal the amnesty programme in Kankara town, the bandits returned hundreds of firearms, mostly the ubiquitous AK 47 and AK 49, as well as innumerable ammunitions. Gov. Masari himself, under this peace engagement, leads government officials and security chiefs to the ‘dens’ of the bandits for peace talks with them. This engagement has, so far, secured the release of 81 kidnap victims and amnesty for 19 unconvicted bandits.
In police parlance, sometimes it takes a thief to catch a thief. In the same way, fighting criminality or insecurity requires, sometimes, going unconventional. This is what Masari is doing and the happy result is there for all to see.