From Lawal Sa’idu Funtua, Katsina
Before 2015, Katsina State people especially those living in the rural areas were grappling with the menace of cattle rustling, armed banditry and other organized criminal activities. The menace went to the extent of denying people access to their farmlands and rearing of cattle became near impossible. Towns and villages that were existing for decades and centuries were on the verged of being wiped away.
In 2013 to be precise the level of criminality in the state reached its boiling point when a team of bandits attacked towns and villages within the axis of Faskari local government in the southern part of the state. The attack left no fewer than 103 innocent souls killed while hundreds of people sustained various degree of injuries with a lot of property destroyed. That genocide attack left 40 people killed at Mararrabar Maigora, 27 killed in Maigora, 27 killed in Sabon Layin Galadima and 7 in Unguwar Doka. The sad fact of the attack was that in some instances a whole family were wiped out.
The worst hit areas of this criminality in Katsina state include, Faskari, Sabuwa, Kankara, Safana, Danmusa, Dandume, Batsari and Jibia local governments. In these areas rural communities were thrown into the waters of economic uncertainties as they could not engage in any meaningful economic activities. However despite these fears no meaning steps were taken to address the issues.
Therefore prior to the 2015 election, the incumbent governor of the state, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari who was then the All Progressive Congress (APC) gubernatorial candidate promised to take pro- active measures if elected to address the menace of cattle rustling and other criminality in the state. He promised to end what he called “kiwo haram”and “noma haram”.
The incumbent Secretary to the government of the state, Alhaji Mustapha Inuwa was given the mandate to find ways of ending the menace. A committee was set-up under the SGS to explore all options in tackling the menace.
Before the committee swing into action the SGS called for comprehensive understanding of the menace that did not start overnight. With the clear understanding of the issues, the committee came to understand that the problem was multi-faceted with the cattle breeders, farmers and vigilante all sharing in the blame. With this understanding the committee came to the coclusion that the use of force will not address the issue in fact it will further confirmed.
With this the committee reached out to the apex union of Fulani herdsmen, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association. With the support of this group, the committee was able to reached out to the cattle rustlers. Reaching out to them culminated into series of meetings with them the enrich their confidence and make them have faith in the new peace initiative.
One of the peace meeting with the rustlers took place in Illela Forest in Safana Local Government Area of the state. at the meeting the SGS directed security agencies and vigilante groups to stop the intimidation and harassment of Fulani Herdsmen. The repented rustlers were clear at that time that the stigmatization of their race, indiscriminate harassment and killings by the security agencies and the vigilante groups makes them to take arms. They further requested the government to construct dams for them in the forest, build schools for their children and stop indiscriminate falling of trees that threatened their means of livelihood.
After buying the confidence of the repentant cattle rustlers, a ceremony was organized in Kankara local government for them to surrender their weapons. With the success of the Kankara initiative, it led to the reduction in the criminal activities of the rustlers.
The success was further seen in the increase this year of farming activities in areas where in the past were no go areas.
However on the 17th of October 2017 another milestone was recorded when Katsina State Government and the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons, (PRESCOM) organized a ceremony on the destruction of arms and disarmament of the repentant rustlers.
The governor of the state, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari who was represented by secretary to the state government, Alhaji Mustapha Muhammad Inuwa called for the upgrading of the PRESCOM to a commission.
He noted that the disarmament programme has been a veritable tool in the reduction of crimes such as Kidnapping, armed robbery, Cultism and other crimes that have been plaguing the state in the past.
Similarly, Masari disclosed that the ECOWAS-EU Small Arms Project being implemented by UNDP and PRESCOM will provide micro project in selected communities in Katsina State and also provide alternative livelihood to individuals who have voluntarily surrendered their arms under the state government disarmament initiatives.
According to him, the government will provide the lists of the selected communities as well as the names of all those who surrendered their weapons as the first beneficiaries of the micro projects and alternative livelihood scheme being provided under the ECOWAS- EU intervention.
The governor appealed to the neighbouring states of Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara and Kaduna state to join hands with the state government PRESCOM, UNDP and the ECOWAS-EU Small Arms Project and to ensure criminal elements in the society do not find safe havens anywhere near their immediate environment.
In a remark, the chairman PRESCOM, Mr. Orji Dickson urged the repentant cattle rustlers to feel free to surrender arms in their possession, adding that there was no hidden agenda to hurt them after willingly surrendering.
With the success of the peace initiatives, this further provided a lead for other states grappling with the menace of cattle rustling, kidnapping and armed banditry to borrow a leaf from Katsina Initiative. As Governor Masari said “ if we are taking measures and others are not doing the same the problem will continue coming back to Us”.