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. Even the UN and regional bodies such as EU and AU’s Protocols support the Masari approach, which gives preference to dialogue over armed confrontation, to settle disputes.
Let us have an idea of the seriousness of the security situation in Katsina state. 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, some 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, referred to the situation as KIWO HARAM, an allusion to the ideology 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, Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi and Kaduna.
In mid-2015. Masari called a meeting of the governors of those states in Katsina. Niger state, though in far North-central, sought inclusion. 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 the bull by the horns. Since then, the government has been expending no less than N100 million every month to assist federal security agencies operating in Katsina State, among other security measures. 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.
Similarly, 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, thanks to the Masari initiatives.
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 ammunition, at a ceremony witnessed by the representatives of the Chief of Army Staff and the Inspector General of Police.
Gov. Masari himself, under the current peace engagement, leads government officials and security chiefs to the ‘dens’ of the bandits for peace talks with their ‘commanders’. This engagement has, so far, secured the release of 61 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.