By Muhammad Isma’il.
Judging from the efforts and resources sunk in the project of restoring security to the troubled parts of Katsina State from June 2015 to date on one hand, and the pervasive insecurity in the central and southern parts of the state on the other, one may be compelled to dismiss those as an exercise in futility.
Today, armed bandits and kidnappers could count with pride the number of IDPs in Kankara, Faskari, Sabuwa and Batsari as a trophy to their victory over the range of measures deployed against them by the government.
Until there emerges a tentative evaluation of the success being recorded by the NPF’s ‘Operation Puff Adder’, the situation on ground is still a far cry from its objectives, though results could take longer. But at the moment, kidnappers still seize people from the comfort of their homes in villages and towns that have territories in the Rugu Forest, farmers are apprehensive of going to their farms this rainy season, Fulani pastoralists that are now foraging on southern pasture dread coming home with their cattle to welcome the rainy season.
Such horror could be what Masari foresaw back in 2015 when he insisted on a regional cooperation among governments in the north-west to launch a holistic approach to end insecurity that was still in its infant stage in some of the states. If that idea had been embraced and implemented in good time many lives and livelihoods would have been saved, many villages would still be inhabited by their folk, farms would be tillable, thousands of farmers and traders would still be in business, many abducted and impoverished people would still be living their normal lives. Alas, the reverse has begotten the reverse.
As a witness, I could say in all fairness that if responsiveness and responsibility are anything to go by, Katsina would be a safe and secure place today, but in close-knit societies like the north-west region some states could bear the burden of others. For instance, while the administration in Katsina State treated every security situation as an emergency, elsewhere, the attitude is and has been lax. By the time it came on board in 2015, the Masari administration already had a well thought-out solution at hand for the security crisis it inherited from the previous administration. It met with every stakeholder from Jibia to Sabuwa, then rolled out a joint security operation tagged ‘Operation Sharan Daji’.
After months of confrontation with cattle rustlers which produced an undesirable number of casualties, the operation was partly suspended to minimize collateral damage on pastoral communities in the forest. The administration then called for a dialogue to call off hostilities and reconcile farmers with their Fulani neighbours in the interest of the local economy. Weapons were submitted to the police, and thousands of stolen cattle and abducted locals released.
That enabled the economy to pick up on fast gear, driven by the speedy revival of crop and livestock agriculture, trade, and smooth social cohabitation. Likely more than ever before, the 2017 and 2018 Hajj goers in the state were predominantly farmers and pastoralists that reaped from the gains of the Amnesty Program. Instructively, at the launch of the program, Governor Masari threw an open invitation to other north-west state governments and their troubled neighbours to experiment with the Katsina approach which could stamp out banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling in the region. But fantasy hardly turns reality.
Soon enough, cattle rustlers that could no longer prey on people’s cattle fled Katsina and resettled on greener pasture, mostly Zamfara and Kaduna States. A suspected kidnapper recently arrested by the police in Safana axis of the Rugu forest narrated to journalists how he left Katsina State in 2016 and resettled at the outskirts of Dansadau, Zamfara State, where he perfected his craft in the midst of well-experienced bandits and veteran kidnappers. His story is replicated in the lives of many young and middle-aged people that grew from ordinary cattle rustlers to hardened bandits. A prominent example is Buharin-Daji who handed over his rifle to Governor Masari in 2016, as a reformed soul, but later moved to Zamfara State where he unleashed untold horror on Maru, Dansadau and environs until he was killed in March 2018.
By early 2018, armed bandits and kidnappers drilled in the neighborhoods returned to Katsina State more crooked and more numerous, and erased most of the gains the state had recorded on the security front. With the wider scale and new modus operandi adopted by criminals in the state, people hardly feel safe even in the comfort of their homes, where kidnappers could strike at will. Some high profile cases recorded in the state of recent leaves no one in doubt.
These facts reinforce the need for sub-regional cooperation in the fight against armed banditry, insurgency, or other forms of violent crime in the 21st Century. A simultaneous approach coordinated by the sub-regional governments or, more desirably, the federal government, is key in this regard. As Katsina State now pays dearly for its lone lapproach to the crises, the Northern Governors’ Forum has found Masari fit to chair its Security Committee, probably in view of his past fruitless efforts to convince the forum of the need for a timely, proactive, and coordinated action. However this time around, the scale, magnitude, and complexity of the crises require more than just dialogue and amnesty. It requires huge resources, far-reaching multi-agency cooperation, mass orientation, and a big fight against poverty and ignorance.
Muhammad Isma’il writes from Katsina