Zamfara as a metaphor for Nigeria

Zamfara, “a state of three million population, 23 hospitals with 23 doctors, 300 public primary schools manned by a single teacher each”, has been held hostage since 1999 by its hypocritical self-serving ruling political class and serially betrayed by the federal government that the poor masses of Zamfara looked up to for succour. Governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle last Sunday’s ‘misdirected’ directive to his state police commissioner to issue gun license to about 500 residents from the state emirates “who qualify and are wishing to obtain such guns to defend themselves”, was part of the political subterfuge freely deployed to divert attention from the real issues confronting the state by its successive governors and their Abuja collaborators.

We don’t need to search far for the target of policy thrust that talks of “government’s commitment to adequate security and protection of lives and property of citizens” but ordered the “immediate closure of all markets, in some LGAs and Emirates, banned riding of motorbikes and declared “anyone found riding motorbike a bandit who security agencies are allowed to shoot at sight.”

Some have been too quick to equate Matawalle’s clowning with a desperate call for help. But help for who – if one may ask? Unarguably, this is a policy designed to strengthen members of the minority governing political minority, the only group in Zamfara qualified and sufficiently endowed to procure and use guns. On the other hand, the policy brings little relief to millions of poor farmers who are currently at the receiving end of violence perpetrated by foreign herdsmen allegedly imported or lured into the country either as herdsmen or Arab mercenaries from ungoverned states of the Sahel region to fight Zamfara ruling minority’s undeclared war.

If truly Matawalle with the Zamfara ruling minority and their federal backers are interested in fairness, justice and peace, the sources of social dislocations in Zamfara was long ago explicitly articulated. According to Ibrahim Dosara, the state’s one-time Commissioner of Information, the “genesis of rural banditry in Zamfara started with a conflict between the Fulani and Hausa communities in the state”. The inference, for those who understands the politics of the north was that the source of social dislocations in Zamfara as elsewhere in the north, was distributive injustice –unfair distribution of economic resources and political power between the minority Fulani hegemonic power and the majority Hausa subsistence farmers.

For leaders committed to the pursuit of justice and equity for all citizens, the most cost effective response to Zamfara’s ongoing civil war would have been community policing as Dosara in fact specifically identified absence of police in the rural communities to serve as arbiter between feudal lords who want freedom to preside over a fiefdom of slaves. It is on record that the demand by states for state police was shut down by those serving other tendencies other than President Buhari’s pan-Nigeria agenda in Abuja.

The subterfuge employed was federating states’ paucity of funds for salaries and equipment when all that was needed was ceding half of the federal police force along with its budget to the states where they are needed while the other half continue with what they currently do best- accompanying musicians to nightclubs, wives of local council chairmen and Chinese site engineers to fish markets and providing round-the-clock security for politicians including those indicted either by the courts or the National Assembly. We can add even those known criminals whose only qualification for police protection is their deep pocket.

But sadly Zamfara and its successive governors, rather than the pursuit of justice and equity for its citizens, chose to play the ostrich. Thus Ahmed Yerima on October 27, 1999, introduced Sharia law in breach of the constitution, a venture that contributed to the economic disaster in the state. He employed thousands of Hisbah religious police to prevent sales of alcohol, apprehend ladies adjudged not properly dressed and arrest cabs with male and female passengers while the battle between farmers, herdsmen and cattle rustlers raged on in the suburbs.

For short-changing the Zamfara’s governed, Governor Yari, his successor was dragged to court by Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) where he lost N700m when the court “held he could not prove how he got the funds” while or before serving as governor of Zamfara State between May 29, 2011, and May 29, 2019.” Matawalle while signing the repeal of the state pension law accused Yari of paying himself N360m from the state pensions fund two days to the end of his term.

Matawalle’s first intervention as a governor in state experiencing daily harvest of death from bandits and herdsmen was in form of a comedy. He wanted Emirs and the ruling political elite, predominantly of Fulani extraction, to swear by the Holy Quran they had no linkage with bandits and herdsmen long after Fulani credible voices have confirmed those waging war against us are Fulani herdsmen.

It was on record that Bauchi’s Governor Bala Mohammed, spoke of “Fulani herders who needed to carry AK-47 for self-defence”; Ganduje of “Fulani herdsmen using their AK-47 to commit crime against Nigerians” and El Rufai of “Anybody that thinks a Fulani herdsman that is engaged in kidnapping for ransom and is earning millions of naira would go back to his former life of getting N100,000 after selling a cow in a year, must be deceiving himself”.

Of course since President Buhari’s Abuja ‘loyal gatekeepers’, share the same mind-set with Zamfara’s successive governors, it was therefore not a surprise Abuja chose to replicate the failed Middle-Belt strategy of massive deployment of fire-power in Zamfara despite dismal documented report that such deployment never prevented students from being carted away with buses from their dormitories, periodic massacre of farmers in Kaduna, Benue and Taraba or ever led to the apprehension or prosecution of killer herdsmen, our security personnel claimed were invincible even while they took refuge in seized community land of murdered victims or survivors forced to take refuge in IDP camps.

First was the stationing a full battalion of Special Forces in Zamfara. This was followed by “Operation Maximum Safety” with 510 police personnel and 40 patrol vehicles; Joint Intervention Team of about 1000 police personnel; The Nigerian Air Force Operation ‘Diran Mikiya’ and IGP Mohammed Adamu’s “Operation Puff Adder,” aimed not only “at taking the battle to the doorsteps of the criminals” but to “rout-out, arrest and prosecute armed bandits, vicious kidnappers for ransom and cattle rustling gangs operating in some parts of the state.”

There can be no greater testimony to betrayal of the people than Matawalles’s last Sunday’s antics even as Zamfara remains under siege with mounting daily harvest of deaths.

The scourge of the nation remains killer Fulani herdsmen. Unfortunately, apart from roundly rejected government Open-grazing and RUGA initiatives, there has been no clear cut government policy on how to protect Nigerians from bandits and killer herdsmen operating unchallenged from all parts of the country. The only current initiative is to the credit of Sheik Ahmad Gumi who shamed government and its security agencies by visiting the herdsmen and bandits in the forest, and returning to relay their demands to government. He has followed up with a formation of Nomadic Rights Concern (NORIC) as a “channel whereby nomads will have their complaints and agitation addressed to the right authorities”.

Surprisingly the other initiative was from the belligerent Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore that recently brought Fulani from 16 countries to Abuja to discuss “The Future of Fulani Pastoralists in Nigeria” and the security challenges confronting Nigeria.

Zamfara remains a metaphor for our country as our elected leaders play the ostrich.

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