Zamfara: Betrayed by its governing elite

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

Zamfara, “a state of three million population, 23 hospitals with 23 doctors, 300 public primary schools manned by a single teacher each while many others in remote rural have no teachers” (Hon Murtala Adamu Jangebe,) has always been in the news often for the wrong reasons since the birth of the fourth republic in 1999.

The Zamfara governing elite remain the scourge of an impoverished people serially betrayed and repeatedly raped by self-serving leaders that rode to power on their back. The intervention of Abuja at the behest of the local hegemonic class has only prolonged the people’s nightmare.

Last week, Ibrahim Dosara, the state’s Commissioner of Information reminded Nigerians of the origin of this nightmare. The “genesis of rural banditry in Zamfara,” he said, “started with a conflict between the Fulani and Hausa communities in the state”. The result: 2,619 deaths, 1,190 abducted and 14,378 livestock rustled with 100,000 people displaced from their ancestral homes between 2011 and 2019. He also told us the obvious: “Zamfara lacks enough security forces from the federal government to secure the lives and properties of the people in the state”.

Having located the conflict within the Hausa majority and the Fulani hegemonic ruling minority, for many, the most cost-effective approach would have been community policing with recruits drawn from the warring Fulani and indigenous Hausa people to enable them jointly confront their demons.

And from the above, it was clear the source of social dislocations in Zamfara as elsewhere in the north is distributive justice–the proper allocation of rewards, as Aristotle put it. But sadly, the Zamfara minority was committed to distributive injustice and as expected chose force to enforce it. For them, allowing the oppressed and marginalized to participate in policing themselves was a risk they were not ready to take.

This perhaps explains why Minister of Defence, Brig-Gen. Mansur Dan Ali (rtd.) persuaded the president that a full battalion of special forces be stationed in Zamfara State This was followed by “Operation Maximum Safety” with 510 police personnel and 40 patrol vehicles”. This was further consolidated with a “Joint Intervention Team of about 1000 police personnel comprised of seven mobile police force units headed by an Assistant Commissioner of Police, counter terrorism unit (CTU), federal special anti-robbery squad (FSARS), anti-bomb (EOD) squad, and conventional policemen”.

Their mandate: “rout-out, arrest and prosecute armed bandits, vicious kidnappers for ransom and cattle rustling gangs operating in some parts of the state.”

The Nigerian Air Force also launched its own Operation ‘Diran Mikiya’, with a coordinated air strikes and a force package of two attack helicopters after intensive Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Then not too long ago, “Operation Puff Adder,” by Mohammed Adamu, the just removed IG aimed “at taking the battle to the doorsteps of the criminals” especially in Zamfara.

The result has been more killings, more rustling of cattle and more kidnapping for ransom. Whereas, the amount of money frittered away by a central government that spends funds it does not generate would have sustained community policing and provided job for would-be criminals. But for Zamfara’s suicidal elite and their Abuja promoters committed to institutionalization of injustice, neither logic nor socio-economic considerations count for much.

Zamfara’s successive elected governors have been no less disloyal to the people of the state. In 1999, instead of working for a more egalitarian society by addressing inequality and economic strangulation of the majority that could only access their own land for subsistence farming after payment of tax, Ahmed Sani Yerima chose to exploit the religion and ethnic differences of the people for temporary political gain. On October 27, 1999, he introduced Sharia law in breach of the constitution. Some 20 years later, the introduction of Sharia law according to one observer had only “forced people to withdraw into the womb of their religions since people’s religion and ethnicity today determine access to power, resources and privileges”.

Yari who many believed governed mostly from Abuja while his state burned did little to change the status quo. In November 2016, when gunmen overran a mining camp in the Maru district of Zamfara State and killed 36 people, Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar, who from his hideout described the incident as “an act of terrorism” prevailed on Abuja to deploy more military units to fight the armed gangs.

Besides self, Yari served neither the people nor his party. He frittered away the victory of his party in a failed attempt to hand pick his successor. The court nullified all those elected including the governor on the platform of his party because of lack of valid primaries before the election.

He was dragged to court by Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) where he lost N700m on January 24, when the court held that “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.”

In the midst of the people’s misery, the absentee governor also assented to a law that would have allowed him to draw N10m pension after his tenure. Bello Matawalle, his successor while signing the repeal of the law accused Yari of paying himself N360m from the state pensions fund two days to the end of his term.

In Matawalle, the suffering people of Zamfara are not likely going to get any relief. He claimed his three predecessors spent the sum of N970 million on payment of ransom to some of “the 30,000 identified bandits, operating in more than 100 camps” leading to a rescue of over 2,000 kidnapped victims with the help of repentant bandits. Matawalle’s own creative response to those in control of Zamfara so far has been to swear by the Quran that he has no connection with bandits terrorising the state and challenging residents of the state, irrespective of their status, to do the same.

Bickering between Matawalle and Yari over mismanagement of Zamfara resources will not in any way change the relationship of the Zamfara impoverished people and their ruling oppressors.

In 2017, the United Kingdom’s Oxford University in its Human Development Initiative rated Zamfara as the poorest state in the north. It is also estimated that about 80 per cent of the population is in extreme poverty. In 2019, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) listed Zamfara along such states as Bauchi, Niger, Katsina, Kano, Sokoto, Kebbi, Gombe, Adamawa and Taraba as having eight million out-of-school children.

A REUTERS report of April 21, 2016, claimed “gold remains a major obstacle to peace with the state political elite and retired Generals engaged in deadly war, using the proceeds as the source of income to arm actors, from the Northwest, who kill and sexually abuse civilians with impunity”.

As if to support the claim, Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) alerted Nigeria of an increasing number of childhood deaths and illness in mining villages in the two Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Bukkuyum and Anka. There was also the United States Centre for Disease Control (US-CDC) that confirmed severe lead poisoning in more than 100 children in the villages of Dareta and Yargalma

Yet both the federal and state government were parties to the “illegal mining”. As late as October 2020, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, spoke of N2.5billion loan with the Bank of Industry for artisanal miners whose interest is now N3.2billion, making it difficult for miners to access the money. Governor Matawalle was also recently quoted as saying: “For a start, we have purchased 31 kilogramme of gold, wholly mined and refined by our artisanal miners.”

Sadly, the besieged poor people of Zamfara can neither swear by the name of their state elected office holders nor by that of the federal government, the impartial arbiter.

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