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Why We Won’t Negotiate With Bandits – Sani Bello

On visit to the president
I want to use this opportunity to discuss matters surrounding security situation in Niger State. Recently, we have been experiencing influx of bandits from neighbouring states and even though our security agencies are doing their best, I found it necessarily to update Mr. President on the situation.

We had a very fruitful discussion and also pledged more support to the state on security matters so that in the shortest possible time we will address the security situation.

We also discussed the issue of infrastructure in Niger State. At the moment, 80 percent if not more of traffic from the South passes through Niger State especially through Minna, the state capital. Over time, we have witnessed some of our culverts, bridges and roads being seriously destroyed because of the weight of their trucks.

So, we try to encourage truckers to carry a maximum of 30 tons or 32 tons, that should be able to keep our roads functioning for some time. However, the state of all the roads in Niger State is in a deplorable condition, so there is need for federal intervention. Most of the roads are federal roads but because the federal roads are bad, trailers have resorted to using state roads. Most of the federal and state roads at the moment have become very bad.
We discussed that as well and we hope before the raining season, something will be done about it.

How bad is the situation?
The situation is very bad. Niger is 73,000 square kilometers, it’s the size of the entire south south or south east. So, first of all we have limited number of security personnel and I think we have to start thinking of increasing the numbers so that we are able to cover most of the local government areas within the state. Some of our local governments are up to 6,000 to 7,000 square kilometers, that is one local government.
For example the Bobi grazing reserve which is a Programme among state government, CBN and the federal government, where we encourage herders to graze their cattle so as to stop the movement of cattle from one area to the other so as to avoid herders/farmers conflict, has become a target because that is the only location where you can find in one constituency 5,000 to 6,000 herds of cows. So, most of the bandits have started focusing their attention on the Bobi grazing reserve which I have also discussed with Mr. President because we have investors that have started investing in terms of money, equipment, processing facilities. We do not want to discourage them so we applied most of our resources and efforts towards protecting the grazing reserve.
But we are having influx of bandits from neigbouring states especially Zamfara and Kaduna states. It is difficult to patrol those areas because vehicles do not go there and they are deep inside the forest which means we will need the federal might especially the Air Force. By the way, the Air Force has been doing a extremely well in recent times to support our ground operations.
I have no doubts in my mind that with a little support with regards to personnel, mostly personnel that we will be are able to deploy in various parts of the state. Again, our border with Benin Republic, this is new. We recently started experiencing influx of bandits from Benin Republic border, we never used to experience that before. They find the national park very attractive. The national park alone is 5,000 square kilometers, so it is a good point of call for bandits. Like I said, with limited resources we are doing the little we can to see that we secure lives and properties. We have lost a few people, we still have people being kidnapped. Even today we have not less than 30 people that have been kidnapped but most times we are able to rescue them.
I believe there is great value in working with the federal authorities in addressing this security challenges.

Are you considering negotiating with the bandits?
To be honest, even when the process of negotiation was being advised, I recommended or agree to it. I have attended one meeting where the bandits were in attendance and I cannot imagine myself as a state governor and chief security officer of a state, sitting down and negotiating with bandits. They have never been honest in their talks even when they were given the opportunity they failed to keep to the agreement. And whenever they will surrender their arms and they don’t ask anything in return, then you can tell it is not an honest negotiation because someone that is used to carrying arms to go and rob is now telling you he will drop his arms without asking for anything in return, I don’t think there is any sincerity in that. So, I have never subscribed to that negotiation. In any case, the bandits are mostly Fulani that have no one to control them even their parents cannot control them. We call them bandits but these are common criminals, they are armed robbers. I don’t see how someone who is used to robbing at gun point or killing, will say let’s go to the negotiating table, I will drop my arms, I will just move on with my life without asking for some kind of support as an alternative to their activities.
I tried it once reluctantly it never worked, so I don’t think…unless I see some evidence of sincerity but I am really not in such negotiations.

What do you think is responsible for the banditry activities?
In one particular case and I always tell our security agents when they make an arrest to study the minds of the bandits and to ask why. But one particular case we arrested bandits that are foreigners as far as Sundan and Mali and they came on motor cycles. They are being recruited through social media, through Facebook in some cases and they confessed to this.
In my own opinion, banditry activities differ from place to place. Some are cattle rustlers, some believe they are fighting some kind of jihadist activity, some believe they are fighting corruption, they see any uniform person, any political office holder as corrupt. So, when you ask them you get different responses or different answers. Anyway, we have a problem for whatever the reason is, it’s a major problem and it must stop.

What was the response of Mr. President?
My discussion with the President was very fruitful, he showed his concern, he has always shown concern when it comes to such activities especially when it effects lives and properties and agriculture. As you know, one of the main agenda of Mr. President is to see that we achieve food sufficiency as a nation. With this activity of the bandits, that will be very difficult to achieve in some parts of the country. You have Niger, you have Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and unfortunately these states produce a lot of agricultural produce. So, he showed his concern, I think we spoke heart to heart and he also comforted me by telling me that whatever support required will be given. Most of the support will come from hi-tech equipment because most of these bandits are in areas where you cannot even go on motorcycles or vehicles. So, hi-tech equipment means hi-tech surveillance equipment that will be able to identify and detect the exact location and position of the camps so that our forces will be able to go straight to the point. But if for example you are searching for 100 people in a 5,000 square kilometer forest, it is just like a drop in an ocean, where do you even start from? The most logical thing to do is to use technology, it may be more expensive but I think it will be worth it. So, these are the kind of areas I hope the Federal Government can support.
We have also also used some of our resources to order some drones but then again even when you order drones you need support of the Federal Government because you will be required to get end user certified, the documentation takes a long process. Our drone has been ready for almost three months now, we are not able to bring it because of documentation issues. So, these are the kind of interventions we seek support.
Response in relation to solutions on banditry
Let me tell you what has worked so far and we have made a lot of progress. Like I’ve said what I have done is that I moved the responsibility of security to the community level. And at the community level they know themselves. Like you mentioned, vigilantes are controlled by the local government and sometimes by the ministry for local government and they have been doing very well. And for so many reasons. One, they are defending their farmlands, they are defending their families. It is different when you send someone from somewhere, the enthusiasm to really fight and motivate people to protect their environment is usually better when you deal with locals. Yes, I found the locals security at the lowest level very helpful. But again, one major challenge that we found out is that in some cases the locals have adopted to a kind of business and that is even more difficult.
The bandits are being invited by some locals. In fact we have arrested some village heads. Now, if a whole village head invites bandits or habours bandits, then where are we headed to? The village head is supposed to secure the village.
So, we are going to be ruthless with any village head found wanting in this regard because there is no way we can make progress if the traditional institution at the lowest level becomes part of it and I’m in discussion with the emirs, First class emirs to dethrone or stripe any village head of his appointment once being caught. So, going forward with the efforts of the Nigerian police, with the community
policing, with the local vigilantes if you have them across the entire state, even though they are not properly armed we’ve lost quite a few vigilantes. You cannot compare somebody with dane gun with somebody carrying AK47 and AK49. But they are determined to protect their families and their farmlands. So, we’ve seen some results, some success when it comes to local vigilantes and I think we should give them some more support so that they will do more because the traditional, military and police we have their numbers are limited.
They cannot cover the entire state. So, they need the support of the vigilantes to augment their efforts. And in some cases the vigilantes and the hunters act as guide to our forces because they understand the forests.

In Niger for example, we have a lot of caves, we have a lot of mountains. Bringing someone from somewhere may not understand the dynamics of the terrain. So, most of these bandits usually get higher ground so they are able to see anyone coming towards them. But usually the local people will be able to find ways around it. So, I believe we can have a very robust, strong partnership between the locals and the military.w

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