Amidst rising concerns over the spate of insecurity in some parts of the North, the bandits have explained why they take up arms against the State.
And to arrest the trend, they are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to initiate and lead a peace talk with them.
They made the request in a three minutes 10 seconds video clip obtained by Blueprint in Abuja Thursday.
Although the leader spoke in Hausa for the duration of the interview, it was however captioned in English.
In the video, leader of the group, who was in company of other gun-trotting bandits in an unidentified forest, alleged crass neglect of his tribe by the State over a long period of time, and the takeover of their grazing land by the wealthy.
“They stopped looking after them (Fulani). Their forests and grazing were taken over. You ‘ll see one person having as much as 1,000 hectares of land just because he is rich,” the group alleged.
He said his group took to banditry not long after Zamfara state was created.
“It’s been long that we started the banditry thing. It was not long after Zamfara state was created.
“We are not aggressors, but we took up arms because we have long been neglected by successive administrations in the country.
“Despite this country’s wealth, we are uneducated, neglected with no security, we are just being killed as though we do not exist,” they said.
On why the peace deal mooted earlier collapsed, he said: “Of course it has been breached.
“They did not take the peace talk seriously and people are dying every day. Imagine, you have asked for amnesty and an agreement was reached, but you left that person in a forest with gun and nothing to substitute. What do you expect? How do you want that person to survive?
“Let me tell you, there is no day that someone is not killed between Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna, Sokoto and Katsina states and there is no tribe that is spared.
“You may not know, but if I tell you the situation of things in the country today, you will cry, even the president will cry,” the spokesperson whose identity could not be verified further stated.
While condemning the Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan administrations as having done nothing to improve their plight, the bandits however lauded the military government of late General Sani Abacha for creating some budget for nomadic education.
They said: “I think Buhari should stop praising his predecessors like Obasanjo, Jonathan and the late Yar’Adua. The only person that deserves such praise was the late Sani Abacha, who made allocation for nomadic education. But today, we have none of that again.”
When asked the way forward, the commander was swift in his response. “We supported this administration because we thought President Buhari will fix this country. But he won’t fix it.
“However, he must be ready to lead a peace talk with us. After all, he went round the country during his campaign.
“The government must also fulfil all the promises made to us. Not only that, they must also allow us benefit like the Hausa, Ibo and the Yoruba.
“They must also enrol our young ones in schools, provide jobs and give us sense of belonging as countrymen,” they further demanded in the clip which bears Daily Trust Production.
Gumi cautions on bandits
Meanwhile, notable Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, has cautioned Nigerians against calling the bandits criminals, but rather be seen as being part of the Nigerian society.
Gumi has been leading peace talks with the group in Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina states.
Speaking on Arise TV, the Islamic scholar said: “Even the press are criminals too because they are putting oil into fire. These people are listening to you. You don’t address them as criminals if you want them to succumb. Youths are ready to put down their weapons. Now, they hear you calling them criminals, how do you want them to cooperate?
“So, you have to show them that they are Nigerians, that they should not hurt children and that they should be law-abiding. This is the language we want to hear from the press in assisting us in getting the boys.
“When we talk to them with nice wordings, they are ready to put their weapons down; they are ready to listen to us. But when the language is about criminality, about kill them, jail them, then this is what we end up having.”
While saying that the trend was fast gaining national dimension, Gumi said: “You can see the Niger Delta people have already started coming out too to threaten the nation. So, it’s a nationwide problem we have with the youths taking weapon because it gives them a false sense of authority, importance.”
Reiterating the need to give listening ear to the bandits, he, however, said “the language of criminality should be struck out.”
When a question was put to him on if he believes anybody that kills, rapes, kidnaps and robs people is a criminal, he answered in the affirmative and said “he’s a criminal.”
He, however, came up with a quick analogy. “But let me show you one thing. If you are stopped by armed robbers on the road, this word criminal, you will not use it on them. You will tell them good things; obey them so that you will save yourself.”
They‘re criminals -Buhari
To President Buhari, however, the bandits, kidnappers, insurgents and their likes have no other name than criminals, and criminals should not be profiled by their ethnic groups but be dealt with.
The president spoke while declaring open the meeting of Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF) with Northern traditional leaders and National Assembly leaders from the region Thursday in Kaduna.
Represented by Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the president assured Nigerians that security agencies would continue to deal with criminals be they bandits, kidnappers or insurgents who pose threats to innocent Nigerians.
Buhari said: “This kind of robust engagement provides a veritable platform for deep reflection and dialogue on unity, peaceful coexistence, security and other parameters of development. We are confronting various dimensions of security challenges that continue to slowdown the emancipation of our people from poverty and economic deprivation.
“Criminals are criminals and should be dealt with as such, without resorting to ethnic profiling. Government shall continue to deal with insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals who constitute threat to innocent citizens across the country. I have already tasked the new service chiefs to devise new strategies that will end this ugly situation where the lives of our people continue to be threatened by hoodlums and criminals.
“I expect that at this meeting, your Forum will also discuss and devise ways of building stronger collaboration with the security architecture and the people in defeating criminality across the region and the nation at large. It is pertinent to note that the increased realization of our security, democracy indices are inextricably linked. Democracy and rule of law promote stability and in turn reinforces the power to assert freedom and economic progress of our people.
“This thread of interconnection needs support of the Northern State Governors Forum and entire citizenry of the country as any amount of positive sacrifice would be beneficial in bringing about national development and security of our nation. I appreciate the efforts of the 19 Northern States Governors’ Forum for their contribution towards national growth and development, especially in this challenging period in our nation’s being where certain fundamental issues of our corporate existence need to be frankly deliberated upon and actionable resolutions reached.”
“This meeting is coming at a time when the nation is making steady progress in addressing the many challenges impeding development and progress. We are providing critical infrastructure such as roads, railways, airports among which are critical to economic prosperity of our people as well as economic opportunities for our citizens to pursue legitimate aspirations that grow the economy.
“Government also notes with satisfaction the deliberate actions of the 19 Northern States Governors’ Forum of inclusivity in addressing the challenges of governance and national development. This is demonstrated in today’s event, wherein the Forum intends to receive and deliberate on the reports from Committees that were put in place to critically look at certain challenges of the region.
“I have been informed that the issues that will be on the table cut across various sectors. These include economy, security, youth development, industrialization, energy development, role of traditional rulers in governance, the Almajiri phenomenon, and many others which are not just peculiar to the Northern Region, but also affect other parts of the country. I have no doubt that far reaching recommendations will be adopted for the good of the region and the nation.
“I urge that these crucial and robust reports should be assiduously studied and implemented without delay. This is because we are not short of policies, but often faced with challenges of implementation. I assure this Forum of the support and collaboration in implementing some of the resolutions of this meeting that may require the participation of the Federal Government.
“I wish to advocate for synergy between the Northern Governors Forum synergy and other Forums in the other regions for the collective good of our nation. You should endeavour to compare notes and peer-review one another to exchange ideas and adopt best practices for the good of the people you govern.
“I wish to commend the Chairman and members of this Forum for rising to the occasion to de-escalate the recent tension arising from clashes between herders which resulted in the loss of lives and properties. The efforts of the Forum in engaging all parties and supporting the efforts of the Federal Government have gone a long way to ameliorate the situation. We need to sustain this tempo to attain total calm,” he said.
President Buhari further said: “Today’s gathering also demonstrates the collective will of the people of the North to promote living together and staying amongst all Nigerians irrespective of our ethnic and religious differences. I urge that the spectrum of this kind of engagement be widened to cover all communities and geopolitical zones of the country. The Federal Government would be willing to partner with you on that.
“The very key issues bothering the Northern region and indeed the country that require collective efforts to resolve are, population growth, agriculture value chain that is anchored on diversification and improved yields, as well as the revival of industries and other economic opportunities for job creation. I shall be keenly waiting for your resolutions on these and other issues as we work together to ensure a change.”
CNG wants amnesty
Amidst all of this, the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) has backed Gumi’s call for amnesty for the bandits.
They also expressed support for the suspension of movement of goods to the South to press for compensation for losses suffered in alleged attacks against northerners as resolved by the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria.
CNG’s spokesman, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said this Thursday in a statement obtained by Blueprint in Abuja.
“We align directly with Sheikh Gumi’s position with regards to constructive engagement, an opportunity for amnesty leading to reorientation, reintegration and re-assimilation of those who embrace peace within a reasonable timeframe after which, the resort can be made to force in crushing the recalcitrant north.
“In this regard, we urge the Sheikh and his team not to be distracted by the forces of destabilisation within and outside the North while calling for an expanded framework with the involvement of all willing northern governors and other significant components of the northern society to achieve final demobilisation and disarmament.
“Successive governments have found it expeditious to establish structures like OMPADEC, NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta, the Amnesty Programme, etc aimed at resolving a specific set of challenges affecting specific communities in the South. There is therefore no justification whatsoever to resist, or even question the extension of similar special initiatives to address the needs of herdsmen if these will lead to lasting peace and stability.
“The CNG also stands solidly behind the resolve of the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria to suspend further movement of goods to the South to press for compensation for losses suffered in the attacks as well as to extract a solid guarantee for the future safety of northerners in the South.”