• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Why insecurity persists in Zamfara, despite efforts – Dauda Lawal

Why insecurity persists in Zamfara, despite efforts – Dauda Lawal

Dauda Lawal the Governor of Zamfara State in this interview spoke on governance and efforts to tackle the spate of insecurity in his state. He also revealed why the state is the hub of banditry and outlined his efforts in the education sector among other issues. Iniobong Iwok brings excerpts.

Why is the security situation in Zamfara State still the way it is, despite efforts?

This is something that has been ongoing for the past twelve years: the security challenges such as kidnapping, banditry, cattle rustling, and so on.

It is unfortunate the way things are; sometimes you even wonder what kind of human being we are. When you look at the situation in Zamfara State with the same people, the same culture, and ninety-nine percent the same religion,.

What exactly are we fighting for? I can understand when you talk of Boko Haram; maybe they believe in a certain religion. If you go to the Niger Delta, they are fighting for economic reasons; what about Zamfara? That is the $1 million question.

It is something that we inherited, and we are doing so much to make sure that we take care of the situation.

Part of what I did was set up the community protection guard, which is an internal arrangement passed by the state House of Assembly to help the conversional security take care of some of these challenges.

We recruited about 2,540 staff across the 14 local government areas because they understand the trend and know the people, and they are doing well as we speak.

When you look at states that have had security outfits for years now, one noticeable thing is the hopelessness of the governors. Were you in this situation?

It is the same thing you know: as governors, we don’t have control over the police, the military, or the civil defence.

In most cases, you get frustrated with where to get help; when you need these people, they are nowhere to be found.

The best thing to do is to set up such a security outfit, and for us in Zamfara State, they are doing extremely well.

The narrative from security agencies is always that they are doing their best and tracking the bandits. If you say often they are not where to be found, how do we reconcile that?

Let me say that there is a lot of political undertone in the security issues. Some of us find it very difficult to even come out and say this, but I know what we are going through.

It is said that sometimes when you are really helpless and when you really need them, they are not there, and sometimes they are given instructions on what to do. That is the true situation we are facing.

You said they are given certain instructions; are you saying if that is not the case, we can eliminate these bandits in a short time?

Let me say this categorically: if we are committed, we can take care of this situation in two weeks, but the political will is not there.

I have heard you complain that negotiations with bandits are going on behind you. Who is doing this?

That is a million-dollar question. So, at some point, I had to come out and say that while we were trying to take care of the situation, somebody somehow behind our back was negotiating with bandits without my knowledge as the governor of the state.

Do you know who is doing this?

Yes, to some extent, we know.

Have you escalated it to someone higher?

When the situation got bad, I had to meet President Tinubu and complain to him. I explained the full situation that Zamfara State is facing in terms of security.

But some lawmakers recently said we should try something different.

We are talking about kinetic and non-kinetic approaches. In Zamfara State, there were a series of negotiations with these bandits, but not once or twice anything came out of it.

For goodness sake, how do you even begin to negotiate at a point of weakness? You can only negotiate at a point of strength when they know you mean business. It is just a venture.

When you met President Bola Tinubu, did you get a clue that he was properly briefed on the security situation in Zamfara?

Based on the conversation we had, the answer was no, and I had to explain everything to him about what we were facing and what needed to be done in my state.

Zamfara State has become the hub of banditry in Nigeria, or Northern Nigeria. If you are able to take care of Zamfara, believe me, you have solved ninety percent of the banditry issue in Northern Nigeria as a whole.

A lot of children died recently. I saw you having a conversation, and you intend to start a school feeding programme in your state.

What is your administration doing to check the repeat of the Bagega incident, where many children died, especially now that you are starting a school feeding programme?

It is still ongoing. We have been having a series of challenges in the mining sector, especially artisanal mining, but what do you do?

These are guys scrambling for something to feed themselves, and they find themselves in that situation.

Mining has been banned by the state and federal governments, but it is still ongoing. So, it is a continuous process.

The security outfit you set up—what are they supposed to do in this situation?

They are really doing a lot. Yes, mining is an issue; they go around to see how they can stop it. Banditry is an issue; they are busy round the clock, and cattle rustling is also an issue.

How are you going to create jobs and do something about education in this kind of situation?

Zamfara State is at the bottom of all indices of development. In education, which is second on my agenda outside of security, it is interesting to know that for three years, our children did not write WAEC and NECO.

When we took over, NECO was owed N1.3 billion and WAEC was owed N1.6 billion. We settled that money in order for our kids to write NECO and WAEC and some to get certificates, which is one of the reasons in November 2023 I had to declare a state of emergency on education.

Right now, we are building and reconstructing more than 254 schools across all 14 local government areas in the state.

We had to settle school fees for some of our students in India, Sudan, and Cyprus; they were taken there on scholarship, but yet nothing was paid. So, we had to take care of that.

With a lot of young people in illegal mining, is it challenging to tell them to go back to school and get a proper job?

For me, illegal mining is not even a problem; it is an insecurity. How do we secure the state? The headache for me is the kidnapping, cattle rustling, and banditry activities in almost all the local governments in the state. That is the challenge; if we are able to take care of this, believe me, mining is not an issue.

Do you know who these people are?

Yes, we know who they are; it is just that there is no political will.

We have had people from your state say we are negotiating with bandits so that our people can live in peace. How do you react?

What are they negotiating? They are empowering these people. The more you give them money, the more they see money to buy weapons to kill people.

If all these interferences were not happening, what would you do in two weeks?

If we are committed to the military and other security agencies, if there is political will in two weeks’ time, we can crush these guys. We know where they live; they are within the community.

Have you taught about paying the minimum wage with the current conversation going on now?

It is interesting to note that since the creation of Zamfara State, there is nothing like a minimum wage, and people, as of last month, were still learning about the N7, 000 salary.

It is just now that we have approved the N30,000 minimum wage. When we took over, there was a backlog of salaries of over four months we had to clear.

Since 2012, about N13.6 billion has been pending; we have just started paying all the pensioners.

For now, we have paid about N6 billion of the backlog, and we intend to clear it within the shortest possible time.

What are you doing about farming?

Zamfara has always been an agrarian economy; the only challenge is the insecurity that we are facing, which is why people can no longer go to their farms. But if we are able to take care of that, agriculture would be the main thing.

Did you get assurance from President Tinubu that, despite not getting the right briefing, he would take steps to solve the security problem in Zamfara?

Remember, it was on that day when I briefed the president that he declared them terrorists, and he gave assurances that something would be done immediately?

But they also have limitations because they were told not to cross certain places. I am still going back to meet the president because somebody somewhere is trying to frustrate the efforts. Everything has become political.

Is someone trying to make your state ungovernable for you?

I guess, but we will get to the end of it. We would remain committed until we were able to solve the security situation in the state.

But while you are trying to solve the security challenge, the state can’t remain at a standstill. What is the situation?

So far, things are okay; there is new development taking place; there is urban renewal. As a matter of fact, in the past, you couldn’t move two hundred metres on a good road in Zamfara State in Gwarzo.

In the past, one couldn’t move at a certain time in the state capital; is that still the situation now?

Nothing is changing, but there is a ban from 6 p.m., when it is getting dark, because we are doing some operations and it has drastically reduced attacks.

Some people said artisanal miners would sell what they could get to the government, and that would reduce insecurity in Zamfara. Is this true?

No, when you are talking about artisan mining, what benefits are coming to the state? You need proper mining; you need people who can invest.

Zamfara is blessed; we have the highest mineral deposit in the country—gold, iron ore, copper, and so many others in large quantities.

You don’t need artisanal mining; you need proper investors, and that is what we are working on, and in a matter of time, we will get there.

We are not deterred by anything; we would remain committed and focused, changing the narrative. We are on a rescue mission, and we are going to rescue Zamfara by the grace of God.

The Minister of State for Defence is from your zone; are you working with him?

Yes, he is the Minister of State for Defence, but to what benefit to us? I am sure you are aware that just about three weeks ago, bandits went into his home town and killed so many people. What have they done about it?

We have him, but of what benefit to Zamafra State?

He was a former governor, and with his experience, he should push to secure that place. Are you saying it is not happening?

We don’t see those efforts; maybe he is pulling his weight, which may not be enough.

Are you in touch with him or the Minister of Defence?

I have been to all the service chiefs, almost all the security chiefs, and I have seen them one by one.

From the chief of defence staff, chief of army staff, and office of the NSA, I was there. I cried for help. We are in touch with everybody, but the political will is not there.

Political will on whose part?

Political will on the part of the security agencies.

Security agencies have no business with politics; they are just doing their job.

Who instructed the security force? There must be somebody behind them. Like I said, if we are serious about crushing these guys, it can be done in two weeks.

This is something we have been grappling with for years; are you saying it can be dealt with within two weeks?

Yes, we can deal with it in two weeks if we are serious.

Is it only in Zamfara State or other parts of the country?

You know the major centre for banditry in the country is Zamfara State.

Zamfara has been a safe haven for these guys for a while.

They move from Zamfara to Katsina State, they move from Zamfara into Kaduna State, they move from Zamfara into Niger State, and they move from Zamfara into Sokoto State.

Like I said, we know where their camps are; why is it taking so long to crush them?

Why didn’t your predecessors crush the bandits if they knew this?

Maybe they had different priorities, but for us, we are on a rescue mission.

But you are the chief security officer of your state; what is holding you back?

I don’t have control over the military, police, or civil defence. They don’t take instructions from me; they take them from the heads of their agencies or so.

Have you met the head of security agencies in your state?

Yes, that is done on a daily basis, and we will continue to do that until we find a solution to the problems of insecurity in the state.

Some people are sceptical that the security outfit you set up may be used for political purposes. What is your take?

When I met the president, that was the impression he was giving, and I told him I couldn’t do that.

Why are we going to set up a security outfit to crush our political opponents, or whatever you call them?

In the first place, we went through proper legislation passed by the state House of Assembly. The recruitment process was done by the military, police, and DSS.

These are people from their respective local governments because they understand the trend better than even conversational security. That was the impression given to the president, and I had to explain it to him.

I can’t just sit down and people are killed, left right, and I can’t do anything as a governor. How would I feel to see my people killed on a daily basis?