Banditry: Stakeholders are not helping matters – By Prof Abdussamad Umar Jibia
The rural areas of Katsina state are still the killing field that they have been for the past several years. For Jibia and Batsari LGAs where I have been following, bandit attacks are almost a daily occurrence; while you are grieving with the attack on one village you are very likely to hear about the killing/abduction in another rural settlement.
One of the most painful things about these criminalities is the reaction of different stakeholders to the plight of ordinary people in our villages.
First, since majority of the victims in those areas are Muslims it behooves the leaders of the Muslim Ummah to take necessary actions in terms of assistance for the victims and mounting pressure on Government to do the needful to end banditry and bring perpetrators to book. We know how CAN reacts whenever its leadership feels that a single Christian is being victimized anywhere in Nigeria. However, the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (SCIA) which is the officially-recognized leadership of the Nigerian Muslim Ummah is vividly absent in the areas where these heinous crimes are taking place. My interaction with some of those close to emirs who, led by the Sultan constitute the membership of the council reveals that they are not even looking in that direction. Their main concern is to have a role spelt out in the Constitution. That, of course, will be attracting FAAC monthly allocation to them.
Another set of stakeholders are Islamic scholars. Some weeks ago I replied a group of Islamic scholars who released a long list of recommendations on how to go about ending banditry in the Northwest. Anyone who examined their writeup will understand that they were mainly concerned about ‘saying something’ on the issue even without adequate preparation. For such a big group of scholars to come up with a position on such a big issue, one would expect them to carry out a first hand assessment of the situation on the ground and to tell the world what they have done and intend to do/ be doing to bring an end to the problem and assist the victims. That is why some of them dismiss our accounts as hearsay, obviously because either they are not in touch with the grassroots or they don’t want to be seen criticizing Government.
Politicians are not helping matters on the issue. The actions of most of them are such as to deceive locals and make them appear the better candidates for the next election. Only yesterday I heard a song (Rarara style) praising a local reps member and telling the electorate that the ‘honourable’ is opposed to the criminalities taking place in his constituency and that something must be done. We know very well that the target audience of such songs are the gullible masses and they have no effect on decision makers. Apart from the instances in which Governor Masari himself admitted that their Government has failed, the utterances of Katsina state Government officials is such as to dodge blames and shift it elsewhere, most a times to the victims.
Press coverage of the criminal activities taking place in Katsina and Zamfara is far below expectation. I have never expected the anti-Islamic, anti-North press of the South to do justice in reporting matters affecting the far North. In this case I m talking about the so-called Northern press. I have not come across any news outfit that takes the pain of continuously following and reporting events as they happen in deep areas of Katsina and Zamfara states. Most of them reproduce the information given to them by the Military and Police without going further to see the situation on the ground in order to expose the truth or otherwise of the Government version of events.
The problem with the rest of us is that we don’t even know that we are contributing in our own ways to the ordeal of those villagers. For example, last week there was a widespread riot by villagers in Jibia LGA. It took place following continuous attacks on their communities by criminals. The rioters in their hundreds blocked Katsina – Jibia highway and in addition to setting bonfires smashed windscreens of any passing vehicle whether or not it belongs to Government. Many people condemned what they did but I did not. My reason is simple. The villagers acted in accordance with their level of awareness and in response to being abandoned by the rest of us. That we are in Government or not does not matter.
How can you claim to be innocent when your neighbors in a community less than ten kilometers away are killed or kidnapped, robbed of their property and their women violated without you taking any step to show sympathy for them? How can you prove to those people that you are not part of their problem when you appear well fed and driving an expensive car while they cannot sleep with their eyes closed? The question I asked most of the people who condemned their approach was why they did not join the rioters to guide them on the so-called civilized way of organizing protests.
Worst still, after the riots that culminated in the burning down of a building temporarily used by Police, Policemen picked more than forty young people from their homes and on the streets of Daddara, paraded them before the press and claimed that those are people “sponsored by smugglers” to burn down property belonging to Joint border patrol team. The police PRO who made the claim is yet to parade the sponsoring smugglers to prove to Nigerians that he is not a liar. And the rest of us are silent because the people arrested are not members of our families.
The riots that took place last week point to another imminent problem. When the villagers continue to be pushed to the extreme, they may form other groups more hardened and more violent than the Fulani herdsmen. It is unfortunate that both the Government and Nigerian Police cannot see this.
Prof Abdussamad Umar Jibia