Insecurity: I Won’t Negotiate With Bandits — Gov Bello

Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on the increasing wave of insecurity as well as infrastructural decay in the state.
Speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, Governor Bello said that the menace of bandits who come into the state through Kaduna and Katsina states had become a source of worry to the government.
He further said that the State was witnessing influx of bandits who come in through the Benin Republic border, adding that the bandits are Fulanis that have no one to control them even their parents.
He vowed not to negotiate with the criminals because they don’t keep to any agreement entered into with government even as he said that he had once reluctantly negotiated with the bandits but such negotiations did not produce any positive result.
The governor, who said that the local security have been helpful in curtailing the activities of the criminals, however noted that the bandits were being invited by some locals.
On the reason for his meeting with the President, Governor Bello sait it was on matters surrounding security situation in Niger State.
According to him, “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.
“So we had a very fruitful discussion and he also pledged more support to the state on security matters so that either 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 or more of traffic from the South passes through Niger State especially through Minna, the state capital. Over time we have witnessed that some of our culverts, bridges and roads have been seriously destroyed because of the weight of 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 sometime.
“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. So most of the federal and state roads at the moment have become very bad.
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So we discussed that as well and we hope before the raining season, something will be done about it.”
Asked how bad was the situation, he said,” 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 within the state.
“Some of our local governments are up to 6,000 to 7,000 square kilometers one local government. For example the Bobi grazing reserve which is a programme between state government, CBN and the federal government, where we encourage herders to move 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 there deep in 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 regard to personnel, we will be able to deploy them 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 use 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 call for bandits. Like I said, with limited resources we are doing the little we can to see that we secure lives and property.
“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.”
Asked whether was considering negotiating with the bandits, Governor Bello said that he had no intention to do that because his last experience did not yield any positive results.
He said,” To be honest, even when the process of negotiation was being advised, I recommended or agreed to it. I have attended one meeting where the bandits were there 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 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 Fulanis 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 gone point or killing, will say let’s go to 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 ever worked, so I don’t think…unless I see some evidence of sincerity but I am really not in such negotiations.”
On the sort of mayhem the bandits have caused in Niger State, he said, “This is a very important question because the dynamics of the criminal activities have changed. They started with armed robbery then they moved to cattle rustling and then to kidnapping as a means of getting money.
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“But recently the trend has changed, they started burning farms and animals. So this has given me some concerns and at the same time it has kept me thinking, what is the motive. I can understand if you kidnap you are looking for money but when you burn farms, then there is something else happening. Or when you kill animals, they go to villages and kill animals, they don’t steal.
“So, if you stop people from going to farms it means you are trying to deprive that nation of food security. Why will someone wants to deprive people of food security? Niger State has the capacity of feeding the entire country. We have the water bodies for dry season farming, we produce a lot of rice, maize but I am worried because this year most of the farmers did not have the opportunity to go to their farms to harvest even when they planted. So the bandits torch the farms, they just burn everything.
“This is a serious one because it does not affect Niger alone, it affects the entire country. So when we are not able to feed our nation, then it becomes a major challenge. So, this is the kind of mayhem being unleashed on the people. I have been discussing this, we have noted this done.
“We have been able to address one of the mayhems because at some point they stopped farmers from going to farms until they pay ransom. So, what they do is that they go to a community and say we will allow you go to farm but you have to pay some money. But we have been able to address that because we have been able to identify their camps and those camps have been destroyed to some extent because some of the farmers especially in the mandila area have been able to return to their farms.
“But we are not out of the woods yet, they come in pockets this time around and on daily basis we have five to six attacks. Again, you cannot attach values to human lives, and they kill innocent people. When you rob and leave them alive is one thing but when you go and just kill, that also sends a very terrible signal. So there is serious mayhem being caused by this bandits.”
Fielding question on the response in relation to solutions on banditry, he said that a lot of progress has been made so far.
He said,” Like I have 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. Vigilantes are controlled by the local government and sometimes by the Ministry.
Government has 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 local 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 heading 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 am in discussions with the Emirs, First class emirs to dethrone or strip 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, but we have lost quite a few vigilantes.
“You cannot compare somebody with dane gun and 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.
“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.”
Asked on what was responsible for the banditry activities, Governor Bello said, “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 because they confessed to this.
“In my own opinion, the 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. Anyways, we have a problem for whatever the reason is, it’s a major problem and it must stop.”
On the President response, he said, “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 done. 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 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 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 certificat, 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.”

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