The Secretary to the Zamfara State Government, Professor Abdullahi Shinkafi, in this interview speaks on the worrisome state of security in the state and Governor Abdulaziz Abubakar Yari’s efforts to tackle the menace
Zamfara was one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria but recently, the story has changed as the state is being ravaged by bandits, kidnappers and cattle rustlers. What really went wrong?
That is one question we all seek answer to. The whole world was peaceful and gradually you can see insecurity taking over at local, national and even global level. As you mentioned, Zamfara was known to be the most peaceful state; some say one of the most peaceful states in the country. But from 2009/2010, we started witnessing banditry attacks in some parts of the state, which initially started for the first three years as an unfortunate annual trend. Then, gradually after 2011, it became a biannual happening and unfortunately gradually also it became a quarterly, later a monthly, now almost a weekly, and some time even daily affair. We are witnessing insecurity inform of banditry and abduction of people for ransom. Sometimes villages are set ablaze.
From historic background, it all started with farmers/herdsmen clash, which is a general trend all over Africa. Wherever you have common interest in resources, you find people clashing over it. But then in 2011, presumably when we witnessed war in our neighbouring African countries, precisely Libya, Mali which brought about proliferation of weapons all over the place and also coming in of mercenaries, I think that was what changed the whole trend. It is no more farmers/herders clash, it is more of clear criminality and even the criminality has changed to something else. The emerging trend now appears as if we are fighting ideology.
You see elements of Boko Haram, you see elements of people fighting for unknown causes. Because the people bringing about insecurity, it appears there is no clear vision of what they are fighting for. These are people who don’t wear good cloth, who don’t eat good food, who don’t sleep in good place; so why do you fight after all? Why do you abduct people for ransom? So it appears sometimes like I said some Boko Haram elements are seen in the whole process, where they chant the slogan of Boko Haram before attack. This is the unfortunate situation. The lack of peace is not only in Zamfara but world over. We are concerned here because it is something very new to us but this is the bitter reality. This is how it all started from historical background but then later changed to something else. Just like you asked, through intelligence gathering and security we are also trying to find out what is really wrong and why we are under siege.
A sizeable number of Zamfara people have reportedly criticised the State Governor, Abdulaziz Yari over the handling of this matter. What is your reaction to the criticisms?
Well, people are at liberty to express their opinions but I want to tell you that it is only in Zamfara to me, it appears people share blame on issue of insecurity. Go to Maiduguri, we are yet to be where they are, we don’t hope to be where they are but go to Yobe, Adamawa, it happens all over the place but nobody apportions blame. It’s only in Zamfara here I see people apportioning blame. I don’t think any responsible leader will like his people to be attacked or abducted, otherwise who do you govern then and what is the beauty of governance when there is insecurity? Absolutely nothing. The governor and all of us don’t sleep; sometimes you will be receiving calls, making contacts to address situation, I think if you have something personal with someone, it is different but let us see insecurity as insecurity in its own merit and let’s forge ahead and cooperate in the spirit of partnership to see how we can get out of it.
The recruitment of 8500 civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) has also been criticised in certain quarters. What is your take?
In Zamfara, that is what sometimes people do, and what I am telling you is that we don’t need to politicise insecurity. The genesis of engaging the Civilian JTF and recruiting that number started from the Elders Committee of the state, headed by Ambassador M.Z Anka, with membership of renowned people and elders like General Ali Gusau. Sometime last year, they met and felt they would like to contribute and that is what we should be doing, instead of criticising. If you have an idea of the way forward bring it forward we are ready to listen, accommodate and together we forge ahead. So, the Elders’ Committee sat and thought one of the best ways we can address insecurity menace is through a community-based approach. So they brought a memo to the government which was shared by the State Executive Council and other stakeholders and we simply adopted the submission of the Elders Committed.
The summary of the submission of Elders Committee is that we should engage the community so that security affair becomes participatory, such that we should form committees at emirates levels, local government levels, state levels and ward levels but we share intelligence and then advise government for onward sharing with security agencies. One of the major responsibilities of this committee is to share intelligence gathered from informants on bandits’ location on the bandits themselves and submit report up to the state level and the state will now share this information with the security agencies. It is also part of the mandate of this committee to recruit sufficient number of JTF. You can see it is becoming very necessary to have the Civilian JTF in place because of insufficiency of security personnel themselves.
Zamfara has one police command, five Area commands, 15 divisions in only 25 outposts. We have 147 wards, 230 villages, with village heads, by right all these 230 villages should have outpost each. But we have only 25. So it implies that a gap has been created and this gap must be filled. So, one of the mandates of the Emirate Committee is to recruit sufficient number of the JTF, which they did themselves; it is not the government that did it. It is traditional institutions who know the people and they were mandated to recruit competent, qualified people with proven integrity and capacity to provide information in the three respects I told you about.
Secondly, they are to assist the security agencies because some of the security agencies, especially special troops coming to the state do not understand the terrain and geography. If you don’t know the geography and the terrain you hardly can effectively attack. So you need a guide and one of the things the JTF does is to guide security agencies on demand. Thirdly, they serve as local vigilante where there is no presence of security. It is very clear now we have presence of security in only 25 towns in Zamfara and you cannot leave other places. So this is simple. There is nothing politics about it. The governor did not know who has been recruited or not. I don’t know who was recruited from my local government. I have no business with that. It is the sole responsibility of that committee under the Emir of that emirate to screen and recruit the JTF and it has yielded a lot of good result. It is not political and it is not an idea that emanated from the government; rather it was an idea brought forward by the state elders committee which was studied by state Executive Council and was found to be excellent and it was executed.
The governor has reportedly backed the introduction of emergency rule in Zamfara. Does that mean the government is incapacitated in handling the security challenges in the state?
The governor was lamenting what people in certain quarters were agitating. Some groups were agitating that emergency rule is the only way. The governor did not call for it; he was lamenting and he said if it is the only thing that can bring peace, so shall it be. If today, I have to leave my office as SSG and there will be peace, I’m ready to go. If you govern people and there is no peace and then someone says this is the way to achieve peace, as a good leader if that is the only way and everybody is convinced that it is the only way, so shall it be.
Closely related to that is the allegation that the state government initiated the emergency rule theory to buy time because of crisis in the Zamfara APC and absence of candidates for the general elections. Do you agree to this?
That does not make sense to me because the issue is before the court. The APC is still hopeful that they are going to field candidates; I think people just want to talk sometime even when they have nothing to say. People should not criticise if actually there is nothing to criticise. If we are in aircraft as a community and the aircraft is gutted by fire, nobody is safe. The best approach is to cooperate and not to share blame. I think it is better we share intelligence and come together and see how best we can address this issue.
There are reports that the dismissal of three vice chairmen of local government councils and suspension of four lawmakers of the state Assembly is allegedly linked to their romance with the Deputy Governor, Ibrahim Wakala. What is your comment?
That is an Assembly affair; it is not an executive matter. What I’m trying to say is that we don’t interfere in legislative matters; honestly I have nothing to do with that. The vice chairmen are part of elected members and the Assembly has the mandate to increase their tenure or reduce or leave it. So they simply did what they felt.
But the deputy governor has cried out alleging that he has reportedly been sidelined by the governor on state matters. Are you worried by this friction between the duo?
I don’t assign responsibility to the governor and I don’t assign responsibility to the deputy governor. I wouldn’t know what the deputy governor is doing or what the governor is doing. I simply concentrate in coordinating the ministries and other agencies. I am under the office of the governor and that of the deputy. I wouldn’t know. I don’t assign responsibility to them. So I have no right to also take it away. So, I wouldn’t know what has happened; maybe somebody else could be in better position to answer that question.
Recently, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly has been addressed as acting governor in the absence of the governor. What do you say about this?
You are getting it wrong by talking about why somebody acted or why somebody is asked to represent the governor. That is a prerogative of the governor. It is not a law, it is the prerogative of the governor to say am not around or am not going for a programme, you go and represent me; I am not around you stay around for me. So, it is a prerogative thing. So, let us not confuse between prerogative and rights, they are two different things.
Zamfara is the only state in the North-West that the challenge of insecurity has escalated, could you give an insight on why it is so?
You see, that is a question we should answer scientifically. We need experts to tell us why. We have had seven committees from the Federal Government to discuss this issue and try to seek an answer as to why this is happening and why here. Although it is not only here; it is only more prominent here. It has spilled over to Sokoto; it is happening in Katsina. You can recall the governor of Katsina State has cried out. It is alarming in the North-East. It is not peculiar to this state but one thing I can tell you from social angle is that criminals normally do look for a place that can give them a breeding ground.
Like I said, in 2011 when this war started, Zamfara was one of the vulnerable states for certain reasons. One, we are too accommodating, because if you go to other parts of the country, especially in the South, the level of accommodation we do have is different in the sense that from our culture we intermingle freely. If you come today from Imo State I can give you my next house to stay. If you go to some states you cannot stay with indigenes. There is always a place set aside for non-indigenes. That is a cultural value which we have lost. Today even if you have to stay, you have to be screened but that has to, a large extent, been impossible because of population explosion.
Like I said, we are neighbours with Niger Republic and you see it is easy for all these criminals to come in because of the porous border and more importantly because of the thick forest that surround the state. From the North we are neighbours with Niger Republic, and surrounded by forest linking up with Sokoto State and Birnin Gwari. The state is surrounded by forest, and so it is easy for people to just come in. When in 2015 Boko Haram were dislodged from Sambisa, it was easier under the cover of religion for some of these people to come here because of the forest. It was fertile ground for the bandits to come in and stay.
Now what is the way out of this troubling security challenge in Zamfara in particular?
In clear terms, as a government and as a people, we are not responsible for the insecurity; we have been doing our best to arrest the situation but as God will have it, this is where we are. Nobody will like Zamfara to be in peace more than us the indigenes and more than us in government. We have not relented in our efforts; between 2011 to date we have cooperated so much with the security agencies to see that we are out of this mess. We have done the best we can despite the fact that we are the least along with Yobe in terms of subvention from the Federal Government.
We are also the least in terms of internal revenue generation because of our socio-economic characteristics but I can tell you that we provided nothing less than 477 brand new vehicles to the security agencies to fight the menace. We have also paid nothing less than N17 billion as allowances and as assistance to the displaced, including medication for the sick. You know in 2011 up to 2013 when the problem became very prominent, only the one base ammunition depot was present in terms of army formations. It was the effort of this government in collaboration with the Federal Government that the 223 Battalion was established and this government provided office accommodation and residential accommodation of about 20 plots to the troops. This is some of the efforts we have done.
In 2016 also, the 607 Quick Response was formed. This government provided sites for the permanent residential and office accommodation of the Air Force and also provided another accommodation of about 20 flats worth over N1 billion to the Air Force. Later in 2018, the One Brigade of the Nigerian Army was also formed. We also provided another accommodation for them about 24 flats supporting every now and then. For the GOC unit, we also provided accommodation.
We have been meeting regularly; we have been supportive. So, I don’t know if people are expecting magic, otherwise, I will like to say that we have done the best that can be done in the circumstance. We have three major responsibilities: cooperation with security agencies, coordinate their activities which we have been doing. Secondly, sensitize, inform the general public of what is happening, that is dos and don’ts of insecurity situation which we have been doing. Finally we provide logistics such as support vehicles, accommodation and funds. We have done all that to the best we can. The only thing the constitution did not allow us to do is to take guns and go to the bush and fight the bandits.