Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State has said the negotiation he started with bandits has now brought relative peace to the State with over 80% of people in captivity released.
He revealed this in reply to critics who objected to his recent negotiation with bandits troubling the state, insisting it was in the overall best interest of Katsina and other neighbouring states in the Northwest.
According to him, the next stage of peace restoration is the disarming of bandits and their commanders in the forests which border Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara, Kebbi and Niger states.
The governor also shed light on the controversial RUGA scheme in a chat with The Nation.
He claimed that RUGA is not a Hausa-Fulani or Arabic word but the abbreviation of Rural Grazing Area used by the colonial masters.
He stated that there is no alternative to RUGA if there must be an end to farmer-herder clashes.
“The negotiation is yielding results,” he said of talks between him and the bandits.
“Now I can say over 80% of people under captivity in Katsina State have been released. So, in terms of group kidnapping I can only remember that right now only 13 people that we are searching for. We have only 13 people,
“But in terms of massive attacks since we started, there was no single massive attack on any village or any community. By my account, about 57 people have been released by them, most of them women and young children. Among them even are nationals of Niger Republic.
“So, for us it has brought relative peace. The next step is the issue of disarming the bandits and commanders in the forest that command 200, 300, 400 fighters, fully armed on motorbikes.
“That’s how they operate and attack the villages. In most cases they go three to one on a motorcycle. They’ve reinforced their motorcycles and they are using tubeless tyres. They put something inside so that their tyres do not get punctured or breakdown.”
Masari said the government will soon start reconciling released bandits with their neighbours for sustainable peace.
“They are ready to disarm but the first stage is about the release of some of them that were not even convicted or even charged to court and by the time they release all those people under their captivity, we will start reconciliation between them and their neighbours.
“And then those in the forest. We’ll start talking about because if they keep the guns and other ammunition with them, they’ll eventually fight among themselves,” he added.
Asked what accounted for banditry in the North-West, the governor quipped: “Lack of education. Failure of leadership for a very long time.”
He said: “The first generation of Nigerian leaders, together with the colonialists created what we now call RUGA. RUGA is not a Fulani word, it is not a Hausa word, it is not an Arabic word, and it’s the English abbreviation for Rural Grazing Area.
“So they had foresight, they knew that this roaming about by cattle would not last so they created these rural grazing areas and brought Fulani, provided windmill farms and dams for water. All over the places, if you go to our area you’ll see the remnant of all these.
“For us in Katsina, they created the dairy, and they were planting grass to feed cows even 40-50 years ago because they knew.
“But subsequently after the discovery of oil, our leaders abandoned all these initiatives.
“Then heavy encroachment due to population surge. Now, we have climate change, which is also adding its own weight”.
Masari gave insights into why he negotiated with the bandits with peace in Katsina and other states as his ultimate goal.
He said: “In 2016, we started amnesty programme for the bandits. That programme was officially launched in 2017. As a result of that, over 400 AK 47 and other assorted arms and ammunition were surrendered by then cattle rustlers and over 36,000 were returned to the owners apart from ruminants, donkeys, camels and horses.
“It was a very successful programme and it lasted for about two years but because there was no similar programme in Zamfara, Kaduna, and Niger states (that share borders with Kastina), our people became vulnerable. The forest area is contiguous to Kaduna, Zamfara, Kebbi and Niger. In fact, Katsina has the least of the forest areas when you compare all these four states.
“So gradually all our leaders were killed by bandits from Zamfara and nothing of a similar nature was going on in Zamfara. The banditry escalated and affected Katsina. It diluted and destroyed what we had built.
“Part of the arrangement we had with the herders was the construction of schools and clinics and immediately we moved in, we constructed 10 primary schools and 10 clinics. We have spent over N100 million to demarcate the cattle routes across the state. We established a permanent committee headed by a former director from the Ministry of Agriculture, who was a livestock specialist to demarcate the cattle routes, those for grazing and those for traveling.
“All these things that we have done were severely affected by the spate of violence and this time it came with kidnapping, banditry, rape and so many forms of criminality that were not there in 2017.
“We also realized that these are same people, neighbours killing neighbours, stealing from neighbours. Even the herder communities in the forest were not left out they were stealing among themselves, killing among themselves. And then in the towns, we have what we call volunteers who are not even vigilantes. These volunteers went about killing any Fulani man or Fulani woman they saw.
When the new governor of Zamfara State came, he disbanded the 500 vigilantes in all the local governments, and declared that he’s willing to talk.
“We said now we have a partner in Zamfara. When they started the amnesty in Zamfara, we also joined and engaged.
“The bandits in Zamfara are the ones in Katsina, because from Kastina and Zamfara, you cannot even tell the difference.
“All the camps except one, the bases of the bandits, are in Zamfara forest. So you can see the need. They said okay since they are the same people, instead of killing, let us engage them.
“The Inspector-General of Police was in Katsina, all the Northwest governors were there, even the governor of Niger state was there, the governor of Taraba State was also there, the governor of Plateau State was there. We talked peace, and the bandits were also there except some few of their leaders who were afraid of what we were going to do.
“From there, we agreed that every state will go and hold a similar meeting with the bandits, Fulani leadership, the farmers, the Ardos, the village heads and the mallams or imams. And this is what we did in Katsina.