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Zamfara massacre: Time to impose state of emergency

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THE mindless killing of more than 200 persons in some communities in Zamfara State has reinforced the urgent need for a change in the military strategy against insurgents, terrorists, and sundry armed criminals in the Northern states. Reports said the bandits/terrorists in large numbers staged attacks on Rafin Danya, Barayar Zaki, Rafin Gero and Kurfa villages in Anka and Bukkuyum Local Government Areas between Tuesday and Thursday last week, as they fled with thousands of rustled cattle following ongoing counter-insurgency military operations. Clearly, governance has broken down in some states. Tougher, decisive action, including declaring emergency rule in Zamfara, should therefore be taken now before terrorists carve out permanent fiefdoms from the fragile federation.

A tragedy of epic proportions is unfolding. The Nigerian state is unravelling. Rivers of blood are flowing, and the federal and state governments appear largely helpless, their efforts to contain the rampage costing trillions of naira, but grossly insufficient to stop the bloodletting and brigandage. On the watch of the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), terrorists — from the Islamist Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgents to killer Fulani herdsmen/militias and the bandit/terrorists — have rendered the northern states unsafe. The Zamfara massacre is only the latest in the daily rapine by bloodthirsty non-state actors exploiting the fragility of the union and ineffective governance.

As pieced together by the news media, the heavily armed bandits/terrorists numbering several scores, and mounted on motorbikes, were moving from their forest hideouts towards the western part of the state fleeing sustained aerial bombardment by the Nigerian Air Force. On the move, they rustled over 2,000 cattle, overpowered feeble and crudely armed local vigilantes, and operating for over two days, they laid waste to nine villages. They burnt homes, granaries, and markets, butchered, or decapitated, and mutilated the bodies of their victims, including women and children, some they set ablaze. They also kidnapped some women.

Between July and September 2021, said SBM Intelligence, 2,287 persons were killed nationwide with the North-West accounting for the highest with 962 deaths. Of this, 495 were killed in Zamfara. Combined, the Northern states accounted for 85 per cent of the killings. Consulting agency, Statisense, quoting sources, said from January to June last year, on average, 32 persons were killed, and 17 others kidnapped daily across the country. For Nigerians, enough is enough!

Buhari should galvanise the entire country to save Nigeria from total state failure. The country is at war. The number of persons being killed daily outstrips the number of soldiers killed by some nations engaged in war. For instance, in 20 years of deployment in Afghanistan, only 457 United Kingdom military personnel were killed.

As the war against insurgents/terrorists falters in the North-East, where Boko Haram and ISWAP are resisting the military, and travelling outside the state capitals is unsafe, so also the government is losing ground to bandits/terrorists in the North-West and North-Central.

There should be a recalibration of the strategy. It took the government so long to designate the so-called bandits as terrorists; even after a Federal High Court ruling tagged them so, it was only last week that this was gazetted. The regime should decouple terrorism and national security from partisan, sectional, and religious politicking. A government that was so swift to label the Indigenous People of Biafra as a terrorist organisation ever before any atrocity could be ascribed to it, and pursued its leader beyond the country’s shores, should have called the bandits by their proper name long ago and acted accordingly. The nonsensical policy of appeasement called amnesty should never again be contemplated.

The terrorist leaders should be identified, pursued, and brought to justice. Bello Turji, leader of the terror group responsible for the Zamfara outrage, and other terrorist leaders should be hunted down. Standard anti-terrorism strategy globally is to take out leaders with targeted commando raids, air strikes or drone attacks in kill-or-capture intelligence-led military operations. Turji, who reportedly released 52 hostages last week, has been allowed, like the late Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, did to the North-East, to terrorise the North-West unfettered. It took a rebellion within the terrorists’ ranks to end Shekau’s life and reign of terror. To decapitate the insurgent groups, a special task force should be set up using all the available human and intelligence technology to neutralise Turji and other terrorist leaders. Bounties should be placed on their heads to encourage public cooperation and information.

Undoubtedly, aerial bombardment or the use of the Super Tucano aircraft alone cannot end the criminality. The territories are contiguous, and the forest hideouts of the bandits span several states. So, the military assaults should be simultaneous, with defensive positions adopted in neighbouring states and communities when one is being bombarded to nab fleeing terrorists. There should be more effective coordination among the security services.

The state governors must confront the reality. Without an immediate response through state policing, the country is doomed. State police is now or never. A repetition of his earlier desperate call on residents to procure guns and defend themselves by Katsina State Governor, Bello Masari, is a pathetic abdication of responsibility. All 36 state governors should urgently come together, coordinate with federal and state legislatures to immediately press for an amendment to the constitution to facilitate state policing under the ‘doctrine of necessity.’

Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara recently said there are about 30,000 bandits in the North-West with over 100 bandits’ camps; each having no fewer than 300 members, while only about 6,000 troops are operating across the region. This illustrates the imperative of putting more boots on the ground through sustained mop-up operations to dominate the terrorists’ territories and drive them out of the forests. Buhari should deploy the constitution to declare a state of emergency in Zamfara. The North-West states should immediately activate a regional security force to complement the military operations.

Technological aids should be effectively deployed against the terrorists. These criminals negotiate for ransoms on open phone lines with the families of kidnapped victims; the ICT gadgets acquired with millions of dollars should be used to track them down. The bloodletting must be stopped.

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