Warning signals from Zamfara State, by Prof. Abubakar Liman

Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman
Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman

It is no longer news that Zamfara State is under siege from the nefarious activities of outlaws. The government cannot claim ignorance to the army of criminals, bandits, armed robbers, kidnappers, cattle rustlers, illegal miners and even insurgents that have invaded the State all due to bad governance. Law abiding citizens have become the target of outlaws that have since turned towns, villages and remotest places as their theatre of operations. Between 2016 and 2018, about 3000 souls have perished from wanton killings by the outlaws that have taken over bushes and forests in the state. From their hideouts in the forest, they staged intermittent attacks on innocent law abiding citizens in scattered communities, and in different locations across the state. The hoodlums are always seen on motorcycles in groups of twos and threes menacingly wielding AK 47 ripples as they raid villages, one after  the other, throughout the length and breadth of Zamfara State. The peaceful people of Zamfara have for some years now been caught in this catch-22 situation for no obvious fault of theirs. And outside visibly ineffectual one-dimensional federal government response with rapid response squads, army, air force, police and plain-clothes operatives, authorities in the State, and even the federal government, are not doing much to arrest the creeping lawlessness.

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But how did we get here? Reasons for the deplorable security conditions in the state are varied and somewhat intractable. One clear problem in the State is leadership failure. Unlike its peers, Zamfara State has not been blessed with credible leaders. The onset of democratic dispensation in the fourth republic has been characterized by misfortune for the people of Zamfara. Democratic rule has come along with it serious problems of ineptitude, corruption and bad governance. Other Nigerians can attest to this anomaly from the way the inheritors of our new political order messed things up. Zamfara politicians have not in any way added value to anything worthy of mention in their style of leadership. The political class consists of low quality human beings that are incapable of demonstrating some semblance of competence in running the affairs of the State. In fact, they do not really understand what it takes to move the society forward. Self-serving minions, errand boys, political jobbers and nondescript loafers have since reduced governance into mere system of clientelism. Leadership deficit has mostly defined the myopic character of the civilian leaders that succeeded the lone military governor that became the first governor after the creation of the State in 1996. In the social milieu of our incompetent leaders, total reliance on luck or good fortune is hampering any bid to do anything good. Competence and propriety have been thrown to the dogs.

The philistines that have found themselves in positions of power and authority, either as governors or as strategically important functionaries of government, are everywhere reproducing their own kind without minding the consequences of such anomie. Ultimately, Zamfara State has to pay the price as it has started doing now. Otherwise, people that have no business controlling the affairs of the State are those that are in the position of leadership. Good and effective hands are either not known or not recognized. In the handling of government institutions by Zamfara neophyte leaders, whatever is appropriate is neglected. Consequently, agriculture, industry, trade and commerce that used to be the mainstay of Zamfara society have sharply declined. But who cares about such gargantuan economic collapse? Indeed, the tragedy of governance in Zamfara State cannot be separated from aberrant leaders. Before the going gets tough in the country, the State made itself busy producing mediocre characters at all levels of government. The people themselves have completely ignored any consideration of moral and ethical criteria in deciding who becomes what in the scheme of things. This was of course made possible by the very system of democracy that clearly promotes philistinism in its recruitment of leadership cadres. Most Nigerian States have indeed faired better than Zamfara State in terms of the way they sourced competent, effective and quality leaders.

So much for the analysis of Zamfara leaders’ gross incompetence. However, as stated earlier, there have been a number of factors conspiring to produce current insecurity, and endless circles of death and destruction. On this, we should go beyond mere blame game. On the security of lives and property, it is the sole responsibility of federal government to secure the nation together with its constituent units. But our statist approach to security in many flashpoints of the country, not just in Zamfara State, has immensely contributed to the accentuation of insecurity all over the place. This is where good coordination between the federal government and other stakeholders matters. A cursory look at the security architecture of Nigeria would easily reveal its defective nature. Little wonder that nobody could convincingly explain how stupendous amount of billions of naira expended on security in Nigeria is not yielding commensurate results. Colossal security budget allocated to security agencies over the years is looking more like draining money into black hole. A government that really knows what it is doing would not be applying measures that have proved to be failing over and over again. One thing that President Muhammadu Buhari must do is to ensure that Nigerian government embarks on comprehensive reforms of its security structures. New Nigerian security outfit must officially involve stakeholders that live amongst the people in our communities.

Anyway, the state of insecurity in Zamfara State should not have been allowed to deteriorate to a level in which the hapless victims of insecurity would be forced to come out en masse to protest their neglect by constituted authorities. For quite sometimes now, the people have been calling on government to intervene, to genuinely look into the insecurity that led to their displacement, but their calls have been falling on deaf ears. Outside routine deployment of troops and other security personnel to insecure places, both state and federal governments have been showing indifference to the plight of the people. All along, the deepening silence of the President has created the impression that he is not in the least concerned about the gruesome killings, rampant kidnappings and economic sabotage in Zamfara State. This is without prejudice to the massive votes he received from the people in 2015. It would have to take the violent protests of frustrated IDPs, and other town folks in Tsafe town and surrounding villages along the highway to get the attention of Mr. President to focus himself on the insecurity in Zamfara State. The frustrated folks had to communicate their plight by blocking Funtua-Gusau highway. In the rowdiness of the protest, many motorists were harassed and denied right of way by angry protesters. The most unfortunate thing is in how a protest that was meant to highlight legitimate grievances degenerated into violence and wanton destruction of property and lives. Whatever the case, the setting ablaze of Tsafe local government secretariat and loss of some precious lives in the process could not be justified, and would potentially destroy the efficacy of the issues at stake.

Anyway, the protest had yielded positive results. Following the scrimmage, there was a prompt government response. Obviously, the prompt response was only because of the peoples’ violent agitations and the deluge of public outcry that trailed the protests. This is the crux of the matter. If nothing is done to arrest the protest, it would have cascaded out of control with all the attendant consequences. Its ripple effect from the way it spread to adjacent communities would have made it more difficult for the government to control it. As I see this development, it is quite embarrassing for the President to have waited for a very long time without responding to the agitations of the people. He could not pay attention to the suffering people of Zamfara until there was ominous threat to law and order. As usual, the President dispatched his Chief of Air Staff as well as the Minister of Interior to Zamfara State to reassure the people of his government support and preparedness to tackle the insecurity. However, the blatant government insensitivity has already galvanized public sympathy and support for the hapless people. In this regard, there is sonorous call in both the mainstream and social media, urging the federal government to immediately declare state of emergency before things get out of hand. Could state of emergency be the best solution in the run up to 2019 general elections? How would the federal government guarantee that insecurity in Zamfara State is not expropriated for political ends by different shades of political opportunists?