from EMEKA OKONKWO in Abuja, Nigeria
ABUJA, (CAJ News) – THE Nigerian government’s fight against rising banditry has lurched into a dilemma that could incite a vicious cycle of terror.
On one hand, the government forces are fighting the rampant outlaws that have struck terror into the hearts of citizens, mainly through kidnappings, while on the other, the new administration of President Bola Tinubu is reportedly negotiating with the same militants its military and law enforcers are fighting.
It is a double-edged sword.
This has triggered a spat between the national government and the state government of the northwestern Zamfara, which is among the states afflicted by the rampancy of bandits.
Such an approach, the negotiations with bandits, spark a dilemma.
Proponents of negotiations might argue this could soften the militants but there are strong indications this could embolden the perpetrators and encourage them to perpetuate more kidnappings.
“By this stance, the government is surrendering in the war against bandits. This will buoy up the bandits and other elements that seek to cash in on the insecurity in the country,” a security expert warned.
This issue has led to a spat between the Tinubu-led federal government and the Zamfara state administration of Governor Dauda Lawal.
The All Progressives Congress (ACP) is the ruling party but Zamfara is led by the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the governing party nationally between the return of democracy in 1999 and 2015 .
The state, the seventh-largest of 36, has criticized the government for “sneaky negotiations” with bandits, without consulting the state.
“Negotiating with bandits in Zamfara is a grave mistake we cannot afford to make,” said Sulaiman Bala Idris, the aid of the governor on Media and Publicity.
“It is not the solution to the problem and only encourages and emboldens the criminals. We urge the Federal Government to take a firm stance against such activities and investigate the motives of those who engage in them,” Idris said.
The abduction, last Friday, of some 30 students of the Federal University Gusau has triggered the war of words between the state and the federal government.
Police reported that suspected bandits riding 50 motorcycles attacked the tertiary institutions and abducted the scholars.
At the time of publishing 21 students were still in captivity.
Bandits that kidnap for ransom are running riot in Nigeria.
Alhaji Mohammed Idris, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, has accused the Zamfara administration of “choosing to play politics with the sensitive matter for cheap political goals.”
“The minister observes that Federal Government institutions are empowered by law to spring to action, with or without prompting, to ensure safe return of citizens illegally taken hostage, like in the case of these hapless students,” said his spokesperson, Suleiman Haruna.
Through his aide, the minister said no official of the federal government was engaged in negotiation with any bandit or group of bandits.
“The government, however, maintains its resolve to explore every available avenue that can lead to de-escalation of tension and bring back peace to communities ravaged by banditry.”
“However, if communities decide to borrow a leaf from what has helped quench unrest in other parts of the country to engage themselves in dialogue, the Federal Government would not be in a haste to condemn such people-driven initiativ,” Haruna said.
This week, bandits abducted a student of Is Mustapha Agwai Polytechnic in the town of Lafia, in the north-central Nasarawa state.
The publisher, Sodiq Lawal, expressed outrage at the incidents of armed groups targeting education institutions, taking students hostage, and instilling fear within our communities.
“These heinous acts not only undermine the fundamental right to education but also jeopardize the prospects of our nation’s future leaders,” Lawal said.
Banditry is among the main challenges the new government of Tinubu, in power since controversial elections in April, is contending with.
The administration of his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, who led from 2015, also found itself in such a dilemma with Boko Haram, who at that time were the most feared terrorist outfit in the country.
That government’s covert negotiations with the Islamist group led to the release of some captives, reportedly in exchange for terrorists the government had jailed.
Among those released were some of the 276 girls kidnapped from a government school in the northeastern town of Chibok in 2014.
– CAJ News