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Banditry: El-Rufai’s changing tune on negotiation

    Banditry: El-Rufai’s changing tune on negotiation   AUGUST 29TH, 2021 | EASTERN PILOT By Tobi Aworinde . As innocent lives in Kadu...



Banditry: El-Rufai’s changing tune on negotiation



By Tobi Aworinde.

As innocent lives in Kaduna State continue to contend with dangerous forces beyond their control, Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s shifting stance on negotiation with Boko Haram members and killer herdsmen as opposed to bandits and kidnappers has come under criticism.

The words uttered on December 3, 2016 by Governor Nasir El-Rufai, the then one-year-and-six-month-old head of government in Kaduna State, downright shocked, bewildered and disturbed many. Still, some—arguably in the minority—were pleased to hear the otherwise unsettling confession.

El-Rufai, speaking to journalists from the comfort of his Kaduna office, admitted to tracing some violent Fulani herdsmen with alleged grievances to their homelands in neighbouring African territories and paying them to stop the killing of Southern Kaduna natives and the destruction of their communities.

According to a report by Vanguard, the governor said, “It was when they were moving up with their cattle across Southern Kaduna that the elections of 2011 took place and the crisis trapped some of them. Some of them were from Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Senegal.

“Fulani are in 14 African countries and they traverse this country with cattle. So many of these people were killed, cattle lost and they organised themselves and came back for revenge, so a lot of what was happening in Southern Kaduna was actually from outside Nigeria.

“We got a hint that the late Governor Patrick Yakowa got this information and he sent someone to go round some of these Fulani communities, but of course, after he died, the whole thing stopped. That is what we inherited.”

El-Rufai, after having shared the findings made by the (Gen. Martin) Agwai (retd.) committee set up by his administration to address the Southern Kaduna killings, told the journalists that he swung into action.

“We got a group of people that were going round trying to trace some of these people in Cameroon, Niger Republic, and so on, to tell them that there is a new governor who is Fulani like them and has no problem paying compensations for lives lost and he is begging them to stop killing.

“In most of the communities, once that appeal was made to them, they said they have forgiven. There are one or two that asked for monetary compensation. They said they had forgiven the death of human beings, but wanted compensation for cattle.

“We said no problem, and we paid some. As recently as two weeks ago, the team went to Niger Republic to attend one Fulani gathering that they hold every year with a message from me,” the governor said without holding back.

El-Rufai’s supporters might have counted this as a win, especially since the governor had come down hard on former President Goodluck Jonathan for refusing to negotiate with Boko Haram after the April 14, 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State.

Blaming Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party for failing to explore all possible means, El-Rufai, an unelected All Progressives Congress chieftain at the time, told SaharaTV in a now viral video, “If one of these girls was Jonathan’s daughter, the story would have been different.

“The only reason why these girls are still in captivity is because they are not the daughter of any important Nigerian and we know it. If you say we are politicising terrorism, go and rescue the girls, so that I will not have the basis to politicise it.”

Asked if he supported negotiation, he was unequivocal in response, saying, “I am in support of every option, when you have the life of a citizen at risk, you should not have any option on the table. You should reflect and listen.”

Incidentally, barely seven years later, the governor’s tune seems to have changed, despite the widespread violence in the state under his administration.

On the night of March 11, 2021 bandits invaded Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Mando in the Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State, just across the expressway from the Nigerian Defence Academy, abducting 39 students.

Though their parents appealed to El-Rufai to negotiate with the bandits to secure the release of their wards, the state Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr Samuel Aruwan, said anyone caught negotiating with bandits on government’s behalf would be prosecuted.

A parent, Alhaji Ibrahim Shamaki, whose daughter spoke in Hausa in a viral video released by the bandits, was said to have died of trauma.

In April, gunmen kidnapped 23 students of Greenfield University, located along the Kaduna-Abuja Highway in Kasarami, Chikun LGA, killing a staff member.

The bandits later made contact with the parents and demanded a ransom of N800m for the students’ release. Despite unending pleas by their parents, the state government did not negotiate with the abductors.

Five of the students were killed in the harrowing 39-day kidnapping before others’ release.

In May, El-Rufai cited plans to attack and kill the bandits even if it meant the killing of some of the students.

Describing the resultant loss of the abducted students as collateral damage, he said, “It is a price we have to pay. This is war, there will always be collateral damage in war and we will rather do that than pay money because paying money has not solved the problem anywhere in the world.”

However, the governor failed to mention, as he had under the Jonathan administration, whether he could imagine any of the abducted children as one of his own. But he later claimed that he won’t pay ransom even if his son was among those kidnapped in the state. “Even if my son is kidnapped, I will rather pray for him to make heaven instead because I won’t pay any ransom,” he said.

Amnesty International recently reported that at least 78 people were killed and 160 abducted by bandits between July 3 and August 5, 2021 in Kaduna, including 121 schoolchildren of the Bethel Baptist Church High School.

The bandits later demanded a ransom of N60m for the release of the students. But the state government remains vehement in its refusal to bargain with the bandits.

Some observers, in separate interviews expressed concern over the state’s degeneration into a kidnapping black spot characterised by banditry run amok, saying the governor’s tactics and trend of ignoring calls for the rescue of abducted students were far from ideal.

A former Chairman of the South-East Security Committee, Maj. Gen. Obi Umahi (retd.), said while he could understand El-Rufai’s stance against payment of ransom to bandits, the state must have a way of dealing with insecurity and protecting citizens.

Umahi stated, “Truth be told, negotiating with bandits just means paying them money. So, when you negotiate with them, you empower them, you create greater hunger for more banditry. More people will join the banditry and then the negotiation becomes endless.

“There is a contradiction and where it becomes more compelling is when little children have been abducted. Under that circumstance, what we need to do is empower the security agencies so that they will be able to go after them. Negotiation, counter negotiation, empowering them and increasing the capacity and number of the bandits is completely counterproductive.

“For me, the best approach is to empower the security agencies with the basic things they need in order to protect the citizens of this country, in order to protect the territorial boundaries of this country. So, I am not being callous when I say, ‘Do not negotiate.’”

On El-Rufai’s choice of the same approach for which he criticised Jonathan, Umahi decried the governor’s keenness to take the former president up on a matter in which he lacked experience.

The retired general said, “Talk is cheap. When you are in no (elected) position, you can say anything because you don’t go in to find out the real problems that people in positions of authority are grappling with; you just make political statements without depth. That is what he was doing.

“Now that he’s feeling it, now that he is in power, he knows the difficulties and problems, he is trying to adopt realistic viewpoints. Before, he was completely unrealistic.”

Similarly, Dr Idowu Johnson of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, said, realistically, one must examine the security crisis in Kaduna from two angles.

“The first angle is the narrative that some of the bandits were allegedly used during the elections, particularly 2015 and 2019, and from that point of view, they (politicians) refused to fulfil the promises made to them—to give them jobs, some stipends, or put them on the payroll of the state government.

“The second narrative is the fact that El-Rufai was criticising Jonathan, saying he should resign and that people have now used that to attain political power. But when they got to power, they then saw that it was difficult to eradicate crises.

“The implication of not paying ransom to the bandits, based on El-Rufai‘s stance, is that the governor or the state likely knows most of the political elite that are sponsoring those bandits. The only thing is that he may be playing politics by not arresting them,” he said.

On whether there are any parallels between the Jonathan and El-Rufai administrations, in terms of security, according to Johnson, the difference is that, under Jonathan, it was glaring that the state was “very weak” in tackling terrorism, hence Boko Haram’s attempt to invade Abuja.

“However, as we could see, Jonathan did not have access to the people sponsoring them at that time. But under the present regime, it is very glaring that the political elite sponsoring the insecurity crisis are known, buth the government is playing politics with us as if they don’t know.

“The difference is that under Jonathan, the political elite might not have seen them (terrorists). But under El-Rufai, anyone telling us that he cannot negotiate with bandits or terrorists is lying.

“Even in advanced countries like Nicaragua, Cambodia, and Northern Ireland, it has been done. You can negotiate with bandits and terrorists, based on what he already said in the past.”

Meanwhile, the President, Centre for Change and Oluyinka Odumakin Foundation, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, told Sunday PUNCH that the situation in Kaduna State was not only a reflection of the failure of the state government, but that it signalled the state of insecurity in the larger context of the country.

Okei-Odumakin said, “I might have a few reservations about the politics of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, but it is almost a sin to totally blame state governors on security. The blame also goes to the President. If the President does not want to share the blame, he should aid the birth of state police urgently. I know who controls all security agencies. I cannot play dumb like that.”

She however noted that the “sincerity” of the policy of no-negotiation or ransom payment is “questionable and suspicious.”

According to her, rather than taking time to declare a hard-line state policy on the payment of ransom or not by victims and their families, the government should be interested in those issues that have virtually handed over the state to criminals and made citizens have no choice but to negotiate and pay ransom to bandits.

She said, “The policy is good and bad. Good because the terrorists would come to terms eventually that Kaduna government will not pay. Bad because they would still get some money from victims’ families. Paying or not paying ransom is not the point. The point is an ineffectual security system.

“(But) if you watch the video (of El-Rufai criticising Jonathan) to the end, you will see where he said even if the Goodluck Jonathan administration was doing well, it was his duty to say the administration was not doing well.

“When a man owns up to deceit as eloquently as that, I stop bothering myself about who he was yesterday and who he is today. At least, he told the truth about lies. The fact remains that he is not an ordinary citizen today and he is under the constitutional obligation to protect the citizens of the state, which he has been elected to govern.”



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