Bello: Niger village heads’ve been compromised
Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Bello, has raised the alarm over the siege to his state by bandits, armed robbers, kidnappers and other criminal elements. The governor, who spoke with newsmen at the State House after a closed door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, alleged that majority of the criminals wreaking havoc in his state were from the Republic of Benin.
The governor said he was at the State House, Abuja, to discuss the deplorable security situation in Niger State. He also alleged that some village heads in the state engaged as local security agents to ward off the criminals, more often than not, compromised the security of their communities by acting as informants to the foreign invaders. According to Bello, Niger State has been experiencing an influx of bandits from neighbouring states in recent months. Most of the bandits, Bello said, were of the Fulani ethnic stock, who are roaming across the Sahel savannah region.
These criminal elements, the governor said, were involved in armed robbery, kidnapping, cattle rusting, burning of farms and prevention of farmers from accessing their farms. The governor expressed concern that such activities could imperil the nation’s food security.
He said that though the Police and other security agencies have been doing their best, their efforts had failed to yield positive results. According to him, some local hunters have been engaged to serve as guide to security agents in the fight against the bandits spread over a big expanse of land in the state.
He urged the Federal Government to adopt modern technology in the fight against the bandits because of the peculiar terrain of the state. Government, he said, should adopt the drone technology to locate the hideouts of the criminals in some of the rocky terrains in the state so that they could be attacked through airpower.
“The situation is very bad. Niger is 73,000 square kilometres; it’s the size of the entire South-South or South-East. So, first of all we have limited number of security personnel and I think we have to start thinking of increasing the numbers so that we are able to cover most of the local government areas within the state. “Some of our local government areas are up to 6,000 to 7,000 square kilometres, one local government.
For example, the Bobi Grazing Reserve, which is a programme between state government, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Federal Government, where we encourage herders to move their cattle so as to stop the movement of cattle from one area to the other and avoid herders/ farmers conflicts, has become a target. “This is because that is the only location where you can find in one constituency 5,000 to 6,000 herds of cows.
So, most of the bandits have started focusing their attention on the Bobi Grazing Reserve. “But we are having influx of bandits from neighbouring states, especially Zamfara and Kaduna states.
It is difficult to patrol those areas because vehicles do not go there and they are deep in the forest; which means we will need the federal might, especially the Air Force. By the way, the Air Force has been doing extremely well in recent times to support our ground operations. “Again, we recently started experiencing influx of bandits from the Benin Republic border; we never use to experience that before.
They find the National Park very attractive. The National Park alone is 5,000 square kilometres, so, it is a good call for bandits. “Like I said, with limited resources we are doing the little we can to see that we secure lives and property. We have lost a few people, we still have people being kidnapped.
Even today, we have not less than 30 people that have been kidnapped; but most times we are able to rescue them,” he said. Bello ruled out the possibility of engaging the criminals in negotiations because, according to him, they lacked sincerity.
The governor confessed that initially, he had agreed to the idea of negotiating with the bandits, but had to reconsider his position when he discovered that the bandits were not sincere. “They have never been honest in their talks, even when they were given the opportunity, they failed to keep the agreement. Whenever they will surrender their arms and they don’t ask anything in return, then you can tell it is not an honest negotiation because, someone that is used to carrying arms to go and rob is now telling you he will drop his arms without asking for anything in return. I don’t think there is any sincerity in that.
So, I have never subscribed to that negotiation,” he said. On the possible solution to banditry, Bello said responsibilities have been shifted to the communities. “Let me tell you what has worked so far and we have made a lot of progress.
I moved the responsibility of security to the community level. At the community level, they know themselves. Vigilantes are controlled by the local government and sometimes by the ministry and they have been doing very well. They are defending their farmlands, they are defending their families. “But again, one major challenge that we found out is that in some cases, the locals have adopted to a kind of business and that is even more difficult.
“The bandits are being invited by some locals. In fact, we have arrested some village heads. Now, if a village head invites bandits or harbours bandits, then where are we headed to? The village head is supposed to secure the village.
“So, we are going to be ruthless with any village head found wanting in this regard, because there is no way we can make progress if the traditional institution at the lowest level becomes part of it and I am in discussions with the emirs to dethrone or strip any village head of his appointment once caught,” he said.
The governor disclosed that he had very fruitful discussions with the president who had also pledged more support to the state to address the security situation within the shortest possible time.