The two new defence ministers, Muhammed Badaru, and Bello Matawalle are assuming office when banditry in the country, particularly the North-West and the North-Central has yet to abate. SOLOMON ODENIYI writes on the herculean task before the two former governors
As contained in President Bola Tinubu’s manifesto, the security of lives and property is one of the main priorities of his administration.
To re-jig the nation’s security architecture, Tinubu, on June 19, appointed new service chiefs to replace the ones he inherited from his predecessor.
But since they assumed office, the spirited efforts of these service chiefs have not been able to bring an end to the wanton killings and abductions they inherited from their predecessors.
Unfortunately, under them, there have been a couple of attacks, which include the killing of a cleric and five farmers and the abduction of over 40 people in Kaduna on July 30. Recently, bandits ambushed Nigerian Army personnel and killed three officers and 22 soldiers in that encounter in Niger State.
All these incidents have made the task before the new Minister of Defence, Muhammed Badaru, and the Minister of Defence for State, Bello Matawalle enormous.
This is followed by insinuations in some quarters that the duo had no security background and that the position should have been reserved for retired military personnel because of the ongoing war against insecurity in many parts of the country.
This has led to concerns in some quarters about their capability to deliver on the job given the many security challenges the country is facing.
The two ministers would have to go the extra mile to tide over the many odds against them, especially curtailing the cases of banditry bedeviling the regions they hail from.
A survey done by the News Agency of Nigeria on August 20, 2023, stated that no fewer than 23 Local Government Areas are under the grip of bandits in Sokoto, Zamfara, and Kebbi.
Badaru, the Minister of Defense, was governor of Jigawa State for eight years. During his time as governor of the state, he oversaw one of the most peaceful states in the country.
A report of the killings in the country by Saturday PUNCH on October 23, 2023, showed that 55 people were killed in the state by non-state actors between May 29, 2015, and October 2022.
The data used for the report was obtained from the Nigerian Security Tracker, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations of the United States of America.
Revealing the measures put in place to curb insecurity in his state to the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council’s ‘Business Made Easy, in 2002, Badaru said it was because he identified the root cause of the problem.
‘If suspicious characters come to Jigawa, we get information from resident Fulanis that such people have arrived, and we don’t trust them,” Badaru added.
He stated that states facing banditry were those that lacked a similar policy as Jigawa.
“But this was not handled well in other places, and that was probably why you see the escalation. And some states got affected by the menace due to their proximity to banditry-prone states.
“If they had treated the issue the same way as Jigawa did, that could not have happened,” he added.
Apart from this, Badaru’s administration was said to have invested in strengthening the security infrastructure within the state. This included the equipping and training of security personnel, as well as enhancing their coordination and intelligence-sharing capabilities, which helped the law enforcement agencies to be well-prepared to maintain law and order.
While Jigawa residents enjoyed relative peace during Badaru’s reign as governor, the same could not be said of Matawalle.
Matawalle had a challenging security situation characterised by rampant banditry, kidnapping, and other criminal activities.
The security situation in the state led Matawalle to employ a combination of conventional and unconventional measures to restore security and peace to Zamfara State.
One of the most notable features of Matawalle’s approach was his willingness to engage in dialogue with the bandits. This unconventional method sought to address the root causes of the conflict and explore avenues for peace. Although controversial, the dialogue initiative was seen as a pragmatic effort to de-escalate tensions and bring the bandits to the negotiating table.
To further restore peace to his state, Matawalle’s administration introduced amnesty programmes aimed at rehabilitating repentant bandits. These programmes included vocational training, education, and other forms of reintegration into society. This approach aimed to provide alternative paths for those willing to abandon criminal activities, although it sparked debates about the potential for rewarding criminal behaviour.
Both the dialogue and the amnesty he offered the bandits yielded some temporary results, as there was peace in the state for some time before he called it off.
However, Matawalle’s willingness to explore unconventional methods like dialogue and amnesty programmes brought to the fore his commitment to finding lasting solutions to the problem of insecurity.
North West, N’Central residents look up to the ministers
Residents of the North-West and North-Central look up to the ministers to bring an end to the scourge of banditry as many have been forced to abandon their farms, while some villages have been deserted across the region.
This has further disrupted the socio-economic activities in the regions.
A recent report by The PUNCH showed that at least 77 percent of both North-Central and North-West states struggle with low revenue, poor foreign investments, and huge debt profiles amid rising incidences of banditry.
The report added that the North-Central, North-West had been plunged into N902bn debt following their inability to generate revenue because of the activities of bandits in the regions.
Apart from this, in the last few months, the residents of states in North West and North Central have been made to go through harrowing experiences with the attacks perpetrated by the daredevil bandits and killer herdsmen.
Some of the killings include; the death of over 36 residents in Sokoto State for their refusal to pay protection level to bandits in June 2023. On June 10, 2023, bandits killed 50 farmers and abducted several women and girls from various communities in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State. In addition, 28 persons were killed in an attack on Zaki Akpuuna 1, in the Mbaterem district of Ukum Local Government Area of Benue State on July 8, 2023.
In April 2023, 47 citizens were killed in an attack by bandits in Benue state. The following day, 85 people were abducted by bandits in a Zamfara.
In May 2023, over 100 persons were killed in less than 48 hours in an attack on the Magun community by Killer herdsmen among others.
Teenage girls and widows have not been spared by the bandits. On July 28, 2023, bandits kidnapped 23 of them in Zamfara state.
In the Birnin-Gwari area of Kaduna, 50 persons were kidnapped by bandits on July 30.
These gruesome killings and abductions as well as the comment by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas on Monday where he stated that over 60,000 Nigerians have been killed as a result of the incessant clashes between herders and farmers, have further brought to the fore what residents of the affected states are enduring.
Aware of the expectations of Nigerians, the two ministers, while assuming office, promised not to disappoint the citizens.
Badaru specifically said that as a politician, a lot was at stake for him, assuring that he would not fail the President and the citizens.
He said, “We have no reason to fail him, so I want to thank all that are here and assure them that we will do our best. We’ll do our best to make sure we get rid of security challenges. We owe it to the President and the nation. As politicians, we cannot afford not to succeed. We hardly fail and we are not ready to fail this time We will not fail.
“The President is a goal-setter. He is an achiever and a thinker, so if you think we are going to joke with this, then we will all be deceiving ourselves. The President is a macro-manager, and he will be on our necks to deliver. “
To tackle the issue of insecurity in the country, Matawalle promised that technology would be deployed in the ongoing fight against insecurity.
He also said he and Badaru would confront the menace with a multi-faceted approach.
Matawalle said, “My brother, the Honourable Minister of Defence H.E. Muhammad Badaru Abubakar and I have both resolved to adopt a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach to effectively tackle the prevailing security issues. Our armed forces must be modernized and strengthened through investments in advanced weaponry, intelligence gathering capabilities, surveillance systems, and cyber defence infrastructure. We will work closely with international partners to acquire cutting-edge technology and expertise that will enhance our defence capabilities.”
A security expert, Oladele Fajana, advised that much attention should not be paid to those overseeing the position, adding that efforts should be focused on ridding the country of insecurity.
He said, “Whether it is a civilian or retired military personnel that is there or not, it does not matter. What matters is for them to get the job done. Insecurity respects nobody. We need sanity in this country, the killings and abductions are getting too much. We hope the desired peace will be achieved with the current set of ministers. I will advise them to consult widely with various stakeholders in the security sector and lead from the front to achieve the desired results. “
On his part, retired Group Captain Sadique Shehu urged the ministers to surround themselves with people who were well-informed about military activities.
“Having a military man or civilian as minister of defence has its advantages and disadvantages. The fact that they are civilians with no military background does not mean they would be bad ministers, but they must realize that they are in a territory they do not know. They need to have staff who are well grounded in the military; otherwise, they would be in the dark.”