The ‘respite’ from bandits in Zamfara

THE bandits granted amnesty by the Zamfara State government have in recent times been attacking and robbing people. It will be recalled that after a protracted period of killing, maiming and kidnapping of innocent persons by vicious outlaws in the state, the new government, which obviously inherited the sordid state of lawlessness from the previous administration, had to adopt a new approach. The government was literally coerced into adopting a pacifist approach in order to rein in the menace which had hitherto defied virtually all official interventions in the North-West State.  The bandits were granted reprieve in exchange for renouncing banditry.  Even though agreeing to an armistice with a band of largely unorganised malefactors meant that the state had cheaply surrendered its monopoly of violence, nonetheless, the government’s anti-violence strategy would appear to have yielded some results.  The spate of mindless killings and kidnappings reduced somewhat significantly and even the Katsina State governor seemed to have borrowed a leaf from his counterpart in Zamfara to tackle a similar challenge in his state.  However, the news emanating from Zamfara in recent times is less than cheery as the bandits have reportedly been dispossessing innocent citizens of their possessions on the grounds that they were only asked to stop killing, not to stop robbing people.

This expressed view of the bandits on the amnesty is dangerous, whether or not they were being mischievous or simply naive.  It is inconceivable that the bandits believe the truce brokered by the state government covers only stoppage of killing and kidnapping while larceny is permissive even when stealing is a criminal offence under the extant laws in the country. This strand of argument put forward by the supposedly repentant bandits for engaging in robbery is vacuous and senseless. And it is a clear indication that the perception of the purportedly penitent bandits about the amnesty programme is grossly erroneous.

Apparently, the felons see the amnesty as a compromise reached by two parties of equal weight and clout at the negotiating table with some latitude on both sides.  But that cannot possibly be the outcome expected by a government that had to bend over and backwards, allowing criminals to go scot-free in order to achieve peace. Sadly, the peace has now become tenuous and unsustainable. And the situation has become rather messy as the bandits see themselves as above the state and perhaps in a vantage position to dictate terms. This turn of events is inevitable when negotiation is entered into with a party that ordinarily should have been subdued by the force of law if official response to tackling the menace of banditry in the state had been comprehensive and timely.

But again, this is a testament to the fact that until the roots of crime are painstakingly, addressed any measure evolved to deal with it can only be temporary. For instance, was a critical question asked about how the beneficiaries of the amnesty would survive afterwards? These were criminals engaged in a risky and ignoble but lucrative enterprise. Were they expected to willingly accept to go back into penury and hunger which most probably drove them into crime in the first place? Something just had to give and that was perhaps one of the reasons for the escalating cases of robbery in the state, with the outlaws’ imprimatur on them. Another question is whether a comprehensive and effective disarmament exercise was instituted prior to granting the bandits a reprieve. This is very critical because a repentant felon with weak moral fibre still in possession of dangerous weapons needs only a little temptation to go back to his/her old habits.

It should be stressed that the essence of organised society is to ensure that no bandits exist. Negotiating with criminals, in a sense, reduces governance in Zamfara itself to banditry. But having found the negotiation compelling and in view of recent untoward development around the beneficiaries of the official intervention, it is critical  that the Zamfara State government revisits the terms of the truce and clears the grey areas. One, the repentant bandits should be educated to appreciate the fact that the amnesty was granted in exchange for total renunciation of all forms of criminality without exceptions. Two, all the bandits must be disarmed and perhaps compensated for the value of arms they surrender. And, perhaps more importantly, official provision should be made for the sustenance and survival of the bandits pending their full reintegration into the society and subsequent progression to becoming legitimate economic actors. The state government should engage the bandits and other stakeholders in discussions as quickly as possible.

Truth be told, the spate of violent crimes across the land is unsettling, and it is time citizens began to interrogate the quality of leadership being offered at all levels of government because there is a correlation between the quality of governance and the peace/progress a society enjoys. The logic is simple; with good governance, citizens tend to see themselves as critical stakeholders who stand to benefit more from the system under a peaceful atmosphere. The opposite is also true. Ultimately, the surest path to enduring peace and progress is good governance which delivers socio-economic justice and optimal welfare to the citizenry.