Worried by the increasing rate of banditry in the North, particularly in Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Sokoto states, the apex northern socio-cultural group, the Arewa Consultative Forum, has convened a meeting of its board of trustees.
A member of the Board of Trustees of the ACF, who confided in The PUNCH on Tuesday, said the meeting, which would hold on Wednesday (today), would discuss the rising incidence of kidnappings and killings in the North in particular, and the country in general.
The ACF convened the meeting just as the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, indicted some prominent traditional rulers in the North for aiding bandits in the North-West.
Although spokesman for the ACF, Alhaji Muhammad Biu, declined to comment on the allegation against the traditional rulers, he confirmed that the forum’s BOT would meet on Wednesday (today) over the problem of banditry.
In an SMS to one of our correspondents, Biu stated, “We have the BoT meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) to discuss the general insecurity due to kidnappings and insurgency in the country; for now, no comment please.”
But another member of the forum, who issued a statement last week, said the group was concerned that banditry was assuming a dangerous dimension.
“The ACF’s Board of Trustees is meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) and the issue of banditry which has assumed a dangerous dimension will feature prominently during the meeting,” the source said.
The northern body last week raised the alarm over the rising spate of kidnappings and other forms of banditry in some parts of the region.
Biu, who issued a statement on the issue, had said, “The Arewa Consultative Forum and indeed Nigerians are worried by reports of the kidnapping of innocent people along the highways and the frequent attacks on villages by some bandits.
“The kidnappings and attacks on the people, especially along the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway and many villages in Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and Kaduna states as well as many parts of the country are cruel, barbaric and inhuman.”
Highly placed traditional rulers helping bandits – Defence minister
However, in a statement on Tuesday, the Defence minister said the Federal Government had ordered the security agencies to tackle banditry and killings in Zamfara State and the entire North-West geopolitical zone.
He said some top traditional rulers in the communities were helping the bandits to perpetuate criminal activities.
The minister, who did not name the traditional rulers, also accused them of “compromising military operations.”
He warned that the armed forces would go after “any person or group of persons who choose to connive or sympathise with the bandits to perpetuate crimes against law-abiding citizens.”
Dan-Ali, in the statement signed by his ministry’s Public Relations Officer, Col. Tukur Gusau, said the military had been directed to deal with anybody identified to be helping the bandits under whatever guise and “no matter how highly placed the person or persons may be.”
The minister said, “The ministry is very concerned about the security challenges in the North-West, particularly in Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and Kaduna states. Due to the prevailing security situation in the states, the Nigerian Army is already conducting Exercise Harbin Kunama IV in Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto states.
“The purpose of the exercise is to effectively flush criminal elements out of the North-West. The Nigerian Air Force has also intensified air strikes against bandits in Zamfara. So far, the combined efforts have yielded a lot of successes leading to the killing of many bandits and rescuing of many persons, including a renowned Islamic scholar, Sheik Ahmad Suleiman.
“The government is also addressing the remote and immediate causes that gave room for the high spate of banditry in the states. Recently, the government acted on the advice of the Ministry of Defence to suspend all mining activities in Zamfara State and its environs, following an intelligence report that suggested a close collaboration between the activities of the bandits and illegal miners.
“However, in spite of the concerted efforts of the armed forces and other security agencies, some unpatriotic persons, including highly placed traditional rulers in the areas were identified as helping the bandits with intelligence to perpetuate their nefarious actions or to compromise military operations.”
The minister added that the Nigerian Army had established Division 8 with headquarters in Sokoto State to cover Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara states while the headquarters of 1 Brigade was relocated from Sokoto to Gusau in Zamfara.
“Presently, the tactical headquarters of 8 Division has since relocated to Gusau. Similarly, the Nigerian Air Force also established a Quick Response Force in Gusau and landing areas in Gusau and Birnin Magaji respectively,” he noted.