In a most shocking display of a state’s abdication of its cardinal responsibility to protect lives and property, the Zamfara state governor, Bello Mutawalle, having lost significant grounds to bandits and terrorists, has thrown in the towel. The governor has unequivocally stated, without mincing words, that the state is incapable of protecting its citizens from a vicious group of non-state actors that have laid siege in Zamfara state.
The only tool left in governor Bello Mutawalle’s box was to “direct individuals to prepare and obtain guns to defend themselves against the bandits as the government has directed the state commissioner of police to issue licenses to those who qualify and wish to obtain such guns to defend themselves.” In other words, Bello Mutawalle has sifted the burden of protecting citizens to mostly untrained and unskilled peasants who can hardly identify the trigger on a shotgun.
It is this sort of posture, that of negligence and a lack of political will that has turned Zamfara state into a killing field where terrorists and non-state actors have seized the monopoly of violence from the state government. And if only successive administrations in Zamfara had a faint understanding of the role of the state or the responsibility of public leadership, the state wouldn’t be littered with graveyards of poor and innocent farmers, murdered in their prime.
For emphasis, over 2,600 people were killed in Zamfara in 2021 alone, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. In the first quarter of 2022, at least 327 persons have been killed and many more are likely to die before the year runs out. The solution, therefore, can not be a retreat or surrender by the state government but a deliberate cause of action to assert its legitimacy. Passing that burden to citizens by legitimizing the use of firearms would not only be counterproductive but would accelerate a complete descent into anarchy. It is naïve to solve a problem that was partly triggered by the proliferation of light arms by attempting to increase the number of light arms in circulation. It is a dangerous policy that leads to no other place but a complete breakdown of law and order.
What needs to happen in Zamfara, and places like Kaduna, Katsina is a bold and imaginative regional response to the security and economic challenges. Additionally, this regional response must also tie into a clear national security strategy that is well-resourced and all-encompassing. For instance, critical technological investments in satellites, data gathering, and management, and border security, amongst others, must be incorporated to support boots on grounds and ariel bombardments.
There is an urgent need to hire, train and deploy thousands of new security personnel who are versed in courter terrorism and have deep knowledge of the geography and terrain. But more importantly, the federal government must accept the reality that Nigeria cannot be policed from Abuja. Therefore, it must begin the process of amending the constitution to allow for the creation of state and local police. Indeed, the federal government can set standards that states must meet to create their police and must be willing to provide institutional support where and when necessary.
Surely, it should be clear to any Nigerian with a functioning brain that if we fail to act urgently and decisively, we will not only lose Zamfara state to non-state actors but the entire country to terrorists.