What seemed to be a community crisis in Zamfara has gradually become a regional menace which has spread to Katsina, Kaduna and Sokoto states and earned Zamfara the nickname of Sambisa of the NorthWest.
Since the beginning of the crisis, the states have employed different approaches of military action and dialogue to end the problem. However, failure of the states to employ these strategies at the same or agreed periods while dealing with the same perpetrators has caused an increase in the activities of the armed groups.
The assassination of Buharin Daji in March, 2018 saw an escalation of the crisis as predicted by the bandit few days before he was killed.
“Even if I’m killed I know that hundreds will be murdered, Maiduguri will be safer than Zamfara,” he was known to have said.
At that time, Buharin Daji was holding discussion with the Zamfara and Katsina state governments, meanwhile Kaduna which was his place of residence refused to engage him in a dialogue.
States in the region have similar physical geographical features. Forests from one state flow into another state.
A local source with knowledge of the terrain cited an example with Dogo Gide, a renowned bandit from Zamfara State, who was earlier based in Ruggu Forest.
“His men are both from Katsina and Zamfara so when you say you have given them amnesty in Zamfara what happens to what they do in Katsina?
“By the time the military conquers them in Katsina they regroup in another place where they wont be bothered and plan revenge,” he said.
A source said many times the military was left in difficult positions of identifying non-repentant groups since most of the criminals both repentant and non-repentant remained armed and lived in the forest with almost similiar settings.
Local sources said the transient and pastoralist nature of armed groups was not limited to a particular state as they moved from one forest to another
Therefore, when you tell the military to evacuate them in Katsina it will be a difficult time for those in Zamfara because the revenge is taken out on them, the source said.
An example is the case of Ado Aleru who is from Zamfara but operates from Tsafe to Faskari forest. He was granted amnesty in Zamfara and was even assisting the government negotiate with groups or fight non-repentant smaller groups. However, he was declared wanted in Kastina State.
In 2019 when the Zamfara State Governor, Bello Mattawalle, started dialoguing with the criminals, sources said it took him months to convince the presidency to get other Northern governors to be involved in the discussion.
Katsina State governornment was reluctant over the strategy taking into account that earlier dialogues failed.
A Katsina-based blogger reporting the activities of the bandits said “it is the first major setback the dialogue has faced, lack of unity among states.
“Once you give a person amnesty in one state, they run to another state to continue their atrocities.
“The governors should have given them the condition that amnesty from any state means amnesty for all the states of the region, while when one state declares you wanted, all remaining states follow suit.”
An inside source told HumAngle that last year a group of bandits moving to Kaduna led by Gajere after raiding villages in Maru and Anka local government areas told villagers that dialogue only stopped them from killing not rustling or looting.
They also said they were moving to kaduna to assist their allies by unleashing consistent attacks in Birnin Gwari until the government discussed with them and offered them amnesty.
The Kastina State Governor, Malam Aminu Bello Masari, has vowed never to sit with any bandit or continue dialoguing with any armed group as they only understand violence.
Meanwhile, the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, has instructed the military and police to flush out bandits in the state. His Zamfara State counterpart, Matawalle, on the other hand insists on the use of dialogue to deal with the problem.
Membership of the armed groups is not limited to any community or area. Most of the groups such as Dangote, Dankarami and Gajere have members from Zamfara, Katsina, Niger and Sokoto, states.
These states are dealing with the same problem but from different perspectives.
This is not feasible, they must start to see and treat it as a regional problem. The governments of the northwestern region need to adopt a joint strategy to curb the activities of the armed groups.
In an Interview with BBC the Zamfara State governor stated that without cooperation among the governments insecurity would likely continue to linger
He said the reason was because the bandits understood the terrain.
“When you attack them in Zamfara or Kastina they move to Niger or Sokoto to attack, the areas of forest are connected,” the governor said.
The situation is worsened by inadequate manpower in the military to deal with the criminals, he added.