On Saturday, April 24, Bello Matawalle, Zamfara State governor, issued a stern warning to non-state armed groups operating in the state to cease violence and seep out of there, or face his wrath.
Matawalle was the pioneer and principal executor of peace deals with the armed groups. He had also been the strongest advocate of the deals among his fellow governors in a country with growing insecurity.
His faith in the efficacy of negotiation with terrorists and his seemingly hard line stance on the negotiations at every given public fora earned him the revilement of his fellow governors in the zone, some of whom, allegedly, rebuked him for treating the terrorists with ‘kid gloves’ and even alleged his complicity in the ravaging terror.
Matawalle seemed unwavering in his advocacy for the carrot-and-stick or, more technically, kinetic and non-kinetic, approach even while in the last couple of months, he complained of the existence of no fewer than 30,000 terrorists tormenting his state.
His stance on the negotiation option endured, amidst armed groups unrelentingly unleashing terror across the Zamfara terrain. Some of the notable attacks include the abduction of 279 Jangebe school students and the killing of 50 persons in raids, less than a week ago.
The recent massacre appears to have exhausted his tolerance for the terrorists. This, consequently, could have significantly changed his perception of the terrorists, regarding them as no gentlemen with regard to honouring deals.
The only language they understand, he now seems convinced, is violence and he will, therefore, also not be a gentleman in his dealings with them, should they be obstinate with regard to his warning.
Mattawale’s new stance
Seizing the opportunity of APC governors paying a condolence visit on him over the massacre of the 50 villagers, the governor remarkably presented a portrait of a new Matawalle to the terrorists by sternly warning the terrorists to shape up towards ceasing violence or ship out of his state.
Drawing a battle line with the non-state armed groups operating in the state, Governor Matawalle said his recent suspension of a district head in Shinkafi emirate for conniving with the terrorists should point to the fact that he would have no more tolerance for unrepentant armed non-state actors in his domain.
He vowed to overwhelm all those making life unbearable for innocent citizens of the state in a few days.
Matawalle added that he had discussed extensively with President Muhammadu Buhari and the nation’s service chiefs on the new approach – the total deployment of the kinetic approach this time around, which, he threatened, would most likely be a decisive descent, with a massive military force, on deceptive and unrepentant terrorists.
Numerous facts emerge from Governor Matawalle’s change of strategy in dealing with the terrorists.
The Zamfara Governor may have either resolved to concur wholesale with the hard line stance of his fellow governor, Kaduna State’s Nasir El-Rufai, or adopt that stance with some necessary modifications according to the peculiarities of his state.
Comparisons with Kaduna’s El-Rufai
El-Rufai, poles apart from Matawalle on the approach to government-terrorist relations, has been the staunchest opposition to any negotiation with the terrorists or paying them ransom for the release of any persons they abduct.
He has so far publicly remained resolute on this stance to the point of even threatening to prosecute any Kaduna citizen striking any deal with or paying any ransom to gun-wielding abductors for the release of any abductees.
El-Rufai’s stance is very much to the chagrin of a substantial section of the public, most notably the severely anguished and depressed parents and relations of the abducted students of the Federal College of Mechanisation and Greenfield University still in the captivity of their abductors.
A section of the Kaduna public attribute the escalation of school abductions in the state not only to the alleged fact that it is much more lucrative in the terror enterprise but also to El-Rufai’s ‘irritating obstinacy’ with regard to negotiation and ransom payment.
The observation that the dare-devil escalation of school abductions in Kaduna State is the gunmen’s strategy of demystifying El-Rufai with regard to the fane he has built over the years for resoluteness on whatever decision he deems appropriate and, subsequently, force him to soften his stance in his relations with them is gaining strength.
It, however, seems myopic to confine this observation to Kaduna, considering the fact that school abductions are raging across all terror-troubled states of Northern Nigeria. And every affected state is designing its own method of guarding its schools against the marauding abductors.
Matawalle would, therefore, choose between adopting El-Rufai’s stance hook-line-and-sinker or modifying it to suit the peculiarities of his state, peradventure he contemplates adopting it.
How would terror groups respond?
Terror groups are numerous, perhaps more numerous than known, and sparse across the Northwest terrain. Some of them reportedly collaborate to boost the lucrativeness of the abduction enterprise among them, although, reportedly, the needs for such collaborations seldom arise.
In general terms, their operations are not defined by any collective unity of purpose. Reportedly, mutual animosity and rivalry defines their operations.
This situation could have constituted a major factor to the frustration of Governor Matawalle in negotiating with them to guarantee the achievement of an all-enveloping sufficient peace and security for the state.
This implies that negotiating with one or some of the armed groups does not suffice as negotiating with all and, therefore, only guarantees the security negotiated for from the one or ones it negotiated with.
This situation might have condemned Matawalle to permanently negotiate with one or some armed groups in the daily-routine fashion. As he strikes a deal with one armed group at a particular location, others continue unleashing terror at the rest of the locations across Zamfara.
Over the years, therefore, his passion for the negotiation option as the best strategy for achieving some peace and security to guarantee even if the barest social and economic activities for the survival of the state, as well as the patience and zeal with which he pursues the negotiations, which sharply contrasts with escalating terror gnawing deep and fast at the fragile security holding the state, got overstretched.
Following the governor’s new position, experts are wondering how the terror groups would respond to this shift.