El Rufai’s Zero-Negotiation Stand on Banditry: An Arduous Dilemma

El-Rufai’s Zero-Negotiation Stand on Banditry: An Arduous Dilemma


States in Northeastern region of Nigeria have been ravaged by activities of bandits who are currently on a wanton spree of kidnapping, rape and brazen attacks on local communities. While the menace cuts across the region from Zamfara to Kastina, Kaduna appears to be the epicentre now.

This follows El-Rufai’s position that his government will not condescend to the point of paying ransom or even negotiating with bandits. After reiterating this announcement few months ago, the outlaws have hit the state with successive attacks and abductions, probably to prove a point to the governor.

Ever since the banditry saga kicked off, Governor El-Rufai has stood by his position unlike his Zamfara counterpart who insisted that his administration would continue to negotiate with bandits to end the tide in the region.

Kastina State governor, Aminu Masari, had initially taken the same stance with El-Rufai. He noted that in November last year, his administration was determined not to negotiate with bandits, while urging security agencies to be ruthless with bandits terrorising the state as well as neighboring Kaduna and Zamfara.

Masari was however forced to give in following the Kankara abduction. Since then el-Rufai’s counterparts in Zamfara and Kastina have embraced the option of negotiating with bandits to put an end to the scourge in the region.

Analysts have also said that the series of attacks could be plots by proponents of negotiations who want to make the Kaduna State governor bow to their ideas. Whether it is a question of ego or logical reasoning, el-Rufai’s dogged position has continued to generate a lot of reactions.

El Rufai is in fact in a dilemma. His current position is coming on the heels of the latest kidnap of school children and teachers in his state. Bandits had abducted students and teachers from UBE Primary School in Rama, a village in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State.

According to reports, the incident occurred while pupils were trooping into the school around 9a.m on the fateful day. The attack was the aftermath of a previous kidnapping incident that took place when a gang stormed the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation in Mando, Kaduna, shooting sporadically before abducting students. The Nigerian Army was nonetheless able to secure some releases after heavy battle with the gunmen.

Parents whose children were kidnapped and are still with the armed bandits have continued to pile pressure on the Kaduna State governor to facilitate the release of their wards by whatever means possible even if it means negotiating with the bandits. They have vowed to negotiate with the bandits themselves to secure the release of their children despite the state government’s opposition to the idea.

The parents had earlier staged a protest against the state government. Sam Kambai, who spoke on behalf of the parents, accused the Kaduna State Government of abandoning them to their fate. Kambai said:

“If we have the means of reaching the bandits, we will negotiate with them. We are ready to negotiate for the lives of our children. We will not allow government to destroy our children in the bush. We are also working hard to get their contact.

“As parents, we cannot sit, fold our hands and do nothing. So we would do everything within our capacity to ensure the safe release of our children. We wish to reiterate that we will do everything within our power, everything humanly possible, with the help of God, to ensure that our children do not perish.”

The bulk of arguments against El-rufai’s decision not to negotiate with bandits is in fact summarised by Sani Friday, a parent of two of the abducted Afaka students.

According to him, “one of the fears we have is if the government feels they can use force to bring out these children, it will be a disastrous move because these bandits are well-equipped. They may decide to eliminate the children if they discover that the government is trying to use aggressive force on them because they are using our children as shield for themselves.”

El-Rufai’s resolve, however, not to pay ransom to kidnappers stem from a very strong position that it will encourage the crime. Acceding to the demands will tantamount to condoning their excesses. Besides, how many bandits would state governments continue to pay for simply carrying out the cowardly practice where children are used as bait?

As El-Rufai puts it, “The fact that you are carrying an AK-47 does not give you the platform to negotiate because if we do that then we will have to negotiate with every criminal in Nigeria, and grant him or her amnesty.”

When Alhaji Gumi proposed blank amnesty for bandits, he argued that not all bandits were criminals. It is important to note that his statement came from a strong position that some bandits were victims of bad governance, and so took to crime or found themselves in the world of crime to eke out a living. Although it wasn’t clearly stated, the cleric gave the hint that a good number might just be protesting the injustice and the failure of the system.

If it is on this premise that government should take them into consideration, where does it leave numerous citizens who are equally victims of bad governance? Where does it leave other underprivileged citizens that have suffered from the hands of the same bandits crying foul and compounding the overall situation?

This is in light of the fact that the huge ransom they are demanding could be used to better the lives of those residents in the same communities they continue to attack daily. Doesn’t this whole scenario therefore portray them as selfish and callous, especially subjecting little children to such show of shame? Some of the children themselves are said to have gone days without water and food in the custody of these reprobate individuals. The children have equally been threatened while in custody.

El-Rufai’s position might appear rash but it may yield the desired result ultimately. If the trend of negotiating with bandits continues, we will continue to have a cycle of the same scenarios unfold. Not all things are worth the risk, especially when it involves human lives. This situation is indeed dicey.

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El Rufai’s recalcitrance might not be appealing and might even appear inconsiderate, but its ultimate power to put an end the scourge bedeviling the Northeastern region should not be in doubt. As El-Rufai posited, “the kidnappers were told not a penny will be given by the government. They are waiting, hoping that something will come. We are involved in a waiting game, we will have to wait and see how things play out.”

If indeed the bandits are worth any atom of consideration whether in ransom, amnesty, or something conciliatory, then they would have to release the children. As a father and governor, El-Rufai understands the position and feeling of concerned parents and well-meaning citizens.

However, to bury this evil called banditry once and for all, it has become pertinent to take another surgical approach that is largely objective but somewhat painful. Whether it is worth the risk or not, time will tell.

Piercy Mabel

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