More than 600 students have been abducted from schools in Northwest Nigeria since last year December. Zamfara State is the latest in this disturbing development in the country’s kidnap-for-ransom conundrum. The Jangebe abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls was the second mass kidnap that had ravaged schools in less than ten days. Another kidnap was executed in Zamfara few days after the release of the schoolgirls.
Following concerns over rising banditry and kidnapping in the Northwest and North-central, particularly with schools as soft targets, the Federal Government recently declared Zamfara State a “no fly-zone”.
Babagana Monguno, the National Security Adviser, made this known at the end of the National Security Council meeting held at the presidential villa.
The National Security Adviser equally restated government’s ban on all mining activities in the state that was placed initially since 2019 to curb insecurity in the regions:
“The president has approved, based on our recommendations, the imposition and enforcement of a ban on all mining activities in Zamfara with immediate effect until further notice.
“He has also approved that Zamfara State should be declared a “no-fly zone” with immediate effect.”
No-flight zone (NFZ) otherwise known as air exclusion zone is a territory or area established by a military power over which certain or all aircraft are not permitted to fly. Such zones are usually set up during conflict in an enemy territory.
The no-flight zone (NFZ) strategy was adopted so that all non-state actors that have been facilitating the exercise of bandits and kidnappers not just in Zamfara State or the Northwest zone, but also the Northeast and other parts of the country in the South-South, will be placed under surveillance by intelligence agencies.
According to the National Security Adviser, “we have had a lot of reports coming in; collusion with people from all walks of life.” This position gives false credence to the lie of conspiracy theories surrounding banditry in the region and by extension insurgency.
However, there are divergent opinions as regards the impact of the ban on mining, on the presence of insecurity in the state. While the federal government imposed the ban to mitigate the activities of bandits that had been linked to mining activities involving exchange of guns for gold, others believe that the ban on mining activities since April 2019 is what has worsened the case of banditry and kidnapping in the state. They cite the unemployment loopholes the ban has created, which has left a good number of the state’s young people to take to crime.
Some experts believe a ban is not the only solution. They believe that if the youth are monitored and employed by the government to become miners themselves, proper coordination could be a long-lasting solution to the menace than an outright ban.
Falalu Lawal, executive secretary, Zamfara State Solid Minerals Development Agency, speaking last year noted that if the ban was lifted it will reduce the poverty, unemployment and the crime even.
As one observer noted, “if the ban was supposed to put a stop to banditry then we wouldn’t have this ugly episodes that has subjected our children to all sorts of daylight nightmares.”
The fact that Nigeria’s economy was losing out on more potential investors owing to the ban on mining activities was faulted. But is it possible to attract domestic investors talk more of foreign investors in a landscape rife with insecurity?
In another development, Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, was of the opinion that “no-fly zone” (NFZ) and the ban on mining activities lack the impact to end banditry in the region. He sensed a potential doom in the declaration by the NSA when he said that “the security council doesn’t understand the nature of the security problems in Zamfara State but if they decided to take such an action, let them go ahead.”
Matawalle equally declared that “Nigerians are waiting to see the outcome of the security council resolution to see if these bandits would be crushed.
“If the Federal Government fails to crush them after this resolution, then Nigerians will understand that they only talk and serve themselves tea, nothing more.”
What we see here however is a conflict of emotions and opinions. Matawalle on the one hand is a strong proponent of negotiating with bandits. He believes negotiating with bandits is a strong way out of rising insecurity in his state, while maintaining that Zamfara would not stop negotiating with bandits. He confirmed that bandits that abducted nearly 300 schoolgirls in his state were paid.
The Federal Government on the other hand believes bandits should not be treated with kid gloves. She enumerated the dangers of such bargain. While calling on state governments to review their policy of making payments, in money or vehicles, to bandits, the president equally stated that “We will not succumb to blackmail by bandits and criminals who target innocent school students in the expectation of huge ransom payments.
“Let bandits, kidnappers and terrorists not entertain any illusions that they are more powerful than the government. They shouldn’t mistake our restraint for the humanitarian goals of protecting innocent lives as a weakness, or a sign of fear or irresolution.”
So Matawalle’s commentary on the new recommendation by the presidency is probe-worthy. As a matter of fact, inside his comment lies the prayer that such method ends up not working just to elevate his own position that negotiating with bandits is the workable option.
Conspiracies have also trailed recent abductions so it wouldn’t come as a surprise if another abduction is staged by certain individuals to counter the presidency’s new recommendation, thereby cajoling Nigerians into buying the idea of negotiations or blanket amnesty for bandits as the only feasible option.
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Nevertheless, an NFZ would limit possible trafficking of embargoed goods like weapons, controlled substances and people. This is coupled with opinion from security experts that no-flight zones are attractive options on grounds of lower cost and risk compared to other military options. It would be a huge setback if insurgents and/or their backers acquire any form of airpower.
Setting up a no-fly zone negates the opponent’s military advantage, pressure them to make concessions, eases people under threat and demoralises an adversary’s air power. While it is not clear if the NFZ was adopted solely for banditry or insurgency, many security analysts believe it would help flush out the two devils that have continued to ravage Nigeria’s Northern regions.