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Angry Governor accuses Abuja of Secret Talks with Bandits

As Troops rescue 14 of 34 Abducted Zamfara School Girls

By Luka Binniyat

KADUNA—The governor of Nigeria’s Zamfara State, gold-rich but bandit-besieged, Tuesday accused the Federal Government of holding behind-the- door meetings with the outlaws in at least four locations in the state without informing Zamfara state, raising suspicion over the motive of the secret meetings.

Zamfara Governor Dauda Lawal railed against what he termed as ongoing negotiations between agents of the Federal Government with bandits groups operating in the state without his knowledge, insisting that it was contrary to the non-negotiation position of Zamfara State government with the outlaws groups. He said that past roundtables with the criminals have achieved no results as it only emboldens the criminals.

The statement of his press representative partly read: “We sought clarification from the Federal Government regarding the sneaky negotiations with bandits carried out by some of its agents without recourse to the State Government and heads of Security agencies in the State.

Seven university students kidnapped from campus in Nigeria’s Zamfara State were ‘rescued’ on September 26 after authorities admitted they were pursuing diverse options to “de-escalate” tension and restore peace in communities ravaged by terrorists. Six hostages escaped during firefights between soldiers and the terrorists on September 22, according to media reports.

The number of rescued victims from the late evening attack at Federal University Gusau is now estimated to be around 13 to 14, with different news reports providing varying figures.

On September 25, Mohammed Idris, the Nigerian Minister of Information and National Orientation, acknowledged that the government is committed to “exploring all possible means to reduce tension and restore peace to communities affected by banditry.” In response to Governor Dauda Lawal’s allegations that federal government agents were conducting covert negotiations with terrorists, Idris stated that President Bola Tinubu’s administration is continuing its “ongoing dialogue with various parties” aimed at putting an end to terrorist attacks by bandits in the northern regions of the country.

Apart from a tersely worded Press Statement signed by Ajuri Ngelale, Special Adviser to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, condemning the mass abduction two and directing the immediate rescue two days ago, both Zamfara State government and the Federal Government have not confirmed the true number of persons abducted by the assailants, prompting several report giving conflicting figures the numbers of victims.

It would also be the first time that the government was acknowledging that such a crime had taken place in a state where 279 female boarding students of Government Science Secondary School, Jangebe, were abducted by armed men on 26th February 2021, but were later released.

Though the Government has yet to issue a position on the reported rescue of the girls, AP states that security forces rescued 14 out of at least 20 students abducted from

a university in northwestern Nigeria and were searching for the remaining captives, citing school authorities as confirming the operation, Monday.

AP had reported on September 22, 2023 that the students were taken hostage when gunmen broke into their accommodation near the Federal University Gusau in Zamfara state’s Bungudu district, crediting Zamfara police spokesman Yazid Abubakar as confirming the crime.

Abubakar couldn’t confirm the exact number of abducted students, though local media reported the figure as high as 24, quoting other students who also said that the kidnap victims were mostly female students.

Zamfara Governor Says He Was Bypassed

“We have facts and evidence on what had transpired between these agents of the Federal Government and the bandits during the negotiations in several places across Zamfara,” according to Gov. Lawal’s press statement.

“It is disappointing that the information minister discredited our claim without verifying it first. What is expected of him as a professional is to collaborate with relevant authorities to substantiate the claim’s authenticity,” the governor added.

“Zamfara State Government respects protocol and established authority. We would not come out in the media to start exposing the names of the Federal Government agents involved in the covert dialogue with bandits.

We want to clarify that those individuals leading secret negotiations with bandits in Zamfara are politicizing insecurity, not the State Government,” the governor went on to say.

“The Information Minister’s statement claiming that there were no negotiations between government officials and bandits in Zamfara requires further clarification.

“We have already exposed a few locations where such talks were held with bandits, such as Birnin Magaji, Maradun, Mun Haye, Ajah, Bawo, and Bagege.

“Negotiating with bandits in Zamfara is a grave mistake we cannot afford to make. It is not the solution to the problem and only encourages and emboldens the criminals.

Security Expert Weighs In

“The posture and pronouncements of the Chief of Army Staff is that the Army will not negotiate with terrorists,” wrote Hassan Stan Labo, a retired Nigerian Army Colonel, in a text to TruthNigeria.

“The present Governor of Zamfara has also made it clear right from the start of his administration that he was not going to negotiate with terrorists. He has learned from the mistakes of his predecessors who after placating the terrorists with all kinds of material gratifications, including vehicles, they went back to the bush,” Labo went on to write.

“The bandits initially thought that those placations will be sustained not knowing it was going to be a one-off arrangement and when they ran out of supplies, they went back to their criminal ways to survive — kidnappings, village raids, looting etcetera,” Labo added.

“It is only in Zamfara State that we have had three governors pursuing negotiations with terrorists without success. Former Governor Yerima was one of the known advocates of dialogues and amnesty for bandits. He often compared them to the former militants in the Niger delta region of Nigeria who were given amnesty by the federal government of Nigeria during the Umaru Yar Adua regime,” according to Labo.

“But these are two different scenarios. The Niger delta militants were local youths who were frustrated by the oil exploration that degraded their lands, rivers and communities without any benefits accruing to them. And what makes them different is that they were not radicalized groups and they had clear demands. That was why it was easy to negotiate with them and once the government was able to fulfill its own part of the commitments, the attacks stopped.

“In the case of Zamfara, it is shear criminality and should be treated as such. You can’t negotiate with them,” Lago wrote.

Luka Binniyat reports on politics and conflict from Kaduna for TruthNigeria.

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