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Nigerian Army Cleaning Out Terrorist Enclaves in Zamfara State

After Years of Cozy Relations Between Zamfara Governor and Gang Kingpins

Caption: State Commissionerof Budget and Planning, Abdulmalik. Credit Zamfara Government.

By Mike Odeh James 

(Kaduna) By all accounts, the bandit-terrorists of Zamfara State are fighting the hot war of their lives since the Nigerian Army and Air Force have taken the gloves off.  For months, Nigerian military spokesmen have announced the deaths of Kidnappers and gang members who hold all the 14 counties of Zamfara as personal fiefdoms, charging farmers large and small of huge extortion payments or “rents” for the privilege of cultivating their own land.

On April 10 Nigerian Air Force strikes in Zurmi, Gusau and Maradan counties blasted housing and vehicles of large bandit gangs, according to Nigerian Television Authority..

But how did we get here?

The immediate past Governor of Zamfara State and currently the Minister for State Defense, Bello Mohammed Matawalle, has been accused of propping up Fulani terrorists and bandits via his policies of granting pardons and gifts of cash and vehicles.

Against his critics, Matawalle has argued for years that granting pardons to “repentant bandits” has saved the lives of more than 1,000 people the bandits held in the forests under torturous conditions. Matawalle told a Channels TV program in 2021 that his gesture was compassionate:  “I cannot fold my arms seeing my people being killed every day. The Zamfara template is a focus on inviting various armed groups to subscribe to our non-kinetic approach of forgiveness, disarmament, de-mobilisation and re-integration of repentant bandits into the society.”

Yet three years later, there’s a new sheriff in town in the form of Gov. Dauda Lawal Dare. Matawalle, who spoke on a Channels TV program in early 2021 defended the gesture, saying: “I cannot fold my arms seeing my people being killed every day.

“The Zamfara template is a focus on inviting various armed groups to subscribe to our non-kinetic approach of forgiveness, disarmament, de-mobilisation and re-integration of repentant bandits into the society.

Charges of High Crimes Trail Matawalle

Zamfara State Commissioner of Budget and Planning, Abdulmalik Abubakar Gajam, has blasted the former governor in viral videos for embezzlement of N6 billion and for paying cash for peace and letting bandits settle in to the fertile farmlands of Zamfara. 

TruthNigeria was referred to Zamfara State Commissioner of Information, Mannir Haidar, appointed by the current governor last August, regarding the viral video.

Commissioner Haidar told Truth Nigeria in an exclusive online chat that the governor between 2019 and 2023 left the state in economic shambles.

“Former Governor Matawalle did not pay attention to the development of the state,” Haidar said. “As a result, there is a high rate of unemployment and poverty. When he was governor, he did not introduce any realistic programs or policies that would enhance the economy of the state. 

“The youths engaged in many forms of immorality, and the state faces serious economic challenges due to corruption by the past administration.

Gifts of Cash to Terrorists Backfired

The commissioner explained how Gov. Matawalle gave out cash and vehicles to bandits and terrorists as gifts. The gifts were later used by the terrorists to attack the residents of Zamfara.

“The past governor did not do anything serious to stop banditry. Instead, the former governor was favoring the bandits with money and vehicles in the name of negotiation. 

“You could recall that one of the kingpins of the bandit Ado Alero was declared wanted by Katsina State. But in Zamfara, the former government honored him with a traditional title in the Yandoton kingdom. 

“There is clear evidence that the past government of Bello Matawalle was romancing the bandit with cash, positions, and vehicles. That was what made them stronger and more dangerous, Gajam added. 

Ex-Governor’s Ban on Local Security Guards Exacerbated Insecurity 

On becoming Governor of Zamfara State, the former governor, who is now the defense minister, placed a ban on the activities of the local security outfit called “Yan Sakai.”

This ban, according to Gajam, had exacerbated the security situation in Zamfara.

“He should have allowed the local security forces ‘yan sakai’ to assist the security agents after giving them regular training.

“He should have maintained a highly motivated security workforce in order to do his job with high spirits. But he failed to do this. Instead, he ventured into many things.

“The former governor could have saved the state by fighting the bandit with all sincerity. 

The Zamfara State Commissioner for Information also told TruthNigeria that Gov. Matawalle attempted to initiate another round of dialogue or discussion with the terrorists, but he was immediately stopped by the Government of Dauda.

Independent Verification

Following the allegations raised by the Commissioner, TruthNigeria embarked on independent verification to ascertain the accusations against the minister.

On July 17, 2022, the Emir of Yandoto Daji, Aliyu Marafa, turbaned Adamu Ado Aleru as the king of the Fulanis of Yandoto in Tsafe County.

The ceremony was attended by the Zamfara State Commissioner for Security and Home Affairs, Mamman Tsafe; security advisor to the governor, Abubakar Dauran; Tsafe County boss, Aminu Mudi; and representatives of the information commissioner, district heads, and other traditional title holders and government officials.

Adamu Ado Aleru declared wanted by the Nigerian Police Force in 2020

Aleru reportedly supervised killings, abductions, and the rustling of cattle in Tsafe and across Zamfara and Katsina States. 

In June 2020, Katsina Commissioner of Police, Sanusi Buba, declared him wanted “dead or alive” with a N5 million bounty. 

On December 5, 2019, following the ban placed on the activities of local security guards by the then governor, Bello Matawalle, the leaders of Yan Sakai surrendered more than 500 of their weapons to the governor.

On January 19, 2021, TruthNigeria also verified from local media sources that the ex-governor diverted 15 brand new Hilux vehicles to leaders of different, repentant bandit gangs in Zamfara State.

The governor also approved millions of naira to be given to the ‘repentant’ bandits as compensation.

According to analyst Abubakar, the vehicles were later used to attack Zamfara residents.

—Mike Odeh James is a veteran conflict reporter for TruthNigeria.

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