On the day armed bandits attacked a boarding school and kidnapped many students and workers, some Nigerian lawmakers called for amnesty for repentant bandits.

PREMIUM TIMES reported the abduction of a yet to be identified number of students and workers of the Government Science College, Kagara, in Niger State.

While the Niger abduction occurred in the early hours of Wednesday, several hours later in Abuja, lawmakers from Zamfara called for amnesty for repentant bandits.

Niger and Zamfara are two of the states in Northern Nigeria most affected by banditry with the armed men killing and kidnapping hundreds of people in both states in the past few years.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Zamfara caucus of the National Assembly called on the federal government to grant amnesty to repentant bandits in the country.

This, they said, is a peace initiative that allows repentant bandits to voluntarily surrender their arms and ammunition in return for government patronages such as stipends, vocational training and job opportunities. They said this would bring peace to the affected states and asked President Muhammadu Buhari to take a cue from former President Umaru Yar’Adua who granted amnesty to Niger Delta militants in 2009.

Militants used to illustrate the pictures

Before the 2009 Niger Delta amnesty programme, militants in the region routinely attacked oil installations and kidnapped expatriates; allegedly to weaken the Nigerian state and force it to pay attention to issues that affect the Niger Delta. The amnesty programme entails payments of stipends to some repentant militants, creation of training opportunities in different vocations and employment opportunities. This is what the Zamfara lawmakers want replicated for the bandits terorrising many states mainly in North-west and North-central Nigeria.

The Zamfara lawmakers comprising three senators and four members of the House of Representatives made their demand at a press conference on Wednesday. Sahabi Yau, who represents Zamfara North in the Senate, led the delegation.

In his remark, Mr Yau said that when the Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle, assumed office in 2019, he initiated a peace process with bandits which has helped reduce insecurity in the state.

Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara state. [PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Mattawalle on Facebook]
Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara state. [PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Mattawalle on Facebook]

He added that the state government is currently carrying out the Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) project within different districts of the state with modern facilities that would guarantee all-year-round grazing with nutritious grass, water canals, dams, houses, schools, hospitals and veterinary clinics.

“It is important to state that these and many other interventions have clearly reduced the killings and attacks in the state who hitherto, were daily occurrences. Today, people living in Zamfara State duly appreciate the genuine intentions and determination of the State Governor to ensure an enduring peace and the support is heart-warming.

“As we speak, people who had deserted their villages have started returning. Farmers have been returning in droves, the roads are safer today, markets have reopened, and business activities have picked up. Peace is gradually returning to Zamfara, frankly it is important that we commend the approach of Governor Matawalle.”

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Amnesty for bandits

Peace, the lawmakers said, cannot be achieved by force and one way to do it is to grant amnesty to repentant bandits.

“It is our belief that the Federal Government should offer amnesty to those repentant bandits in the North West region, because we are convinced that these repentant bandits should be encouraged to contribute positively to society. It is evidently clear that peace can also be achieved through understanding and genuine dialogue.

“This conviction comes on the heels of a similar success recorded in the Niger Delta when the late President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua granted amnesty to repentant bandits in that region. Today, the story in that once troubled area is clearly not the same.

Former President Umar Yar'Adua
Late Former President Umar Yar’Adua

“The amnesty worked perfectly by turning the criminal minded into productive elements and they are usefully contributing to society in various fields of endeavour. The attacks on critical infrastructure including oil installations, pipeline vandalism, and abduction of expatriates in the region have drastically reduced courtesy of the amnesty programme.

“This is a testimony that peace cannot only be achieved through the use of excessive force; it is evident that dialogue and genuine commitment of both parties is also a vital tool in tackling insecurity,” Mr Yau said.

He said increase in oil production in the region, provision of scholarship for repentant militants as well as employment are some of the successes of the amnesty programme which can be achieved in the North-west region if the federal government “extends this olive branch to repentant bandits.”

While he called on other states in the North-west to also initiate peace dialogues, the lawmaker emphasised that the request “is not about the personal interest of the Zamfara State Governor or anyone of us here, it is about ridding our region of this vices and making the region safer.”

When asked why he compared the Niger Delta militants to present-day bandits, Mr Yau said the difference between them is that the militants in 2009 were educated when they started their agitation but the bandits are not educated.

“If only they are educated (bandits), the agitation would have been different. It would have been the same with the time the Niger Delta militants did their own. But unfortunately, the best way is to protect themselves and their cattle by starting to fight with sticks which turned to guns,” he replied.

Mr Yau struggled to justify his comment when journalists pointed out that not all bandits are Nigerians.

He, thereafter, said there will be a strategy put in place to separate foreigners from repentant Nigerian bandits should the amnesty be granted to them.

At about the same time the Zamfara lawmakers were having their press conference, the Zamfara governor was meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, also on the security situation in the state.

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

“I was called by Mr President and I am here to brief him on some issues pertaining to security in my state,” Governor Bello Matawalle told journalists after the meeting.

“I did not discuss amnesty for bandits with the President. I briefed him on entirely different thing,” he said when asked about the call for amnesty.

The call by the Zamfara lawmakers comes on the heels of increasing cases of banditry and kidnapping in many states.

It also comes months after a controversial bill seeking the deradicalisation and rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram members was introduced in the Senate.

The bill seeks the establishment of an agency to oversee the rehabilitation and integration of repentant insurgents in the country and provide encouragement to other members to abandon terrorism.

The bill was, however, condemned and opposed by many civic groups and senators.

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