Governor Abubakar Bello of Niger State has bemoaned the increasing activities of bandits in his state who he said are Fulanis who cannot be controlled by anyone including their parents.
The governor, who met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Abuja on Wednesday to seek more federal government’s intervention to deal with the menace, also revealed to correspondents that the bandits have started to infiltrate the state through the Republic of Benin borders.
He said many of the criminals are being recruited from within and outside the country through social media.
The governor lamented that the bandits are now threatening the state grazing reserve where a lot of investment had already been made.
According to him, some traditional rulers and natives have been discovered to invite the bandits into their communities.
While affirming that the government would deal with such elements, he vowed that Niger State would not negotiate with the criminals, saying: “To be honest, even when the process of negotiation was being advised, I recommended or agreed to it. I have attended one meeting where the bandits were there and I cannot imagine myself as a state governor and chief security officer of a state, sitting down and negotiating with bandits.
“They have never been honest in their talks. Even when they were given the opportunity they failed to keep the agreement. And whenever they will surrender their arms and they don’t ask anything in return, then you can tell it is not an honest negotiation. Because, someone that is used to carrying arms to go and rob is now telling you he will drop his arms without asking for anything in return, I don’t think there is any sincerity in that.
“So, I have never subscribed to that negotiation. In any case, the bandits are mostly Fulanis that have no one to control them even their parents cannot control them.
“We call them bandits but these are common criminals, they are armed robbers. I don’t see how someone who is used to robbing at gunpoint or killing, will say let’s go to negotiating table, I will drop my arms, I will just move on with my life without asking for some kind of support as an alternative to their activities.
“I tried it once reluctantly, it never worked. So, I don’t think…unless I see some evidence of sincerity but I am really not in such negotiations. “
Governor Bello said the insecurity in Niger State is “very bad” amid limited resources, noting that with a landmass of over 73,000 square kilometres, it was a tough place to police.
He said this necessitated the request for more intervention from the Federal Government.
The governor added: “The situation is very bad. Niger is 73,000 square kilometres, it’s the size of the entire South-South or South-East.
“So, first of all, we have limited number of security personnel and I think we have to start thinking of increasing the numbers so that we are able to cover most of the local governments within the state.
“Some of our local governments are up to 6,000 to 7,000 square kilometres, one local government. For example, the Bobi grazing reserve which is a Programme between state government, CBN and the federal government, where we encourage herders to move their cattle so as to stop the movement of cattle from one area to the other so as to avoid herders, farmers conflict has become a target. Because that is the only location where you can find in one constituency 5,000 to 6,000 herds of cows.
“So, most of the bandits have started focusing their attention on the Bobi grazing reserve which I have also discussed with Mr President. Because we have investors that have started investing in terms of money, equipment, processing facilities. We do not want to discourage them. So, we applied most of our resources and efforts towards protecting the grazing reserve.
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“But we are having influx of bandits from neighbouring states especially Zamfara and Kaduna states. It is difficult to patrol those areas because vehicles do not go there and they are deep in the forest. Which means we will need the federal might especially the Air Force. By the way, the Air Force has been doing extremely well in recent times to support our ground operations.
“I have no doubts in my mind that with a little support with regards to personnel, mostly personnel so that we are able to deploy them in various parts of the state.
“Again, our border with Benin Republic, this is new. We recently started experiencing influx of bandits from Benin Republic border. We never use to experience that before. They find the national park very attractive. The national park alone is 5,000 square kilometres. So, is a good call for bandits.
“Like I said, with limited resources we are doing the little we can to see that we secure lives and property. We have lost a few people, we still have people being kidnapped. Even today, we have not less than 30 people that have been kidnapped but most times we are able to rescue them.
“I believe there is great value in working with the federal authorities in addressing these security challenges.”
Talking of the specific harm the bandits have done to the state, Bello said they have changed their tactics over time now resorting to destruction of properties.
He explained: “They started with armed robbery then they moved to cattle rustling and then to kidnapping as a means of getting money.
“But recently the trend has changed, they started burning farms and animals. So, this has given me some concerns and at the same time it has kept me thinking, what is the motive?
“I can understand if you kidnap you are looking for money but when you burn farms, then there is something else happening. Or when you kill animals, they go to villages and kill animals, they don’t steal.
“So, if you stop people from going to farms, it means you are trying to deprive that nation of food security. Why will someone want to deprive people of food security?
“Niger State has the capacity of feeding the entire country. We have the water bodies for dry season farming, we produce a lot of rice, maize but I am worried because this year, most of the farmers did not have the opportunity to go to their farms to harvest even when they planted. So, the bandits torch the farms, they just burn everything.
“So, back to your question, this is a serious one because it does not affect Niger alone, it affects the entire country. So, when we are not able to feed our nation, then it becomes a major challenge. So, this is the kind of mayhem being unleashed on the people.”
He said he updated the president on the development in the state, adding: “Recently, we have been experiencing an influx of bandits from neighbouring states and even though our security agencies are doing their best, I found it necessary to update Mr President on the situation.
“So, we had a very fruitful discussion and also pledged more support to the state on security matters so that either the shortest possible time, we will address the security situation.”