Zamfara and the imperative of self-defence

Dahiru Hassan Kera

By Dahiru Hassan Kera

The wanton killing of unarmed Nigerians in the North-west of Nigeria and the routine kidnapping of helpless villagers in this region and indeed all over Nigeria should worry everyone. Those of us who grew up in a Nigeria which, believe it or not, was very peaceful are naturally more worried.

Killings and kidnappings in the way and manner perpetrated by non-state actors today used to be what we gleaned off Indian movies or war movies like Tufan, Rambo’s first blood and Chuck Norris’s Delta Force, etc. That we have kids today who have normalised the news of daily killings in Nigeria feels like a let off and this, to me who has been mostly spared the anguish of this gory reality, is like heaven.

Now, imagine fathers, mothers, children and other family members who have been made to watch as unscrupulous elements desecrate their families, while commodifying the lives of their loved ones over ransoms that are becoming harder to raise, no thanks to an economy deteriorating daily.

Nowhere has this sad reality become more endemic than in Zamfara state. Whole villages have been sacked, unarmed people in markets and homes and community gatherings as well as merrymakers at weddings or naming ceremonies have been indiscriminately shot at with outrageous casualty figures that are being reduced into mere national fatality statistics. No one who has lived this gut wrenching pain will want a repeat, yet some families have endured repeated cases of kidnap and killings all because they believe is the responsibility of state forces to protect them.

This can no longer suffice. State forces are doing their best or so we are told every day, as repetition of assurances continue to greet every gruesome event. But to pretend that Nigerian forces are winning the war or are anywhere near winning the war will be the greatest deception of the century. While I can’t straight up blame our gallant men and women in uniform who I know have been stretched tin as new theatres of operation keep springing up, I can’t pretend to agree that they have the situation under control. Without over labouring the point, the situation in Nigeria seems to have overwhelmed the outrageously low number of our security men, even as motivation seems to have hit rock bottom due perhaps to increasing economic hardship occasioned by fiscal irresponsibility as well as the dearth of the political will towards ending this greatly emboldened era of non-state actors.

It in this sense that I wonder why it took the Zamfara state government this long to reach that very simple decision to encourage its people to take up arms and defend themselves. And I will be shocked if indeed the people of Zamfara had folded their arms in wait as criminals pick them up one after the other like ducks at a shooting gallery. But if indeed they had waited until the state government made that painful announcement; painful in that the announcement is a demonstration of responsibility and regret for failing despite their best efforts at supporting Nigerian forces, then I will say the ordinary people of Zamfara are model law abiding citizens.

Starting from the attacks of January 4 – 6, 2022, in Rafin Danya, Barayar Zaki, Rafin Gero and Kurfa in Anka and Bukkuyum local government area of Zamfara state which left over 200 people killed, to the May 5, massacre of over 50 people in Sabon Garin Damri, Damri and Kalahe in Bakura local government area of the state, and seven people in Garin Minane and Faru of Maradun local government area as well as several others in-between, Zamfara has had its worst.

The most painful of the repeated attacks by these unconscionable marauders is the reckless abandon with which they operate. Certainly, stories of four-day of onslaught by these heartless killers against villagers does not exactly inspire confidence on security forces and certainly does not depict Nigeria as a place where security response is ever on cue. 

This is why the call by the Bello Matawalle government to the people of Zamfara state to arm themselves is even too late in coming. I think it’s not even enough to ask already impoverished villagers to buy guns which are very expensive through official channels. The government can go a step further by liaising with authorities to procure handguns that will be then sold at a subsidised rate to people of towering character. I know it may sound absurd that we are talking about government subsidising guns for a poor citizenry. However, in the present circumstances, there is nothing a citizen of Zamfara will want more than peace even if it means securing it by force and through blood. 

Mark Bowden succinctly captured the Zamfara situation when he wrote that “Victory was for those willing to fight and die. Intellectuals could theorise until they sucked their thumbs right off their hands, but in the real world, power still flowed from the barrel of a gun. The people of Zamfara have lived right through this painful reality and no amount of beautiful stories of law and order eventually winning can trump the reality in the state.

Indeed, to ask the people of Zamfara to do nothing but wait is criminal in itself. According to Barbara dé Angelis, “We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” The people of Zamfara state have seen adversity in the manner that only Boko Haram ravaged Borno state has witnessed. Yet, the situation in Zamfara is quite different from that of Borno. This is because, whereas Boko Haram is pursuing an ideology, albeit a misguided one, the bandits in Zamfara and other parts of North-west Nigeria all the way to Niger state where Ansaru is gaining firm footing are not burdened by ideology. Their only ideology is blood and blood money.

What if they still die defending their homes? That will be a more honourable death than watching your loved ones getting fell down like unwanted trees. I am sure if you ask a Zamfara person to choose between waiting for government to try and fail at protecting him and taking his fate into his hands by arming himself, he will settle for the latter. Nothing else matters! 

Perhaps, this is the time to bring up that state police debate. I believe that if every state governor is given the responsibility of, and be held responsible for protecting the citizenry whom he swore an oath to protect, insecurity in Nigeria will not keep growing these fangs and claws. No matter, it’s either citizens are protected now under the prevailing system, or federal government should have the honour to accept failure and do as Zamfara has done. Sokoto, Katsina, Niger states and others should borrow a leaf.

Kera, a journalist, writes from Kaduna, Kaduna state.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily