The leaders from the Middle Belt and Northern regions have rejected the suggestion made by Yerima Sani, a former governor of Zamfara State, for President Bola Tinubu to engage in negotiations with terrorists and bandits in the country.
According to these leaders, such negotiations would be futile because the bandits lack a centralized leadership and have a history of disregarding agreements made with them in the past by various states and communities in the northern region.
Chief Iorbee Ihagh, the President General of Mzough U Tiv and Chairman of three sociocultural/ethnic groups in Benue State, expressed his view to Vanguard. He stated that President Bola Tinubu’s administration cannot engage in negotiations with bandits and terrorists. He pointed out that these individuals were originally brought into the country from other parts of West Africa to help certain individuals win elections in 2015. However, once the elections were won, these individuals failed to uphold their agreements, leading to their involvement in banditry and terrorism, causing great suffering in the North. Chief Ihagh emphasized that those responsible for bringing these individuals into the country should take responsibility for resolving the problems they created for Nigerians.
“I am happy that President Tinubu has brought in people who can tackle insecurity in the country unlike what we had in the last government when nepotism beclouded them. They had wanted to turn Nigeria into a Fulani state but God came to our rescue as a people. So, there will be no bargaining, President Tinubu should never accept that. He has started well and we are praising him, but if he does that, nobody will be behind him again. Government cannot go and beg criminals, they should come and surrender. More so, armed herdsmen should be made to go back to their respective places so that the millions of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, scattered in our state and other parts can go back to their ancestral homes.”
On his part the State Vice Chairman of APC Benue South District, Bishop Pinot Ogbaji said: “When I heard of the proposal of the former governor of Zamfara state advising President Tinubu to negotiate with terrorists and bandits, I was shocked. I know that in everything there is negotiation and dialogue but negotiation means that we encourage that attitude and character. Then when you negotiate with a deadly group in the North another group would probably surface in another part of the country seeking negotiation. Let me ask, what manner and kind of negotiation is he talking about? Is it to grant them amnesty or what? Or true repentance. We don’t even know the extent to which the negotiation will go, we do not know their demands. For me, negotiation is not an issue at all. Of course there could be amnesty which is not negotiation. It entails that somebody volunteers to repent, then he is brought back to the the society of normal beings and re-orientated”.
Furthermore, Dr. Bitrus Pogu, the National President of the Middle Belt Forum, also expressed his perspective on the matter. He stated that unless President Bola Tinubu is himself affiliated with the terrorists and is trying to protect them, there is no justification for negotiating with them. Dr. Pogu emphasized that the issue of terrorism and banditry has predominantly affected the northern region. Certain individuals from the North have treated Boko Haram and banditry as if it were their own game. However, there is currently someone in power, although his election is still being disputed, who appears unwilling to tolerate the prioritization of narrow interests over the well-being of the Nigerian nation.
Dr. Pogu believes that Tinubu’s objective is to promote national unity. Negotiating with terrorists, on the other hand, implies endorsing criminal behavior and encouraging non-state actors to take up arms in the future. The appropriate course of action is to eliminate these threats entirely and eradicate their existence.
“So, deal with them in such a way that henceforth somebody who will want to rise for whatever reason will think twice before he does something. It should even go beyond that, those who are involved in propagating this thing should be fished out and dealt with decisively because Nigerians have suffered enough and any call by such characters should be questioned and queried. And if you remember it is the same Yerima who started the Sharia thing under the then President Obasanjo. To me he is a suspect any suggestion from him should not be taken seriously.”
According to Ishaq Usman Kasai, the Chairman of the Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressives Union (BEPU), Yerima’s proposal highlights a lack of understanding regarding the structural organization and divergent objectives of the armed bandits operating in the forests. These bandits have been responsible for extensive destruction, loss of lives, and destabilization in the country. Kasai contends that in order to effectively eliminate the business of armed banditry in Nigeria, it is imperative to dislodge all bandit camps situated in various forests. Anything less than this comprehensive approach would merely serve as a superficial measure that fails to provide a lasting solution. Engaging in negotiations with armed bandits is unlikely to yield significant positive results, as past experiences have demonstrated that such criminal elements exploit negotiations as a tactic to buy time, reorganize, and reinforce their positions.