Memorable takes from Shinkafi Summit

A webinar is a little short of the real thing. It has more gadgets than people assembled in a conference room but with many hundreds more hooked in through the web, mostly unseen except by the technical crew. Webinars could also be irritating, with technical hitches disrupting important contributors in the middle of their speech. It is however the in-thing now, occasioned by pandemic and lockdown circumstances.

Everything considered, the 1st Umaru Shinkafi Intelligence and Security Summit that took place by webinar on Thursday last week was a big success. There was quality attendance and thoughtful contributions around the theme, which was insurgency, banditry and kidnapping: A multifaceted approach. These are probably the biggest problems bedevilling the country right now.

It was fitting that an event in memory of Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi should be security centred because he was the popular “Hausa Inspector” in Enugu in the 1950s, who made his career in the Special Branch, and was later police commissioner, Federal Commissioner for Internal Affairs and Director General of the National Security Organisation, NSO.

Shinkafi also chaired the Babangida-era committee that recommended NSO’s break up into the State Security Service (SSS), now known as DSS, National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). Later in life he was the Marafan Sokoto and frontline presidential aspirant.

I came away from the summit, which I moderated, with many memorable thoughts from the contributions made by three serving and three former governors, a former House of Representatives Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, a former Army Chief and Interior Minister, Lt. Gen. Dambazau, the British Deputy High Commissioner, Gill Atkinson, former EFCC chairperson, AIG Farida Waziri (rtd); Commandant of the National Institute for Security Studies, Mr. Adeleke, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Mathew Hassan Kukah, Director General of DSS’ representative, prominent academics and politicians including Alhaji Buba Galadima, and prominent lawyer, Yakubu Maikyau, SAN.

At least, a dozen submissions and observations made by various speakers during the three-and-a-half-hour summit appeared to me to be quite memorable. We learnt, for example, that from the outset the government tried to understand the nature of the banditry problem.

Former Zamfara State Governor, Abdulaziz Yari, during whose tenure the problem emerged and reached a crescendo, said he held numerous meetings with community leaders at the behest of the president in order to understand why their youths resorted to kidnapping and banditry. There wasn’t enough time for Yari to reveal what he learnt; researchers would like to hear it.

Bishop Matthew Kukah said by definition, bandits operate only where there is a vacuum in governance space. “Nigeria has too many pockets of governance vacuum”; he said, “Areas where there is neither provision of infrastructure and amenities nor any effective administrative or security mechanism”. I think the Bishop was thinking of the lawless tribal areas of northwest Pakistan; I can’t remember whether he mentioned them.

Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu memorably said that there is a lot of anger in many communities in Nigeria due to poverty and lack of amenities. Many communities, he said, also have perceptions of marginalisation, real or imagined, and that the Nigerian society is poor at managing anger.

Rural people harbour grudges against urban people, the urban poor harbour grudges against the rich, not to mention ethnic and religious anger issues. A motorist driving on the highway, Bagudu said, barely tolerates the pastoralist whose cattle are crossing the road even though no provision was made on the road for where cattle will walk.

The problem at hand is not just a few hundred bandits, Zamfara State Governor, Bello Mohammed Mutawalle said; there is also a large network of other people who supply the bandits with food, supplies, weapons, ammunition and information.

All of them must be tackled in order to win the fight. The DSS DG’s representative emphasised the centrality of intelligence gathering in the fight against insurgency and banditry. Intelligence gathering is too serious a business to be left to DSS, DIA and NIA.

Traditional institutions, citizens and technological tools must all be deployed to assist in it. DSS’ stance tallied neatly with Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi; he once said that intelligence does not have to be 100% correct before action is taken. Even if it is only 25% correct, he memorably said, the important thing is to take quick preventive action.

That, unfortunately, is where the problem is. Yari told a story about how, when he was governor, citizens reported receiving a message from bandits that they would block the Gusau-Sokoto highway near Maradun at 11pm one night.

He relayed the info to security agents, he said, but the bandits blocked the highway at the appointed hour and operated for many hours unchallenged. Maybe this was due to what Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State said, that the Army 8 Division in Sokoto is undermanned. It doesn’t have the men to respond promptly to every report.

And not just the men. A modern state is supposed to have a monopoly of violence. Policemen and especially soldiers are supposed to confront armed criminals with superior firepower. But the bandits often outgun the soldiers, as we saw in Katsina State last week when 20 soldiers were killed in a bandit ambush.

Nigerian soldiers should be equipped with weapons much more lethal than AK-47, which is now two a penny in criminal circles. Of course, life will be much easier if we can interdict weapons supplies to the bandits and insurgents. Weapons flood into Nigeria through the land and sea borders, and they should be stopped somehow.

Experts also spoke about lack of synergy between security agencies and between them and civilian institutions. Current and former governors also pleaded their incapacity given that all security agencies are federally owned.

Yari, for example, told the story of how he pleaded with the police commissioner not to move two Mopol squadrons out of Kizara village in Chafe Local Government because bandits sent word that they would attack the village. The Compol however moved them to another spot on the IG’s orders, and two days later bandits launched an attack that claimed 40 lives in Kizara.

Governor Bello Matawalle’s peace overtures to bandit leaders last year initially achieved a lot of success. It reduced violence in Zamfara State by 90% or more, until things began to unravel earlier this year. Matawalle said at the summit that some of the bandit leaders were insincere because they entered into agreements with the state government, only to renege.

This was exactly what Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari publicly said some weeks ago. This testimony tended to vindicate those, like Kaduna State Governor, Nasiru el-Rufa’i, who said they will never negotiate with bandits. Still, since it was “some,” not all, bandit leaders that reneged, Matawalle did not want to close the dialogue option.

Another memorable take from the summit was the need for enhanced cooperation with neighbouring countries. Governor Tambuwal spoke about visits and discussions with governors of five regions of Niger Republic that border Nigeria.

Since the bandits have no regard for boundaries, local or international, cops and troops of Nigeria and Niger Republic have a hot pursuit policy by which they can enter each other’s countries in pursuit of fleeing criminals.

Within Nigeria too, AIG Farida Waziri emphasised the need for a regional and in fact nation-wide approach to the problem. Anyone can see that when troops move in and restore calm in one state, bandits easily move to the next state and wreak havoc.

Former Kano State Governor, Rabi’u Kwankwaso, whose contribution was marred by connectivity issues, emphasised the inseparability between citizens’ welfare or lack of it and rampant crime.

Unless there is food to eat, schools for children to attend, hospitals for the sick to go to etc, there might be no end in sight to criminality and lawless behaviour by more and more people. We hope to see many of these useful suggestions put to good use in the weeks and months to come, before the next Umaru Shinkafi Summit.

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