FRONT PAGE COM­MENT Op­er­a­tion Harbin Ku­nama as wel­come re­lief

Daily Trust - - FRONT PAGE -

For the hard pressed peo­ple of Zam­fara State, great re­lief came their way mid last week when Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari of­fi­cially launched Op­er­a­tion Harbin Ku­nama in Dansadau For­est of Maru lo­cal gov­ern­ment area. The launch of this op­er­a­tion co­in­cided with the stag­ing of this year’s Army Day in the state cap­i­tal, Gusau. In the days lead­ing up to the launch, dozens of mil­i­tary con­voys were seen head­ing for Zam­fara State, con­vey­ing ar­moured cars, tanks, other equip­ment and am­mu­ni­tion.

In his brief ad­dress while launch­ing the op­er­a­tion, Buhari said three im­por­tant things are rel­e­vant for the coun­try’s growth and pros­per­ity, namely se­cu­rity, econ­omy and fight­ing cor­rup­tion. He said, “The coun­try has to be se­cured to be ef­fi­ciently man­aged. If there is no se­cu­rity, no mat­ter the avail­able re­sources, hu­man and ma­te­rial, we are not go­ing to ben­e­fit from them.” This highly wel­come op­er­a­tion is ex­pected to bring to an end a de­vel­op­ing eco­nomic and hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe that has been un­fold­ing in Zam­fara as well as the neigh­bour­ing states of Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi and Niger for sev­eral years. Dansadau For­est in Zam­fara’s south­ern parts ex­tends well into the neigh­bour­ing states and for years, armed ban­dits turned it into a base for ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties rang­ing from cat­tle rustling to raid­ing mar­kets, be­sieg­ing whole vil­lages, way­lay­ing high­way trav­ellers to kid­nap­ping peo­ple for ran­som.

When the af­fected com­mu­ni­ties set up vig­i­lante groups to pro­tect them­selves, the ban­dits car­ried out reprisal at­tacks when­ever they suf­fered ca­su­al­ties. The worst such in­ci­dent was in April 2014 when ban­dits killed more than 100 per­sons at Yar­gal­adima, a vil­lage lo­cated 20 kilo­me­tres north of Dansadau town. In May this year too, more than 3,000 res­i­dents were dis­placed from three vil­lages in Dansadau dis­trict fol­low­ing deadly

raids on their com­mu­ni­ties by the armed ban­dits.

The phe­nom­e­non be­gan some years ago in the forested Birnin Gwari area of Kaduna State, where deeply en­trenched ban­dits made life mis­er­able for trav­ellers and res­i­dents alike. The ban­dits also made it im­pos­si­ble for farm­ers to till their land. They also kid­nap women and turn them to sex slaves and in other in­stances rape women in front of their fam­i­lies. Such is their brazen­ness that they of­ten at­tacked towns and even razed po­lice sta­tions, elic­it­ing loud out­cries from the Emir of Birnin Gwari, Al­haji Zubairu Jib­ril Mai Gwari. The ban­dits then spread to parts of Katsina State where on one oc­ca­sion dozens of peo­ple were killed just be­fore former Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan vis­ited the state.

In the forested ar­eas of Zam­fara State, the ban­dits be­came lords freely roaming the coun­try­side of­ten on mo­tor cy­cles dis­play­ing their weapons. In the past year, they chased hunters out of forests, drove fish­er­men away from rivers and lakes, chased ar­ti­sanal miners away from quar­ries and also warned farm­ers to stay away from their farms. In many com­mu­ni­ties, no one dared ven­ture more than a few hun­dred me­tres out of the vil­lage be­cause the ban­dits were en­camped all over the coun­try­side. Be­fore this op­er­a­tion, it looked as if there will no farm­ing at all this rainy sea­son in a state whose motto is “Farm­ing is our pride.”

The way the small crim­i­nal gangs ap­pear to op­er­ate at will in one area has en­cour­aged a pro­lif­er­a­tion of such groups even as the po­lice and other law en­force­ment agents ap­pear over­whelmed. The pe­riod up to the 2015 elec­tion seem to be the high­est point of the ac­tiv­i­ties of the out­laws that were mainly into rustling and kid­nap­ping at will.

Re­al­iz­ing the com­mon dan­ger faced by their cit­i­zens, the gov­er­nors of Niger, Kebbi, Zam­fara, Kaduna and Katsina states have since last year con­sti­tuted them­selves into a com­mit­tee to tackle the peril fac­ing their peo­ples. They suc­ceeded in get­ting Pres­i­dent Buhari to or­der the Army’s One Di­vi­sion in Kaduna to carry out op­er­a­tions in the North West states in or­der to rout the ban­dits. This has been done with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess in Kano, Kaduna and Katsina states but in Zam­fara State, the sit­u­a­tion wors­ened de­spite the mil­i­tary ac­tion. Hence, Pres­i­dent Buhari ap­proved Op­er­a­tion Harbin Ku­nama [which means sting of a scor­pion in Hausa].

Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen­eral Tukur Yusuf Bu­ratai, whose dy­namic and in­no­va­tive lead­er­ship of the army since last year has vir­tu­ally routed Boko Haram, as­sured the Emir of Gusau last week that ban­ditry in Zam­fara State will be gone within a mat­ter of days. We be­lieve him be­cause the North West ban­dits have noth­ing of the weaponry, pseu­dore­li­gious con­vic­tion, cen­tralised co-or­di­na­tion or in­ter­na­tional reach of Boko Haram. In fact, within a day of Op­er­a­tion Harbin Ku­nama, Zam­fara State res­i­dents re­ported see­ing the ban­dits flee­ing on foot, on mo­tor­bikes and on horse­back.

We there­fore urge the Pres­i­dent and the army to pre­pare for the long haul be­cause, once they are chased out of Zam­fara State, th­ese ban­dits are likely to set up shop in any neigh­bour­ing state. They must be chased out of the en­tire re­gion un­til their ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties are brought to an end once and for all. In fact, we ex­pect this to be the open­ing act of a long drawn op­er­a­tion to deal with the crim­i­nal el­e­ments that have made an­i­mal hus­bandry a taboo for many law abid­ing Nige­ri­ans. It is no se­cret that ow­ing to the ac­tiv­i­ties of this group of out­laws, many as­pir­ing ranches have come to grief with their an­i­mals rus­tled. Many herders have lost their en­tire flock with dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences for fam­ily and com­mu­nity re­la­tions.

We salute the gal­lantry and pro­fes­sional com­mit­ment of the Nige­ria Army, which is stretched to break­ing point with si­mul­ta­ne­ous internal se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions in the North East, Niger Delta re­gion, Benue State and now in the North West. No sacri­fice on their part is too much to bring peace and tran­quil­lity to the Father­land. We also praise Pres­i­dent Buhari who, de­spite prob­lems on the eco­nomic and other fronts, never lost sight of the fact that se­cu­rity is cit­i­zens’ Num­ber One de­mand from gov­ern­ment. Without it, no progress is pos­si­ble on the eco­nomic or other fronts. We wish both Pres­i­dent and Army God­speed with Op­er­a­tion Harbin Ku­nama.

Daily Trust is con­vinced that it will be mean­ing­less to com­plete Op­er­a­tion Harbin Ku­nama without ad­dress­ing the short­com­ing of the po­lice and other law en­force­ment agen­cies as well as the tra­di­tional rulers and the ju­di­cial sys­tem at the low­est lev­els that com­bined to al­low the out­laws to flour­ish. The au­thor­i­ties ought to in­ter­ro­gate and pun­ish in­stances where th­ese dif­fer­ent lay­ers of author­ity failed in their duty thereby mak­ing it eas­ier for the ban­dits to tem­po­rar­ily tri­umph.

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