Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State yesterday gave a frightening low down of the banditry in the state, saying there are no fewer than 30,000 gunmen spread across more than 100 camps in and around the state.

He said such is the grip of bandits on the state that they collected N970 million as ransom from the families of their victims in the eight years between 2011 and 2019.

During the same period, the bandits killed 2,619 people and kidnapped 1,190 others.

Matawalle who assumed office in May 2019 spoke through Information Commissioner Ibrahim Magaji Dosara at a press conference in Kaduna.

He said his administration decided to take the peace route by negotiating with the bandits to stop the wanton waste of innocent citizens’ lives and property.

Dosara said that before Governor Matawalle assumed office on May 29, 2019, the people of Zamfara were living in a devastating state of dilemma and fear of the unknown as “rampant killings, maiming, kidnapping, raping, vandalism and attacks became the order of the day.”

He said: “From available records, over 2,619 people were killed between 2011 and 2019. This is in addition to the 1,190 people kidnapped by the bandits.

“The records also show that the sum of N970 million was paid as ransom while 14,378 animals were rustled within the period and over 100,000 people were displaced from their ancestral homes.

“People were traumatised. Farmers were prevented from going to their farms to cultivate the usual food and cash crops for their daily needs.

“There was general food insecurity in the state in particular and the region in general. The economy of the state was devastated by the crisis.

“This is in addition to the proliferation of both light and heavy weapons, with a high influx of bandits from the neighbouring countries and with no solution in sight. The crisis defied all forms of solution.

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“This is in addition to a large number of bandits camps across the state and beyond.

“At least there are almost one hundred (100) different bandit camps in Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Kaduna, Niger and Katsina, with no fewer than 300 bandits in each of these camps having sophisticated weapons with them.”

He said the administration chose to dialogue with the bandits in view of the “shortage of manpower in the security sector and a very poor intelligence network.”

He said: “Yet, the governor must ensure the protection of the lives and property of the people.

“Now tell me, which is the best option for the governor? To fold his arms to watch his people being killed or to go for dialogue and continue to use the repentant bandits to convince the recalcitrant bandits to save the lives of the governed?”

Dosara said the action of the government was with the support of stakeholders, including members of the state House of Assembly, traditional rulers, security chiefs in the state, local government chairmen, the Council of Ulamas, Fulani and Yansakai leaders, community and opinion leaders, following a series of meetings on the way forward.

He said the dialogue process has so far encouraged over 62 bandits to drop their guns.

It has also led to the release of over 2,000 kidnapped victims aided and abetted by the repentant bandits.

He said: “The repentant bandits are also helping in campaigning and convincing those bandits yet to accept the dialogue and reconciliation process to do so.

“They are also helping in the identification of the leaders of the recalcitrant bandits, including their camps and location for dialogue and reconciliation.

“Since the commencement of the dialogue and peace process with the bandits, Zamfara State was free of any attack and kidnapping for almost eight months until recently when kidnapping and light attacks resurfaced,” he said.

He said some of the challenges militating against the dialogue process include upsurge in occasional attacks and kidnappings, which he said were being masterminded by the activities of some conflict entrepreneurs and informants who connived with the recalcitrant bandits to commit heinous acts against innocent people.

The Zamfara bandits sparked global outrage late February when they invaded Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe and abducted about 300 of the students.

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