The Nigerian government last week decided to shut down telecom services in Zamfara state, in a move that hardly anyone saw coming. A letter purportedly from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to network provider Globacom instructing it to shut down services in Zamfara from 3rd September has been circulating on social media but telecom companies and the NCC have been silent on such an order. The purported letter said the telecoms blackout was being ordered: “to enable relevant security agencies (to) carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenge in the state.”
Such draconian measures adopted to tackling the insecurity in the state is a testament to the sorry state of things in Zamfara and its neighbours, Katsina and Kaduna where the former two have stopped the transportation of cattle between states, closed down weekly markets as well as shut down schools (in Kaduna too) to prevent mass abductions and killings by non state armed groups. More than 73 students were kidnapped from a school in Kaya, a village in Zamfara where the state Governor Bello Matawalle is said to be from.
There’s no guarantee that these measures will ease the situation in these states. The federal government in late 2020, declared Zamfara a no fly zone, in response to the terrorists possessing anti aircraft guns, which was first revealed in February 2020 when Ansaru shot down a police helicopter which was involved in an operation to root out Boko Haram’s first splinter group in Kududu, Kaduna State–the operation killed about 250 members of the group, per police estimates.
In the first place, it is not out of place to commend the North Western governors for collaborating in a bid to address the region’s bludgeoning security problem. But this collaboration runs the risk of a group think–the shut down of the economies of these states. Telecommunications, already the second biggest revenue earner for the federal government, suffered a glut the past year as its biggest shareholder, MTN. Nigeria lost about 7 million subscribers as a result of policies such as the ban on new SIM registration instituted by the ministry of communications and digital economy.
Secondly, these measures again do not address the root causes of what is now an insurgency that has displaced an untold number of people. Neither would they go far in curbing the crisis. Intelligence gathering in the security services fluctuates from low to medium, which makes even security agents sitting ducks. It also does not help that many areas are beyond the reach of an already overstretched military, struggling to protect the territorial integrity of a country whose politicians and military leadership brass have consistently let them down. Equally importantly, there’s a sense that the government knows where the leaders of these armed groups are, but for various reasons are yet to go after them, hoping that various amnesty offers would do the magic.
Turji, one of the top bandits in Zamfara was arrested yesterday. While his arrest provides temporary relief for thousands of people in rural Zamfara who have been at the receiving end of his terror, and removes the cloak of invincibility many of these bandits have been operating on, it would further harden the resolve of others, such as Kachalla who operates in Dansadau district and other bandits’ leaders like Dogo Gide, Sani Mochoko, Sani Buta, Danmakaranta, Damina among others.
The road is long, and there is no one size fits all. The state governments might seem at their wits end, but if the resort to draconian measures such as these tell anything, it is that people would only Obey who have the capacity to keep them safe. Unfortunately, the Nigerian government has lost that capacity, surrendering its territories to rogue non-state actors stepping in to fill the vacuum through threats and others that ungoverned spaces have afforded.