By Cosmas Omegoh
These are, indeed, usual times for the Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle. Things are happening in his state in different ways. Every turn of it puts him on the spot.
Since the Marawallen Maradun became the governor of the state in May 2019, Zamfara has been under siege. Bandits took a strong grip on it, ruling every inch of its forested areas with gusto – pillaging the land, raping women, rustling cows, seizing residents for ransom. No day passes without any of such. Many unlucky and unyielding persons – victims of these vices – are dead and no longer there to tell their stories perhaps for no fault of the governor.
But the way and manner he has been struggling to tackle these wild winds of issues gradually spiraling out of control, easily places him on the spot.
But he was in a celebratory mood last Tuesday after bandits freed 279 female students of Girls’ Secondary School, Jangebe, Talata Mafara Local Government Area of the state who were taken into captivity by bandits on the rampage. For now, that is the height of the dastard acts, although no one can tell what happens next.
Expectedly, the chain of ugly events in Zamfara State lately left the governor shaken. He had not seen any of such before. But he managed to triumph.
Last Tuesday, Matawalle took to the Twitter to celebrate the return of Zamfara schoolgirls. “Alhamdulillah!” he tweeted. “It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe from captivity. This follows the scaling of several hurdles laid against our efforts. I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe.”
But while Matawalle was clicking glasses, he was being chastised on all fronts.
For one, Matawalle had told his bewildered audience that he would unmask the mastermind of the mass kidnap of the innocent schoolgirls. Saying so, he drew the flax of many. Others he left guessing. Already, some concerned persons and groups are challenging him to go ahead and tell the world those he claimed to know are wreaking the state through kidnapping and banditry if he is sure of his facts. One of such was the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).
ACF’s chairman, Chief Audu Ogbe urged the security agencies to take the governor to task, demanding that he unveiled the identities of the kidnappers and their accomplice. Matawalle who boasted that he knew them all declared: “Many people will be surprised to hear those people behind the abduction of these innocent children.
“They are not comfortable with the progress I am getting as of my peace initiative and they want to do all they can to sabotage my efforts.”
Based on this, Ogbe wants Matawalle to be treated as an accomplice in the abduction of the students if he fails to reveal the identity of those he claimed are behind the kidnap.
Hear Ogbe: “The governor was reported in the media to have told 17 emirs who paid a sympathy visit to him on the kidnap of 317 schoolgirls from Government Girls’ Secondary School, Jangebe, in Talata Mafara that he knew the identity of the kidnappers and if he revealed their identity, Nigerians would be shocked.
“We ask the governor to reveal their identity and let Nigerians be shocked or even the heavens fall.
“We also ask the security agencies to question the governor on the identities of the criminals he is trying to hide.
“If he refuses to disclose their identities, he must be treated as an accomplice to the criminal act of kidnapping.”
But give it to Matawalle. He is a man of his own, always unfazed, always holding his ground.
While still celebrating how he pulled the stops to get the schoolgirls released, he boasted that: “This is the result of our peace effort and putting to shame all those saying there is no security in this country.
“We have been in discussion since Friday with the abductors and reached agreement on Monday by 4:00 p.m that the girls were released,” while admitting that these are trying times for him and his administration.
Matawalle was, however, silent on whether he paid a ransom and how much he funnelled off to the forest urchins. Many Nigerians argued that releasing the schoolgirls without paying a dime is mere tales by moonlight told to the marines.
Before now, many would hazard a guess where Matawalle would lean on matters like this. Before the latest kidnap incident, he had come under fire for his stand on issues of kidnapping and kidnappers. He has always preached that bandits should be treated softly.
In audience with President Buhari recently in Abuja, for instance, he was quoted as saying that not all bandits are criminals, adding that the hoodlums unleashing harm on the people were angry with society for cheating them.
Matawalle has also gained currency for his avowed penchant for doing a deal with bandits and kidnappers.
Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai had forewarned him to drop this his weird idea. Apparently speaking from deep experience with the daredevils, el-Rufai told him that the hoodlums, lacking in honour, are not ones to keep their words.
They would always return to their familiar turf – the wilds – where they keep victims of kidnap, demanding huge sums as ransom. Having tasted free money they would never go back to the ways of virtue, the Kaduna helmsman reasoned.
El-Rufai said: “Anybody that thinks a Fulani herdsman that is engaged in kidnapping for ransom and is earning millions of naira would go back to his former life of getting N100,000 after selling a cow in a year, must be deceiving himself. Why should we compensate them after killing people, destroying their houses? Who offended them?” But Matawalle would not listen to this.
At the moment, the Zamfara governor’s traducers are vilifying him for his stand on negotiation with bandits and his position that it is a way of convincing them to drop their guns and criminality just as many Nigerians believe that a deal with the men of vice is as dangerous as it can be.
The import of no deal with kidnappers and bandits should sink down on the governor now that the criminals have elevated their deed to a lucrative act.
Born on February 12, 1969, in Maradun Local Government Area of Zamfara, Matawalle attended Maradun Township Primary School, graduating in 1979. He also attended Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, and Thames Valley University, London.
He was a teacher at Government Girls’ College Moriki and Kwatarkoshi before joining the Federal Ministry of Water Resources. He went into politics in 1998 and ran for an assembly seat on the platform of United Nigeria Congress Part (UNCP).
Between 1999 and 2003, he was Zamfara State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Environment, Rural Development, and Youth and Sports.
Matawalle was elected into the House of Representatives in May 2003 and was re-elected in 2007 and also re-elected for a third term in 2011. He became governor in May 2021 after the Supreme Court sacked all the All Progressives Congress candidates in the state from all elected offices.