By Richard Murphy
We must all finally accept that the elites in Zamfara state are resolute on having the other citizens of their state for diner. The red flag has been there all along but we collectively misread them, we rather saw the ‘poor people’ of Zamfara state as being their own enemies without realizing that they are victims of a greedy few that care nothing whether they live or die.
The orgy of violence that has gripped Zamfara state in recent months has had us all forgetting the other things that had gone wrong in that state. Incidentally, the killings in the state has been directly linked to mining activities taking place there. Before the violence, the people were deprived to the point of mining gold with the same utensils they use for cooking at home. The result was an epidemic of lead poisoning that killed scores of people and maimed hundreds, mostly children.
With the lead poisoning, the poor citizens that engage in artisanal mining were solely blamed for engaging in an activity that claimed their lives and those of their children. It never occurred to anyone at that time to see them as victims of power brokers that sit at the top of the pyramid while deploying them as slaves.
It appears these political elites soon realized that the possibility and prospect of gold mining on a larger scale, an operation that they contrived to go on below the radar and away from the Federal Government oversight. It is an arrangement that worked for them: there was no need to pay taxes to the state government that they control and no need to pay taxes to a federal government that was not in the loop.
The only obstacle then was the populace. The citizens of Zamfara state that were once used as brute labour for getting gold out of the ground suddenly became obstacles to the semi-mechanized mining for which they have imported foreign companies. They are obstacles first because they have to be sent away from the lucrative sites and secondly because they are ordinarily meant to be factors when considering compensation for indigenes of host communities.
It must be noted that illegal mining presents an opportunity that appears too juicy for these Zamfara politicians to ignore. It appeared low risk compared to treasury looting at federal or state level, which would normally come with consequences like protracted trials for corruption and possibility of jail term for anyone unfortunate enough to have their trial concluded. Even when not convicted for corruption being linked to theft of public funds will one day come with stigma. Illegally mining gold does not carry such risks for these people so they have all the incentive needed to dig for the precious metal and anyone in the way of the enterprise is not seen just as a stumbling block but as a threat that must be neutralized.
What Zamfara politicians came with will make Hitler and his pogrom gang feel like amateurs. Across political and generational divides – past and present, ruling and opposition politicians – came up with a relocation plan that showed humanity at its most brutal. They contracted killers that first pretended to be cattle rustlers that were killing farmers for livestock. They later mutated into ‘bandits’ that kill on compulsion. The appellation of banditry is was a misnomer in the early days because these killers snuff life out entire villages without stealing anything of note. Bandits attack to dispossess people of their belongings and the amazement was that these killers were attacking and killing people in communities that appeared to have nothing of value to steal. Only later did it become apparent that what they were stealing was their victim’s land.
By unleashing terror against the citizens on such scale, the elites of Zamfara achieved their evil goals with such speed that the rest of us in Nigeria are only now beginning to appreciate what happened and is happening. The artisanal miners, the ones that are not suicidal or possessing death wishes among them, have since vacated their mining sites or volunteer their services to the semi-mechanized operations owned directly by the politicians or owned by them through foreign looking proxies. Communities that should have laid claim to the land where the mining operation is taking place have either fled the mindless violence unleashed against them or they have been wiped out.
The dark manner in which these politicians defiled their own state is rivalled only by the dubious way in which they have misled the entire country to misread the atrocities they have committed. Being fully aware of the criminality they are engaged in, they have managed the telling of what is happening to an extent that Nigerians now believe that violence is ravaging Zamfara because President Muhammadu Buhari does not have a grip on the security situation in the country in general but Zamfara state in particular. The reality however is that those who have the patience to review the situation will realize that the political class in Zamfara state are taking the entire country for a ride.
A fair appraisal of the situation will confirm that Mr President took the right steps. Ban the mining operations that were fueling the killings, deployed security and military to restore order and initiating engagement with stakeholders. Had this been done when mining related violence first began to rear its ugly head in my Niger-Delta the cycle of violence that almost destroyed our homelands would have been avoided.
But even with the deployment of these well-intentioned measures, the politicians in Zamfara state found ways to truncate the good outcomes they were meant to achieve. They mobilize traditional and religious leaders to join their ranks or to come out as being part of the axis of evil that does not want the state to know peace. Their strategy was to demonize the military and security operations against the killers by falsely claiming that civilians were being harmed. They also instructed their contracted killers to export the violence into other states that are contiguous with Zamfara. They have also modified the nature of violence to include kidnapping in the shopping list of how they planned to own their state.
Meanwhile, these Zamfara politicians, religious and traditional leaders, knowing the crime they were involved in, had banked on President Buhari not being re-elected. They has this hope not because the President was not worthy of re-election but because they had perfected means of rigging the votes. So confident were they that they had prepared for the post-Buhari era. Their preferred candidate even threatened that the killings will increase if President Buhari is re-elected. He got re-elected so the Zamfara ruling clan and their opposition leader have made good on this threat by scaling up the body counts from their assassin-contractors. We do not need a soothsayer to tell us that politics and not national interest is behind the crisis and harvest of death in Zamfara.
Even as we seek security and other solutions to end the killings in Zamfara, which are rapidly seeping into other states, it is crucial that Nigerians and indeed the entire world marshal the courage to hold the elites of Zamfara state to account. They must be told in clear terms that they must stop trying to fool us with their false expression concerns about the situation when they are the ones that started it and have done even more to sustain the regime of deaths. If they are now being caught in the crossfire of the war they started it is not because they are victims it is because they are being consumed by the fire they started or that the dogs they unleash on others no longer recognizes their owners.
Murphy is a security expert and wrote this piece from Calabar.