A treacherous move by Zamfara State Gov. Bello Muhammad Matawalle to compromise or undermine the “no-flight-zone” order slammed on the state by President Muhammadu Buhari, following renewed wave of banditry and kidnapping, has been uncovered.
The plot is to among others bypass top presidential aides including the National Security Adviser (NSA), retired Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno, and the Minister for Mines and Steel Development, Mr Olamilekan Adegbite over the “no-flight-zone” order.
Persecondnews learnt that President Buhari is irked by the security reports linking some foreign illegal miners to acts of banditry in the state with suspicion that the Zamfara State Government simply ignored the destruction and desolation of some villages where the mining takes.
The mining of large untapped mineral deposits in the area, especially Gold has strategic importance and economic value and is at the root of communal violence.
The governor is also fingered in the use of chopper flights in and out of the state to facilitate illegal mining, according to top security officials familiar with the matter.
Also bothersome to the President is an attempt by the state government to facilitate and influence the granting of federal licences to some long-time illegal miners without questioning their acts violating the rights of Zamfara villagers whose land and community like in Bagega witnessed untold sufferings and degradation as a result of the miners’activities.
A highly dependable source at the Presidential Villa said: “It is unconscionable that the government will ignore the protection of its people just because some of its top officials have monetary benefits from the mining.”
The National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, had, on Persecondnews recalls that on March 2, in his post-National Security Council media beiefing, disclosed that the President has declared Zamfara’s air space a no-fly-zone following a Secuirty Council meeting at the Villa.
He said President issued the order to put an end to banditry that has ravaged some parts of the Northwest and Northcentral states, especially in Zamfara State.
By the declaration, Zamfara has now become an air exclusion zone (AEZ), and aircraft are not permitted to fly within or across the state’s air space.
The NSA also announced the banning of all mining activities in the state by the president just as he earlier did in 2019 to curb the rising insecurity in the state.
As Monguno said, the intelligence and security communities ”have been mandated to go after all non-state actors, whose activities have been fueling chaos, for prosecution,” quoting the President as saying, he ”has charged the new service chiefs to reclaim all areas under the control of bandits, insurgents and kidnappers, and all others involved in criminal activities across the country.”
“We are not going to be blackmailed. The government has the responsibility to assert its will. Citizens can reside wherever they want to reside. Anybody who is a criminal should be brought to book,” Monguno had said.
What many did not know at the time of that press briefing was that the Zamfara Governor, having seen the handwriting on the wall, made desperate attempts to avert the decisive steps of the President by offering some ministers and close aides around the President some form of inducements including sharing returns from mining proceeds, a move that blew on his face as the offers were roundly rejected days before the Council meeting.
Irked by this decision, however, Matawalle, who faulted the President on the declaration, was quick to label Munguno, as the brain behind the “no-fly-zone”.
The Governor spared the Minister Adegbite as he had attempted to sidestep him in his bid to license illegal miners ignoring passing the application through him but went straight to the President.
He then engineered a formal government statement by the Zamfara State House of Assembly to passing a vote of no confidence on the NSA.
The questions on the lips of observers is : “how can an arm of a state government pass resolutions regarding a Federal Government official who is not in any way under their purview?
“That is only a proof of Matawalle’s desperation,” a source at the Villa also said.
Two days after the NSA announced the Presidential No-Fly-Zone order, the Zamfara House of Assembly said in a statement: “Nn an apparent rejection to the federal government no fly zone order imposed on the state and total ban on mining activities, coupled with nonchalant attitude and poor handling of protracted security challenges in the state by the national security- sic- Adviser to the present retired major (sic) General Babagana Mungonu, the state House of Assembly yesterday at its plenary passed vote of no confidence on him.”
Persecondnews also gathered that the Governor is not stopping at that as he had perfected a campaign of calumny against the person of the NSA, and had recruited certain elements from political divides in the country, especially from his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), including a former Aviation Minister from the Southwest to carry out the hatchet job.
Villa sources, however, said further proactive measures by the Presidency became imperative because Zamfara remains the worst hit state by the uptick of violence that has killed scores of people since January 2021.
It began three years ago, rising to a point it that prompted the deployment of the air force and 1,000 security personnel to the state. Earlier this week, the President approved further deployment of additional 6000 troops to the affected areas in the state.
Persecondnews recalls that on March 10 a Vanguard newspaper editorial had posited that “Private jets and helicopters” are alleged to supply arms to outlaws and illegally evacuate the gold mined in the state to some Middle Eastern countries. Many analysts see this measure, including the “shoot on sight” order against carriers of AK-47 assault rifles in the forests, as a positive sign that the Buhari government is finally going all-out against armed hoodlums wreaking havoc on innocent citizens from their forest hideouts.”
In February 2021, about 300 female students of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara were abducted amidst the worsening security situation in the state and across the country.
The schoolgirls abduction in Zamfara had occurred about two weeks after dozens of students and staff members were abducted by armed bandits from a school in Kagara, Niger State.
However, students of both schools have been released by the bandits and have since reunited with their parents.
Before now between 2010 and 2013, over 700 children died in Zamfara State due to lead poisoning associated with Artisanal Gold Mining activities, which also contaminates surrounding land, water, and air with other toxic chemicals such as mercury.
Why Matawalle became jittery
The governor had pushed the panic button because military security reports had indicted him in the rising insurgency and banditry in his state, consequent upon the “empowerment’’ he gave to illegal miners in Zamfara, especially the foreigners, most of whom are said to be Chinese nationals.
The security report had it that, the state government is a major collaborator of the Chinese illegal miners, who, it was reliably gathered are suspected to be linked work with activities of banditry going on alongside illegal mining sites in Zamfara.
It was also gathered from security sources that before the illegal miners and their local recruits, who had been cleared by the state government arrive the gold mining sites of their choice, the bandits, would have stormed the communities where the operations will take place to render the areas desolate for the illegal miners to have a field day.
Having secured the sites for them, the Chinese move around these illegal mining sites in Zamfara, flying in with helicopters to bypass immigration checkpoints, and this, it was said account for the persistence of the banditry and insurgency, as the military activities are undermined by criminals who profiteer from the sector at the expense of vulnerable populations.
It was a collaboration between the state government, other politically connected Nigerians and the Chinese who engage in illegal gold mining, that ignites rural banditry and violent local conflicts in Zamfara, and in other parts of the North-West and North-Central and to some extent South West regions, who has recently witnessed a surge in kidnapping across its region.
It is believed that about 80 per cent of mining of gold in Zamfara and other areas of the North-West region are carried out illegally by Chinese supported by locals already engaged to join in the illicit business.
The Zamfara no-flight-zone will curtail the Chinese illegal miners, who fly in helicopters illegally while they also work with the insurgents, thereby undermining federal government’s efforts at ending the insurgency war.