The meeting, which was held in Katsina State, was attended by seven notorious terror gang leaders.
At least seven leaders of the terror gangs responsible for the abduction and killings of thousands of residents and the displacement of tens of thousands of others in Nigeria’s troubled North-west region attended secret meetings with at least two individuals believed to be representatives of the Nigerian government, sources aware of the meeting have told PREMIUM TIMES.
Two security sources, who requested anonymity for safety and authorisation purposes, said the largest meeting was held in Fankama, a community in Faskari Local Government, Katsina State.
“I can confirm that the meeting took place and several subsequent meetings were held in Zamfara State,” a soldier who was aware of the meetings, told PREMIUM TIMES. He requested not to be named because he had not been authorised to speak with the press.
This newspaper first got wind of this clandestine meeting a few days after the Governor of Zamfara State, Dauda Lawal, accused the federal government of negotiating with terrorists operating in his state without his knowledge.
Mr Lawal, a member of Nigeria’s main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has vowed not to negotiate with terrorists. His predecessor is Nigeria’s Minister of State for Defence, Bello Matawalle. Mr Lawal defeated him during the 18 March governorship election in the state. During his tenure as governor of the state, Mr Matawalle was known for negotiating with terrorists. Insecurity was unprecedented in the state during his tenure, however.
When videos and photos from the Fankama meeting appeared online, Nigeria’s defence headquarters vowed to investigate the soldiers who appeared in several video clips and pictures of the meeting with the terrorists. The meeting took place on the 18 of September.
Top terrorists in Fankama meeting
One of our sources, another soldier, said the leaders of seven terror gangs attended the meeting in Fankama. He gave their names as Ado Aleiro, Yusuf Yellow, Masume, Alhaji Bandi, Alhaji Kabiru, Goma Tashin Like (which is his alias), and Idi Muwange. The two sources, whom PREMIUM TIMES spoke to separately, all mentioned the names of the seven kingpins.
“To be honest with you, we were not actively involved until the last minute. But these are some of the top terrorists that were around but there were several others. They came with their fighters while some people from Faskari and other areas were also invited,” one of our sources said.
one of the videos of the meeting obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Aleiro was seen sitting alongside other leaders of the insurgents during the meeting.
Mr Aleiro is a self-confessed cold serial murderer. In a BBC Documentary on banditry, Mr Aleiro boasted he doesn’t abduct but kills people.
He led several terrorists on a killing spree in mostly rural communities. He has also been blamed for the brutal killing of 60 people in Kadisau, a community in Faskari Local Government.
Mr Yellow is Mr Aleiro’s cousin but controls a group of terrorists independent of Mr Aleiro. He was accused of carrying out a number of kidnap-for-ransom operations, including the abduction of over 80 people, mostly children and women in Tsafe earlier this year. Residents told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Yellow is as coldblooded as his cousin. They told this newspaper of a time when Mr Aleiro reached a peace accord with local leaders in Tsafe, Mr Yellow did not stop his criminal and murderous enterprise as he continued attacking villages in the area, killing and abducting residents.
Goma Tashin Like controls several terrorists around the Bilbis (Zamfara) and Hayin Gada axis (Katsina)
Mr Masume is the chief outlaw of Munhaye Forest, which extends from Tsafe (Zamfara) and Faskari (Katsina). Though he is mainly based in Fankama, his criminal activities extend to other areas, especially around Sabuwa Local Government. The duo of Messrs Bandi and Kabiru also operate around the Faskari/Sabuwa axis.
The Fankama truce
While PREMIUM TIMES cannot independently verify the identity of those involved in the meeting in Katsina State, several soldiers and a civilian who described himself as a representative of the federal government were seen in several videos discussing with the terrorists.
Our source said the two ‘officials’ from ‘Abuja’ who led the meeting were someone simply identified as Bello and Muhammad Auwal. In one of the videos seen by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Auwal introduced himself before addressing the gathering.
The village head of Faskari, the chief Imam and other elders were present during the meeting.
“Peace be upon you,” Mr Auwal said standing on a school desk. Beside him was a soldier taking notes of the proceedings and one civilian, who turned out to be Mr Tuggoje. “My name is Muhammad Auwal from Abuja. I’m one of the committee… I’m one of the representatives sent from Abuja, from the ministers’ side after meeting with security agents and top officials of the federal government in Abuja.
“Myself and Bello came from Abuja and met our colleagues in Gusau (Zamfara State capital) up to this meeting. As Alhaji stated earlier, this is the third time we’re meeting (negotiations); we’ve met in Bawo, we’ve also met in Bagega (all in Zamfara State) and we’ll continue by God’s grace.
“We’ve come with official confirmation from the top concerning the need for negotiations. They decided that everyone including you, them and us to continue meeting and discussing the terms. There are a lot of things that I’ll say while Alhaji Bello will discuss other issues. The federal government is happy with you for answering its calls to dialogue; I promise you that the negotiations are truthful that we’ll continue to undertake….,” he said.
On his part, Mr Auwal said three items were being discussed during the negotiation – kidnapping, highway attacks and killings including of residents of rural communities. He said the terrorists had started fulfilling their promises of stopping the attacks.
In another video, one of the mediators was heard telling the terrorists to stop attacking motorists on the Funtua – Gusau highway.
One of our sources, a soldier, said money was not involved in the Fankama negotiations.
“Some of the things the delegation kept emphasising during the issue was that no one would be given money for accepting the peace accord. Names of innocent Fulanis and other associates of the bandits who were arrested on suspicion have been taken by the delegation. Yes, that’s part of the negotiations I believe but I’m not saying they (arrested Fulanis and bandits associates) are going to be released. They also made some requests as usual.
“The reality is that when the bandits leaders came, the first thing they began saying was that several of their people were arrested by security agents. They said most of those arrested were innocent. So, the delegation took names of those they said were innocent with a promise to take the issue to the federal government,” he said.
“We are investigating” – DHQ
The Defence Headquarters spokesperson, Tukur Gusau, earlier said the military would investigate the involvement of soldiers in the negotiations.
“The attention of the Defence Headquarters was drawn to a video clip in circulation across social media handles of some soldiers engaging with bandits somewhere in Katsina State.
“The DHQ is investigating the video to confirm its authenticity as regards the soldiers seen in uniform. The DHQ is aware of the resolve of some bandits to repent and hand over their weapons to the authorities. This is yielding good results and is ongoing.
“The Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Gwabin Musa, assures Nigerians that the AFN will engage in every lawful means possible to ensure peace and stability reign in our dear nation.
“The DHQ assures Nigerians that its non-kinetic measures aimed at restoration of peace are yielding results, with several bandits and other criminal elements surrendering to authority,” Mr Gusau, a brigadier general, said in a statement.
PREMIUM TIMES contacted the spokesperson of the Nigerian Army, Onyema Nwachukwu, who referred this reporter to the statement released by the Defence Headquarters.
He said the decision to negotiate with non-state actors can only be taken at the “national strategic level” not at the army level.
The Director of Information at the Ministry of Defence, Hope Attari, asked to see the videos and photos of the meeting when reached for comment. Despite several reminders sent to him via SMS for more than 15 hours, he did not provide the comment requested.