Defence minister, Mr Munir Dan-Ali, said Federal Government had ordered security agencies to tackle banditry and killings in Zamfara State and the entire North-West geopolitical zone.
He also claimed that some top traditional rulers in the communities were helping bandits to perpetuate criminal activities.
The minister, who did not name the traditional rulers, also accused them of “compromising military operations.”
He warned that the armed forces would go after “any person or group of persons who choose to connive or sympathise with bandits to perpetuate crimes against law-abiding citizens.”
Dan-Ali, in the statement signed by his ministry’s Public Relations Officer, Mr Tukur Gusau, said the military had been directed to deal with anybody identified to be helping bandits under whatever guise and “no matter how highly placed the person or persons may be.”
The minister said, “The ministry is very concerned about the security challenges in North-West, particularly in Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and Kaduna states. Due to the prevailing security situation in the states, Nigerian Army is already conducting Exercise Harbin Kunama IV in Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto states.
“The purpose of the exercise is to effectively flush criminal elements out of North-West. Nigerian Air Force has also intensified air strikes against bandits in Zamfara. So far, the combined efforts have yielded a lot of successes leading to killing of many bandits and rescuing of many persons, including a renowned Islamic scholar, Mr Ahmad Suleiman.
“The government is also addressing the remote and immediate causes that gave room for the high spate of banditry in the states. Recently, the government acted on the advice of the Ministry of Defence to suspend all mining activities in Zamfara State and its environs, following an intelligence report that suggested a close collaboration between the bandits and illegal miners.
“However, in spite of concerted efforts of the armed forces and other security agencies, some unpatriotic persons, including highly placed traditional rulers in the areas were identified as helping bandits with intelligence to perpetuate their nefarious actions or to compromise military operations.”
The minister added that Nigerian Army had established Division 8 with headquarters in Sokoto State to cover Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara states while the headquarters of 1 Brigade was relocated from Sokoto to Gusau in Zamfara.
“Presently, the tactical headquarters of 8 Division has since relocated to Gusau. Similarly, Nigerian Air Force also established a Quick Response Force in Gusau and landing areas in Gusau and Birnin Magaji respectively,” he noted.