The government of Nigeria’s Zamfara state announced an initiative to give bandits, who renounce their criminal lives, two cows for every AK-47 gun they surrendered.
According to the state governor Bello Matawalle, the move is intended to motivate the bandits to leave behind their criminal life and become law-abiding citizens.
Banditry and other criminal activities, such as kidnappings, are rampant in some north, northwestern and central regions in Nigeria, including Zamfara. Other states affected by banditry include Kaduna, Katsina, Niger and Sokoto states.
“These bandits who choose to repent initially sold their cows to buy guns and now that they want a life free of criminality, we are asking them to bring us an AK-47 and get two cows in return, this will empower and encourage them,” Matawalle said in a statement.
Matawalle also pledged to break up the camps in the forests where the gunmen hide out.
According to the BBC, an average cow in northern Nigeria costs about 100,000 naira ($260) while an AK-47 on the black market could cost as much as 500,000 naira ($1,200).
The Fulani community, primarily herders who value cows, is suspected of being behind local and cross-border armed robbery and cattle-rustling. Inter-communal tensions between the Fulani and farming communities are fueled by a competition for natural resources.
As a result of this, vigilante groups, such as the Yan Sakai group, have been formed in Zamfara to tackle the problem of banditry and insecurity. According to the Yan Sakai group’s leader, Sani Mudi, each of its members had a either a gun or another weapon for self defence against Fulani bandits who usually attacked them.
These vigilante groups are accused of carrying out extra-judicial killings of suspected bandits, which also results in reprisal killings.
The insecurity arising from banditry has resulted in the killings of thousands of people, displacement of hundreds of thousands of others and destruction of property of unknown value.
The Nigerian government has launched several military operations to try to end the violence while state authorities have also tried to initiate peace talks to address the situation without much success.