Nigerian state starts dialogue with bandits over escalating killings

Nigerian state starts dialogue with bandits over escalating killings

Government may take military action against bandits if talks fail, says governor of Niger state, where 13 soldiers were killed this week

By Olanrewaju Kola

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AA) - A state in north-central Nigeria has initiated a dialogue process with bandits days after they shot down a military helicopter on a rescue mission.

Umar Bago, the governor of Niger state, said Wednesday that the government will not take military action against the bandits for now, despite worsening attacks and killings in the area.

"As a government, we have our machinery to start talking to the bandits. We don't want any major military activity. We want to talk to them," Bago told reporters in the nation’s capital, Abuja.

He met with President Bola Tinubu to discuss the escalating bandit attacks in his state.

Niger, one of the biggest states in Nigeria, attracts thousands of farmers, herders and pastoralists from parts of West African nations.

Bago said he established the Ministry of Pastoral and Nomadic Affairs as part of a strategy to curb clashes between farmers and herders and open dialogue with bandits in the area.

Banditry and terrorist attacks have been on the rise in Nigeria, despite government promises to tackle the challenge.

On Monday, a military helicopter crashed in Niger state after bandits reportedly shot at it. It had been on a mission to airlift troops wounded in an ambush in the state hours earlier.

Bandits had earlier ambushed and killed 13 soldiers along the Zungeru-Tegina road in Madaka Ward of the Rafi Local Government Area of the state.

President Tinubu condemned the incidents and extended his condolences to the families, military chiefs and personnel of the Nigerian Armed Forces.

He promised to tackle the protracted security challenge as well as rising inflation.

In a statement Wednesday, Tinubu announced new ministers and their portfolios, coming three months after he assumed office.

The new 45-member Cabinet is a mix of members of his political party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), former governors, technocrats and professionals.

An financial expert who was formerly with the World Bank heads the country’s finance and economic team. ​​​​​​​

Nigerians say they expect the new ministers to help the president urgently address the country's high cost of living, food shortage and health sector crisis.

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