Since the insurgency in the northern part of Nigeria spreads to states like Zamfara and Katsina, this region has been turned into a killing field as hardly no day passes without any news of massacres. These marauders, which include AK-14 gun-toting teenagers under the influence of drugs, advance reasons they are on a killing rampage.
The news of the attacks and killings are daily hurled on Nigerians. No day passed without the figures of the dead filtering in and insulting the collective sensibilities of humanity. One of the dastardly killings took place last week when the marauding armed gangs killed no fewer than 57 people in a string of attacks on villages in Katsina State, northwest Nigeria as security forces continue to struggle to curb violence in the region.
According to eyewitness, roughly 150 gunmen on motorcycles galloped into the villages and opened fire on the residents before looting shops and stealing cattle in a series of assaults in six remote communities in Katsina State. “We lost a total of 57 people in the attacks across the six villages,” one local leader said on condition of anonymity, as he feared for his safety.
In the worst affected village of Kadisau, the assailants generally dubbed ‘Bandits’ by locals, shot and killed 33 people, a resident Mohammed Salisu said. The young man, who lost seven cow to the bandits told Saturday INDEPENDENT in Hausa language, how he escaped, abandoning his motorcycle and hiding in a ditch before crawling into a nearby house where he hid for the five hours the attack and looting lasted among dirty laundry. “They looted every shop in the village and took away over 200 cattle,” said Salisu.
Not done, the attackers went to a football field pitch where young men were watching a local match and opened fire on them, Sada Audi, a resident of nearby village said. By the time they were done, Saturday INDEPENDENT, during its investigation, confirmed that 24 more people were later killed across the villages of Hayin Kabalawa, Garke, Makera, Kwakwere and Maiganguna. The bandits also left no fewer than two-dozen people with bullet wounds.
How The Menace Began
Nigeria’s northwest has been wracked by years of violence, involving clashes between rival communities over land, attacks by heavily armed criminal gangs and retaliation strikes from vigilante groups. The conflict, which experts say has been spurred by overpopulation and climate change, has seen an estimated 8,000 people killed since 2011 and 200,000 fled their homes. Nigeria’s military, which has been under intense criticism because of the way they have handled the problem, last month said it had launched air raids to halt a spike of attacks in Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state.
The current menace of banditry in Katsina State has a long history. The nuisance, which started as a clash between farmers and herdsmen snowballed into a full-fledged criminality. The criminal herdsmen started acquiring guns and going into criminal activities such as armed robbery, cattle rustling, rape and kidnapping. The Katsina State
government entered into dialogue with the bandits, an exercise which collapsed due to the inability of the bandits to keep to their promise of renouncing violence.
Despite the state government’s resolve to ensure that peace returned to the eight frontline local government areas, two agreements were signed between the state government and the bandits, which they (the leader of the bandits) failed to attend. At the second meeting where all the stakeholders, the Governors from the North West states, from the North Central and North East states respectively, including the traditional institutions and the bandits were to meet and discuss the issue and the way forward, also met a brick wall, as not all of the bandits’ commanders were available.
What The Bandits Want
Since then, people have been asking and want to know what exactly the bandits want and who are actually their leaders and why do they do what they do? Alhaji Lawal Saidu Funtua, a Katsina based journalist who has visited and interviewed the bandits’ leaders told Saturday INDEPENDENT during the week that the grouse was all about their leaders that were arrested two years ago by security agencies after returning from Hajj.
“They told me that their two leaders, Alhaji Lawal Bardu and Alhaji Ibrahim Nakutama were arrested by security agencies two years ago in Katsina, while returning from Hajj. Along the line, they could not trace them. They insisted that these two leaders are important because they have influence on them, hence asking for their immediate release. Secondly, they also asked that the vigilantes should desist from attacking them when they come into town.
“They were fully armed and you cannot estimate their numbers, but by what I saw, they are over 1,000. And most of them were carrying AK-47 gun. You will see a boy of 14 years carrying AK-47. Some of them are even under the influence of drugs,” he said.
Because of his administration’s bandits then, Governor Aminu Bello Masari further decided to meet with the bandits in their selected hideouts to enable them voice out their grievances and the role expected to be played by his administration in bringing the menace to an end in the state.
Security Agencies Accused Of Extortion, Fuelling Crimes
However it was during such a meeting held at one of the hideouts that some of the bandits’ commanders accused the security agencies particularly, the SARS and the Nigeria Army of extorting money and cattle from them in exchange for their support and supply of weapons. Idris Yayande, one of the group leaders of the bandits said the large-scale extortion perpetrated by the security operatives had seriously undermined efforts by any government to address insecurity challenges in the state and the country.
“Some soldiers, policemen and other security agents are also fuelling banditry, kidnapping and other heinous crimes bedeviling the state through their large scale demands in return for supporting us.” Another bandits whose name was not immediately known said some of their members have since been arrested and detained, and they include, Alhaji Lawal Bandu, Ibrahim Nabutamu, Sani Marji, Sani Zafi, Lawal Mairuwa and their children, Ali, Adamu and Abdurrahman who were also arrested by the Army at Layin Mahuta since last year. Nobody has told us of their whereabouts or what had happened to them,” he complained.
Similarly, another repentant bandit, Haruna Mazge attributed the prevailing security challenges in the state on farmers who blocked the cattle routes, explaining that, “70 per cent of such routes have been blocked across the state. These routes should be reopened to enable them graze their animals,” he said.
Also explaining the reasons for the bandits’ grievances, one of the leaders of the volunteer group (Yan- Sakai) in the state, Lawal Tsoho told Saturday INDEPENDENT within the week that the security agencies and particularly politicians in the state are against the ongoing dialogue between the state government and the bandits, because of their selfish gains. “I have all the evidences to prove my statement.”
He urged the state government to help facilitate the release of their members arrested by the security agencies and detained in various correctional centres across the country to enable peace return to the state, “this is if they are really serious.”
Katsina State Government Role
In an attempt to restore the people’s confidence in governance, Governor Aminu Bello Masari decided to take a bold step and action with the first amnesty programme aimed at protecting lives and property in the state in 2015, after realising that, no meaningful development can take place in an environment where insecurity thrives. He provided health facilities, classroom blocks, roads and dams amongst others. To reduce illiteracy and poverty, identified as major reasons for the attacks and killings in the eight frontline local government areas of the state, Masari also built new schools where none existed, veterinary clinics for livestock and health centres for the populace.
In an interview recently, Masari said no sooner had his administration built some basic developmental structures meant to improve the living standards of the rural people, the attacks restarted in the affected areas, as those buildings were taken over by the bandits and used as their headquarters to launch attacks to neighbouring communities. The situation deteriorated to such a level that women and children fled in their thousands to different towns as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) following attacks.
“This scenario could be seen in most communities they visit. It was as if there was no government in place, even though the ugly situation started in 2014 when cattle rustling began unchecked in the state. However, because the programme did not receive the needed strategic support from the neighbouring states, the efforts collapsed.”
No doubt, the resolutions of the Northern Governors and the Nigeria Police to grant amnesty to suspected bandits renewed Governor Masari’s dream of restoring peace and security of lives and property in the state.
“You know we had a meeting with eleven Governors comprising those from the North West, two from the North Central and one from the North East. Not all the bandits came and we rescheduled the meeting for only bandits in Katsina where we had a meeting of all major stakeholders including the Emirs of Katsina and Daura, the herders, their leaders (Ardos) as well as the bandits’ commanders in the forest, but not all of them were present.
“Since we are serious with the issue of peace and want to start it from the lower level, that is the forest, we asked the herders to choose a particular place in their respective local government areas, a place they feel safe and free to express their grievances and suggest ways of addressing this issue of insecurity to which they agreed and fixed a date.”
At the end of the day, the peace accord the administration signed with the rampaging bandits lasted for only seven months. Irked by the collapse of the peace deal. Governor Masari said government would no longer negotiate with the bandits because they have breached the agreement between them.
Speaking during an interactive session with journalists in the state recently, Governor Masari, who bemoaned the resurgence of banditry and kidnapping in the state in spite of the peace accord, said two peace deals were separately signed by the state government under his leadership and the bandits, the first was on January 15, 2017 that lasted two years, while the second took place between 4th and 9th September, 2019.
According to him, the agreement saw significant reduction in attacks in the state’s rural communities. But the recent resurgence in banditry attacks on Faskari, Sabuwa, Kankara, Danmusa, Safana, Dutsinma, Kurfi and Batsari LGAs has claimed more than 200 lives. The fresh onslaught has forced thousands of residents of the affected LGAs to flee their ancestral homes to the headquarters of the council areas including the state capital, Katsina. The Governor however reiterated the government’s resolve to compliment the efforts of the security agencies to flush out the hoodlums rather than negotiating with them.
Security expert, Mallam Baba Bala Katsina, said the people of Katsina have seen nothing tangible in terms of infrastructure development. “You know people are desperate for peace and the only thing that will make them believe that the federal government is serious in the fight is to see that the killings are brought to end.” He berated President Muhammadu Buhari for not doing enough to stop the killings in his state.
Still on the way out of the quagmire, the National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Kabir Ibrahim, said a decisive action must be taken on all the forests that provide safe haven for bandits, rustlers and insurgents in Katsina for the security crisis in the state to be checked. The farmers’ leader, who is from Faskari, the epicentre of the crisis in the state, said the most effective way to tackle the bandits is to bulldoze and defoliate some sectors of the forests, an action, he regretted, climate change activists were continually against. He said the forests are the hiding place for the bandits and are so thick and almost inaccessible. He said farmers could no longer go to their farms, which according to him, portends imminent food shortage.
Ibrahim expressed concern that while the government is doing its utmost best to stop the mayhem, it’s frustrating for the people to contend with the “incessant banditry perpetrated by miscreants as if they are better fighters than the security agents.” He said it’s quite clear that the bandits are abreast of every move the security agents make because there are informants in the midst of the residents in the frontline local governments.
“The security agents should desist from announcing their every move and deployment because that also contributes to the seeming lack of success of some of the missions. The bandits seem to be always a few steps ahead of the security agents and carry out attacks in areas just vacated by the security agents in most cases.”
He, therefore, advocated the reappraisal of the leaderships of all security agencies charged with the responsibility of ensuring the security of life and property of Nigerians.
source: Independent Nigeria.