Saturday, May 25, 2019 1:56 pm
Nigerians reel under attacks from different sorts of criminal gangs across the country
Desperate times call for desperate measures. This popular saying must have been at the mind of Alhaji Attahiru Ahmad, the Chairman of Zamfara Council of Chiefs and Emir of Anka, when, at a meeting with the Minister of Interior, retired Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau, at his palace last week, he suggested blockage of telephony services for between three to six months as part of measures to curb the rampant killings, kidnappings as well as pillage of resources of the people of his domain by bandits. “If GSM network for the whole state is blocked for between three and six months, l can assure you that it will go a long way because even informers can no longer disclose the movement of security personnel to the bandits,’’ the Emir said while lamenting that kidnapping had become a lucrative business in which apart from money, kidnappers now demand for foodstuffs, recharge cards and other necessities as ransom.
Tales of Woes
The Minister said he was in the state on the instructions of President Muhammadu Buhari to commiserate with the people over relentless assaults they have been subjected to by bandits with a view to getting suggestions on how to put a stop to their activities.
But it was tale of woes as the villagers and community leaders regale the Minister with their painful experiences in the hands of the bandits as he went around the state.
At the Shinkafi Local Government Area of the State, the Vice Chairman, Alhaji Sani Galadima told the Minister that kidnapping for ransom by bandits has become a daily affair in the area in spite of the best efforts of the Federal Government to curb the criminality. Galadima told Dambazau that six members of the ‘Civilian JTF’ a local vigilance group set up to protect the villagers from bandits were attacked and killed two days before the Minister’s visit. “Even yesterday (Sunday), these bandits sent a letter to the district head of Shinkafi town (saying) that they were coming to attack the town. This ugly situation is very disheartening; every day we pay millions of naira in ransom to these bandits. We really need the government’s urgent support to end this problem. Our women also suffer a lot (because) the bandits attack communities and abduct ladies from their parents’ homes. People no longer sleep with their two eyes closed in the night in Shinkafi LGA,” the local government chief said as he lamented that the government has failed to deploy enough security operatives to protect the people. “We all know the camps where these bandits stay; even the security men are aware of these camps; our major concern is that security personnel are not getting to these bandits. We are hoping that with this visit, this problem will come to an end,” Galadima said while pointing out to the Minister that at least 98 communities have been abandoned in the local government as a result of assaults from bandits.
To avoid similar fate, residents of some communities in Maradun Local Government Area of Zamfara State have resorted to levying themselves to keep off the bandits. The Punch newspaper quoted a resident of one of the communities as confirming that the bandits are in the habit of making demands for ransom as a prerequisite for not unleashing their venom on them. “Let me give you a breakdown of villages and the ransoms paid. They placed N10m ransom on Gora community, N5m on Faru village, N1.5m on Gidan Isah community, the people of Ilankwai village had to pay N2m while Gidan Baushe village was levied N2.5m. All the villages paid the levy but I’m not sure whether Gora people were able to meet the demand,” the villager said. “I was part of the team that took the ransom put on our village to the bandits inside the forest. We had to mobilise ourselves by going from house to house to collect the money in order to meet the demand. Failure to do so would be very calamitous on us,” he added.
There were also reports of attacks by bandits riding on motorcycles at nearby Kebbi State, the same day the Minister was on tour of Zamfara. Armed with machine guns and locally made guns, the bandits, according to reports, invaded Illo community in Bagudo Local Government Area of Kebbi state, shooting sporadically into the air when they entered the town.
The Chairman of Bagudo Local Government, Alhaji Muhammad Kaura, confirmed that the invasion happened around 11:30pm on Monday. He added that the bandits later in the day laid siege to the community and did not hesitate to bring out their highly sophisticated weapons when members of the vigilance group and residents in the area attempted to confront them.
During his visits to the different communities in Zamfara last Monday, the Minister of Interior had assured residents of determination of the President to find a lasting solution to the problem of banditry and the associated killings in the state: “President Buhari asked me to visit Shinkafi and Anka emirates in Zamfara to carry out the assessment and discuss these issues. The President also expresses his condolence over loss of lives and destruction of properties as a result of insecurity. It is the responsibility of government to ensure lives and properties are secure. That is why we must do everything possible to ensure the end of this situation.”
The promise of doing everything possible to end banditry and the attendant bloodletting in Zamfara is one that residents of the State and, indeed, the Northwest have heard from the presidency, at least since 2016. In an unprecedented move, President Buhari had put on his army uniform, one of the few times he did so since his election, to launch a major military operation against armed bandits with the code name, Operation Harbin Kunama in Dansadau forest of Zamfara the state in July, 2016. Dansadau Emirate in Maru local government of Zamfara was one of the areas where armed bandits and cattle rustlers were very active at the time.
Speaking in company of Governor Abdulaziz Yari, top government officials and service chiefs, the President had re-affirmed that though the problems of banditry in Zamfara preceded the coming of his administration into power, he is determined to put an end to it. In the same vein, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, said the security situation in the country deteriorated in the past for lack of political will to tame the menace while Governor Yari, said the special forces deployed for the operation would remain in the forest until all criminal elements were flushed out.
But rather than being flushed out, the bandits have since the launch of the military operations expanded their activities across the seven states of North West Nigeria with stories of their bloody encounters in which scores of villagers always paid with their lives, mass kidnappings and rustling of cattle as well as savagery almost a daily fare in the media. This was in spite of the fact that the military and the police had continued to launch special operations and even special bases to tackle them.
Northwest Nigeria As Bandits’ Fiefdom
Now, constantly on the edge from threats of attacks by bandits are residents of many rural local governments in Niger, Sokoto, Kaduna, Kebbi and Katsina, the home state of President Buhari. Attempts by governors of Zamfara and Katsina State to appease the bandits to stop their blood spilling activities through ‘amnesty programme’ of guns for cash also failed.
The bandits have formed themselves into gangs. Some analysts have put the number of such gangs with camps located inside major forests which traverse across many of the Northern States at over 1000. They were also said to have established a criminal network which involves the use of compromised villagers as informants and negotiators for ransoms.
In Zamfara, attacks by the gangs soared in December with the killing of over 25 persons in Birinin Magaji, the LGA of Nigeria’s minister of defense, Mansur Muhammad Dan Ali in a single day, followed by snuffing out of another 17 lives in the same area two days later. The bandits also ambushed and killed 16 policemen deployed to curb their activities among similar attacks which claimed scores of lives.
Critics, who noted that the state governor was always away to Abuja as the reign of terror by the bandits was going on in his state, had called for declaration of state emergency by the Federal Government over Zamfara State.
Surprisingly, and in what may reflect his helplessness over the issue, the Governor had declared his support for the measure. “I am also in support of the declaration of state of emergency if it will save the lives of people of the state. If the provisions of my office had allowed me to carry arms against the bandits, l would have done so. But, if I am not around, there are capable hands that collaborate with the security team in the fight against the bandits,” the Governor told journalists in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State. “The security men are doing their best. But, it is sad to know that some of the people involved in the kidnappings are close relatives or associates of the victims, which is part of the reasons the problem is persisting. We must all come together and expose anyone or group that is part of these hoodlums, and we should also pray for Allah’s intervention,” Yari said.
While the headquarters of the Nigeria Police in Abuja will always give assurance of its capacity to tackle the problems of banditry, the officers on ground in Zamfara always cite lack of necessary weapons, the remoteness and inaccessibility of villages where most of the criminalities are taking place as well as shortage of manpower for their helplessness in rounding off the activities of the criminal elements. “These people (bandits) understand the terrain more than us. They set an ambush for our men when they are going to attend to distress calls. Sometimes, before we manage to get to point of distress, the culprits are gone,” a police officer was quoted as saying of the difficulties they face in tackling the criminal gangs in a news report.
Some military officers had complained that apart from problems of inadequate arms and ammunitions, they are always outnumbered by the bandits during operations.
With the security agencies’ inability to fully rise up to the challenge of defending them, the villagers across the Northwest, especially the youths, had formed vigilance groups to take on the bandits whenever they stormed their communities for their kidnapping activities. The proliferation of vigilance groups has led to unprecedented influx of guns into the areas.
There have been incidents of confrontations between bandits and members of vigilance groups in Katsina of Matsiga and Kankara. “This area has become a target. They come and attack us and kidnap our people. We had to resort to self-help, as security personnel are not enough, or sometimes they are reluctant to help,” Shuaibu Aliyu, the Chairman of the vigilance groups in the area said in an interview.
“The bandits know that we don’t take nonsense, and our local guns are more destructive than AK-47 rifles, so they fear us more than they fear the police,” said Hudu Alleri, identified as another leader of the vigilance group in the area.
Despite such boastfulness, clashes with bandits have most times left the vigilance groups holding the short end of the stick. About 50 persons were reportedly killed when the bandits clashed with vigilantes in a community in Kaura Namoda local government area of Zamfara state late March 2019. A series of raid by the bandits in villages in Sokoto and Zamfara led to the death of at least 60 people late February 2019. Before then, the bandits had killed 32 vigilance group members in Kware community also in Zamfara State at a checkpoint they set up in the area.
At least, seven members of the vigilance groups were killed in April when they decided to dare the bandits in their forest hideout in Tsamiyar Jino village, Kankara local government area of Katsina state. The killings led to protests by indigenes of Zamfara resident in Abuja last month. The protesters called on President Buhari to urgently intervene and stop the killings and kidnappings currently going on in the state.
“We have the challenge of security situation all over the country, but that of Zamfara is clearly bad. We are tired of mass burials and that is why we are calling on PMB to intervene,” former editor of 234 NEXT veteran journalist, Kadaria Ahmed, who was one of the organisers of protest said. “Nobody is talking of these killings now among our leaders, and this is apparently disgusting. This issue involves lives and people deserve to be safe wherever they live in this country,’’ she said. There was a scale up of security deployments to Zamfara and other states of the Northwest in the aftermath of the protests.
Zachaeus Olarewaju, 60, a clergyman litle bargained for the spectacle that assaulted his experience on Wednesday, 17th April. Easter was a few days away and preparations for the feast were on top rev. The community was also bereaved casting a spell on his fecundity. However, certain things must not be left undone.
That fateful day, the man of God who augments his pastoral income with earnings from farming and gaming had rushed to the farm to attend to those working for him. No sooner had he arrived than some five men, suspected to be Fulani encircled him. In a moment the image of Jesus Christ before the betrayer, Judas Iscariot leading the multitude to effect his arrest, snapped in his mind.
After surviving a brief fisticuffs with his unwanted guests, Olarewaju bolted, making a fast dash towards his car with the plan of picking his Dane gun. He was too late. As he approached the car, another set of two of the attackers were waiting for him, ready with his gun. Helmed between the assailants, Olarewaju surrendered his freedom.
The men thoroughly beat the broad daylight out of him. They covered his face with a thick clothe, before leading him further into the jungle. He had just been kidnapped. And thus began five days of trauma in the custody of his captors. The gunmen seized his mobile phone and later made contact with his family. They requested a Ransome of N20m, failure which they threatened to waste the victim.
His family members, parishioners at first ECWA church Iyah-Gbede in Ijumu LG of Kogi State and the entire community made frantic efforts to meet up with the huge demand all in vain. In the neatime, the clergy man continued to endure the elements. He recorded some near death experiences and survived on a diet of few grains of garri, once daily. Following series of negotiations, the abductors settled for N500,000 generously supported with cartons of indomie noodles, packets of sugar, biscuits and choice beverages. After his release, Olarewaju stayed several days under the watch of his doctors.
Olarewaju is just one of several cases of kidnapping in Kogi State and across the country. Many of the victims have not been as lucky as the clergy man. Not too long ago, a civil servant from Mopamuro LG Mrs. Olu Abraham was on her way to Lokoja along with others. Their mission related to a screening and staff verification exercise embarked upon by the state government. All occupants of the commercial bus she boarded were abducted by gunmen around Obajana. Others regained freedom on the third day, but she did not make it out alive. Her corpse was recovered from the forest after many days.
As insecurity has become widespread, Kidnappers and bandits seems to operate without borders in the country. They make no distinction between the low and the mighty. In fact, anybody who appears to have minimum resources or have link to any one with resources stand the risk of being a target. Simply put, kidnapping has become an epidemic.
The less privileged are usually picked on the streets in commercial vehicles and in farms. The rich on the other hand are mostly picked from exotic cars, shopping malls and sometimes in their houses. Usually victims regain their freedom after ransoms are paid. But on some occasions victims are killed by the gunmen or they die of trauma.
On Monday 29th April, armed men kidnapped Dr. Mohammed Aubakar and his daughter at Kurmin Kane village along Abuja-Kaduna highway. Abubakar is boss of the country’ Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC. His driver was unfortunately killed by the kidnappers.
On May 1, the acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu revealed that a total 1,071 people were killed in criminal circumstances across the country in the first quarter of 2019 while about 685 cases of kidnapping were reported in the same period.
About the time Adamu was reeling out the statistics before traditional rulers in Kaduna, Alhaji Musa Umar Uba, the Magaji Garin Daura and President Buhari’s in-law was kidnapped. Armed men arrived the Daura palace of the district head in Peugeot 406 saloon that Wednesday evening. They shot sporadically as they abducted the traditional ruler, who is married to Gajiya Bilki, the president’s niece.
Foreigners Have Also Fallen Victims
The violence in Kaduna State was put on the global map on 19 April when a British aid worker, Faye Mooney and her Nigerian counterpart, Matthew Oguche were killed by bandits in Kajuru Castle, a popular recreational resort in the area. The bandits also kidnapped three people.
A similar fate befell Fayel Mooney, a British tourist who was abducted and killed in Kaduna.. Last April, the woman had travelled from Lagos to the northern city. She was reported to be attending a party when she fell prey to her killers.They also allegedly killed a man along with her while abducting two others.
Boko Haram’s infiltration
Tracking the bloodcurdling activities of the gangs, which, according to the leaders of the areas, are mostly made up of rogue Fulani men from inside and outside the country are sometimes difficult, given the relative remoteness of the areas they operate from Ahmad Salkida, a journalist with deep insight into insecurity in Northern Nigeria in a series of tweets noted that over 70 persons were killed in the seven days leading up to 30 April by bandits in states across Northwest.
He also noted that a faction of the Boko Haram group may have infiltrated the ranks of the bandits. He claimed for instance that some of the abductions and killings going on in Zamfara state were being carried out by Ansaru, a breakaway faction of Boko Haram.
He also identified one of the leaders of the gangs operating across the states in the Northwest who is eerily acquiring a folk status among the villagers because he usually rode on a camel, accompanied by fieldsmen on motorcycles and horses when on his nefarious operation.
Talking about the gang leader who looks like a Tuareg from Niger Republic, Salkida said, “Mairakumi’s group is believed to have abducted and holding over 100 captives and he has so far released 30 with ransoms ranging from N500,000 to over N10 Million. The terrorists claimed they attacked Kawaye because the villagers were mostly vigilantes and aid security agencies. Investigations revealed that other bandits are increasingly joining the ranks of Mairakumi, but the likes of Dogo, a ruthless bandit may not have joined Mairakumi yet, but the two outlaws and their fighters don’t clash.” Even then, upsurge in deployment of security operatives and launch of special operations by the military have not totally brought the desired relief to the communities. According to sources, the bandits have simply perfected ways of moving away from where there is a concentration of security operations at any point in time, using their knowledge of the expansive forests that transverse the areas.
Kaduna’s cycle of killings kidnappings
In Kaduna, the cycle of violence and killings which began with the controversial claim by Governor Nasir El-Rufai that 66 Fulani were killed and hurriedly buried in some communities in the Kajuru Local Government Area of the State in February have persisted.
The Governor’s media aide, Samuel Aruwan, later told journalists that the 66 bodies were recovered in various dispersed hamlets in the Maro Gida and Iri axis of Kajuru LGA. El-Rufai later said the death toll had risen to 130, a figure the police say they were yet to confirm. The Governor later claimed that the number of deaths have risen to 130 following the disputations over his claims by some human rights groups and members of the local Adara community.
To back up the claim, some Fulani organisations issued a statement detailing the names of their members killed in the attack. The groups which include Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore Fulani Socio-Cultural Association, Gan Allah Fulani Development Association (GAFDAN), Mogbul Fulde Development Association (MOFDA) and Fulbe Global Development Initiative claimed that while 66 bodies were initially recovered during military operations and were buried in mass graves, bodies of 65 persons are yet to be recovered. “This is the third time that these forms of crimes are committed by the Adara communities against the pastoralist, now becoming a recurring phenomenon since 2017,” the group said.
However, members of the Adara community told journalists that reprisal attacks by gangs believed to be members of the pastoralists have led to destruction of 545 houses and left 148 people dead as at end of March, 2019. “In all the attacks, 65 people were seriously injured and currently in hospitals receiving treatment, while about N28 million worth of grains and other foodstuff were also burnt. These attacks have displaced thousands of our people including 2,000 children who are currently taking shelter in eight camps across three LGAs of the state – Chikun, Kajuru and Kachia,” Mumini Madugu, the spokesperson for the Adara people said at the press conference.
The Birnin Gwari areas of Kaduna and Southern part of the State have been the hotbeds of kidnappers who have not spared traditional rulers or religious leaders. Fulani gangs also regularly kidnap villagers in communities across the area and have made the Birnin Gwari –Kaduna expressway a no go area for transporters and other motorists.
Residents of Nariya and Kabala West communities of the state last month took to the streets to protest the incessant kidnappings in their areas. The residents lamented that kidnapping for ransom, which are sometimes accompanied by killings have become a daily affair. “We are no longer safe in our homes. Just last week, a pregnant woman was kidnapped in Chokoliko village. Few hours later, another was kidnapped in Nassarawa village. They later made huge demand of money from family of their victims. As I am talking with you, the one kidnapped in Nassarawa is yet to return, because the family could not afford to pay the ransom. We couldn’t sleep in the night for fear of being kidnapped, we couldn’t stay out in the night or go far from home,” a resident of Nariya, Mr. Johanna said while lamenting their plight.
Nigeria’s Most Dangerous Highway
The Abuja-Kaduna expressway has also attained the status of notoriety as one of the most dangerous highways in the country in the past three years. Kidnappers, usually dressed in military fatigues have abducted military officers, clergymen, military officers, serving and retired, ex minister, a serving senator, even diplomats along the road in the past two years.
Some of the kidnap victims have lost their lives in the process of kidnapping by gunmen who usually disappeared into the nearby forests before the arrival of security operatives.
Despite repeated assurances by the Police, the most recent indications that the deadly kidnappers on the expressway in the area are still very much in business was on 29 April when Dr. Muhammad Abubakar, the chairman of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and his daughter were kidnapped along the road.
The Kaduna State Command of the Nigeria Police Force, in a statement, disclosed that the UBEC Chairman’s driver was killed by the armed men in military uniform who intercepted the Federal Government official’s Land Cruiser SUV at Kurmin Kare Village along the Express Way. Others were also kidnapped in the incident which occurred few days after Acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, assured commuters who have abandoned the road for the Abuja –Kaduna train to return.
Kidnappers In Control
The insecurity problems of farmers- herders’ clashes as well communal clashed in Plateau Taraba, Benue, Nasarawa and Kogi States have been compounded with upsurge in incidents of kidnappings for ransoms in the last one year.
Reports indicate for instance, that kidnappers regularly abduct farmers either on their way to their farms or in their farms in Gassol, Ardo-Kola, Bali, Karim-Lamido and Lau local government areas of the state. However, aside the rural folks, the kidnappers have also targeted businessmen and top government officials as they have moved their activities to Jalingo, the State capital.
Susana Jonathan, the Permanent Secretary in Taraba State Ministry of Water Resources and Sanusi Sa’ad, Deputy Registrar, Administration, Taraba State University were two high profile kidnapping cases recorded in Taraba in the past few weeks. Just recently, the chief press secretary to the state governor, Hassan Miginyawa, was kidnapped while on his way from Jalingo to Gembu along Sarti in Gashaka local government area of the state. It was gathered that the kidnappers sometimes refuse to release their victims even after payment of ransom.
“The victims cut across religious divides. Of the 15 people taken hostage since the beginning of 2019, two are Muslims. Security agencies must root out the criminals to enable the people return to their homes as the farming seasons approaches,” Rev Jonah Shavah, a clergyman recently said while lamenting the rising incident in Lau Local Government Area of Taraba State by those described as armed militia.
After meeting with President Buhari early last week, Governor Samuel Ortom told journalists that a notorious leader of gang of bandits which he identified as Terwase Akwaza, popularly known as Gana has made three local government areas in his Benue unsafe.
According to him, while the state’s anti-open grazing law has helped calmed incidents of herdsmen and farmers clashes which claimed scores of lives in Benue last year, incidents of criminalities perpetrated by Gana and his gang remained his biggest headache now. “He (Gana) is the one instrumental to the Kidnappings happening between Benue and Taraba State. All forms of criminality – armed robbery, assassinations and so on. The communities too have given up because as at today, the three local governments of Katsina-Ala, Logo and Ukum are not safe. No educational, farming, commercial activities are going on, the Igbos that are major traders have vacated. With operation Stroke we are going to move against them and we believe we will be able to surmount them,” the Governor said.
Battling Cultists, Kidnappers, other Criminals
But the Southern part of the country has also not been spared of the grip of criminals on the country. In Rivers State, for instance, there have been many gory killings as cult members engage each other in supremacy battles across different communities in the state. Sources told TheNEWS that the upsurge in gang violence was due to failure or inability of politicians to retrieve the guns and other weapons they gave to their supporters during the last general elections in the state.
Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike had at a recent security meeting attended by security operatives and community and traditional rulers expressed his determination to fight against cultism and kidnapping in the state. He also vowed to ensure removal of traditional rulers of areas where there are high incidents of cultism while youth groups found to be involved in cultism and kidnapping would be dissolved by the state government.
However, civil society organisations and transport unions raised alarm that the Rivers and Bayelsa State Government have failed to respond to incidents of mass kidnappings and killings of passengers on the portion of the East-West road that traverse their areas. In a joint letter of appeal to President Buhari, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) and the National Union of Road Transport Workers’ Union (NURTW) lamented that the major road linking the South-south part of the country and the western part of the country has become a kidnapping and killing field of passengers.
Four top officials of National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, kidnapped by militants on the road were released many days after they were able to pay the ransom demanded by their abductors. The leadership of Bayelsa office of NURTW) said three commercial drivers were shot dead by kidnappers in the Elele and Emouha axis of the road in April.
A former Secretary of the state’s chapter of CLO, Comrade Morris Alagoa also said the threat to lives and property is a daily affair on the road as kidnappers take victims at ease, killing drivers with nobody ready to confront them. He added that it is a regular occurrence to see kidnappers leading victims into the bush after which they began to coerce them for ransom payment. “Some victims are either released after relations pay ransom or they are killed and the body parts sold off. Most unfortunately and regrettably, the police officers along the road have not been able to contain the situation,” Alagoa said while asking the government to take measures to secure the road.
In Bayelsa, apart from the insecurity on the waterways, the state capital, Yenagoa, has been under siege of armed cultists engaged in killing, kidnapping and robbing of members of the public.
The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Yenagoa zonal office recently withdrew 20 corps member serving in Famgbe Community of the State, over activities of armed youths terrorising the area.
In Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Edo States, the kidnappers have gone after members of professional groups, especially lawyers and medical doctors. The unchecked terrorism culminated in barbaric attack on residence of members of the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) by cultists, who killed two of them and injured others.
The Cross River chapters of Nigeria Medical Association recently threatened to withdraw its services if incidents of abduction of its members continue while the Edo branch of Nigeria Bar Association has asked lawyers to stop offering their services to suspects arrested over kidnappings.
While there have been incidents of kidnappings in parts of the Southwest mostly by local gangs, the recent abduction of an orthopedic surgeon at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Prof Olayinka Adegbehingbe on the Ife-Ibadan expressway on Sunday while returning from Lagos sent shock waves down the spines of many in the region.
The fear that the much dreaded Fulani gangs using the cover of forest to carry on kidnappings may have infiltrated the South West was further confirmed when the university professor was released. He told journalists pointedly that his abductors were Fulani herdsmen who released him after receiving a ransom of N5.045m.
The Lagos as well as Oyo Police Commands have been battling cultists who regularly unleash terror not just on their rival during their constant supremacy fights, but also on members of their communities.
Counting The Cost of Insecurity
Speaking at the recent quarterly meeting of Northern Traditional Rulers’ Council meeting in Kaduna on 30 April, the acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, revealed that a total of 1,071 people were killed in crime-related cases across the country in the first quarter of 2019.
He confirmed that the killings were most prevalent in the north where 767 people were killed, with the northwest region topping the list with 436.
While the north central recorded 250 deaths, the south-south recorded 130. The Police chief added that Zamfara State is the worst-hit as it recorded 203 deaths during the period under review. Adamu added that the state recorded 104 bandit-related deaths out of the total 175 reported cases of banditry, followed by Katsina (21) and Sokoto (19).
He also noted that most of the murder cases recorded in the north are linked to banditry and communal violence. “It is pertinent to mention that Zamfara State has the highest national kidnap rate with 281 victims in what has been directly linked to the activities of bandits in the state,” the IGP said. According to him 79.8% of the national total of kidnappings was recorded in the three northern geopolitical zones, with the hotspot once again being the northwest where 365 people were abducted. “The North-Central geopolitical zone with a total of 81 armed robbery cases represents the zone with the highest rate while Niger State, the FCT and Zamfara State with 32, 23 and 18 cases, respectively occupy the three topmost states in the national armed robbery profile,” Adamu added.
Threat To Food Security
While the statistics may not cover all the cases of criminalities going on in the country, analysts say they are indicative enough of the fact that the country is in big trouble. But officials of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) and Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) have also warned that the killing and kidnappings and other criminalities have become threats to family incomes and foo security.
According to them, bandits had displaced more than 10,000 households, mostly peasant farmers, in Zamfara, while in Kebbi, the hub of rice farming in Nigeria, no fewer than 350 farmers had been forced to abandon their farms by the criminals. “Over 350 farmers have been affected as a result of the banditry in Danko/Wasagu, Argungu, Yauri, Ngaski, Zuru and Birnin Kebbi local government areas. Our members, especially rice farmers, have stopped going to their farmlands in those areas for fear of being kidnapped or killed,” the Secretary of AFAN in Kebbi, Muhammad Idris, said in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria. “As I am talking to you now, those that are willing to go and cultivate their farmlands are not up to 30 per cent because of fear of kidnapping. There is every need for government to declare a state of emergency on security because without adequate security, many will not have courage to cultivate their farms,” Alhaji Nuhu Aminu, the Kaduna State AFAN Chairman also said.
Sanusi Muhammad, the Secretary RIFAN in Zamfara state said many farmers had been forced to leave their villages by bandits. The killings and attacks on villages by the bandits have resulted in creation of over 10,000 widows and 20,000 orphans in the state, while thousands of others live in Internally Displaced Persons camps. “Most of our farmers cannot go to farms due to fear of bandits’ attacks and kidnapping. Bandits send messages of attack to communities or tax farmers large amounts of money before they allow them to go to farms. Bandits are now the ones who decide whether we go to farms or not, in some areas even if farmers plant crops they cannot cultivate due to insecurity. Most of the areas affected by the insecurity are areas where we have large numbers of farmers,” Muhammad lamented.
Also, two local government areas in Kano state which are adjacent to Doguwa and Tudun Wada, are also experiencing attacks from bandits and kidnappers. Faruk Rabiu, the AFAN Chairman in Kano said though the state is not among the worst affected states by the activities of bandits, Doguwa and Tudun Wada local government which share border with the popular Falgore Forest are becoming no go areas for large scale farmers who owned farms in the areas. “Majority of such farmers have either stopped cultivating the farms or sold them due to the locations of the farms,” Rabiú said.
The Katsina State chairman of RIFAN Chairman, Shuaibu Wakili, said over 60 per cent of rice produced in the state came from Funtua, Sabuwa, Dandume, Faskari, Bakori, Malumfashi, Danja, Kafur and Kankara local government areas, most of which were currently battling with banditry and kidnapping. ‘’Now that the bandits are killing people, including farmers, that will also affect agricultural productivity. In Sabuwa Local Government Area alone, we lost about 28 farmers who were killed by the bandits,’’ he said.
While hosting Chief Audu Ogbeh , the Minisster of Agriculture and the Godwin Emefiele, the Governor of Central Bank who were in his palace to pay homage ahead of the national launching of distribution of cotton seeds/inputs to farmers for the 2019 planting season, the Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, the emir of Katsina, had also lamented that Katsina farmers and herders have abandoned their farms and herds for fear of kidnapping and killings. “Hon Minister, tell the president that we have to take very good care of our people, security first. All these programmes, as good as they are, cannot be without security. Security is first and fundamental,” the emir who said he receive reports of kidnapping and killings from district and village heads said.
Of course, the President who is from Katsina cannot claim to be ignorant of the state of security situation in his state with Alhaji Musa Umar, his in-law, who was kidnapped some weeks ago still in the custody of his abductors as at the time of writing this story.
Usman, who is also the district head of Daura, President Buhari’s hometown, was kidnapped by four unidentified gunmen in front of his house. While some have tried to link the rising insecurity to th e opposition, many groups believed that the President has failed to rise to the occasion in terms of tackling the problems of insecurity in the country.
The Arewa Consultative Forum, for instance, recently challenged the President to rise up to take drastic measures to restore normalcy, peace and harmony in the affected states in order to assuage the fears of the people.
The group noted that in Zamfara state in particular, the banditry has been most cruel and devastating to the socio-economic and political life of the people. The Northern Elders Forum, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other similar groups have issued statements to condemn the near descent of Nigeria into anarchy under the watch of President Buhari.
The New Commander-in Chief
While lamenting the seeming helplessness of government in face on growing criminalities in the country, Pastor Tunde Bakare, the general overseer of the Latter Rain Assembly in a sermon delivered in his church recently lamented that bandits, kidnappers, cattle rustlers, killer herdsmen and looters had taken control of Nigeria from President Buhari as the Commander-in -Chief: “It is evident that the bandits; criminals, killing people every day; those kidnapping people over the place; and cattle rustlers and killer herdsmen terrorising the people are in charge in this country; they are the commander-in-chief,” the Cleric said. “Nobody seems to know what to do anymore; the terrorists are in charge. They have even extended their regime to these areas. They now kidnap lecturers; doctors are no longer safe,” he added.
‘Buhari Doing His Best’
The President had insisted that he is doing his best, working with the security agencies to tackle the myriad of problems. In response to the criticisms, the Special Adviser to the President on media and publicity, Femi Adesina recently released a long list of ongoing operations by the police and the military to tackle the specific security problems in each part of the country ( See box).
With the launch of the operations, notably ‘Operation Puff Adder’ by the Police and others by the different arms of the military, the security operatives have been announcing arrests of bandits, kidnappers, cultists and other criminals in different parts of the country. And as announced last week, the Federal Government has also opened talks with the national leaders of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) as part of efforts to curtail security challenges in the country. This was certainly out of the unspoken belief that the rouge members of their group were behind the criminal activities in different parts of the country.
The Federal Government’s delegation led by Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau after a closed-door session with the MACBAN leaders in Birnin Kebbi, said it was part of regional action plan on security challenges. “The criminals have infiltrated into the crisis, and we should cooperate and deal decisively with the culprits, hence we called for this interaction. Those criminals that are beyond redemption, will be dealt with and brought them to book,” the Acting Inspector-
General of Police who was part of the team told journalists.
The engagement with the Miyyetti Allah has come under strident criticisms from some sections of the country. But it is doubtful if any Nigerian will be bothered if such engagements with the group and even, other can lead to a more secure country.
Meanwhile, The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai on last week, accused some defeated politicians in the just concluded general elections of being responsible for the current heightened situation in parts of the country. Buratai leveled the accusation in Maiduguri when he received the House Committee on Army led by its Chairman, Rep. Remande Shawulu, at the Theatre Command.
In his words: “The myriad of security challenges we are facing now in the North West, North Central and other parts of the country, I want to believe and rightly so, is the fall out of the just concluded general elections. There are several political interests, politicians in particular not happy with their defeat and therefore, trying to take revenge, sponsoring some these criminal activities. There are strong political undertone, strong political influence.
“So, I will use this opportunity to call on the honourable members here to prevail on some of these politicians to look at national interest first before any other political or sectional interest.
We have some strong evidences but we are still being cautious so that we don’t get it wrong,’’ Buratai said. The army chief advised those politicians against doing anything to aggravate the security challenges.
Earlier, Shawulu said that the committee was at the theatre for its usual oversight function.He paid tribute to officers and soldiers, who had died in course of the counter insurgency operation, saying they sacrificed their lives for the security and peace of the North East and country at large. News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the committee visited the Maimalary Military Cemetery, where three personnel killed by IED recently were buried and 7 Division Military hospital to empathise with wounded soldiers.
— Additional reports by Elesho Richard, Lokoja; Gbenro Adesina, Ibadan and Okofor Ofiebor, Port Harcourt