Banditry has put Katsina State in the news for the wrong reasons. Hundreds of Nigerians have been killed, more have been abducted and thousands displaced, with villages decimated, women raped and farms destroyed. Daily Trust reports what triggered banditry in the state and how the situation escalated.
In recent times, mass abductions, rape and killings by bandits in Katsina State have led to the deaths of hundreds of people and the displacement of thousands.
As at March 2020, more than 210,000 people were internally displaced while another 35, 000 became refugees. They crossed the borders into Niger Republic to find safety in places like Madaou in Tahoua Region, Dan Dadji Makaou, Garin Kaka and Guidan Roumdji.
Today, hundreds of bandits occupy the vast Rugu forest, from where they attack villages and kidnap residents.
The 334 students of Government Science Secondary School (GSSS), Kankara, reportedly abducted in December last year, drew national and global attention to the heightened activities of bandits in the state.
Many security analysts told Daily Trust that banditry in Katsina became a major concern in 2014 before it escalated between 2017 and 2018.
While some said it escalated as a result of farmers/herders clashes, which first broke out in the state some 30 years ago, others believed a military operation to tackle the menace in other places pushed criminals to Katsina.
Muhammadu Bashir Shuaibu Galma, a retired major and intelligence officer, described the situation as a pandemic.
“Banditry was in Zamfara before it got to other places in the North-West, including Katsina. There was a time the military conducted a major exercise with the president there. That exercise dispersed the bandits in Zamfara. We called the attention of the authorities that if not well handled, the criminals could spread to neighbouring states and explore safe havens to regroup. That was when they spread to Katsina and other states in the region,” he said.
A resident who did not want his name mentioned, corroborated the major’s opinion when he said the bandits arrived the state at the same time when people displaced by incessant attacks in Zamfara fled into Katsina. According to him, they started random raids here and there.
“At that time, their activities were majorly in Kankara, Faskari, Danmusa, Safana and a section of Batsari,” the resident said.
Vigilante groups arrested several bandits and handed them over to the authorities. This action angered the bandits and triggered a massive reaction.
In March 2014, they attacked villages in Faskari Local Government Area and killed 103 people, including women and children, setting their homes ablaze.
Following many attacks, the state government decided to negotiate with the bandits through one Buharin Daji, believed to be their leader.
This peace deal, the resident said, was a mistake.
“When the Katsina State Government entered into an agreement with Buharin Daji, who was considered as the commander- general of the bandits, they used the opportunity to gain access to Jibia forest. And they breached the peace deal,” he said.
He said Buharin Daji, who did not respect the peace agreement, was killed in a clash with another group of bandits.
Recounting how banditry spread in Katsina, Alhaji Lawal Saidu Funtua, a veteran journalist based in the state, who has been covering security matters for many years and had been invited a couple of times by leaders of the bandits to their hideout said, “We started noticing banditry in this form around 2012 here in Katsina. It got worse around 2014 when they attacked Mararabar Maigora and Maigora towns, during which over 100 people were killed. That was when they started the destructive aspect of it.
The genesis of this menace is clear for all to see. It started as a clash between farmers and herdsmen, and with time, it snowballed into banditry,” he said.
He alleged that a large number of those involved in the crime were Fulani because their cattle routes had been taken over; hence their means of livelihood destroyed.
“When I discussed with these bandits when I visited them, they told me clearly that their major concern was how security agencies had cheated them over the years, with the connivance of traditional institutions and others.
What happened was that if a Fulani man had 100 cattle and he settled in an environment, these traditional rulers, Miyetti Allah and security agencies would find a way of framing his child or brother so as to extort money from him,” he said.
From cattle rustling and isolated attacks in remote villages, banditry is now threatening the entire North- West.
Our correspondent was informed that the bandits now operate a network of informants in the state and take advantage of the vast forest where they have their camps and can keep hundreds of kidnap victims at the same time.
Our source said the influx of weapons from Libya, through the Republic of Niger, had helped the spread of the crime. This claim was also backed by the retired intelligence officer, Major Galma.
Also, the Secretary to the State Government, Dr Mustapha Inuwa, suggested that for the criminals to be subdued, security agents must first cut off their sources of arms supply, which he said mostly came from Niger Republic.
Cut off supply of hard drugs
Funtua also said that to overcome the bandits, government should cut off supply of hard drugs to them.
“What I observed during my visit is that government has been careless, especially with the issue of illicit drugs.
Initially, they started by coming to town to drink beer and go back, but with time, they got into hard drugs fully.
When I went during Christmas, I was told they now abuse one drug they call “Fanta,” which they inject into their body. They inject about 10, and once they do that they fear nobody. If they hear gunshots, that is where they will head to. So it is a combination of a lot of factors,’’ he said.
Major Galma also said that banditry grew in the state as a result of a number of factors.
“It was not tackled at the right time and people began to realise that it is a lucrative business, as relatives of kidnapped victims and people in government pay ransoms to secure their freedom.
Also, those who were caught in the act were not prosecuted and punished. You know that punishing crime always serves as a deterrent to others, but in a situation where the culprits are going scot-free, others will not find it difficult to join.
Another factor is the involvement of informants who also make a lot of money from their activities. And most of them are doing it as a result of unemployment. All these things are fuelling the problem,” he said.
He also mentioned the availability of the mobile communication system as one of the things aiding the activities of bandits.
Funtua believes that a change in orientation among the Fulani also played a part.
“In the past, as we all know, the pride of a Fulani man was to have many herds of cattle, but now, he wants to have more arms than his adversaries. If you have 1,000 AK 47 riffles and somebody has 100, certainly you have superior power over him. With that you can conquer territories, attack people and commit all sorts of atrocities,” he added.
Another issue the government needs to look into, according to Funtua, is the possibility of connivance with town dwellers.
“These people collect millions of naira, and whenever they are arrested and interrogated, you hardly find more than N20,000, with them. Where do you think they spend all those millions in the bush? Certainly, there is the possibility that those that are benefitting from it are living with us in the cities,” he also said.
Major Galma also believes the involvement of some politicians, even if not directly, could not be overruled.
“Often, these people would be arrested, and before you know it, somebody in a position of authority would make a call for their release; and that is what will happen,” he said.
On the way out of the problem, the retired intelligence officer said there must be synergy between security agencies, the government and mobile service providers, through which their communications could be tracked and blocked.
Thousands of villagers have been displaced
He said negotiating with the criminals gave them more reasons to commit atrocities, knowing that at the end, it would come down to negotiations and money would be released in most cases.
“People have to be brave enough to give useful information to security agencies. They have to be supported and funded better. On their part, they should be committed and serve with sincerity,” he said.
Saidu Funtua further said, “When I visited them sometime last year, one of their complaints was that a lot of them could not come into towns because the presence of vigilantes who arrest and hand them over to security agencies and sometime kill some of them. With that, they have no source of income, so they have to devise a way, which is criminality.
Daily Trust reports that banditry has affected 35 out of 92 local government areas in four states in the North.
It was learnt that the discovery of goldmines and activities of illegal miners competing for the control of gold reserves also intensify the existence and activities of armed groups in the North-West.
Apart from the abduction of the Kankara schoolboys on December 11, 2020, bandits also intercepted schoolgirls returning from Maulud celebration and abducted 84 of them. They were, however, rescued by their kinsmen, in collaboration with security agencies that very night.
2020 recorded an unprecedented number of attacks by bandits, including a February incident in Tsanwa and Dankar villages of Batsari Local Government Area, where over 30 people were killed, an undisclosed number kidnapped and dozens of buildings burnt. The bandits also rustled livestock.
In March, the bandits launched attacks in Dandume, Sabuwa, Safana and Faskari local government areas, in which at least 17 people were killed.
In June, the gunmen raided Kadisau and five other villages in Faskari Local Government Area and at least 47 people were reportedly killed, animals rustled and properties worth millions of naira destroyed. That same month, the district head of Yantumaki in Danmusa, Alhaji Abu Atiku, was killed.
In addition to displacement and killings, banditry has hampered agricultural activities and heightened the risk of food insecurity.
According to Dr Abba Abdullahi, the special adviser to Governor Aminu Masari on agriculture, at least 500 farms, equivalent to 58,000 hectares of farmland, have been abandoned by farmers due to insecurity.
Arresting the situation
During the 2020 Nigerian Armed Forces Day celebration, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai launched Operation Sahel Sanity and opened a Super Camp in Faskari Local Government Area of the state.
At the occasion, Buratai tasked security agencies to launch offensives on the bandits in their enclaves across Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara, Sokoto and Niger states.
“You are very much aware of the escalating, and of course, the deteriorating state of the security situation in the North-West, which calls for concern. The president and commander-in-chief has directed that the appropriate steps be taken,” Buratai said.
In the same vein, the Nigerian Air Force launched an airstrip in Funtua to help the anti-banditry operation. And since then, troupes of Operation Sahel Sanity, alongside those of Operation Sharan Daji and Operation Puff Adder of the Nigerian Police have neutralised several camps of the bandits, arrested some of them and arms smugglers in the forests.
While military options are being pursued, the Katsina State Government twice entered into peace deals with the bandits as explained by the Secretary to the Government, Dr Mustapha Inuwa, head of the state amnesty programme.
“In this state, we did it twice. In early 2017, we had it and were able to achieve relative peace for almost two years. Of recent, the security agencies, under the influence of the Inspector-General of Police, also insisted that we go with this non-kinetic approach, which we did,” he said.
However, both peace deals collapsed.
Possible ways out
Despite the collapse of these deals, Saidu Funtua still believes it is the best approach to peace in the state.
“Well, going by my visit, there is no better option than dialogue because force has been tried over the years but it failed, even in other areas, and people are continuously killed.
However, you cannot go into dialogue without having options A, B and C so that if there is betrayal you can fall on them,” he said.
However, Brigadier-General Saleh Bala (rtd), president of the Abuja-based White Ink Institute of Strategy Education and Research, said the solution should be more holistic.
“The problem, no doubt, has to do with all-round ineffective, negligent, self-serving, insensitive or even clueless and incompetent governance.
It is a no-brainer to see that the worse of violent crimes with us are rural while our patronising national security mechanism is totally urban and elite protection, designed and delivered. Nigeria needs to review its national security strategy to be bottom-up, that is rural to urban protection designed.”
He said the security system was designed to protect the “core elite” in politics, public offices, traditional rulers, business persons and their families. These, he said, had left huge pockets of ungoverned spaces in the country’s over 600,000 square miles.
“At some wedding some days back in Kaduna, one person arrived with a convoy of about 15 well-armed, well-kitted policemen.
We can’t solve our problem by just buying arms and vehicles and promoting individuals only to either serve VIPs or just for political expedience.
We are not providing security in Nigeria. We are pretending security. Governors and local government chairpersons must be empowered by law to preside over the administration of their own political spaces. If it really took the resourcefulness of a state governor and local leaders to free within a few days, the 300 Kankara boys, then it only means that our solutions are in local devolution and control of security strategy,” he said.
Governor Masari, on Thursday received 77 persons, including a military person abducted in the state. Earlier, 26 personnel regained their freedom.
On Friday, another 37 captives, including men, women and children were also released by the gunmen as part of a peace process, raising the number of released captives to 140, apart from the Kankara schoolboys.
Prominent among the released persons were the village head and a newly wedded couple abducted from Bakon Zabo village, Batsari Local Government Area, 11 days after their wedding.
The governor explained the process to journalists at the Government House.
“This is a continuation of an exercise which started with the rescue of the Kankara schoolboys. We saw an opening and are working with the leadership of the Miyetti Allah to ensure that we exploit it and bring back as many of our kidnap victims as we can.
With this 77, we have so far returned 104 of the victims, and the process is still ongoing. We are doing this as quietly as we can to ensure that no one is harmed and further kidnappings stopped,” the governor said.
Masari added that the Police, Army, Air Force, Department of State Services (DSS) and all other security agencies were involved in the process.
He said the victims were evacuated from different areas, with 77 from the Batsari-Jibia axis, 16 from the Sabuwa-Faskari-Dandume axis, while the other 10 were from Danmusa. He added that not all the victims were indigenes of Katsina State, saying some were from Kaduna.
The commissioner of police, Katsina State command, Sanusi Buba, said the bandits themselves made several appeals for peace to reign in their domains.
“The Inspector-General of Police, in his wisdom, decided to put this machinery in motion to reach out to these elements so as to see if indeed they are serious with their overtures for peace with their neighbours. They have to demonstrate that by the release of their captives.
This process has been on for some days, and we are grateful to all those who are directly and indirectly involved in this rescue. We are making efforts to ensure that all those that are still in captivity are safely rescued without the payment of any ransom or hindrance.
We hope and pray that this method would not be limited to Katsina State, but would go beyond all other vulnerable states,” he said.
What is left to be seen is how far this peace initiative as mentioned by Buba would go and how much the opening, as enunciated by the Katsina State governor, would be exploited?