Katsina — The dreaded Rugu Forest, spanning over 220km cutting across Niger Republic to substantial part of Nigeria has for long been a source of livelihood for nomads. But over time, it has now become a den of criminals, and a no-go area for many. The forest cuts across seven Katsina State local governments, namely Jibia, Safana, Batsari, Danmusa, Sabuwa, Dandume, and Faskari, and the bandits occupying it have made life unbearable for locals, who say hundreds have been killed, and many women raped, just as cattle worth billions of naira were lost.
The government and security operatives offered an amnesty program for the criminals, which reduced the attacks. But recently, a resurgence of banditry in the area is becoming a source of worry, with many attributing it to a crossover from the embattled Zamfara axis. Hardly a day goes by without any reported killing, kidnapping, or attack on people living in the forest's vicinity.
Last week, the bandits struck Sabon Garin Dumburawa village, of Batsari LGA, displacing over 1,500 persons, mostly women and children. The attackers zoomed in on motorcycles, before a shootout with security operatives.
Council Chairman Mannir Muazu said villagers are afraid of fresh attacks, after security officials were able to apprehend property purportedly belonging to the bandits.
At the camp, victims narrated their accounts. Binta Musa, whose husband was killed, said it took God's grace for her to survive. She said after they killed him, the bandits took away their animals and other valuables.
Adamu Hamisu, a businessman who escaped a daytime attack along Batsari-Safana road said the attacks are now daily. "Better security is needed, urgently," he said.
Also, kidnapping for ransom is also raging. Secretary of District Head of Safana, Abdulrazak Muhammed, said in the last few months, over N20million has been paid to secure the release of victims. He mentioned most-affected areas, including Dumburawa, Shekina, Yargamji, Kandawa, Karewa, Madogara, Kwandaso, and Shinge.
Last week, two supervisory councillors of Safana LGA were abducted. They are Hussaini Wanzam (Finance) and Bishir Dan Jikko (Water and Sanitation), abducted on their way to Batsari town after close of work yesterday. A N50million ransom is being demanded, and they remain in captivity at the time of filing this report.
As a result of fear, families are relocating, squatting with friends and relatives.
In Jibia, the recent attack in Gurbin Baure of Zamfara State forced villagers to relocate. At two residences visited in Jibia town, over 25 households were seen taking refuge in makeshift rooms and verandas of their hosts' homes. Majority are women and children.
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the men return to their abandoned houses and farms in daytime and go back to their respective families by evening. Malam Suleiman Koki, who is accommodating 12 persons, said it has not been easy. He asked that humanitarian support be extended to the affected persons.
A victim identified as Adama Mohammed called on government to provide them with security so that they can return home. "Our present living condition is terrible, we hardly feed enough and burden on their hosts is enormous," she added.
The Sarkin Baki, Jibia, Musa Maihoto, currently hosting about 100 people, said more are coming. "From available information, about 17 households in Jibia have taken people in from affected villages," he said.
During his sympathy visit and assessment of the situation, Governor Aminu Masari ordered security chiefs to arrest the situation. He also warned traditional rulers in the affected areas against shielding criminals in their midst, saying that government will not hesitate to dethrone anyone found culpable.
The governor also told the people that it was only with their cooperation that government will be able to provide the required security protection for the society, urging them to pass on useful information to security agencies.
Police spokesman SP Gambo Isah assured people of the tireless efforts of the police, and called for support.
On their part, the Nigerian Air Force has promised to expand its ongoing Operation 'Diran Mikiya' targeting Zamfara bandits at Dajin Rugu to cover Birnin Gwari (Kaduna), Sokoto and Katsina axis.
Speaking with newsmen shortly after returning from Zamfara State at Umaru Musa Yar'adua Airport, the base of the operation, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar said the expansion was necessitated following the review of the 3-months-old operation. He said smaller outposts shall be created for fuelling and landing of choppers with a view to speeding up the processes, adding that the operation will be re-strategised to meet with the present demands of the operation.
In his remarks, Masari stressed the need for synergy between NAF and ground troops in the operation, saying that aerial bombardment can be more effective if there is mop-up of arms by the ground troops. The governor added that eight hardened criminals believed to be behind the recent attacks have been apprehended, and are in the custody of the DSS.