Katsina — Last Sunday was another sad day for many communities in Katsina State following the invasion of their homes by bandits who killed many people and inflicted life threatening injuries on others. Several others were kidnapped, just as livestock were rustled.
The worst affected villages were Tsayau (Jibia LGA), Dantakuri and Barza (Danmusa LGA) and Zakka (Safana LGA). They are among the eight most affected local governments by banditry, being border villages to the dreaded Rugu Forest that harbours the bandits.
During the Sunday attack, no fewer than 17 people were reported killed- four at Tsayau, 11 at Dantakuri and two at Barza while four were kidnapped at Zakka village.
The attacks took place between 5pm and midnight according to residents with kidnapping, wanton destruction of property and rustling of large numbers of animals.
Tsayau residents after the attack, took three of the corpses to the palace of the Emir of Katsina, Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, to protest the killings.
But the emir was absent, and some palace officials pleaded with the protesters to take the corpses to the morgue. They were buried the next day.
The police said in Tsayau village, at about 15:30hours, a group of armed bandits invaded and seized four cows. The acting spokesman of the state police command, ASP Anas Gezawa said: "The villagers mobilized and followed the bandits in to the forest, ostensibly to recover the cows, but the bandits killed four of the villagers and escaped into the thick mountainous forest."
Similarly, the Chairman of Danmusa LGA, Sanusi Dangi Abbas, confirmed the killing of 11 persons at Dantakuri village and one at Barza while one was injured.
Residents of Tsayau who went to the palace of the emir identified those killed as Buhari Musa, Surajo Lawal, Abdullahi Rabe and Kabiru Yahaya (a Nigerien)
"This is the third time they attacked us, it took the intervention of the Nigerien Army to rescue us, they brought out the corpses and took one of their nationals, Kabiru Yahaya, with them," a source said.
Another villager in Barza said the bandits must have hidden in nearby farms only to appear suddenly.
"They killed our chief imam, Malam Atiku Abdullahi and shot one Kabir Mageresa and took away his motorcycle," he said.
On July 6, three villages-Dan Sabau, Pawwa and Makera, all of Kankara LGA were attacked. The residents put the deaths at eight but the police said only six civilians were killed. Many animals were rustled. A police officer was killed when the bandits laid ambush on security personnel who came for rescue.
In Kirtawa village of Safana LGA, 10 people died while five were injured.
Five vehicles and four motorcycles were set ablaze with an unspecified number of cows rustled by the hoodlums.
It was estimated that close to 300 bandits on motorcycles armed with dangerous weapons invaded the village and later laid ambush on security personnel. The hoodlums shot the tires of the police Armoured Personnel Vehicle and injured one soldier and a Civil Defence operative.
On July 22, Zango village in Kankara was attacked with over 20 deaths recorded. The attack was carried by more than 200 bandits on motorcycles, dressed in army camouflage.
Several houses including that of the village head and two vehicles were burnt and the whereabouts of three women is still unknown.
Between July 28 and August 1, there were reported attacks on several Batsari surrounding villages that led to the death of no fewer than eight persons.
IDPs decry bandits' tactics
For displaced persons in Katsina State, being forced out of their communities is only one of the problems they have to contend with. What they see as an existential threat is the scorched earth tactics being employed by the bandits, where they not only sack communities, but destroy property and resources, thereby rendering the villages virtually uninhabitable.
"They usually come in large numbers on motorcycles. They form a circle round the community, they would then position a huge rifle operated by two or three persons at the community's main entrance to frustrate security personnel who may come for rescue.
"Others would then move into the village or town, shooting sporadically before ransacking shops, carting away food stuff, rustling animals from homes and then burning them down," Malam Musa, a resident of Dagwarwa in Safana LGA said.
"So, even when people eventually return home, they have to start from the scratch," Musa continued. "It may interest you to know that for many households, their means of livelihood may not be on more than a few animals, a grinding machine or small businesses that may not be worth more than N2,000."
He said, "Our village is presently serving as a base for the bandits because all the original inhabitants have fled after their houses were burnt or destroyed."
Zakiya Abdullahi Kasai of Batsari said, "On the Saturday that election was postponed, they arrived at about 9pm and met some youths, about four of them, with some vigilante people, and just opened fire on them."
"Soon after the first shots were fired and people began to run, more shots were heard from other places," she said, adding, "It was on the next day that we realised that some others had already circled the village in the bush, waiting."
She added: "They later moved from house to house, cutting loose already tied animals, mostly sheep and cows. The people cutting loose the animals and shooting were different from those gathering and taking them away."
Aisha Suleman from Garin Dodo in Batsari, said, "They always attack us every Tuesday and we don't know why. They have attacked us about 30 times so far, they come on motorcycles between 14 and 20, they would start shooting, and we would run to the hills."
"They would pursue those trying to run with some of their animals or property and retrieve them and stop them, especially those heading to Wagini. I was one of those they slapped after they stopped me while running," she added.
Zuwaira Tagaza from Dan Tudun Garin Yara said: "They come on many motorcycles at both day and night, they used masks then but not anymore. Even chickens are now stolen by the attackers."
"The last they came, they surrounded the whole village, shooting all over, it was at about 4pm and stopped the operation a little past 2am. We all ran leaving the village for them" she added.
Samunu from Nahuta village said: "The first attack was on bikes with a Toyota canter that they used to carry all the animals and food stuff. This last attack, they came with it, taking away food stuff and they started moving to houses, even taking away clothes"
The state police command in several of their statements said the bandits usually come between 200 and 300 on motorcycles, sometimes wearing army camouflage and shouting "Allah Akbar" as they carried out their operations. They wear black clothes during night attacks.
They lay ambush most times, injuring personnel and killing some. They shoot sporadically, they use motorcycles that access the most unusable roads in the areas as they flee to evade arrest, into the forests.
Governor Aminu Masari during the sympathy visit by President Muhammadu Buhari to the IDPs admitted that the criminal attacks were accompanied by wanton destruction through burning of food stores, vehicles and houses.
The Executive Secretary of the state emergency management agency, Babangida Nasamu, said officials had arrived the state and were taking a comprehensive data of all those affected with a view to making adequate provision for them.
He said it was not the intention of government to keep the IDPs for long in camps, adding that government was always working fast to address the security situation in the villages to return them home.
Farming, markets activities at low ebb
Farming which is the main stay of people of the area, is greatly affected as many have abandoned their farms, especially those far away from villages, for fear of kidnappers. Several weekly markets in the state are seriously recording low activities.
The Kankara market, Dandume, and Jibia are some of the most popular but patronage is not heavy anymore. The markets are not immune to attacks as some had in the past been disrupted by bandits. On Wednesday, the Illela market in Safana was attacked and three persons were said to have been kidnapped.
Malam Harisu who comes from Funtua to the Kankara market every week says it is no more profitable as his sales have greatly dropped.
Another merchant, Bishir Aliyu, said the influx of people especially from Ilorin and Ibadan to purchase beans has dropped significantly.
"It is bad for us as farmers, most farms are deserted," he said.
A revenue officer in the market who spoke on condition of anonymity said: "The closest example I can give you is that, our neighbouring villages from Zamfara, every week they used to come with eight trailer loads of foodstuff to sell. In the past two months, only half a truck was brought here. In terms of revenue, I tell you, if we were raking in about N500,000 in the past, hardly do we rake in N100,000 now."
State govt's efforts against banditry
Since 2015, when the APC administration came in, it inherited a bad security situation in some frontline local government areas bordering the Rugu forest. They are Jibia, Batsari, Danmusa, Safana, Kankara, Faskari, Sabuwa and Dandume
Cattle rustling and rural banditry were left to spiral out of control as thousands of farmers and Fulani herders in the affected areas were attacked and displaced by bandits and other marauders. Many lost not only their property and sources of livelihood but also their lives.
The Aminu Masari administration on inception deployed varying tactics and comprehensive peace packages including stakeholder engagements, dialogues, and amnesty programs to promptly and decisively address the problem of cattle rustling and rural banditry.
Despite the relative success recorded by the state government on cattle rustling, the military operation in Zamfara State has greatly affected Katsina State as most of the rustlers dislodged from the forests in Zamfara relocated to Katsina, especially the frontline local government areas bordering Rugu Forest, thus affecting success in that regard.
But there are still other associated security challenges with kidnappings and other forms of abduction as being the most disturbing.
This problem, according to Masari in his second term inauguration speech, was primarily due to a number of factors like failure in the past to deal with the emerging rural banditry and the subsequent militarization of many of ungoverned spaces which was facilitated by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons leading to the destruction of the rural economy and pushed thousands of people into unemployment and poverty.
Needless to say, it was this combination that created the volatile condition which presently nurture and sustain insecurity in the state.
The state government engaged the top officials of Zamfara and Sokoto States at Gusau on how to ensure a renewed offensive to safeguard the people. It was agreed during the meeting for a joint operation of coordinated and simultaneous offensive under a single command.
The government said it had been providing operational vehicles, office and residential accommodation, security equipment for operation, monthly personnel allowances and so many others to the security personnel posted to the state.
It added that it purchased 10 Toyota Hilux operational vehicles at the tune of N181 million and distributed to these frontline councils, in addition to over 50 operational motorcycles for security personnel.
The establishment of the 17 Brigade of the Nigerian Army and the recent deployment of over 300 personnel by the Inspector General of Police, Muhammad Adamu, to the state is expected to go a long way in complementing government's quest for a crime-free Katsina State.
Their setting up led to provision of additional military Bases in Danmusa, Kankara and Dandume Local Government Areas as a serious boost to the security architecture of Katsina state.
Also in a recent interview Masari was quoted as saying, "We have also placed an order for Tricking Systems which will help us in tricking bandits and kidnappers. What we can do is to give the security personnel logistical support but their hardwares have to come from them. So, these are some of the supports we are giving apart from the vehicles and other logistical assistance.
"Security personnel can't be everywhere. If you take from Jibia down to Sabuwa, there are more than 500 villages. So, it is not possible to have a formation in every village but within a distance that we can communicate and they can respond immediately, and from the reports I am getting from police, SSS and other sources from our political machineries, things are getting better".
The state governor has signed into law an amended Penal Code law prescribing death sentence for kidnapping and cattle rustling in the state.
Only recently the state hosted a top security meeting which was graced by 10 governors and the Inspector General of Police with some repentant bandits where far reaching measures were taken.
They include the banning of activities of Yan Sakai (volunteers), civilians who freely organised themselves into groups with the aim of protecting their communities against bandits or kidnappers. The state government has also banned the sale of petrol in Jerry cans and sale of Boxer and Kasea brands of motorcycles believed to be preferred by bandits.