Unending Killings in Kaduna

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John Shiklam writes on the recent slaughter of 11 soldiers in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State by armed bandits and the unending criminality that has made life a nightmare for communities in the area

It was a pensive and sorrowful atmosphere at the Commonwealth Cemetery, Kaduna, penultimate Thursdayas the remains of the 11 soldiers killed by armed bandits in Kompanin Doka Village, Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State were laid to rest.
Top military officers and relations of the deceased soldiers arrived the cemetery by 10 a.m. to pay their last respect to the soldiers who laid down their lives in the defence of Nigerians against criminals that are terrorising communities across the country.
They were cut down in their prime, less than a year after joining the Nigerian Army.

The deceased soldiers aged between 19 and 23, were identified by the army authorities as Ahmed Olabode, Bamidele Adekunle, Christian Ogochukwu, Adamu Mohammed and Lamara Ahmed.
Others are Suleiman Mubarak, Bashir Sani, Usman Abubakar, Nafiu Iliyasu, Safiyanu Ahmed and Alhassan Ibrahim.

They were part of the military operation codenamed ‘Ayem Akpatuma’ which commenced on February 5, 2018, to combat the security situation in Kamuku Forest and its environs as well as curtail the activities of armed robbers, kidnappers and cattle rustlers.
On Tuesday, March 20, 2018, the bandits invaded their camp at about 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. killing 11 of them while four others were said to have been wounded.
The soldiers were said to be among a detachment of troops deployed to the area to provide security for expatriates and construction personnel working on a new road linking Zamfara State with Kaduna through Dansadau-Dangulbi in Zamfara and Birnin Gwari in Kaduna.
Work on the road was said to have been suspended in 2017 following the abduction of one of the foreign engineers working at the site by unknown gunmen, though he was later released.

For years, bandits have been terrorising the Birnin Gwari communities and travellers so ruthlessly as they robbed, killed, kidnapped, raped and rustled cows.
Their deadly activities and the seeming inability of the security agencies to contain them have led to the decline of socio-economic activities in the area as the communities live under a reign of terror.
Speaking at the funeral ceremony of the soldiers, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Division of the Nigerian Army, Kaduna, Maj. Gen. Muhammad Muhammad, showered encomiums on the deceased soldiers.
Muhammad said the deceased soldiers who joined the army barely a year ago were full of life and ready to serve the country.
The GOC said the soldiers were yet to meet their families to even show them their military uniforms when they were cut down.
He said the funeral was a solemn occasion that does not require much speech.
The GOC said, “On the morning of March 20, 2018, the very able men, stood out to assist this country, they came into this job barely a year ago full of life to give their service to this country.”

He lamented that since the dead soldiers told their relations that they had joined the army, many of them were yet to go back to their relations after their military training to show them the uniforms they were given in the army.
“That is the sad thing about this occasion.
Now they have paid the supreme sacrifice to defend the territorial integrity of this country.
“They shed their blood in the community of Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State. The soldiers were trained for about six months and were taken for further training to add value to them, only for their dreams to be cut short,” the GOC lamented.
Muhammad assured that the Nigerian Army will not relent in fishing out those behind the killings and bring them to justice.
“We assure the Nigerian community that the peace of this country, we will guarantee it.
“We found ourselves today as first respondents, we will not shy away from it. We will continue to do our duties diligently regardless of any shortcomings, regardless of issues like this,” the GOC said.
While consoling families and relations of the late soldiers, Muhammad urged them not to discourage their other children who may wish to join the army because of the incident.
Also speaking at the funeral ceremony, the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai regretted the death of the soldiers.

The governor who donated N500,000 each as assistance to the family of the deceased soldiers said the state government was pained by the killing of the soldiers.
El-Rufai, who was represented by the Secretary to the Kaduna State Government (SSG), Balarabe Abbas, said “It is with heavy heart and regrets that I stand in your midst to express our heartfelt condolences to the families of 11 soldiers who lost their lives in action at Kompani Doka in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
“It is quite a tragedy, we have been mourning since we received the sad news. The military has been assisting us in the area of security in the last two or three years since we came.
“We have had so many operations in that area to stop the banditry in the Birnin Gwari area, kidnapping, armed robbery, cattle rustling and the rest of them. So it is a big tragedy,” the governor said.

He said further that “the soldiers fought gallantly in securing our lives, they paid the supreme price in the process while three others were also wounded during the attack by the bandits.”
The governor, while presenting a cheque of N5.5 million to the GOC for onward delivery to the families of the deceased soldiers, commended members of the armed forces and other security agencies for the support they have been giving to the state government in tackling security challenges.
“May God grant the families of the deceased and the Nigerian Army the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
On our part, we will not relent in efforts to work with security agencies to fish out the bandits and bring them to justice.
“We want to support the next of kin of these soldiers. We know the Nigerian Army will do their own part.
The Kaduna State Government is giving the sum of N500,000 to each of the families of the deceased soldiers,” he said.

Some relations of the late soldiers who spoke in an interview during the funeral amidst tears said they never set eyes on their children after their training till their death.
One of them, Sani Liman Kila, a relation of late Kamara Ahmed, said he was devastated by the death of his brother.
“He was a very young man, very vibrant and hardworking. He died barely two months after he passed out from the Nigerian Army Depot, so it is very sad and painful,” Kila said.
According to him, the deceased “spent only one day at the place he was posted” before he met his untimely death.
“If you observed, all of them were fresh intakes into the army, it is very shocking. We are devastated but there is nothing we can do than to pray for the repose of his soul,” he said.

Franklin Ogochukwu who also mourned his late younger brother, Christian Ogochukwu, said he never wanted his brother to join the army, but people mounted pressure on him to allow him.
He said they were orphans and as the senior, he was the one struggling to bring them up adding that he wanted the deceased to pursue his education since he was a very brilliant boy.
“But when he couldn’t get admission to the university, he told me he wanted to join the army. I told him to keep on trying, but he said he wanted to join the army.
“When I kicked against the idea of him joining the army, a neighbour came to plead on his behalf, asking me to allow him to join the army. It is sad that he ended up in a tragic manner,” he said amidst tears.
For years, the Birnin Gwari area has become a stronghold for bandits who terrorised communities in the area with ruthless abandon.
They invaded communities, robbed, killed, raped and rustled cows. Travellers plying the Kaduna – Lagos highway have also been worst hit by the activities of these bandits who appear to have defied all security strategies.
Their deadly activities and the seeming inability of the security agencies to contain them have led to the decline of socio-economic activities in the area as the communities live under a reign of terror.

One of the daring attacks by the bandits was in 2013, when the hoodlums bombed branches of two major banks in Birnin Gwari, the headquarters of the Birnin Gwari Local Government, killed some policemen guarding the bank and made away with huge sums of money.
It was learnt that many villages in the area often came under siege.
According to a source in Birnin Gwari, sometimes the bandits sent letters to communities demanding for sums of money ranging from N250,000 and above or risked being raided. The communities have had to levy each other to raise whatever they can afford to beg them.
The source said any community that fails to raise money for the bandits or alerts security agencies faces devastating consequences.
The Kaduna – Birnin Gwari highway is believed to be one of the most dangerous highways in the country as armed robbery and kidnapping activities occurred almost on a daily basis.

Hundreds of people have either been killed, wounded or kidnapped along that axis as a result of armed robbery attacks while millions of naira had been lost by commuters.
The bandits are said to be well-established in several camps within the large Kamuku, Kuyambana and Falgore forests which stretches to Kaduna, Kebbi, Niger, Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara states.
Several local markets in the area are said to have closed down as a result of the activities of the criminals.
Another source in Birnin Gwari added that many local vigilante groups, cannot stand the sophisticated weapons of the bandits as some of the vigilante members who dare them have been killed in the most inhuman manner.
According to him, the bandits carry very sophisticated weapons and they are very daring, adding that the local vigilante groups in the various communities cannot stand them.
“They carry very sophisticated weapons and they are very daring. They have destroyed economic and social activities within communities.
“People live in perpetual fear of being attacked. The security agencies, especially the army and the police have been doing their best, but they also have their challenges,” he said.
According to him, one of the problems facing many communities is the poor telephone networks and lack of motorable roads to access the communities.

This, in addition to the terrain of the area, according to him, make it impossible for security personnel to respond promptly to any emergency situation.
Among several people who had fallen victim to the bandits, was a deputy police commissioner serving in Gusau, Zamfara State and some members of his family who were abducted in 2017, alongside others while travelling along that route from Funtua in Katsina State.
Also in January 2018, two South Africans who were kidnapped at a mining site in Maidaro village, Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State, were rescued by the police.
Several security operations have been launched in the area to flush out the bandits, but it appears that as soon as such exercises were over, the bandits regrouped again to resume their nefarious activities with more ferocity.
In July 2015, the governors of Kaduna, Kebbi, Katsina, Sokoto, Niger and Zamfara states all of who share boundaries at the Kamuku, Kuyambana and Falgore forests, sponsored a joint security operation known as “Operation Sharan  Daji” to deal with the wave of cattle rustling, armed banditry, kidnapping and all forms of criminalities in the area.

The operation, comprising the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Airforce, the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Customs and the State Security Services (SSS) lasted for six months.
The operation yielded some positive results as many of the bandits were either killed during the exchange of gunfire or arrested.
At a news conference on the success of the operation in January 2016, former General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Division of the Nigerian army, Major. Gen. Adebiyi Oyebade disclosed that over 100 of the bandits were killed in the course of the operation while 294 cattle rustlers were arrested
Oyebade further said 103 types of weapons were also recovered from the criminal gangs.
“Given the wide expanse of the North-west zone, over 200 camps belonging to the bandits were destroyed. These recoveries were in collaboration with other security agencies which we worked closely with.”

In January 2018,  the 1 Division of the Nigerian Army launched yet another special operation in parts of Kaduna and Niger states to tackle rising cases of kidnapping, armed robbery and cattle rustling in parts of the area.
The operation codenamed “Karamin Goro” covered Minna-Birnin Gwari-Pandogari and Minna-Sarkin Pawa general area.
The special operation according to the Deputy Director, Army Public Relations and spokesmen of the Division, Col. Mohammed Dole, involved the Nigerian Air Force, Police, DSS operatives and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
Dole in a statement said that the operation was imperative following emerging cases of armed robberies, cattle rustling and kidnappings in the affected areas which have continued to pose serious security threats to Nigerians.
“These criminals use the thick forests as hideouts and major highways as staging areas to perpetrate their nefarious activities along highways, major roads, adjoining towns and villages.

“As a result of their dastardly acts, some remote villages were completely deserted, causing the residents to abandon their ancestral domains to unknown destinations for their safety,” he said.
He said in response to these re-emerging security concerns, the Division launched Operation Karamin Goro to clear the remnants of the criminals from their bases and ensure the safety of lives, property and safe movement of people within these areas.
He urged those with useful information to always call 193 from any network provider for a prompt response by security agencies.
However, two months after the operation, the army fell victim of the bandits.
Governors of the affected states have also been making concerted efforts to end banditry in the areas concerned.
Apart from sponsoring the military operations that lasted for six months in 2015, the governors have been advocating that the federal government handover the forests to them.

At one of the meetings of the Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF) last year in Kaduna, Governor Nasir el-Rufai advocated that governors of the North-west region should approach the federal government with a proposal for the handing over of the Kamuku, Kuyambana and Falgore forests for them to manage.
El-Rufai said in view of the high level of crime across the forests, it may be prudent for the states to manage them rather than leaving it in the hands of the federal government.
He said “For such efforts to be credible and sustainable, the state must vigorously reclaim its prerogatives as the guarantor of security.
“Robust actions in the security sector must be undertaken quickly to implant a visible, reassuring and effective presence of the protective hand of the state across our region,” he said.

Speaking further, the governor said “We should consider whether it is not prudent, for instance, for the states that through which the Kamuku, Kuyambana and Falgore forest ranges stretch to request that the “federal government should hand them over for better and closer management.”
According to el-Rufai, “the forests constitute sources of perils to ordinary people, the states and the country.”

He noted that after the bitter experience with Boko Haram, it will be a mistake to allow the emergence of new Sambisa in the forests, which he said provides safe refuge for outlaws and has become the headquarters for robberies, kidnappings and cattle rustling.
“What is proposed is that we continue to jointly fund special security operations to sanitise these spaces, which must now be accompanied with a development agenda to convert them from areas of insecurity to places that are properly integrated into the economy,” el-Rufai said.