John ShiklamÂ writes on the unending killings in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State and why it has been difficult for the security agencies to crush the culprits behind the massacresÂ
Gwaska, a community in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State, was one of the latestÂ victims of the spate of killings across Nigeria.
Indeed Birnin Gwari, is on the killing fields with people being killed virtually every week by armed bandits.
On Saturday May 5, 2018, the hoodlums invaded the village killing over 70 people.
The gunmen, according to the community leader, Isa Musa, were many and were carrying very sophisticated weapons.
Ironically, the attack took place two days after the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Division,Â Nigerian Army, Kaduna, Major Gen. Mohammed Mohammed visited Birnin Gwari.
Musa said the bandits arrived the village in day light – aboutÂ 2:30p.m.Â and encircled the village.
â€œThey came from different directions and encircled us, then they started shooting and burning our houses with impunity,â€ Musa told Governor Nasir el-Rufai who visited the community to commiserate with the people.
The local vigilante group in the village was said to have put upÂ a spirited effort to protect the community from theÂ bandits, but they fell to the superior fire power of the hoodlums.
Like most communities across the country, Birnin Gwari depends largely on vigilante groups because of inadequate security personnel and the difficult terrain of the area.
Most of those killed during the attack, were said to be members of the vigilante as well as women and children who could not escape.
Several other people sustained injuries from gunshots.
Findings revealed that since the beginning of this year, more than 300 people have been killed inÂ the area.
The persistent killings, armed robbery, kidnapping and rape in the area, has paralysed economic and social life of people in the area.
Almost every week, people were being killed or robbed in the area.
Many people have abandoned theirÂ farms for fear of being killed or kidnapped, while going to the market is a risky venture.
Many markets and schools in the area are said to have been closed down as a result of the deadly activities of hoodlums.
It was gathered that the current rate of killing was sparked off by the killing of one of the leaders of a rival group of the bandits called Buharin Daji.
He was said to have been tricked and killed by a rival group in the boundary between Dansadau in Zamfara State and Birnin Gwari.
Since then, a reign of terror pervades as the bandits unleashed mayhem on the people. Every aspect of life – religious, political, health, economic, has been impacted negatively.
THISDAY findings revealed that theÂ bandits are exploitingÂ the bad state of the road to attack and kill people.
Because of the seeming inability of the government to contain the situation, the Emir of Birnin Gwari, Mallam Zubairu Jibril, in a recent interview with one of the national dailies, urged the people of the area to defend themselves against the bandits.
Even security personnel have not been spared by the rampaging hoodlums who killed 11 soldiersÂ deployed to the area onÂ March 22, 2018.
The traditional ruler noted that for over 20 years, armed bandits have been terrorising his domain and applauded decisions by President Muhammadu Buhari to establish a military battalion and an area command of the police in the area.
Also commenting on the issue, a resident of Birnin Gwari Mohammed Aliyu, raised the alarm over impending hunger and poverty in the area as farming and other economic activities in the area have stopped for fear entertained by farmers of being killed by gunmen.
He lamented that whenever soldiers were deployed to tackle the security problems facing the area life was made so difficult.
â€œIn the night, we donâ€™t feel safe, in the day time we donâ€™t feel safe. We are living in fear and uncertainty. They attack at any time of the day,â€ he said.
He said the security personnel posted to the area seemed to be overwhelmedÂ by the activities of the bandits.
But Governor el-Rufai, assured the people that his administration was doing everything possible to tackle the situation.
Speaking during the visit to the village, the governor said everything was being done to find a permanent solution to the problem.
“I want to say again, that we are not sleeping and by the grace of God we will overcome this evil act and the terrorism being unleashed on our people,” the governor said.
He also promised that government will assist in rebuilding the affected communities and urged them to continue to be law-abiding.
President Buhari has also ordered the immediate establishment of a military battalion and a police area command in Birnin Gwari to bring an end to the security challenges.
One ofÂ the greatest security challenges in the area is the expansive Kamuku, Kuyambana and Falgore forests
The forests which are bordering Kaduna, Kebbi, Katsina, Sokoto, Niger and Zamfara states, are so large that the bandits are said to have established so many camps inside.
Part of the forest is said to be a national park which was abandoned by the federal government.
The hoodlums are said to have settled there because they know nobody would want to destroy the park.
A security source said the gunmen hide there and only come into town to buy food stuff in disguise and go back.
They come out of the forest when they want to kill people.
The difficult terrain of the area also makes it impossible for security personnel to respond promptly to any emergency situation. This is in addition to the bad state of roads in the area.
For instance, the road from Kaduna to Birnin Gwari Town is in a terrible state of dilapidation.
In 2015, governors of the six states bordering the forest
sponsored military operations that lasted for six months as part of efforts to flush out the hoodlums. But as soon as the operation was over, the bandits returned to the forest.
At one of the meetings of the Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF) last year in Kaduna, GovernorÂ 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: â€œFor such efforts to be credible and sustainable, the state must vigorously reclaim its prerogatives as the guarantor of security.
â€œRobust 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,â€ he said.
According to el-Rufai, â€œthe forests constitute sources of perils to ordinary people, the states and the country.â€
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 provide safe refuge for outlaws and have become the headquarters for robberies, kidnappings and cattle rustling.
â€œWhat 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,â€ el-Rufai said.
A top security official who pleaded anonymity however maintained that unless the challenges facing security personnel in fighting criminals are addressed, very little success would be made in flushing the gunmen out.
He said even the establishment of the military battalion in the area will not make any much impact without providing the necessary equipment for crime fighting.
Enumerating the challenges facing security personnel, he said security agencies, especially the army and the police have no vehicles that are suitable for the Birnin Gwari terrain.
â€œSecurity agencies donâ€™t have terrain suitable vehicles so how do you go into a large forest? The bandits operate on motorbikes.
â€œThe Birnin Gwari area is surrounded by thick forest which were hitherto forest reserves abandoned by the federal government.
â€œThere is inadequacy of modern internal security equipment, inadequate manpower due to the security challenges across the country. The forests are difficult to access, troops cannot access them,â€ he said.
According to him, â€œthe terrain has proved attractive to bandits and criminals, particularly the Boko Haram insurgents.â€
He added further that â€œthe only possible means of traversing these terrains are by the use of motorbike, but the disadvantage there is the noise pollution, especially in carrying out operations. This will expose troops to danger.
â€œWe suggest a possible airstrike of this inaccessible forest. This will force the bandits to come out.
But there is need for deliberate use of air power as it will be necessary to tackle the issue of collateral damage.
â€œSo help us draw the attention of those in authority on the need for terrain suitable vehicles in addition to modern military and police equipment that will enhance operations,â€ he said
Besides, he decried a situation where security operations are time bound, saying it does not augur well.
He said: â€œWe need to have a permanent solution or long lasting operations that can stand the test of time. Not an operation of two or three months and the army leaves.â€
According to him, â€œthe challenges are so much that the army has become first respondent. Somebody is kidnapped and the military is called in, robbery is taking place, they will call the military.
â€œWe need to look into the framework of security architecture that ensures that we are all there when the need arises so that we checkmate the issue.â€
The source noted that â€œsometimes the criminals are arrested and taken to court, only to be freed by the courts. The legal system must be checked. As long as we donâ€™t have a judicial system that ensures speedy trials for armed banditry, kidnapping etc, we will continue to have criminals back on the streets.
â€œThe issue of delay syndrome, people get information, rather than give it to the man on the ground, you carry it to DSS, DSS will carry it to Abuja, then they will still send it back to you on the ground. At the end of the day, we are talking of time sensitive issue. By the time we are taken there, we are reacting.
â€œI will give you an example of an incident that happened. A letter requiring urgent reply was conveyed for immediate action to be taken to stop crime, the reply of the letter came five days after! So how do you prevent crime with such attitude?
â€œThe communication gap is not helping matters in tackling urgent security issues,â€ the source stressed.
Just recently, el-Rufai re-echoed the agitations for state police when members of Course 60 of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), paid him a courtesy call at the Government House, Kaduna.
This, according to him, will help tackle the security challenges in the country.
He disclosed that: â€œThere are nine governors who strongly believe in state police as theÂ current number of policemen in the country is grossly inadequate. There is need to double the number of police personnel.â€
He dismissed arguments that state governments would not be able to pay the salaries of the police if created, arguing that the states were responsible for the running cost and overhead of the federal police.
Whatever it is, the massacre of innocent people in Birnin Gwari and other parts of the country, especially Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Zamfara, Plateau and Nasarawa must be addressed.