Birnin Gwari Bandits Dare the Army

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John Shikam writes that the recent directive by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, ordering his men to flush out the bandits terrorising communities in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State, seems to have made the hoodlums more daring

On May 14, 2018, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai ordered troops to flush out bandits terrorising communities in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State, within three weeks.

The directives, coming from the Army Chief came as a great relief to the people of the area who have been living under a reign of terror.

Like other parts of the country, Birnin Gwari has been under constant attacks by gunmen leading to so much bloodshed, abductions and destruction of property.

However, about two weeks after Buratai’s directives, nothing much seemed to have changed as the bandits continue to unleash mayhem on the communities and travellers in the area as people are being killed or abducted almost every week.

Despite the deployment of security personnel to the area, the hoodlums seemed to be operating freely as they go about with their criminal activities.

The COAS, had during the flag-off of the Forward Operation Base (FOB), tagged operation ‘Idon Raini’ at the proposed site of the 2 Battalion at Kampanin Doka Village, near Birnin Gwari, charged the troops to bring the criminals to their knees in three weeks.

“In the next two, three weeks, there must be resounding results that will bring these criminals to their knees finally,” the COAS had declared while addressing the troops.

The launching of the operation was sequel to the deadly attack on Gwaska Village in the Birnin Gwari area. Over 70 people were killed with several houses set ablaze during the deadly invasion of the village.

The troops were camped at the very location where 11 soldiers were killed about two months ago.

Tukur said: “The criminals are not coming from the moon or coming from outer space, they are within this territory, I don’t know why you cannot go to where they are, and fish them out.”

Speaking further, he declared that: “The killings must stop, the wanton destruction of property must stop, not only within Kaduna State but in the North-west, the North-central and across our country.

“We must respond decisively and commanders will be personally held responsible for any lapses,” he stressed.

He warned that troops must “decide and take appropriate action, anything outside that, you will also be held responsible.”

Buratai said the Nigerian Army will no longer adopt a defensive approach but an offensive approach.

“The battle must be taken to the door steps of the criminals. We are no longer going to adopt the defensive approach, it must be offensive. Since the battle has been brought to you, you must take it back and crush them wherever they are,” the COAS ordered.

He regretted that it was unfortunate that the insecurity is equally turning against the security forces and urged the troops to first of all protect themselves to avoid a repeat of the incident that led to the killing of 11 of their colleagues in the area.

“We are first and foremost supposed to ensure that we protect ourselves. If we cannot protect ourselves, it will be difficult to protect any other person.

“I am saying this against the unfortunate incident that happened here, in this particular place where 11 of our colleagues were unfortunately killed.

“Our training must be applied on the ground. Whatever we have learnt during training, must be applied on the ground.

“You must apply all the techniques and the procedures and the tactics for the type of operations you are deployed to perform. So we expect very high standard of operation.

“A situation where our troops don’t observe the basic routines must be avoided,” Buratai told the troops.

He also assured the troops of their welfare, adding that their challenges and other logistics were being addressed.

Earlier during a courtesy call on the Emir of Birnin Gwari, Mallam Jibrin Zubairu, in his palace in Birnin Gwari, the Army Chief assured the traditional ruler that the security challenges would be over as everything was being done to tackle the situation.

“We are working round the clock to make sure we get things in order…We will do our best so that the situation is brought to normalcy. The Army is concerned, the government is concerned, I want to assure you that we will work assiduously to bring about normalcy here so that the people will go back to their farms and continue their livelihood,” the COAS told the Emir.

The assurances of Buratai, raised the hope of the people who have been under a reign of terror for many years.

Hundreds of people in Birnin Gwari town had stormed the palace of the Emir as news went round that the COAS had come to crush the hoodlums.

The Emir was so elated about the visit and the assurances by the Army Chief to bring an end to banditry in the area.

“The Minister of Interior was here, the Inspection General of Police (IGP) was here and now you have come, it means the government has heard our cry,” the Emir said while responding to remarks by the COAS.

“Your visit is a great reassurance that the security challenges would be addressed,” the Emir said.

He told Buratai who was accompanied by top military officers and the Kaduna State Police Commissioner, Austin Iwar that unless the Army go to the bushes and flush out the bandits from their hideouts, the killings would not stop.

The Emir said soldiers are normally stationed on the roads while the bandits are in their hideouts in the bushes.

“This place is not Sambisa (forest), the bandits have their limit, they can be defeated. Since the Chief of Army Staff has come here, we are optimistic that the problem will be over,” the Emir told journalists in an interview shortly after the courtesy call by the COAS.

However, the hope of the people seems to have dimmed when three days after the COAS’ visit, 10 people were killed when bandits attacked four villages.

It appears that each time a top security official visited the area, the bandits respond with more attacks.

When the IGP, Ibrahim Idris visited the area alongside the General Officer Commanding 1 Division of the Nigerian Army on May 6, 2018, the bandits invaded Gwaska Village two days after the visit and killed over 70 people. Several people were wounded while many houses were burnt.

Also three days after the COAS visited the area, the bandits responded by attacking four villages, killing 10 people.

The hoodlums are said to be more daring as they

mount road blocks on the roads and disguise as policemen, robbing and abducting people.

According to the Chairman of the Birnin Gwari branch of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), taxi section, the road from Birnin Gwari, connecting Funtua, in Katsina State is a no go area, as the bandits have taken over the road.

He said the criminals operate freely along the route as there are no security personnel patrolling the road, adding that motorists have abandoned the road for fear of being robbed or kidnapped.

The people of Birnin Gwari are wondering why, in spite of the three weeks’ directives by the COAS, the attacks seemed to be going on unabated, with people being killed or abducted almost on a weekly basis.

A politician from Birnin Gwari who pleaded anonymity said the people of the area were so excited when Buratai gave his men three weeks to chase out the bandits.

“When the Army Chief ordered his men to smoke out these criminals within three weeks, we felt very relieved. “We were hopeful, we were jubilating, but with the way things are going, we are becoming disenchanted.

“We have not felt the impact of security agents deployed to Birnin Gwari. Of course, they have their own challenges, but we don’t expect that these bandits should be operating the way they are doing,” he said.

There are complaints among the people that the impact of the security agencies deployed to the area are yet to be felt, as the bandits appear to have become the law unto themselves and operate with impunity.

The military operations launched by Buratai were part of the efforts aimed at combating the menace of the bandits.

The police had earlier deployed 200 additional personnel to the area after the killings in Gwaska.

But there seem to be no respite as the bandits continuously carry out their criminal activities.

On May 20, they invaded Maganda Village at about 2:00 a.m. and abducted three housewives.

A 12-year-old boy was said to have been shot following sporadic shooting by the gunmen.

The three women, said to be wives of one Alhaji Adamu Nakwalla, were abducted when the bandits could not find their husband who was hiding.

One of the wives was later released after they had reached Danyamu, a neighbouring village and was given a phone number to deliver to her husband to call.

On Tuesday and Wednesday last week, 44 passengers travelling along the dilapidated Birnin-Gwari-Kaduna highway were abducted by gunmen.

The victims, according to the NURTW chairman were travelling to Kano for business.

Duniya said the bandits posed as police men and stopped the vehicles, adding that the female victims were stripped naked and their clothes were left by the vehicles at the scene of the attack before they were taken to the bush.

Duniya said on the Wednesday incident, 21 people travelling in three Golf vehicles from Birnin-Gwari to Kano were abducted while 17 people in a Saloon car as well as six people traveling in a truck and a tanker were earlier abducted on Tuesday.

A security official who pleaded anonymity regretted the attacks, but added that security personnel also have their challenges.

He said it was not possible for security personnel to be deployed to every village in the area.

He added further that although security personnel have been working hand-in-hand with local vigilante groups the terrain of the area and the fact that bandits have sophisticated weapons and are always in large group while launching an attack posses serious challenges.

“Birnin Gwari Local Government is very large, it is a very difficult terrain. It has a thick forest stretching to

Zamfara, Sokoto, Birnin Kebbi, Katsina and Niger states.

“The bandits are said to have established various camps in the Kamuku Forest.

“Security personnel are ill-equipped to go into the forest, but I believe steps are being taken to address it,” he said.

Similarly, the dilapidated federal highway from Kaduna to Birnin Gwari poses serious security threat.

The bad state of the road has made it easy for bandits to operate.

Because of the bad state of road, vehicles move at a snail speed making it possible for the criminals to operate and run into the bushes.

Even if security agencies are alerted, the bad road makes it impossible to respond to distress calls in good time.

During Buratai’s visit, the Emir appealed to the federal government to repair the road.

“The bandits use the bad roads for their attacks,” the Emir said.

Besides, bad road, communication is also a challenge in some of the communities where there is no telephone network, making it impossible to alert security agents in times of emergencies.

Some of the security personnel also complained that sometimes they are not properly fed.

“They don’t give us food, there are times we go without breakfast,” one of the security personnel alleges.

The farming season has come and the people are praying and waiting to be liberated from these bandits that have destroyed their economic and social activities. Unless the security agencies tackle the situation, many families stand the risk of hunger and starvation.