Katsina and the Burden of Banditry

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The inability of security agencies to tackle illegal migration has made Katsina residents vulnerable to the thriving attacks by armed bandits and kidnappers, writes Francis Sardauna

In the past two years, residents of Katsina State have been experiencing different forms of crimes ranging from armed banditry, cattle rustling, abduction and arson.

The ugly threat began with pockets of tit-for-tat clashes in 2015 between herders and farmers over cattle rustling. The situation used to occur mostly during harvesting of farm products particularly where farm products were not moved out from the farmlands.

Poor handling by local authorities, who have been accused by both sides of bias, resulted in distrust that partly led to its escalation in some parts of the state. Since 2015, the conflict has left more than 500 people dead, destroyed farmlands, rustled more than 10,000 cattle and impacted about 50 villages, according to security experts who craved anonymity.

However, it took a different dimension this year when bandits started moving around Katsina communities in broad daylight brandishing their AK 47 riffles. As they moved freely in most communities, they told the villagers to mind their businesses and not interfere with theirs.

Today, the armed bandits attacks have engulfed nine local government areas of the state. Numerous communities have been destroyed and attempts to go to farms have become life-threatening ventures even as many people have been displaced from their homes.

The affected local governments are Batsari, Safana, Kankara, Jibia, Faskari, Dandume, Kafur, Danmusa and Sabuwa. Communities within these local government areas are being attack almost on daily basis despite the deployment of massive security personnel to the areas.

This, however, prompted the residents to accuse the security operatives of not doing “anything” to curtail or avert the wanton killings.

Hideout
The worst-hit local governments share border with deadly Rugu Forest, which is so large that the bandits are said to have established so many camps inside. A security source said the gunmen hide there and only come into town to buy foodstuff in disguise and go back.

The hoodlums who had settled in the forest for years, according to residents, only 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.

Toll on the State

Investigations by THISDAY showed that residents are worried that while the bandits now rape many women, they kidnap the young girls. The ugly development is causing tension and mistrust among family members, particularly rural dwellers.

The security agencies seem clueless in preventing or solving atrocities across the landscape, making residents vulnerable to attacks by bandits and kidnappers in the affected local governments.

This ugly scenario has taken a heavy toll on the state in recent weeks. Both the affluent and average citizens have been killed or wantonly abducted for ransom in several communities. The bandits have also held several villages in the state to a standstill.

Batsari Carnage
At the end of their latest horrific killings, which occurred last two weeks, the criminals left 18 people dead in Yar Gamji village of Batsari Local Government Area of the state. The residents blamed the carnage on the negligence of the security agencies – particularly the police and failure to act on intelligence that a major attack was in the offing.

In what may be described as an audacious operation, the bandits, numbering about 20, stormed the area on motorcycles. According to the District Head of Batsari, Alhaji Mannir Ruma, each motorcycle carried three persons, who were armed with sophisticated weapons.

Protesting the killings, aggrieved youths had on May 22, 2019, ferried the corpses of the victims from Batsari to Katsina, the state capital, where they displayed them before the Emir of Katsina, Dr. Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, and Governor Aminu Bello Masari.

Performing the funeral rites, the Chief Imam of Katsina Central Mosque, Mustapha Ahmed, prayed for the repose of the souls of the deceased and sued for peace.

Addressing journalists shortly after the funeral rites, the Batsari district head, said bandits had earlier threatened that there would be no farming activities in the area in this year’s rainy season.

The paramount ruler said the bandits had been harassing farmers in the area with sophisticated weapons, adding that the victims were cultivating their farms when the bandits ambushed them. He called on security agencies and the state government to rekindle their efforts to curtail the carnage to enable farmers return to farm.

Also speaking at the funeral, the Caretaker Committee Chairman of Batsari, Mr. Mannir Mu’azu, lamented that the horrific incidences of bandit attacks had continued unabated in the area due to inadequate security.

According to the council boss, security personnel in the state were not doing anything to tackle the deadly attacks against residents in the area. He stated that the situation if left unchecked would affect this year’s farming season, as according to him, many farmers in the area had vacated their farmlands due to fear of being attacked by the bandits.

Faskari Bloodbath
As residents of the state have now become easy prey for armed bandits, the attackers also stormed Sabon-layin Galadima village of Faskari Local Government and killed 11 persons.

Local sources said the bandits numbering about 30 were on motorcycles when they invaded the village at about 8.27 p.m, killed the victims and rustled many animals belonging to residents.

Danmusa Attack
In a related development, five persons were also reportedly slaughtered at Mara Zamfarawa community in Danmusa Local Government Area of the state.

The armed bandits were said to have attacked the victims while working on their farmers in the village, forcing those that survived the deadly act to scamper for safety.

Arrests
In an effort to tame the bloodbath, the Katsina State Police Command has so far apprehended over 70 suspected bandits and kidnappers including females who have been terrorising the state. Among the suspects paraded were five suspected kidnappers of Governor Aminu Bello Masari’s mother-in-law, Hajiya Hauwa Yusuf.

The 80-year-old Hauwa who is the mother of Binta, Governor Masari’s wife, was kidnapped at her residence in Kofar-Kaura Layout, Katsina, the state capital last March and released after spending eight days in captivity. Her release followed the payment of an undisclosed ransom by the family members.

Parading the suspects before newsmen at the command headquarters in Katsina, the state Commissioner of Police, CP Sanusi Buba, said the men of the underworld were nabbed based on intelligence reports.

According to him, “those arrested in connection with the abduction of Masari’s mother-in-law were Abubakar M. Sani alais “KUBI”, aged 23 years of Sokoto Rima Quarters, Katsina; Abdullahi Dani alias ” Dan-Bose”, aged 25 years of Sabuwar Unguwar Quarters, Katsina; Rabe Hamza alias “Tankabaje”, aged 30 years of Nasarawa-Bugaje, Jibia LGA of Katsina state; Marwana Gide, aged 25 years of Yar-Maiwa village, Batsari LGA of Katsina state.

“The last suspect, Abdulhakim Bishir, alias “Danruma” aged 22 years of Sabuwar Ungwar Quarters, Katsina, who has been on the run was arrested by the police on May 14t, 2019 in Kano State”.

Buba affirmed that the achievements recorded by the command through operation ‘Puff Adder’ would go a way in tackling kidnapping, cattle rustling and banditry bedeviling the state. Items recovered from the suspects were 43 AK47 rifles, 1,500 ammunition, 19 dane guns, seven locally made pistols, 200 cartridges, 44 motorcycles, five vehicles, two English pistols, one Tavor 27 rifle among others.

The state police chief, however, called on the general public to support the police by providing information that would lead to the continued apprehension of persons committing such nefarious crimes, adding that the command under his watch would not relent in its ongoing onslaught against banditry and other heinous crimes. This is just as he warned those aiding bandits with information to desist from such or face the wrath of the law.

Measures by State Government
Worried by this development, the Katsina State Government recently purchased 10 Toyota Hilux operational vehicles at the tune of N181 million and distributed to 10 local government areas bedevilled by banditry and kidnapping to boost security operations.

The 10 local governments were Danmusa, Dutsinma, Kankara, Faskari, Jibia, Bakori, Dandume, Safana, Batsari and Funtua. The vehicles were meant for surveillance and quick response to emergencies across the dreaded councils bordering the Rugu forest, one of the deadly forests camping criminals.

Aside the vehicles and financial supports, the government is planning to procure more logistics to boost operations of personnel. Another step taken by government is the signing into law an amended Penal Code law proscribing death sentence for kidnapping and cattle rustling in the state.

With this law in place, rapists would also be sentenced to life imprisonment in addition to fine and compensation to the victims.

Governor Aminu Masari during the ceremonial signing of the law at the Katsina Government House, affirmed that the law was amended particularly in areas to do with kidnapping, cattle rustling, rape and other related offences.

“The decision to make these offences serious with the above punishment cannot be over emphasised. We revisited the penal and procedural laws to deal with any suspect that may be found wanting. It is hoped and prayed that they will serve as deterrent to those that may be convicted. And those that have the intention of committing them,” Gov Masari explained.

Appeal to Security Personnel
Despite this intervention by the state to avert bloodbath in the affected areas, the attacks on communities persist, this may have forced the governor to solicit for the assistance of security chiefs to come up with workable measures to end the killings and kidnapping going on in the state.

The governor, who made the appeal when he received a team set up by the Nigeria Army, led by Major General B I Ahanotu, to assess the recent attacks on communities in Batsari, Faskari and Danmusa Local Government Areas, said the deadly attacks, if unchecked, would hamper the state’s economic growth and trigger off a food crisis by the end of this year’s farming season.

The team was set up on the order of President Muhammadu Buhari, who had directed the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu and the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, to constitute an assessment team to intervene on the security challenges facing the state.

The team is also to find out how the attacks were carried out by the bandits and put structures in place to avert future occurrence.

Ahanotu while explaining why the team was in the state said: ” We are in Katsina to ascertain circumstances surrounding the recent attacks on some communities. After our assessment, we will put in place proactive measures to end banditry in Katsina and other states of the country”.

The governor, represented by his deputy, Mannir Yakubu, said the state government had done its best to tame the criminals through the introduction of amnesty programme. However, he expressed regrets that such measures could not address the banditry; hence the outcry for help from the military to end the orgy of killings in the state.

Potential Food Crisis
He attributed the persistent killings and abduction in the state to the porous nature of the country’s borders, adding that the insecurity facing states such as Zamfara and Kaduna has jeopardised the relative peace being enjoyed in Katsina previously.

According to Masari, “Even before this administration came on board, there were cases of herdsmen and farmers clashes. But when we came in, we did our best to tame it by introducing the amnesty programme and as of that time the situation stopped. Unfortunately, banditry and kidnapping surfaced. The latest was the very sad incident that happened in Batsari where dead bodies were brought to Government House and the emir’s palace. There is certainly a great need to bring peace to the state.

“Raining season is already on and our people need to go back to their farms. If we did not get them back to the farm by the end of this year, there will be food crisis. So, I hope this assessment will be done as soon as possible to bring peace back to the state. Prompt action should be taken to ensure that peace is restored in Katsina State”, he added.

Moreover, the killings also forced the government to announce the cancellation of all activities lined up for the inauguration of a new administration in the state. The decision was contained in a statement issued to journalists by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Mustapha Inuwa. The SSG states that the decision was to commiserate with the families and victims of the recent attacks.

He said: “The attacks have led to the death of many people and left many others injured and homeless. To this end, all activities that are usually organised for the event have been cancelled, except the mandatory swearing-in of the governor and his deputy, as stipulated in the 1999 Constitution (as amended), will hold on May 29″.

Nonetheless, the killings in Katsina are unacceptable and must be stopped by all possible means. Relevant security agencies should deploy troops to the affected communities and protect the people. They are Nigerians and they deserve to be protected by the government of Nigeria. Above all, it is an emergency security and humanitarian situation that needs urgent attention.