Katsina, the Epicentre of Banditry in North-west

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Aminu-Bello-Masari

As Borno State is the hotbed of Boko Haram, Katsina is fast becoming the haven of the fusion of terrorist-bandits in North-west, writes Francis Sardauna

It is a well-known fact that the nefarious activities of bandits have turned Katsina State to a theatre of war considering the audacious fresh attacks they are launching on villages in Faskari, Kankara, Dutsin-Ma, Danmusa, Safana, Batsari, Sabuwa, Dandume, Jibia and Kurfi local government areas of the state.

It is more disturbing that the killings, abduction and other heinous crimes orchestrated by the bandits have become so bad that no part of the state is free from the grip of the hoodlums, whose devilish acts appear to be threatening social and economic activities in the state. Investigation by THISDAY revealed that the bandits operate from their hideouts in the massive and dreaded Rugu forest that cuts across Jibia, Safana, Danmusa, Batsari, Dandume, Sabuwa, Kankara and Faskari local government areas.

The renewed onslaughts have forced hundreds of residents of the affected local governments who survived the deadly invasions to flee their ancestral homes to the headquarters of the council areas including Katsina, the state’s capital. The motorcycle-riding bandits have been actively involved in cattle rustling as a trade, while kidnapping for ransom, raping for pleasure and engaging in mass murder as a means of reprisal attacks, sometimes against security forces, in the most daring and worrisome manner.

The latest incident, which evoked memories of the 2014 kidnap of over 275 students of Chibok Girls Secondary School in Borno State by terrorists, was the abduction of 344 students of Government Science Secondary School Kankara, Kankara Local Government Area. It is strange and worrisome that the schoolboys were abducted on the day President Muhammadu Buhari arrived Daura, his hometown on a week-long private visit. It is even more curious that the abductees were released on his birthday after relentless efforts of security operatives.

At the peak of the crisis, a viral audio message came from the leader of Boko Haram, Shekau claiming responsibility for the abduction. The propaganda merely confirmed the fact that the marauding bandits in the North-West and insurgents in the North-East are forging ties to destabilise the northern part of the country. The abduction of the Kankara students compelled Katsina State Government and some states to announce the closure of schools, especially in Kano, Kaduna, Zamfara and Jigawa states.

Although Governor Aminu Bello Masari confirmed a negotiation between the Katsina State government and the abductors, Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State insisted that he facilitated the release of the 344 schoolboys without any payment of ransom. Barely four days after the release of the 344 students, the hoodlums kidnapped 80 pupils of Hizburrahim Islamiyya School in Mahuta village of Dandume Local Government.

The Islamic school pupils, who were abducted on December 19, 2020, were returning from Maulud celebration at Alkasim village of the local government but police and other security agencies swung into action immediately and were able to rescue the captives. Police in the state said the pupils, alongside four other kidnapped victims, were rescued by operatives of Operation Puff Adder and Sharan Daji in collaboration with members of vigilante groups in the area.

Another incident that occurred in the state was the abduction of 12 police officers in the rank of assistant superintendents of Police by bandits dressed in military camouflage along Kankara-Sheme road before they were rescued afterward.

Recently, the bandits ambushed military personnel along Maigora and Ungwan Tsamiya. Unconfirmed sources said the hoodlums killed six soldiers. The bandits had on December 17, 2020 attacked the convoy of the Emir of Kaura Namoda’s, Alhaji Sanusi Muhammad Asha and killed three police officers and five palace guards along Funtua-Gusau road. The incident occurred when the traditional ruler was returning to his base in Zamfara State from Abuja after a private engagement in the nation’s capital. The traditional ruler did not sustain injury.

In the same vein, bandits had on February 15, 2020 launched attacks on Tsauwa and Dankar villages of Batsari, where they killed 30 people and burnt many children beyond recognition. While the bandits met stiff resistance in Dankar from the security operatives and residents, they had a field day in Tsauwa where they sacked the village and looted shops, houses and rustled unspecified numbers of cattle. Similarly, the hoodlums had in March 2020, killed 73 people and rustled hundreds of cattle belonging to residents in Dutsin-Ma, Safana, and Danmusa Local Government Areas of the state.

The marauding bandits had on April 12, 2020, massacred 11 local hunters in Dajin Giwa forest of Kankara Local Government Area, injuring five others. The victims were hunting in Dajin Giwa forest when the hoodlums ambushed them with sophisticated weapons, killing 10 on the spot. In June last year, the bandits also stormed communities in Faskari and killed more than 46 people, mostly the aged, women and children. Some of the communities affected in the gruesome attacks include Kadisau, Maigora, Kabalawa, Kwakware, Raudama and Unguwar Wahabi.

In the same June 2020, the miscreants killed the District Head of Yantumaki in Yantumaki District of Dan-Musa Local Government Area, Alhaji Abubakar Maidabino. His killing came few hours after the bandits killed the Batsari Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Abdulhamid Sani, at his residence in Sabon-Garin Dumburawa.

On July 6, 2020, the marauders killed 15 farmers at Yar Gamji village in Batsari Local Government Area. The innocent farmers were working on their farmlands in the village when the bandits attacked, killing them on the spot. More also, 29 villagers were slaughtered by the bandits like animals in fresh onslaughts on Diskiru and Unguwar Baki villages of Dandume and Faskari Local Government Areas of the state on October 29, 2020.

While 25 people, mostly women, children and the aged were killed by hoodlums in Diskiru community of Dandume Local Government, four others were gunned down in Ungwan Baki by the mercenaries during the invasion. The dare devilry of these hoodlums in Katsina State has raised some questions. Is the state another epicentre of bandits in the North-west? This heart-broken question needs to be answered by security operatives by completing the routing of bandits from the state.

However, the evolving strategies put in place by Governor Masari aimed at tackling bloodletting and the heinous activities of the bandits and kidnappers cannot be over-emphasised. The governor on November 10, 2019 inaugurated a state Dialogue/Amnesty Committee under the leadership of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Mustapha Inuwa to checkmate the activities of the hoodlums and ensure that there is sustainable peace in the state. One of the terms of reference given to the committee by the governor was to open up for wider consultations and negotiations with the warring parties to surrender their firearms for the betterment of the state and the country at large.

The committee had January 15, 2017 organised a grand reception in Kankara Local Government Area of the state, where 300 repentant killer herdsmen and other criminals formally surrendered their weapons to the state government. Satisfied with the action of the repentant herdsmen, Masari then declared amnesty for all of them and paid the sum of N30, 000,000 as compensation to those who surrendered their guns to government, including some vigilante groups.

After Masari successfully tackled the menace of herdsmen/farmers clashes between 2016 and 2017, the issue of banditry and kidnapping surfaced in early 2018 but the carnage could not deter him as he quickly swung into action by further adopting modalities to end the menace. The governor, in his doggedness to restore peace in the state, granted amnesty to bandits after a tour to Fulani settlements and strong enclaves of the bandits in Rugu Forest on September 4-9, 2019, during which the famed bandits and their forest commanders denounced banditry.

Masari’s peace accord was adopted by the North-west Governors Forum following a peace summit convened in Katsina by the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, that facilitated discussions with representatives of the bandits from the affected states of Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Kaduna, and Zamfara states. Agreements were reached between the state government and the bandits. These agreements include the release of their members detained by security operatives by government, the release of all kidnapped persons in their custody as well as to surrender their arms and ammunition to security agencies.

Others were the provision of social amenities —schools, hospitals, roads, electricity, water to Fulani settlements and rehabilitation of houses destroyed during the skirmishes between bandits and Hausa farmers and the establishment of RUGA settlement in some communities in the state.

Implementation of Agreements
Investigation revealed that 80 per cent of the agreements have been fulfilled by the state government and the bandits had so far released over 500 captives in their custody while government, in turn, freed bandits detained by security operatives in Katsina, Kano, and Kaduna correctional centres.
Masari, flanked by the Secretary of the State Security Council who is also the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Mustapha Inuwa, after the dialogue tour, held a series of security meetings with security chiefs, repentant bandits and their leaders to ensure the sustainability of the peace accord.

The Resurgence of Banditry
Despite the rapprochement between the state government and the hoodlums, banditry, and kidnapping resurfaced between November and December 2020 in Dutsin-Ma, Danmusa, Safana, Batsari, Sabuwa, Faskari, Kankara, Dandume, and Kurfi. Presently, the menace has escalated to almost all the 34 local government areas of the state.