It was exactly nineteen minutes past midnight, few moments into Thursday the 22nd of August. I had gone to bed. My eyes were already closed and sleep was descending quietly. Somehow, unlike many people I don’t normally switch off my hand phone at night.
There are usually no calls during that time except when I initiate them. But who could this caller be? I asked myself as I picked my phone which was vibrating by the bedside. For the past several weeks, there have been renewed security challenges in the rural areas of Batsari and western part of Jibia local Governments. This is a place where my maternal relations are spread.
On my fathers’ side I have no relations in this area. My father hailed from Bugaje ward in the eastern part of Jibia local Government. Thus back and front, as Hausa speakers will put it, I am from Jibia Local Government. I wish I had relations in Niger Republic so that I can be visiting the neighbouring country from time to time like many settlers in my native Jibia town do. But I have none. The last time I visited Maradi, the nearest Nigerian town to Jibia was more than thirty years ago.
So even as I stretched my hand to pick my inexpensive android phone, I thought it must be one of my relations calling. At times like this, they sleep during the day and spend their nights on guard. Of course, there is usually little they can do to confront the heavily armed bandits.
To compound their problems, Governors of North western states met recently in Katsina and outlawed volunteers popularly known in the area as ‘yan sa kai’ which are the Northwest equivalent of civilian JTF in the North East. The most unfortunate thing is that the politicians did not provide any alternative.
Another problem is the recent peace initiative in Zamfara state. Somehow His Excellency the President sat in Abuja watching a PDP Governor reconciled with bandits and like magic it began to work. People who have confessed killing hundreds are now free.
To worsen the situation, the level of criminality in his own state of Katsina rose immediately, with none of himself, his Governor and their party raising doubts as to whether or not the opposition had a hand in the crimes in the first place. But whosoever is behind it does not seem to be their business, anyway. After all, the honourable Hajiya minister has observed that Nigerians are too many.
In situations like this I usually call some of the villagers when I wake up at late hours of the night and I am always sure to get them. We will talk for a few minutes before I go back to bed or do something else. They only call me at late hours when there is a criminal attack in their area. There is nothing I can do either.
A Muslim will usually pray and I do. So this call must be from one of them, I thought. And I was right. It was one of my uncles. This one is younger than me but unlike me he did not have the privilege of going to the whiteman’s school. He is a farmer.
There was an ongoing attack in the nearby village of Zandam which is about two kilometers away, he told me. They could hear the sound of gunshots from their position. There was no need to call the people in Zandam in that situation. The DPO had already been informed but only for the sake of it. His men were to come about five hours later from Jibia which was only ten kilometers away. We lamented and prayed over the phone before hanging up.
I then made two unsuccessful calls to Jibia and waited for a sleep that had gone away for the night. Some thirty minutes later when I called him he told me in a very low tone that the bandits were already in his village and immediately switched off.
But Zandam was not the first town to be attacked in the renewed violence in Jibia LGA. A day earlier, another village called Tsayau was attacked and four of its dwellers killed. There is something interesting about Tsayau. Literally, you can say there are two Tsayaus separated by a stream. One of them is our own Tsayau in Jibia LGA. The other Tsayau is in Niger Republic.
Over the past few years, Nigerian Tsayau has been attacked several times, but Nigerien Tsayau has never experienced a bandit attack due to the vigilance of the Nigerien security forces.
A day before the Tsayau attack, there was another attack in Garin Gado about six kilometers out of Jibia. Wherever they go, the bandits rape, maim, kill and take away animals and in many cases women with them. They also burn assets especially cars and motorcycles.
The next time I spoke with uncle was in the morning. But even before we spoke, I got information from my cousin in Zandam that one Sani was killed during the night attack. His offence? The criminals asked for money and he showed them a fifty Naira note which he confessed was the last money he had. They shot him.
In another household they attempted to take a small child and the mother stood in their way. They shot her and her husband and left them in blood. They were taken to hospital after the bandits left the village. They took away many cows whose exact number could not be verified by my Zandam sources. But most of the animals are ones used for farming.
My uncle confirmed to me when we spoke later that fifteen cows were rustled from his village. No woman was taken by the bandits.
The next night I received another call. The bandits struck again. This time it was Mallamawa fadi ka gurje a distance of less than ten kilometers west Zandam. By the time they left, 13 women forcefully left with them, in addition to the ones they raped and dumped. Animals were taken and property burnt down.
The next day (Friday) in the afternoon some cattle rustlers were intercepted by the Nigerian Army around Gurbin Baure along Jibia – Gusau highway. Two of the cattle rustlers were killed and three arrested. The animals were taken back. This is probably what made the larger gang to launch a reprisal attack on traders returning from Jibia market on Gurbin Baure – Shimfida road off the highway. This took place on Sunday.
The Army came to the rescue but ran out of ammunitions and had to retreat. Eight vehicles, three of them belonging to the Nigerian Army were burnt to ashes by the bandits. The deaths and injuries are better imagined. But the Police later announced that only three people were injured.
As I m writing this piece, another village Tsambe in Jibia Local Government was attacked last night. But Jibia is not the only place currently under attack. Batsari, Safana and other local governments in Katsina are having their own share of the renewed attacks.
For example, on Monday the 26th of August, Wurma in Kurfi Local Government was attacked. More than two hundred bandits speaking with Zamfara accent arrived the village at around 11pm and spent more than three hours searching from house to house and room to room.
They later kidnapped 42 people, 41 of them women and girls. This is in addition to the property they took along with them and the one they destroyed.
President Buhari seems to underestimate the level of crime taking place in deep areas of Katsina State. Even people like me who are not security experts know that the approach of Federal Government cannot work. How can a Commander-in-chief who has ordered his Army to rout criminals wherever they are allow a Governor to provide a hideout for the same criminals in the name of reconciliation?
As things are, Zamfara state serves as the base for the bandits where they resort to after launching attacks in Katsina state.
But even without Zamfara, the Federal Government’s method of sending the Army to guard the highways and Air force to target bandits’ locations is another blunder. This has resulted in the highways being heavily guarded and the deep areas exposed to criminality. And because both the Army and Air Force have no knowledge of the area and are apparently not using any intelligence report, damages have reportedly been inflicted on innocent people with criminals left untackled.
If sincere advice is anything to go by, Mr. President should take certain necessary steps. One, he should consider the North West security as a priority and personally take charge.
Two, Mr. President should abrogate the peace accord in Zamfara and use the full force of Federal Government to bring an end to banditry.
Three, if an end is to be seen to this menace, civilian JTF must be established consisting of youth from the communities affected. Our communities are ready to provide the young people to be trained to work with regular security forces. The method of leaving soldiers to operate only on highways should be past.
By Abdussamad Umar, Jibia.