The killings, abductions and cattle rustling that take place along Kamuku and Kuyambana forests that straddle Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and Niger states, have continued in spite of the collaborative efforts of the state governors, as well as the federal government as ALIYU USMAN VULEGBO, SANUSI MUHAMMAD and SAMSON BENJAMIN narrate in this report.
Gov Yari’s morbid statistics
Penultimate Monday, Governor Abdulazeez Yari of Zamfara state made a startling revelation at the formal commissioning of some completed projects at 207 Quick Response Airforce Base, Gusau, the state capital.
According to him, 300 people have been killed by cattle rustlers in the last two years in the state. This statistics, according to analysts, is a very conservative number going by unreported cases of armed banditry in the state, where whole villages or communities have had to relocate because of the atrocities of gunmen.
Almost every day, kidnapping, cattle rustling and other criminalities happen in the villages of Zamfara and the authorities are overwhelmed by them. Sometimes, security agents have been at the receiving end of the bandits’ savagery, either while warding off attacks or as primary targets.
In April 2014, bandits descended on Yargalama village and killed over 120 vigilante members while holding a meeting on how they could use every mechanism to assist security agencies in the state to tackle the insecurity facing Zamfara state.
In November last year, gun men killed at least 29 people in fresh attacks on four villages in Maradun local government area. Similarly, within the same week, another set of gunmen had invaded Mai Kansa village in Maru area council, killing two mobile policemen and four others and kidnapping over 41 group of traders, including a police Inspector, on their way to Magami Market. In addition, gunmen believed to be cattle rustlers killed 36 miners in Bindin village in Maru local government area.
Similarly, on September 4, 2017, suspected gunmen kidnapped three policemen attached to Keta outpost in Tsafe local government.
Eighteen days later, unidentified gunmen numbering over 20 had invaded the Tsafe Command of the Federal Road Safety Commission(FRSC), killing an official and abducting one personnel.
Six days later, a group of armed bandits also ambushed troops of 223 Light Tank Battalion attached to 1 Division Kaduna, deployed for operations in the forest of Sububu village in Shinkafi local government. In that attack, one soldier sustained minor injuries and their two operational vehicles were burnt by the bandits.
Significantly, owing to the incessant loss of lives and property in Zamfara state, President Muhmmadu Buhari had launched ‘’Operation Harbin Kunama’’ at Dansadau village on September 13 last year.
Before then, cattle rustlers and kidnappers had exerted a heavy toll on the lives and property of the people of the area. However, the killings, looting and kidnappings as well as cattle rustling has continued unabated. Remarkably, the insecurity of lives and property is not limited to Zamfara state; the entire states which share boundary with Kamuku and Kuyambu forests, which comprise Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Kebbi and Niger states are a dangerous zone, where human life is cheap .
Governors’ collaborative efforts
In July, 2015, the governors of the affected states collaborated to fight cattle rustling and sundry criminalities that have been ravaging their states. Specifically, Kamuku and Kuyambana forests, a notorious hide out for criminals, straddle their various states and the bad eggs have found safe havens in the forest reserves.
Gun men, cattle rustlers and sundry criminals had been having a field day in the contiguous states in the last dispensation for more than five years. The Buhari administration merely inherited a deep seated problem that has seemingly defied solution.
Specifically, on March 13, 2014, gunmen had attacked five villages in Katsina state, killing and maiming for two days unchallenged. Maigora, Mararraba and Faskari residents made several distressed calls but neither the police nor the military came to their rescue .
Incidentally, the March attack was not an isolated case in the area. Several of such attacks have taken place in the past, with varying degree of fatalities and material loses. In October 2013, 16 people were killed, 13 motorcycles were stolen and 1,106 herds of cattle were carted away, according to Barrister Abbas Machika, the House of Representatives member representing Faskari/Kankara/ Sabuwa constituency. In addition, 600 sheep were stolen and 107 people were internally displaced, he was reported as saying.
Birnin Gwari robberies
However, the Zamfara and Katsina states attacks paled in comparison to the Birnin Gwari robbery, which occurred at the South West fringe of Kaduna state, earlier in February 2014. Significantly, the robbers operated for almost four hours, robbing four banks and razing down a police station in the process.
Specifically, they descended on First Bank first , where they operated with little or no resistance. Afterwards, they moved on to Ecobank, about 100 meters away , where they encountered a feeble resistance from soldiers.
However, the marauders out gunned them and carted way millions of naira, according to reports. Thereafter, they proceeded to Unity Bank but this time, they merely shot in the air and headed to the Divisional Police Station, where they overpowered the guards and burnt down the building. In the end, three policemen died, just as valuable documents went up in flames, eyewitnesses had recounted.
Govt’s feeble response
Almost always, previous governments reacted in a knee jerk manner, by issuing press releases, condemning such attacks when they occurred and promising to fish out the perpetrators.
However, before the people finished burying their dead, another attack will occur and the authorities reacted in the same automated manner of condemnation, commiseration and promises .
Afterwards, that will be the end of the story because the attackers were never caught. Largely, the people were left to their own devices as the state governments, either individually or collectively, never made concerted efforts to stem the criminality.
Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Niger govs pool resources
Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna state, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari, his Katsina state counterpart, Governor Yari of Zamfara state and Abubakar Sani Bello, the Niger state governor, had pooled resources to fight these interstate criminals in 2015.
Speaking to Blueprint Weekend, ex Warrant Officer Samson Ocheme said that ‘’the operation the operation was led by soldiers from 1 Division. It was a joint operation that involved the army, air force, mobile police, operatives of State Security service, and men of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC).
The operation was carried out at the same time in five different North West States. Our mission was to rout, kill and arrest suspected terrorists, castle rustlers, bandits, rapist and all kind of criminals along the forest that stretches over five States to commit all manner of heinous crimes.’’
The ex military officer who took part in the operation, described Kamuku and Kuyambana forests from where the bandits operate as very vast. ‘In fact, people compared it with the infamous Sambisa forest. The terrain is very difficult and dangerous to navigate,’ he recalled.
According to Ocheme, ‘’ the operation was specifically targeted at Kamuku forest in Kaduna, which borders Niger, Zamfara Kebbi and Kastina through Birnin Gwari. Because of its size, criminal gangs involved in armed robbery, kidnapping, castle rustling etc have for many years used it as hideout. They steal thousands of cow and hide them in the forest, from where they sell in the black market. That is where they also hide kidnapped victims and demand for ransom. We also heard stories of how they raped and brutalized women.’’
The operation recorded some success as the joint patrol of military, police and State Security Service personnel, after due surveillance, stormed the forests on August 13, 2015 and recovered 1, 232 cows, 295 sheep and 14 donkeys from bandits.
However, in spite of the initial success, the governors had resolved not to rest on their oars until the festering problem is solved. Ex serviceman Ocheme described the operation as successful beecause before then, ‘’the people of the area suffer enormous economic loss as a result of incessant activities of cow rustlers whose activities made farming and livestock management and other activities very difficult.
Also, all big commercial farms along the area had to close due to series of attacks by the bandits. As a matter of fact, in 2013, the criminals were in total control of the area.’’
Killings abductions, cattle rustling persist
In spite of Ocheme’s claim, the operation has yielded little results or at best, its initial success has been rolled back. About two months ago, Mr Emmanuel Adeniyi, Assistant Commissioner of Police serving in Gusau, was abducted on September 28 while traveling with members of his family along the Birnin-Gwari –Funtua road.
According to reports, another police officer was also abducted with three others while travelling in a Sharon bus to Birnin Gwari on that same day.Three days earlier, a popular business man from Birnin Gwari known as Danhaza and his driver were also abducted on their way to Kaduna.
Largely, the killings, abductions cattle rustling that occur on a daily basis are under reported in the media because both victims and perpetrators are mostly of the same ethno-religious backgrounds. For this reason, the news items may not make good sales copies, attract listenership, viewers or get many ‘’hits’’ on online news platforms. Nonetheless, lives are being lost everyday in those states and the evil forests of Kamuku and Kuyambana are shielding the criminals.