By Bashir Bello
The news of the killing of 34 persons in fresh attacks by armed bandits on three villages in three local government areas of Katsina State has plunged the state into a new round of mourning.
Killings by bandits, which have become a regular occurrence in Katsina, have claimed hundreds and displaced thousands.
It was gathered that bandits carry out their heinous crimes at night but that is fast changing as they now launch attacks in day time.
They strike at will, killing innocent persons – children, youths, women, farmers, etc.
The killings had forced the state government to cancel the ceremonies lined up for the May 29 inauguration of Governor Aminu Bello Masari for second term, just as the Daura Emirate cancelled the forthcoming annual Sallah durbar and festivities to mourn residents killed by bandits.
Timeline of killings
A senior military officer and six other civilians were reportedly killed by unknown gunmen suspected to be bandits in Kasai village, Batsari local government area of the state.
Bandits reportedly killed one person in Ruma Tsohowa area of Batsari LGA.
Over 2,000 women and children were displaced by the attack and are currently taking refuge at the Model Primary School, Batsari.
Ten villages namely Garin Labo, Garin Yara, Kasai, Sabon Garin Dunburawa, Dantudun Garin Yara, Shingi and Garin Dodo among others were sacked.
33 persons including vigilantes were reportedly killed in Sabuwa, Batsari and Jibia LGAs.
10 persons were reportedly killed and five others injured after an attack launched by motorcycle riding bandits in Yar-Centre, Sherere village in Kankara LGA.
Police confirmed nine residents were killed in the attack.
17 persons were reportedly killed in an attack launched by armed bandits on two villages of Gobirawa and Sabawa in Safana LGA.
The bandits also allegedly destroyed houses and carted away livestock.
Police confirmed that 13 persons were killed in the attack said to have been launched by attackers operating on 150 motorcycles.
Bandits attacked five villages of Pauwa, Kanawan Dagidi, Dinya village, Ciroma village and Kelawa village of Kankara LGA, killing 11.
34 persons, mostly farmers, were reportedly killed by bandits in three Katsina LGAs – Batsari LGA (18 killed in Yargamji), Danmusa LGA (five killed in Mara Zamfarawa) and Faskari LGA (11 killed in Sabon Layi village).
Police confirmed 23 persons killed (18 in Batsari LGA and five in Faskari LGA).
13 residents were reportedly killed by bandits in Tsamiyar Jino in Kankara LGA, carting away livestock.
Worst hit LGAs
Most of the attacks and killings were, according to analysts, recorded in the front line LGAs of Jibia, Batsari, Danmusa and Safana sharing borders with Zamfara State and the dreaded Rugu forest.
The attacks and killings in the front line LGAs were believed to have escalated as a result of the Operation Sha’aran Daji launched in Zamfara by the military to dislodge bandits from the state last year.
The bandits, according to military sources, fled from Zamfara to Katsina.
Residents are beginning to joke about the unsavoury situation, saying when bandits are through with Zamfara, the home state of the immediate past Minister of Defence, they have found a safe haven in the home state of the President.
While the operation was on in Zamfara, Masari had, at any given opportunity, appealed on the need to avoid the spill over of banditry to Katsina.
Months later, the governor raised the alarm that the state was under siege of bandits and kidnappers making it unsafe for everybody and him as governor not an exemption.
Farmers as targets
Meanwhile, banditry in Katsina took a new dimension as farmers became the targets.
Those killed in recent attacks on Batsari, Danmusa and Faskari were farmers working on their farmlands.
Analysts say the development could largely affect farming activities this year as the planting season is fast approaching.
The District Head of Batsari, Mannir Rumah, in fact, said bandits threatened to make farming difficult this planting season.
Rumah stressed the need for security agencies to protect lives and property in the state.
His counterpart in Kankara, Alhaji Yusuf Lawal, said if something urgent was not done to address banditry in the state, farming activities could be crippled this year.
“It is a calamity that has befallen us in Kankara local government area of Katsina State. Bandits, mostly Fulani, will come out of the forest area, kill our people and go away with their food stuff among other things”, Lawal said.
“Sometimes they set ablaze their victims’ houses and farmlands. They also cart away livestock – cattle, goats and sheep.
“This year, farming activities cannot take place here with the rain season approaching if government fails to arrest the ugly menace”.
Corroborating the District Heads claims, Governor Aminu Bello Masari said food insecurity was looming if banditry and kidnapping for ransom bedevilling the state persisted.
He appealed to the Federal Government to urgently find solution to the menace to enable farmers go back to their farmlands especially as planting season is fast approaching.
“As we all know, rainy season is already on. Our people need to go and plant crops in their farmlands”, the governor said.
“If we do not get them back into their farmlands, there will be food insecurity.
“If the situation is not handled urgently, forest will not be accessible by farmers in this rainy season.
“There is urgent need to bring back peace in the state.
“The call has become imperative in view of the recent banditry attacks the state has suffered”.
Masari continued, “When we came in, we did our best to make the state peaceful, but Katsina is not an island. It is bounded by other unsecured places like Zamfara and Kaduna states.
“So, the relative peace we are enjoying was jeopardized by the lack of peace in our neighbouring states. Gradually all the efforts that we have made have come to nothing”.
Residents of Batsari LGA staged a protest to express their grievances over the continuous killings in their community.
During the demonstration, the protesters were said to have destroyed the campaign billboards of President Muhammadu Buhari and Masari.
One of the protesters, Yado Musa, said the protest was to press home their demand for government to end banditry in Katsina, saying women were frequently abducted and molested in the area, leading to broken homes.
The Caretaker Committee Chairman of Batsari LGA, Mannir Mu’azu Runka, while addressing the protesters, decried the spate of insecurity in the local government, alleging that security operatives in the area were doing “nothing” to arrest the menace.
“There is serious insecurity in Batsari; we have 500 soldiers but they are doing nothing. If you call them, they will tell you they are coming but they will not come until after the attack,” Runka stated.
18 people were killed in the area days after the protest and that triggered another protest but this time the locals took the corpses of victims to the palace of the District Head of the area, the Emir of Katsina’s palace and later to the Government House, Katsina.
The protesters lamented poor security in their area.
“We started with a visit to our District Head with the corpses to let them know that there is no security in the villages. Some locals wanted to bury the victims but we insisted on taking the corpses to the emir’s palace and now the Government House, so that if anybody says there is adequate security in place, it shows we don’t have security in our villages”, the spokesperson for the protesters, Aminu Ruma, told Sunday Vanguard.
“We have about 30 mosques in our area but you can hardly find three where you find people pray at night in the month of Ramadan. We live in fear.
“They prevented us from rearing livestock and doing farming.
“When we call security agencies, they don’t respond to our calls”.
‘I feel your pains’
Receiving the protesters, Masari said his administration was doing all it could to stop the killings.
“I feel it better than you feel it because I know Allah will ask me on the Day of Judgement”, the governor said.
“It is our duty to protect lives and property in the state, yet, this is what is happening, we are doing our best.
“You bear me witness that wherever such incident occurs, I visit the community and tell them our commitment towards addressing the menace”.
The governor stated that protest will not solve the problem, urging the protesters to remain calm as government was doing its best to end the menace.
Ruma earlier told the governor that the victims were killed in their farmlands in Yar-gamji village of Batsari LGA.
The spokesperson claimed that some farmers were still missing following the attack.
According to him, the bandits also rustled some cows belonging to the victims.
It is not as if the Katsina government is not doing anything to arrest banditry in the state.
It initiated an ‘Amnesty Programme’ to get bandits to surrender their weapons and repent.
The programme saw about 107 AK47 rifles, 361 dane guns and 28,000 animals recovered from repentant cattle rustlers just as arrested rustlers were released.
To a large extent, the ‘Amnesty Programme’, overseen by then-Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Mustapha Inuwa, helped to reduce cattle rustling before kidnapping and banditry took the centre stage.
But, penultimate Friday, the state government took a tough step by signing into law the amended penal code which prescribes death sentence for kidnappers and cattle rustlers in Katsina.
Masari said the penalty was necessary in the face of the security challenges bedevilling the state.
“As you are all aware, Katsina State is currently faced with security challenges hence the need to revisit our penal and procedures law to deal with any suspect that may be found wanting”, he said.
“The two laws that has been signed today particularly the penal code has been amended generally and in particular the section of stealing with kidnapping, cattle rustling, rape and other related offences.
“The punishment for cattle rustling and kidnapping now are made capital offences which carry the mandatory death sentences while the offence of rape now carries the mandatory sentence of life, in addition to fine and compensation to the victim.
“The decision to make these offences serious ones with the above punishments cannot be overemphasized. It is hoped that the laws signed today will serve as deterrent to those that maybe convicted and others who have the intention to committing this kind of heinous crimes”.
Earlier, the immediate past Commissioner for Justice in the state, Ahmed El-Marzuq, said with the signing of the two laws – penal code and administration of criminal justice laws – crimes will be reduced and criminals punished”.