File: Bandits

By Ibrahim Hassan-Wuyo, Kaduna 

IT is a sad story that unnerves, but the natives are helpless and hapless as there is nothing they can do to avert what befell them. They are unhappy that their beloved community has been effortlessly taken over by criminals who first started as cattle rustlers, then morphed into bandits and finally as kidnappers and terrorists. They now boldly unleash terror on anyone and everyone with impunity. It is painful to the people of Birnin Gwari, a community richly  endowed with fauna and flora by nature and situated within the corridor lying between Abuja and Kaduna. It is an endowment which naturally should fetch them fortunes, but is now avoided and dreaded, with the name easily associated with terrorists and evildoers any time it is mentioned.

It appears difficult for the natives to understand how the farming community which once boasted of the best that nature can provide, now bears the sobriquet of all that is evil: killing, maiming, destruction, weeping and mourning for anyone who strays into Birnin Gwari and those who are frequently taken captives and dragged into the deep and expansive forests located in the area. Birnin Gwari has come to denote a centre of terror, fear and agony; not the serenity that it was meant to provide for men and women.

Even owners of the land are also not spared as they have become easy preys for the ravenous predators who swarm the community as bandits and terrorists, brandishing sophisticated weapons that even the military is worried about. But they continue to dominate the space and time in the area, unleashing repeated atrocities in the area while  those saddled with the responsibility to rid the forests of these evil elements appear helpless or impotent. Like trees planted by the waterside, the bandits continue to flourish and spread their tentacles across the land to the detriment and discomfort of the real owners of the land. Farmers, who should be using the fertile ground for producing more food have since been forced out of their farms and prevented from exploiting and harnessing other natural resources that abound richly in the community.

It is the deprivation, exploitation and destruction that have come to define Birnin Gwari in recent years, removing its once celebrated name from the right side of history, giving the owners of the rich land headache  and stripping them of their natural resources and displacing the landowners into the streets as refugees. They did not bargain for any of these atrocities that now characterise Birnin Gwari. They are victims! And, as the community continues to be identified with killings and destruction and dreaded as a graveyard by those who should patronise it, and as many see it as a barren land dominated by disaster, the risk of extinction arising from dejection and loathing rises higher by the day.

Just this week, the terrorists descended on a military base at Pole Wire in Birnin-Gwari, killing 17 soldiers and many other civilians in the process and brought negative attention to Kaduna State. As a result of unrelenting assaults by terrorists and kidnappers along the ever-busy Kaduna-Abuja Road via Birnin-Gwari, motorists and commuters have been forced to abandon the route. Anyone who dares to ply that route is considered an informant or someone on a suicide mission. The link road from Birnin-Gwari to Funtua and Gusau is also a death trap and effectively avoided. The Emir of Birnin Gwari, Malam Jibril Zubairu Mai Gwari has not relented in calling attention to the worsening insecurity in his domain. In 2021, the Emir was targeted for elimination when bandits emerged in front of vehicles they believed were conveying the royal father and blocking them with trunks and brandishing weapons to stop his convoy. But the monarch was not to be found and the drivers were lucky to escape the assassination attempt.

Mai Gwari had since then been crying consistently over the plight of the people in his emirate. He insists that the federal authorities should come to their rescue and rid the area of gunmen and their likes who have made the area so difficult and scary to live. As the Emir had said, the Brinin Gwari road is very strategic to Nigeria’s economy because finished goods and raw materials are being transported through the road to and from other parts of the country. Although the Federal Government has continued to pledge that it will flush out the bandits, nothing has been done significantly to deal with the evil men who continue to grow in strength and atrocity. Apart from the deployment of a military unit in the area, which many believed facilitated the killing of a top bandit, known as Buharin Daji, no serious gain has been made thereafter. Shortly after the terrorist was killed, many other attacks have been launched successfully by the terrorists despite the deployment of the 271 Nigerian Air Force Detachment in Birnin Gwari as part of measures to address the spate of kidnapping and armed banditry in  the local government area and its environs. 

Right now, incessant cases of cattle rustling, kidnappings for ransom, forced marriages and imposition of tax, among others, in Birnin Gwari by bandits have led to mass exodus of the natives, leaving  the communities and forests at the mercy of terrorists who determine how the place should be run and operate, who should live and who should be eliminated.     Lamentations over deteriorating security situation in Birnin Gwari continue to grow. A few days ago, the troubled community under the aegis of Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressive Union, BEPU, raised the alarm over the deteriorating security situation in many rural communities and major roads of the Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area.

They said although efforts were being made by the local government administration to tackle  insecurity and support the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, the state government and the Federal Government had not done enough to assist them in their agony. According to  Ishan Usman Kasai, the Chairman of BEPU,    the security situation is becoming increasingly alarming, whereby a large swathe of Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area is now at the mercy of marauding bandits who usually roll into towns and villages in convoys of motorcycles mostly riding three on each, brandishing AK-47 rifles killing and abducting people, including women and children.

“We note that the bandits usually spend hours operating with impunity and unleashing terror especially in rural communities. The bandits also placed taxes on various communities and keep coming back repeatedly to attack them because of the absence of law enforcement agents,” Kasai said. “This situation is  not only tragic but shameful that these bunch of ragtag bandits on motorcycles wielding AK-47 rifles can roam most communities in the area with impunity, killing and abducting innocent but helpless citizens in a nation that seems to have standing Armed Forces and the Police.”   For now, the locals said the eastern part of Birnin-Gwari is fast becoming the headquarters of terrorists where bandits operate and govern unrestrained.

The bandits have carried out about five series of attacks in Tabanni Ward alone within just this week whereby many people were killed and dozens abducted. It is frightening that many communities in Birnin-Gwari LGA are falling in to the governance of bandits. Arewa Voice reports that the first attack on Tabanni within the week took place on March 15, 2022 where two people were abducted and one was killed on Dogon Dawa – Zaria Road. Similarly, on March 27, 2022, Old Tabanni was attacked whereby one man was killed and seven women abducted. On the same date, one man was killed in Kamfanin Mamman Yarwa of same Tabbanni ward. 

Ansaru terrorists gaining ground: 

Of great concern to the people is the activities of Ansaru terrorist organisation, whose members are said to have freely continued to operate, preach and recruit people into the organisation in various communities in the eastern part of Birnin-Gwari LGA such as Old Kuyello, Unguwan Makera, Kwasa-Kwasa, Damari, Kuduru forest, Ingade Alha and Maidaro. According to Kasai, killings and kidnappings in Birnin-Gwari LGA have become a daily affair more especially along major roads (particularly the Birnin-Gwari to Kaduna and Birnin-Gwari to Funtua roads). Moreover, the road from Dogon Dawa to Rigachikun was completely taken over by bandits. Kasai noted: “Presently, Birnin-Gwari to Kaduna road is a no-transit area unless with security escort. Even with the escort, travelers are usually ambushed, kidnapped and killed in many occasions. This usually happens because the terrorists are more in number than the security escorts. There are many notorious flashpoints, especially along Birnin-Gwari to Kaduna roads where permanent security checkpoints need to be mounted in order to minimise the level of kidnappings and killings of travellers. These notorious flashpoints include Kwanar Bola, Kwanar Ruwa, Unguwar Yako, Polewire, Zonkoro, Zirin Gaza, Gonar Mangoro, Hawan Kwantena, Kwanar Mahaukaciya, Kwanar Giginya, Rafin Kaura, around Labi, Kwanan Dutse/around Manini, Tashar Tsuntsaye, Pollwaya, and Yadin Boroni among others.

“Currently the major den of the kidnappers that operate along Birnin-Gwari to Kaduna road is around Falale (Demba) of Buruku forest. For the past four months, most of the ransom that has been paid was at that particular place. It is no longer news that millions is being paid to the bandits as ransom for freedom of kidnapped persons and taxes for access to farmlands and for freedom to live in various communities within the LGA. There are hundreds of captives including women and children who have being in the den of the bandits for months and are yet to be released because their families could not afford to pay for their freedom.”

One of the most disturbing incidents is that of the kidnapped three young ladies, namely: Nusaiba, Rabi’atu and Firdausi Lawal Ado. These teenagers are students of a College of Health who were abducted on their way from Kaduna to Birnin-Gwari for Christmas break since December, 2021 and are still in the den of kidnappers/bandits despite many efforts by the family and some well-meaning members of the community to secure their freedom.

No one knows the health conditions of those teenagers at present except the kidnappers. There is need for government to come to the aid of this traumatized family for these girls to regain their freedom.

With the series of attacks on most communities in Birnin-Gwari LGA, thousands of people are rendered internally displaced persons (IDPs) without proper organization and other necessary care from the Government. The entire Birnin-Gwari Emirate will continue to face existential threat unless something drastic and urgent is done by the military to counter the current state of affairs in Birnin Gwari, the once flourishing community with animals, food and passengers.

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