.Masari

As bandits engage security agencies in fierce battle for supremacy
•Displaced persons can’t settle, access their farms

By OGALAH IBRAHIM, Katsina

It was their earnest desire to return home after spending some years in hurriedly provided make-shift camps. And, based on that desire, the Katsina State Government, on August 8, 2022, acquiesced to their demand and released natives of Shemfida community from their camps and asked them to have their wish: return to their ancestral homes in Jiba Local Government Area of the state. Shimfida, it will be recalled, was one of the communities in the state, which had earlier in the year, been invaded by rampaging bandits and terrorists who ransacked homes, took away all valuables and kidnapped many men, women and chidren, forcing the frightened remnants, to flee for dear lives.

It is not difficult to see why the community has become an easy target for bandits and terrorists. The area in question is barely two kilometres away from the dreaded RUGA FOREST, which is a hideout or a fortress for bandits. The evil men have been hibernating in RUGA and launching ferocious attacks from there without any serious confrontation from any quarters; and they feel safe and comfortable to inhabit that hideout.
As a result of this, both Shemfidi community members who dared to stay back when others were taken into internally displaced persons camps and those who were returned home by the Katsina State Government after many months of rehabilitation in the camps, have found it almost impossible and unattractive to return home due to the atrocities orchestrated by bandits and terrorists.

Rather than reduce their attacks, bandits have scaled up the frequency of onslaughts on innocent community members on their way to their farms and in their houses, forcing them to live in perpetual fear. The worst case scenario broke out three weeks ago, when bandits bombed a military convoy escorting displaced persons to their ancestral homes with Armoured Personnel Carriers and reportedly killed two soldiers in the process. After the daring confrontation, the bandits have come out openly dared farmers and natives to stay in their homes or go to their farms. They have also imposed a condition that no farmer should go to their farms without clearance from them.

As a result of the challenge by the terrorists, the unwritten position is that Shemfidi community members can only be escorted by military personnel to Shemfida twice a week, Thursdays and Sundays, so as not to be attacked and killed by the terrorists.

Kabir Haruna, the Councilor representing Shimfida, told Arewa Voice that while a handful of the IDPs have returned to Shimfida, most of them chose to seek refuge outside the community, seeing that Shimfida is still not habitable for farming and other meaningful activities.

Kabir said: “Some of the IDPs returned to Jibia Town and other communities because they have no place to stay. Many of them have not been able to renovate or rebuild their houses destroyed by terrorists and torrential rain.The downpour shortly before their return destroyed over 400 houses. Aside those destroyed by the downpour, the owners of the 300 houses burnt by terrorists earlier also have not been able to renovate their houses. These and many other reasons are responsible for why majority of the IDPs chose to stay away from the community.”

IDPs journey to Shimfida

While majority of the returnees feel excited as if they have just been issued with a passport to heaven, the expressions on the faces of others tell a different story. However, the heavy military presence coupled with artillery equipment and well-armed local vigilante groups, who escorted the displaced persons back home, gave an inkling that a serious military confrontation was in the offing.

The 30 minutes journey, which however ran into hours due to the bad road leading to Shimfida, can best be described as a journey for the brave, knowing that one was heading into a territory controlled by bandits and that anything could happen to anyone and at any time.

The journey to the agrarian community with an estimated population of about 20,000 people began with the arrival of the Jibia Local Government Chairman, Bishir Sabi’u, who instead of joining one of the armoured vehicles in case of an ambush by the marauding bandits lurking in the area, chose to squeeze himself into one of the trucks provided for the displaced persons to their ancestral hometown.

Life in Shimfida

An insight into the saying: “No place like home”, will become clear to anyone after a trip to Shimfida Community seeing the grim reality being endured by residents of the community, with hunger and starvation looming large as a conquering army.

Arewa Voice learnt that one of the reasons why the IDPs were eager to return to their ancestral hometown is to enable them go back to their farms as most of them depend on farming for their livelihood. Unfortunately, several weeks after their return, accessing their farms has remained an illusion due to fear of being kidnapped or killed by terrorists hibernating in the area. Only those whose farms are close to their homes, manage to take the risk of venturing to go to such farms with bandits lurking around.

As a result of this restriction by bandits, most of the residents of Shemfida, who are mainly farmers, are now perpetually stuck at home, unable to access their farms or engage in meaningful activities, making it difficult for them to fend for themselves and their loved ones. Consequently, the locals now depend substantially on handouts from government and other well-meaning individuals to survive.

The councilor representing the area in Jibia Local Government Council, Kabir Haruna, told AV: “Yesterday, while residents of Shimfida were being escorted by soldiers to buy food from the town, I received series of complaints. My people are starving. Due to the unfriendly nature of the place, our people are yet to embark on any kind of business or farming activities. This is making life unbearable for those residing in the community. Even the rice and other foodstuff supplied by government when they returned had since been exhausted. We are therefore appealing to government to see how more food items can be sent to our people that chose to stay back in the community.

“If you want to go to town, you have to go first and report to the security agents. In fact, we are not allowed to go to town individually. The arrangement with the security is that in a week we will go to town only twice: Thursdays and Sundays,” the Chairman Shimfida Youths Association, Mr. Umaru,informed.

Horrible road

While on the journey to Shimfida with the IDPs, there were several stops on the way in order to rescue vehicles trapped in the mud or ditch before continuing the journey. AV observed that one of the reasons bandits thrive in the area is due to the horrible road leading to the community.

While the road from Jibia Town to Gurbi Junction can be said to be motorable, though largely abandoned by commuters due to high rates of bandits attack, the road from Gurbi Junction to Shimfida is however littered with deadly ditches which have become a source of nightmare for its users.

“The Gurbi-Shimfida Road is really making life unbearable for us. We go through hell passing through this road. Indeed, a very sound vehicle and a good driver are required to be able to manoeuvre through the road to Shimfida village without getting stuck in one of the potholes or trapped in the mud,” Hamisu Muhammed said. While the Katsina State Government has assured residents of its commitment to make the road motorable, work is yet to commence on the road.

No telecommunication network

Another setback for the residents of the Shimfida community is the absence of mobile telecommunications networks, which makes it impossible for them to get from any quarters in case of emergency or threat. AV learnt that MTN was the only available network in the community but the service was disrupted when the Katsina State Government first banned the use of GSM in frontline LGAs due to the activities of bandits in the state. It is yet to be restored many years after the clampdown.

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