Metro

February 25, 2024

‘15,000’ notorious kidnappers in 40 camps — Evil lives here

‘15,000’ notorious kidnappers in 40 camps — Evil lives here

•Inside northern forests harbouring bandits, terrorists, hoodlums
•Zamfara horror figures: 15,000 killed, 20,000 injured, 18,000 villages destroyed,10,000 widows, 20,000 orphans – Report
•Ansaru hoodlums well entrenched in forest along Kaduna – Abuja Expressway
•Benue abductors expand base
•Plateau outlaws hibernate in border communities
•The Cameroun connection in Taraba
•Katsina bandits turn schools into camp

By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor. Additional reports by Bashir Bello (Kano), Umar Yusuf (Yola), Marie-Therese Nanlong (Jos), Peter Duru (Makurdi), Ndahi Marama (Maiduguri), Ibrahim Hassan-Wuyo (Kaduna), Idris Salisu (Gusau), Charly Agwam (Bauchi), Ademola Akinyemi (Ilorin), Haruna Usman (Birnin-Kebbi), Femi Bolaji (Jalingo), David Odama (Lafia) and Ogala Ibrahim (Katsina)

Northern forests that used to provide food, water and environmental safety for the people are no longer safe.

In place of the serenity that used to define the forests and give succour to farmers and others to source for essential resources for survival, the forests are now the playground for evil machinations, destruction, maiming, killing and dens for ransom negotiations and collection.

Life is no longer safe in any of the forests as evil merchants have brutally driven away farmers, hunters and other forest users, thereby adding to the growing food shortage, prohibitive prices and the attendant insecurity, starvation and diseases. It is like ‘evil lives here’

From Zamfara State in the North-West, to Sambisa in the North-East, and Niger in the North-Central, the story of kidnapping, mass killings and terrorism orchestrated in the thick forests that abound in these places, is the same.

But of all the states in the North, the worst of the evil forests are easily those of Zamfara from where bandits have been staging nefarious operations and sending shivers down the spines of everyone.

Government comes and goes with threats to dislodge the malevolent elements but they stridently defy each government that tries to upstage them.

Now, it appears as if the hoodlums are above the law and have formed a government of their own.

Zamfara horror figures

Zamfara State is surrounded by the thick evil forests that stretch to neighboring states of Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Kaduna and even Niger Republic and provide an enabling atmosphere for thousands of kidnappers to operate seamlessly.

The evil forests operated by the kidnappers include Bingi forest from Western Zone of the state stretching from Maru Local Government Area to Birnin Gwari forest in Kaduna State.

The Dansadau forest is perhaps the most dangerous bandits’ hideout in Zamfara and is believed to be the home of notorious bandits also linked to Birnin Gwari forest in Kaduna and Kebbi states.

Other dangerous forests are in Munhaye in Tsafe LGA in the Eastern part of Zamfara State, Sububu forest in Maradun LGA, which is linked to Rugu forest in Katsina State and Sokoto down to Niger Republic.

It is said that due to the difficult terrains around these forests, it has become very challenging to security operates to penetrate and confront the evil merchants lurking there and causing havoc routinely.

Many of the bandits and terrorists have found these forests conducive in establishing their operational bases, using them to launch attacks.

Sunday Vanguard gathered that most of the dangerous forests surrounding Zamfara prove very difficult for security agencies to penetrate and fight the bandits at their camps.

According to an official report presented by Zamfara State government, over 15,000 bandits are operating in the state from 40 camps made up of eight main camps and over 32 minor camps embedded in numerous forests.

The report said that the bandits and terrorists were staying and operating fearlessly and seamlessly from the forests before the military confronted them and they decided to spread themselves into different camps to avoid being dislodged.

Bandit kingpins said to be operating in different camps in the state include Ali Kachalla, Dogo GiWali, Kachalla Halilu, Sububu Seno, Kachalla Turji, Dan Karami, Ado Aleru, and Adamu Aliero Yankuzo.

Meanwhile, Gidali was reported to have been killed by an Improvised Explosive Device planted by some members of his group to stop advancing troops of the Nigerian armed forces.

A security source noted, “They will be here today, after the security agencies would have gotten intelligence and ready to strike, they will leave and when you come in, you will not see anybody and they are somewhere else”.
An official report indicates that from 2009 to date, Zamfara has lost over 15, 000 lives, over 20, 000 people injured and more than 18, 000 villages destroyed, thereby throwing up 10, 000 widows and 20, 000 orphans.

Echoes of 2014 Chibok girls’ abduction in Borno

But while bandits have succeeded in embedding themselves firmly in major forests in Zamfara, terrorists have taken firm control of the dreaded Sambisa forest that shares borders with Borno and Yobe states.

Of all forests that harbor bandits and terrorists in Nigeria, Sambisa forest remains the most outstanding hotbed and epicenter for killings, kidnapping and coordination for terrorism.

The military knows it and the people confess about the prime position in terrorism in the country.

The feared Sambisa forest is not only vast and rich in resources but it also stretches hundreds of kilometres and covers many states in the North.

In Borno State, Sambisa covers Maiduguri, Jere, Konduga, Bama, Gwoza, Dikwa, Mafa, Marte, Kaga, Biu, Hawul, Chibok, Askira- Uba and Damboa local government areas while in Yobe State, the evil forest covers Gujba, Gulani, Damaturu and Bularafa LGAs.
This is in addition to pockets of forests that abound in the two states, which provide cover for criminals to perpetrate their heinous crimes without any challenge from the security agents.

Due to the seeming isolation that these places offer, criminals have successfully hidden in them to conduct kidnap operations and collect millions of Naira in ransom without fear.

It was from here that the plan for the kidnap of the Chibok girls was hatched and implemented in 2014 and it is from this same evil forest that subsequent attacks have been unleashed on others.

Rape, killings in Kaduna

•Ansaru terrorists take over Kaduna-Abuja Expressway forest

In nearby Kaduna State, the hotspot for kidnapping is the Birnin-Gwari forest located on the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway.
Thousands of innocent persons passing through or residing around the area have either been killed or kidnapped for huge ransom while many women have been raped and killed as well by bandits and terrorists who have located their operational bases in the forests there.

According to the Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, no fewer than 214 persons were killed as a result of attacks by terrorists, communal clashes, violent attacks and reprisals across the state.

Out of this, 746 people were kidnapped in the first quarter of 2023 around the Birnin Gwari, Giwa, Igabi, Chikun and Kajuru areas of the state.

It is in Biirnin-Gwari that the dreaded Ansaru terrorist group has entrenched and use the forest to unleash attacks on innocent Nigerians using the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway.

Following their attacks, travelers have become wary of the road.

One of the bandit leaders believed to be operating from Kaduna forests, Boderi Isyaku, was eliminated only last week in a gun duel with security forces.

Governor Uba Sani, who confirmed the killing, described “the elimination of Boderi Isyaku as a notable milestone in the ongoing fight against terrorism and banditry”.

Sani’s words: ”Boderi, as he was simply known, had for nearly a decade propagated a reign of fear, death and destruction in Kaduna State and neighbouring Niger State, with a trademark of brutal attacks, mass abductions and cruel, relentless killing.

“His elimination comes as the culmination of tireless efforts by dedicated troops committed to restoring peace and security in the region. The General Officer Commanding, 1 Division, Nigerian Army (and Force Commander, Operation Whirl Punch) Major General VU Okoro, coordinated the operation through meticulous planning and intelligence.

“The troops on Wednesday night came in contact with Boderi and his fighters around the Bada general area of Chikun LGA. Despite the terrorists’ well-fortified position, the troops laid a successful ambush. Boderi and his associates walked into the trap and were cornered.

“The elimination of Boderi Isyaku, as a notable milestone in the ongoing fight against terrorism and banditry, demonstrates the effectiveness of determined and coordinated efforts by security forces in confronting those who seek to spread fear and chaos.”

Another bandit leader in Kaduna, Kachalla Gudau, is believed to have been killed by troops of the armed forces about a year ago.

Benue abductors expand bases

In Benue, evil forests in the yam-producing Sankera axis of the state comprising Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Logo local government areas as well as those in Ulayi-Okpoga Road along the boundaries of Ado and Okpokwu LGAs provide cover for kidnappers, armed robbers and terrorists to conduct their operations with ease.

These areas are known to harbour many forests from where militants and Fulani herdsmen launch attacks to abduct their victims.

As a result of their seeming success in the forests, the criminals have expanded their bases to other forests in Makurdi-Naka Road, Ugbokolo-Otukpa-Orokam highway as well as Daudu-Yelwata-Lafia Road.

So many people have fallen victim to the armed men operating in the various forests.

While many regained their freedom after paying their way to freedom or through the intervention of security personnel, some others were not so lucky to come out of the kidnappers’ dens alive.

Though many of these cases go unreported, prominent among those who died or killed by their abductors was an elder statesman and pioneer Chairman of Ukum LGA, 81 years old Pa Raymond Erukaa who was abducted in Zaki Biam on September 23, 2023.

The octogenarian died in the captivity of his abductors after a ransom of N2 million was paid for his release.

Plateau outlaws operate viciously from border communities

In Plateau State, kidnapping, killings and armed robberies are said to be common in border communities with Bauchi, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Taraba states.

About three years ago, the abandoned Pandam Wild Park in the Qua’an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State was seen as the hotbed for kidnappers while the hills at the Maigemu district of Jos East Local Government Area, which borders Bauchi, those at Jengre that borders Kaduna State as well as the forest at Wase, which stretches to Taraba State, were also used to camp kidnap victims.

Rescued victims have reported being kept in less suspicious places like Janneret in the Mangu LGA, Dong in the Jos North, Zawan; Kuru in Jos South, and even in a house in the Million Quarters in Jos North. Barkin Ladi, Bokkos and Riyom LGAs also have random spots.

There is no specific place where the nefarious activity occurs; it could be anywhere and mostly in the hilly areas.

Bauchi worst hit communities

In nearby Bauchi State, Burra forest has over the years been notorious for habouring criminals after wreaking havoc on defenseless citizens around the areas surrounding the forest.

With an area spanning over 2, 500 square kilometres that border Bauchi, Taraba, Kaduna and Kano states, some of the worst hit communities in Bauchi have been Giade, Itas-Gadau, Ningi, Jama’are and Toro.

In 2016, it was reported that Boko Haram fighters established themselves in Burra forest after Nigeria’s forces dislodged the terrorists from Sambisa forest in Borno State. Sunday Vanguard’s findings reveal that Burra forest also links through a corridor to the Falgore forest in Kano State and Saminaka in Kaduna State.

Last year, after several kidnappings and killings across many communities by men of the underworld, a combined team of security operatives, after gun duels, rescued 16 people kidnapped by gunmen in Burra and surrounding forests between Ningi and Toro Local Governments of Bauchi.

In Adamawa, the Cameroun connection

Many factors are responsible for the presence of many kidnap forests in Adamawa State and a hub for kidnapping and terrorism.

The major reason is that Adamawa has land borders with the Republic Cameroun in all the three senatorial zones, a development that makes it easy for kidnappers to abduct innocent persons and ferry them across the borders to Cameroun thereby taking them away from the prying eyes of Nigerian security agents.

The evil merchants are also aided by the fact that Adamawa is surrounded by many mountains to the East, West, North and South, which make it almost impossible for security operatives to invade and confront the malevolent elements.

These areas are located in Jumo in Song LGA, Ya din, Chigari, Kojoli and Karlahi in Jada LGA. Others are Kekewaji, Kakore, Bole, Mbamba and Nyibango in Yola South LGA.

The rest include forests in Tambo and Tasha Mai Turare in Tires as well as Digil in Mubi North.

Adamawa, which is one of the three front line states ravaged by the dreaded Boko Haram, is equally facing the menace of bandits and kidnappers in the Sambisa forest that runs through Garkida, Gombi, Madagali, Michika and many other communities in the northern senatorial zone of the state.

Bride held in Kwara kidnap forest

In Kwara State, the activities of kidnappers and terrorists seem to be concentrated around the Afon axis, down to Eiyenkorin area of Ilorin South, which is plagued by a rough terrain riddled with potholes and many abandoned buildings on both sides of the highway.

Again, the vast thick forests at the far edge along Ogbomosho/Ilorin Expressway is also a hideout for kidnappers as many victims from Ilorin and Ogbomosho have been taken to the thick forests, from where ransom are paid for their freedom.

For example, in the Oniyangi area of Gbodofon along Balogun Fulani area of Ilorin, a four-man gang of kidnappers recently kidnapped a bride and took her into the feared forest and was only freed after the payment of N7 million, provision of four cartons of Goldberg beer, three cartons of Peak Milk and a big tin of Bournvita.

There are also vast thick forests within the boundaries of Kwara and Kogi states. Eruku and Koro towns are within those areas and there have been casualties from the forests over the years.

Kebbi deep tunnel

The situation in Kebbi State is not different as bandits and terrorists are believed to be concentrating their wicked operations in thick forests around Zuru Emirate of the state.

The armed groups and terrorists are said to be using a deep tunnel that separates Kebbi from Zamfara State to launch their attacks.

They regularly attack residents and disappear into the dark tunnel to escape being apprehended by security agents.

They are said to be concentrating in local forests in Unashi,Dan Kade, Dan Umaru, Mai Rairai ,Wasagu, Mun haye and Bena, which share boundaries with Zamfara.

Taraba roads notorious for kidnapping

In Taraba State, evil forests used for kidnapping for ransom are located the Southern Senatorial District, where numerous persons have lost their lives while others have had to part with money paid as ransom.

Most of these assailants, in their kidnapping operations, block access roads and shoot sporadically before picking their victims.

Some of the roads notorious for this act include the Wukari-Takum Road, Takum-Katsina-Ala Road, and Bali-Suntai-Takum Road.
It was learned that these assailants keep their victims in the stretch of forest along the Taraba-Benue corridor.

The kidnappings in that zone have spread to Bali, Gassol, Yorro, Ardo-Kola, and Zing LGAs of Central and Northern Taraba.

The bandits in these areas strike communities and abduct eminent people, clerics, chiefs, and peasants into their camps, which are mostly behind mountainous areas.

Jalingo, the state capital, in recent times, is not left out in the operations of these criminals, who often take their victims to their camps located within Yorro and ArdoKola.

The recent rescue operations and destruction of kidnappers’ camps in Gampu Hills and Ban Yorro is a pointer to this.

Nasarawa kidnappers loiter around police base

Kidnapping-for-ransom and killings are rife in the Nasarawa towns of Akwanga, Wamba, Nasarawa -Eggon hills especially around where the police mobile training school is sited.

Kidnapping in the Nasarawa Eggon is extended to the Udiege development area where most of the kidnapped victims are kept and payment of ransom is made.

Some of the kidnappers’ dens have been dismantled around Nasarawa Eggon, Toto, Akwanga and Wamba in the state.

Katsina bandits turn schools into camp

In Katsina State, there are over 65 vulnerable towns, villages and hamlets bordering Rugu forest which has long become a playground for bandits, terrorists and kidnappers.

These elements neither hide nor pretend that they are hiding in the fortresses for years and orchestrating their nefarious activities with brutality and impunity.

Kankara LGA is one of the major havens for bandits and kidnappers in Katsina and the wave of attacks has been rampant and destabilising in recent years.

The assailants, operating mostly under the cover of night, have been targeting different communities and kidnapping for ransom.

In a disturbing escalation lately, bandits resorted to abductions, demanding huge sums of cash ranging from N100, 000 to N1 million as levies from the locals after seizing their homes and farmlands.

One harrowing incident unfolded at Yarkuka community when bandits abducted an Imam and demanded N1.5 million as ransom for his release.

The poor community struggled to raise and pay the marauders N1.2million and pleaded with them to release the Islamic leader.
But instead of freeing the embattled Imam unscathed, the evil men maimed him and dumped him in the community square with a threat to kidnap another Imam if the balance of N300, 000 was not urgently paid.
Bandits in Katsina fear nobody and spare no one in their desperate attempts to exploit the people for maximum pecuniary gains.

This was amply demonstrated by the recent abduction of a young man from Tsamiya community and an elderly man from another community, both of whom were facing ransom payments of N100, 000 and N200, 000.

The bandits operate with impunity, making repeated visits to communities, extorting money, looting farm produce and leaving residents in perpetual fear.

More troubling is the fact that bandits have established camps in primary schools in Katoge and Tanimawa as well as in Gonaki and Pawa areas of Katsina and are operating with ease.

A reliable source said there are no fewer than seven locations where these malevolent elements are very strong in the state. In a desperate bid for survival, some villagers have entered into agreements with them while others are coerced into running errands for the criminals. The lack of government intervention has left Yarkuka residents wondering when next bandits will strike and what it will cost them.