by Olusegun Adeniyi
As I was taken through the different classrooms that have become a temporary shelter for hundreds of men, women and children, I could not but reflect on how a general climate of insecurity has practically turned Nigeria into one huge refugee camp. And the more the traumatised people of Tabanni, Allikiru, Gaidan Kare, Kursa, Dankilawa, Ruwan Tsamiya and Gidan Barebari villages in Rabah Local Government of Sokoto State shared their tragic experiences with me on Tuesday, the more convinced I became that President Muhammadu Buhari needs to do more than meaningless preachments on how his “security teams crack their brains to put an end to this horrendous violence.”
When last week the governor of Sokoto, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal spoke on the tragic incident in his state, he said something I found rather disturbing and made me to resolve to visit the state: “We buried 32 people yesterday but when we were leaving the area, they brought additional seven bodies…these marauders invaded Tabanni village, killing and maiming people. These marauders never took away even a chicken; they only came to kill and left.”
That sounded like an invasion of the bandits that have for some years practically seized power in Zamfara State and I found it scary, especially since I am aware of how much efforts both Tambuwal and his Kebbi State counterpart, Alhaji Abubakar Bagudu have invested in preventing a spill-over of that lawlessness that could open a new flank of general insecurity in the north-west. Almost certain that there would be more to the killings, I left for Sokoto on Monday but because the flight was delayed for several hours in Abuja and we arrived the city late, my journey to the affected area was shifted to Tuesday morning.
While nine communities were affected in the invasion that has led the villagers to flee to the district headquarters in Gandi where I arrived shortly after 8am on Tuesday, it was at Tabanni that the tragic drama played out. According to Muhammadu Mani, a farmer who survived the brutal onslaught, it was around 3.30pm when the invaders arrived their village in a convoy of about 50 motobikes each carrying three persons, all of them wielding guns and other assault weapons. “They cordoned off the village by blocking the three entry and exit points before they started shooting with some of them going from house to house. Many of them were in Army uniforms and were Fulani men.”
Incidentally, majority of the victims are themselves Fulani. Asked if the bandits were on a revenge mission, Mani answered in the affirmative, confirming what Senator Adamu Aliero, a former two-term governor of the neighbouring Kebbi State, said in plenary last week. According to Aliero, “the bandits sent two people to the village to buy food for them and the villagers observed that the emissaries were armed and they were interrogated by the villagers who found the bandits to be similar to the ones operating in Zamfara. The villagers apprehended and executed the two emissaries.”
Mani’s version is not somewhat different from Aleiro’s except claiming that only one of the two emissaries was killed and that the bandits, whose camps were located in the adjoining forests, had become a menace since they were always demanding ransom payments from the villagers. Interestingly, although some women and children lost their lives to the massacre, they appeared more like collateral damages than any intention by the executioners to take their lives. “We could hear these men saying, ‘Let us kill all their men and see whether their women alone can bear children’”, recounted Mani.
Malam Ali Na-Huro who was working on his farm when the attackers descended on Tabanni said he “passed more than 30 corpses, while many others fell into the river surrounding our village” as he and others ran for their lives. But the Tabanni village head was not so lucky. According to Mani, the traditional ruler had been receiving guests at the time “but when he heard gunshots, he and his guests ran out and tried to escape through the river at the back of the village but they were pursued and shot dead right inside the river.” The deceased traditional ruler has been replaced by his son.
The bandits came well prepared with flame throwers with which they razed the thatched houses, even as some of the villagers who tried to escape were pursued on bikes and killed. From the accounts shared by many of the victims, the bandits were used to collecting taxes and demanding ransom and they were being paid until lately when some of the villagers began to put up a resistance with the help of Vigilante. This resulted in the death of some of the bandits who appeared very organized, including in the area of intelligence gathering. A few weeks ago, for instance, the head of Tabanni vigilante was going to Gandi to lodge a report when he was waylaid and gunned down on the way. From the account of Mani and others, their informant gave the vigilante man away.
While a primary school provides a temporary shelter for hundreds of people, many of the victims who have relatives in Gandi have moved in with their kins. When I visited on Tuesday, the district head, Alhaji Muhammadu Machido had gone to Sokoto to receive Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who was visiting both to commiserate with them and to commission the 1.5 million metric tonnes per annum ($350 million) BUA Kalambaina cement plant of Alhaji Abdul Samad Rabiu.
Lamenting the security challenge in Rabah local government, Abdulkadir Gandi, a former civil servant in the state who also worked with UNICEF on girl-child education campaign before he retired to the village to take up farming said it would have far-reaching implications. “Those villages under attack represent the food basket of this area so if the people can’t farm again, and many have deserted their farms, then we will have a serious problem” said Gandi.
Instructively, Aleiro’s submission at the Senate had drawn attention to the security challenge. He said the chairman of the local government and the village head alerted the law enforcement agencies to an advance notice sent by the bandits. “Security was provided for a period of five days after which they were withdrawn…the bandits moved in and started killing indiscriminately using AK-47 rifles. The situation now is that most of the villagers have left their homes out of fear and so many are still stranded in the bush, not to mention the injured ones still at the hospital and others rendered homeless” said Aliero.
During the debate in the House of Representatives on the same issue, Hon. Aminu Shehu Shagari disclosed that “the armed bandits issued threat letters to the villagers warning them to pay some millions or risk being attacked prior to the invasion by about 100 of the armed bandits on motorcycles using guns. They also used improvised explosive devices suspected to be petrol bombs in carrying out their dastardly act”. In his own contribution, the House Minority Whip, Hon Yakubu Barde Umar lamented that as Nigeria becomes one big killing field, the security chiefs are only “cracking their brains”, in an apparent derision of President Buhari’s statement.
That Nigeria has lost what Max Weber described as “the monopoly of violence” to non-state armed actors is no longer in doubt. On Tuesday, another gang of armed bandits reportedly attacked Malikawa Village in Gidan Goga District, Maradun Local Government area of Zamfara State. “In today’s attack at Malikawa village, Gidan Goga district, Maradun local government, Zamfara State, gunmen entered the village and started shooting,” Amnesty Int’l Nigeria tweeted. “This is happening five days after armed bandits attacked the same village and sacked seven villages under the district. People in this area now live in fear of armed bandits who wantonly kill or kidnap for ransom. We call on Nigerian authorities to stop the killings now!”
It should worry the authorities that not only has life become very cheap in the country, even the personnel of both the military and the police have now become easy game for sundry criminals. While there have been several reports in recent days of dozens of soldiers that cannot be accounted for after an ambush by Boko Haram, no fewer than 11 policemen have been killed this month alone. On 2nd July, seven policemen were killed assassination style in broad daylight at Galadimawa roundabout, Abuja and just 12 days later on 14th July, four policemen were ambushed at Sabon Gida, Ora in Edo State and murdered.
Unfortunately, at a time you expect those saddled with the responsibility of protecting us to come up with a mapping of areas of the country where threats and vulnerabilities are active and deploy their human and material assets to such locations, we have a situation in which half the population of our police are either doing guard duties or carrying bags for spouses and concubines of politicians. Besides, our security agencies still rely on show of force, especially against defenceless citizens as we saw in Ekiti State last week, rather than close to the ground intelligence that will help in identifying possible threats and how to tackle them.
It is indeed noteworthy that the banditry in the northwest was long foreseen. While hosting the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) meeting in July last year, Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai spoke on the need for the federal government to hand over to the affected states the management of the Kamuku, Kuyambana and Falgore forests before he added: “For such efforts to be credible and sustainable, the (Nigerian) state must vigorously reclaim its prerogatives as the guarantor of security. Robust actions in the security sector must be undertaken quickly to implant a visible, reassuring and effective presence of the protective hand of the state across our region. There are too many places where outlaws and non-state actors of all sorts have stepped into the ungoverned spaces like these forests.”
As usual, the authorities in Abuja paid no attention even when our security chiefs have failed to come up with any meaningful strategy to contain the growing national security threats. Yet, arguing that it would be catastrophic for the country to allow the emergence of another ‘Sambisa’ in the North-west axis, elRufai had warned last year that the forests which have become the headquarters for robberies, kidnappings and cattle rustling “constitute sources of perils to ordinary people, the states and the country.”
As things stand, the villages within the Gandi district, like many across the country, have been left practically to the mercy of God though the problem is compounded when those whose mandate it is to protect the people also now invoke divine protection as their only solution. As a commentator observed last week, that security chiefs can only “(c)rack their brains” as hundreds of citizens have their lives brutally cut short by sundry criminal cartels almost on a daily basis suggests how bad the situation is. But President Buhari must do something urgent about the threats to lives and livelihoods in several theatres across the country. And he must do so very fast.
Meanwhile, my trip to Rabah local government of Sokoto opened my eyes to the richness of our country and the potentials that we waste. Accompanied by Mallam Abubakar Shekara, Director- General, Media and Public Affairs to the Governor, the drive from Sokoto to Gandi took about 80 minutes but I had never seen such vast expanse of rain water bodies in any part of Nigeria as I saw on that stretch. From Sokoto through Rabah town (the hometown of the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello) up to Gandi, all that you see on both sides of the road are kilometres of small lakes and ponds with lush green (though of shrubs since the trees have been harvested for firewood; another challenge we must address). Also being herded by nomads were very hefty and robust cows, the likes you hardly find in any of our markets. I was told they are called ‘Sokoto Gudale’.
In my brief chat with Tambuwal before I headed for the airport to connect my flight back to Abuja after returning from Gandi on Tuesday, he said plans were on the table for harvesting the rainwater for irrigation during the dry season. While, as he told me, all the studies have been conducted on how to capture the enormous rainwater and store it for irrigation purposes during dry seasons, he added that funding is a problem. Yet, given what I saw in Rabah local government, this is an idea that the federal government should be interested in not only for Sokoto but for other neighbouring states where harvesting rainwater can support both crop and pastoral farming, especially with regards to the ranching of livestock that has become a national security issue.
Tambuwal also shared with me details about the cattle ranch project started by his predecessor, Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko, which he has continued. Covering 1000 hectares with capacity to cater for 10,000 cattle, what the idea suggests is that we can easily turn the current challenge into a huge opportunity. As Dr Chidi Amuta once argued in one of our editorial board sessions, “by allowing some people to roam the length and breadth of Nigeria often herding diseased and evacuated cattle, we violate the rights of these animals and endanger the health of these citizens through exposure to the elements and a cocktail of diseases.”
Also by accepting the category of nomad as a norm, according to Amuta, “we are vicariously denying these citizens of the benefits of settled human civilization which include the right to a place to call home, the right to own land and other property and above all the full citizenship rights enjoyed by other Nigerians. More importantly, we are encouraging the violation of the rights of settled landowners and farmers whose crops bear the brunt of cattle grazing. In the process we endanger national security because both settled crop farmers and migrant herdsmen have economic interests to protect sometimes with dangerous weapons.”
In Sokoto State, investments have already been made for the acquisition of cattle from both Brazil and Argentina for cross-breeding with ‘Sokoto Gudale’. While the species from Brazil is expected to improve milk yield, the species from Argentina is for the beef yield with the expectation that cross-breeding with ‘Sokoto Gudale’ will significantly improve the quality of animal husbandry in the country.
On our way back to Sokoto from Gandi on Tuesday, I was so enthralled by how kind nature has been to us as a nation that I muttered almost to myself but to the hearing of Shekara,”we have no business with poverty in Nigeria.” Chuckling, Shekara, a soft-spoken but rather interesting man, responded: “A friend told me a story many years ago. He said after God had created the earth, He sent an angel to carry resources to different parts. In America, God told the angel to drop a lot of resources because people from different parts would congregate there. In Asia, God also directed the angel to drop a lot of resources because the inhabitants would be very industrious. The same pattern continued until the angel got to Africa and he had not even expended half the resources he carried. But upon entering the continent, the angel stumbled and spilled all the resources. As he tried to pack them God told him: ‘Don’t worry yourself, leave the resources where they are and just watch. The inhabitants will not use them.”
Although a fiction, this story nonetheless reflects the reality of our country since we have done little to optimize the abundant resources God has bestowed upon us as a nation. The more pressing challenge now is that even if we had taken a different path, it would still have been difficult to sustain production and human development in an environment where bandits now establish their own parallel government, abduct people for ransom, sack villages and kill innocent citizens at will.