Agaju Madugba, Katsina
With the launch of a special military squad in Katsina, the Nigerian Army may well be on the path to halting the several years of insecurity occasioned by murderous activities of bandits and kidnappers operating in parts of Nigeria’s North-West.
Tagged ‘Operation Sahel Sanity’ and located at Faskari, one of the eight most dangerous of the 34 local government areas in Katsina State, the facility serves as coordinating centre for the military action against the hoodlums who also operate in parts of Kaduna, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states, army authorities stated.
Faskari, along with the other most affected local government areas of Jibia, Batsari, Safana, Dan-Musa, Faskari, Sabuwa, Dandume and Kankara have since been designated as frontline locations and described as a haven for bandits and cattle rustlers.
Communities in these areas alongside parts of Kaduna, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states share boundaries with the Rugu forest, reported to be the equivalent of the Sambisa forest, a foremost operational base of Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgent group in Borno State.
“We will continue to be ruthless with the bandits and other criminals,” the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, told reporters at Faskari last week, about two months after the troops began military offensive against the criminals. “I want you to rest assured that the troops are determined to deal decisively with criminals not only in the North-West alone but the entire country.”
Indeed, there are indications that efforts of the troops have started to yield the desired benefits given the number of successful raids on camps of the bandits and kidnap victims released by men and officers of Operation Sahel Sanity. Earlier scheduled to end in September, Buratai said that the operation would continue till the end of the year, arguing that no efforts should be spared towards tackling the bandits and kidnappers whose bloody campaigns have brought so much pain and anguish for residents of communities in the affected areas.
The operation, according to the Army, “is aimed at supporting Operation Hadarin Daji to stem the tide of the activities of armed bandits, cattle rustlers, kidnappers, incessant killings and other sundry crimes in the zone. There is no gainsaying that the hitherto crippled agricultural, social and economic lives of the people of this zone are being restored to normalcy.
“For us to maintain the relative state of security, we must continue to show presence. That is why we have extended the period as we will be operational up to the end of the year.”
From Katsina to the remotest locations in Southern Kaduna and from Zamfara to Sokoto and Kebbi states, the bandits continue to unleash mayhem on the people, and there have never been any plausible explanations for these acts of violence.
Apart from some successful cases of kidnappings for ransom, the hoodlums launch sporadic raids on villages and rustle cattle, confiscate foodstuff from the people and also slaughter a number of residents. There have been reported cases in Katsina where the attackers snatched babies from their mothers and cast the infants into raging fires. On several occasions in some communities, the bandits chased away farmers from their farms and dared them to return.
In some instances, the criminals exhibit certain traits of benevolence by sparing the lives of the people but order them to vacate their communities while they set the houses and other property on fire before retreating into the forest.
In fact, at the height of the seeming endless attacks earlier in 2019, Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari had proclaimed the entire area unsafe, stating that everyone, irrespective of status, was vulnerable to attacks. “No one, including myself, is safe. I am not safe,” the governor had asserted.
He ranked cattle rustling number three on his list of acts of prevailing threats to security of lives and property in the state, noting that kidnaping and armed robbery had become daily routine in the area.
A survey by the Katsina State Independent Security Situation Report last May indicated that bandits killed 61 persons and kidnapped 65 others with over 800 residents displaced across Batsari, Safana, Faskari, Dutsima, Dan-Musa, Kankara and Sabuwa local government areas between May 2 and May 15, 2020, with well over 3,000 cattle rustled within that period.
Apparently exploiting the proximity of most of these villages across the North-West to the Rugu Forest, the attackers, after their bloody campaigns, often retreat to the bowels of the forest. The forest has consistently been described as impenetrable, explaining alleged inability of security forces to confront and tackle the menace of banditry, cattle rustling and kidnapping.
Masari also noted: “I am very sad and I have started running out of words because life has become nightmarish for communities around the Rugu Forest in the state. Bloody attacks by bandits have become routine. Our people living in the villages bordering the forest are going through very difficult times.”
For Katsina alone, at least, eight out of the 34 local government areas has remained under varying degrees of siege for several years, as the bandits embarked on sporadic raids of villages, usually leaving behind a trail of blood.
In August 2019, Masari went deep into the various forest locations in parts of the state in a bid to woo the criminals into surrendering their arms and adopt the peace dialogue. But the initiative might not have yielded the expected results.
A report by civil society groups said the dialogue done with the bandits, though initiated in good faith, became efficient for a while because it was neither professional nor built on any defined framework.”
Governors from the North-West have also, over the years, held series of joint meetings with security agencies in Kaduna and Katsina to design measures for tacking the menace of insecurity in the zone. However, like the failed Katsina dialogue option, the meetings also apparently did not generate the desired results. Even the recent death penalty law for banditry and some other offences in Katsina does not seem to scare the dare-devil hoodlums.
Statistics from the Coalition of Civil society Organisations in Katsina stated that bandits and kidnappers launched a total of 26 attacks on communities and individuals between December 2019 and January 5, 2020 alone. These figures have since become obsolete with numerous other attacks across the affected states in the entire North-West, until the intervention by Operation Sahel Sanity in July.
Reports indicate that members of Operation Sahel Sanity have within the period, carried out series of clearance operations, ambushes and other aggressive and confidence-building patrols across several communities in the affected states including farms and highway patrols within Sokoto, Katsina, Kaduna, Kebbi and Zamfara states.
The Acting Director, Defence Media Operations, Brigadier-Gen. Benard Onyeuko said: “These operations have most importantly led to the rescue of kidnapped victims, recovery of rustled cattle, arrest of suspected armed bandits and their collaborators, smashing of local and international illegal arms syndicates and illegal armed miners. Furthermore, there were recoveries of large cache of arms and ammunition as well as recovery of motorcycles and dislocation of bandits’ logistics network within the period.”
A number of governors and traditional rulers from the North-West states, members of the National Assembly and other prominent individuals have continued to visit the Army Super Camp at Faskari, individually and collectively admitting that the initiative has indeed led to tremendous reduction in banditry and kidnapping cases.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, who visited the facility recently commended the troops for their gallantry. He said: “Most farmers have since returned to their farms and suspended commercial activities have resumed in most parts of the communities in the states. We have also confirmed the reduction in the number of displaced persons at the IDP camps in Faskari.”
Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, asserted : “The Nigerian Army and other security agencies need more funding. This will enable them acquire modern and sophisticated weapons as funding is key in the provision of security hardware due to modern day security challenges.”
So far, according to figures from the camp, the troops in the course of their recent operations rescued 107 kidnapped victims and arrested 100 confirmed bandits, 148 suspected bandits, 20 informants and collaborators, six arms suppliers, 13 rustled cattle marketers and 32 bandits’ logistics suppliers. Also rescued were 3, 984 cows, 1, 627 sheep and rams as well as three camels. The soldiers also destroyed 81 bandits’ camps in various locations across the states while foiling 74 attacks by bandits and 54 kidnap incidents.
The acting Defence spokesman said: “While the good people of the North-West are assured of the troops’ commitment to the safety of lives and property within the zone, they are also encouraged to continue to avail the troops with timely and credible information that will assist them in the conduct of their operations.”