■ Blood in N’East, N’West may threaten polls
Enyeribe Ejiogu; Desmond Mgboh, Noah Ebije;
Mohammed Munirat Nasir
Next year is general elections. In preparation, the political parties are oiling their political machines across the country for the contest.
But in the North, particularly in the North-East and North-West, there is apprehension.
The fears stemmed from the violent crises that have engulfed the zones, which many believe are major threats to the 2019 elections.
In most of the areas there are the rampaging herdsmen and incessant attacks by Boko Haram insurgents, as well as other violent crimes.
In 2015, security concerns compelled INEC to delay the presidential election for six weeks to enable the military establish a reasonably peaceful atmosphere for elections to hold in 14 key local governments in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, which were under the firm grip of Boko Haram insurgents. Even at that voting was done in IDP camps set for refugees from the affected areas.
Today, the security situation has deteriorated in the North, sparking off worries about the 2019 elections.
It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari ran for office on the three-pronged promise of tackling insecurity, fighting corruption and rebuilding the economy.
In this report, Sunday Sun presents a panoramic picture of the security situation in the North and views of the people on how it may affect the 2019 elections.
A trail of blood in the North-West
Certainly, this is not the best of times for people living in Northern Nigeria following glaring security issues bedeviling the region.
From an intemperate wave of Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East to a spate of armed banditry and incessant abductions in the North-West; more than ever before, the soul of the region is unsettled and troubled.
Today, incidents of violence, clashes, bloodletting and occasions of avoidable deaths are commonplace in the region.
Thousands have been sacked from their homes; thousands more orphaned while an uncountable number of women have been widowed in the wake of the security challenges that have wiped out an amazing number of able-bodied men in the region.
Incidentally, while some measure of success is being recorded in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency, new trends of terror and violence are cropping up in otherwise peaceful parts and states of the region with dire consequences.
The Kaduna angle
Apart from scores that were killed in the Southern-Kaduna axis of the state in 2016-2017 and occasions of abductions of innocent travelers along Abuja-Kaduna expressway, Kaduna State, a one-time regional capital of the North, has been making the wrong headlines of recent as a result of the activities of bandits, who maim and kill their victims with uncommon hate and orgy.
A rundown of some of these tragic headlines are indeed shocking. In just four months, several people have lost their lives in Jema’a and in Birnin Gwari local government areas alone, apart from the pocket of security issues in other parts of the state.
A statement released on the killings in the North by Mr Bamikole Omisore, special assistant to the Senate President on International Relations, indicated that one person was killed in Jema’a axis on January 31, this year while nine others were killed in Birnin Gwari on the same date.
Again, four people died in Jema’a town on February 11 just as 12 others were killed in Kajaru, Kaduna State on February 26. On March 20, 11 people were killed in Birnin-Gwari, and 10 days later six more people were killed also in Jema’a, Kaduna State.
Omisore further said that six people were killed in Chikum, Kaduna State on April 4, while two were murdered on April 12 in Birnin Gwari in addition to the 14 people killed in Birnin-Gwari on April 28.
Beyond these figures, which are no less frightening, the attack that occurred on May 4, in Birnin-Gwari stood out. On that fateful day, a gang of killer bandits overran the town and its surrounding communities, leaving a trail of destruction and blood behind them.
Instructively, this bloodletting happened on a Saturday, barely one week after the massacre of 60 locals, mainly miners, at Janruwa, in the same Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area.
Witnesses, who commented on the incident, disclosed that the killers struck about 2:30p.m in Gwaska Village, killing men and children and setting houses ablaze in the village.
According to one of them, the killers emerged from neighbouring Zamfara State, encircled Gwaska up to Kuiga Village, shooting sporadically, before burning down the village of about 3,000 inhabitants.
Survivors, mostly women, recounted that, “most of those killed were volunteers that tried to defend the village and children that could not escape the onslaught.”
As if that was not enough, another community in Birnin-Gwari was attacked on Wednesday, May 16. It was gathered that the bandits overran four villages, namely Mashigi, Dakwaro, Sabon Gida and one other village adjacent to Dakwaro. They struck about 5:00p.m and laid siege to these villages for three and half hours.
One of the volunteers in the community, Malam Umar, explained that the gang killed about 10 people and burnt houses in the course of their operation, but the police in Kaduna said only seven people were killed.
The violence and killings have no doubt tasked the minds of the governor of the state, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai. Being the chief security officer of the state, sources revealed that he has had fewer hours of sleep than most people in the state on how to put to an end the exploits. The pressure on him has even made him grow grey hair since he got into office.
Apart from his heartfelt sympathies and prompt condolence visits to the bereaved families, he has been working tirelessly with the security agencies to bring the madness to an end.
During one of such condolence visits, at the palace of the Emir of Birnin Gwari, Malam Jibril Zubair, the governor expressed his sympathy in these words: “I came here to share the pain and anguish of our people, the predicament of innocent citizens whose lives were cut short due to the terrorism of bandits and criminals who have been tormenting us.”
He assured that his administration would leave no stone unturned in a bid to end the spilling of blood in the state.
Beside the killings, Kaduna State is also notorious for incidents of abductions of innocent passengers traveling between the northern and southern parts of the country, especially along the Abuja-Kaduna roads. Once kidnapped, the victims’ families are made to pay ransom to regain their freedom while a few kidnapped persons have had to pay with their lives.
About a week ago, about 100 people were abducted along the infamous roads of Birnin-Gwari in the state. Surajo Usman, a member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, who escaped an abduction in the area told Reuters: “Over 120 people were kidnapped between Friday and today, Tuesday, along the Birnin Gwari-Kaduna road.”
Yahaya Hussaini, who works for a civil society organization, corroborated this report, saying that his group’s motorcade was attacked on Sunday, May 13, by bandits armed with assault rifles.
He said: “On Sunday, in our entourage alone four vehicles were blocked by the kidnappers in military fatigue. They kidnapped about 48 people. Many of those vehicles attacked are still left on the road and the luggage of victims litter the area.”
The Zamfara experience
In the North-West, Zamfara State has had a fair share of wailing and bereavement occasioned by attacks. Truly Zamfara has over a decade been experiencing clashes between farmers and herdsmen, but the scenario has today degenerated into armed attacks against communities.
Official government records indicated that about 1000 people have been killed and property estimated in millions destroyed since 2011, when the incidents first surfaced in the state.
A taste of this blood-spilling was recorded on February 11, when 33 people were killed and several other victims injured in Birane Village of Zurmi Local Government Area, Zamfara State.
Muhammad Bello Zurmi, a witness of the attack, said that the bandits besieged Birane market and shot indiscriminately, hitting and killing people in the process.
Bello suspected the attack was retaliation by the armed bandits as they had promised to do so when two of their members were killed by local hunters in the area a few weeks earlier.
On March 28, the bandits launched fresh attacks in Bawar Daji village in Anka Local Government Area where over 30 people were killed and several others injured.
The attacks in Bawar caused Governor Yari to issue a ‘shoot-on-sight’ order on any unauthorised person spotted carrying gun in the state while admonishing that the laws of the country did not allow unauthourised persons to walk about with guns.
“I have ordered the security agencies in the state to shoot at sight any person seen with AK-47 or any other weapons in the bush, whether the person is a Fulani, Hausa or any tribe. The bandits have wasted too many lives in the state and therefore they too do not deserve to live,” he said.
On April 18, at Kabaro and two other villages in Dansadau Emirate, Maru Local Government Area, at least 30 people were killed and several others injured.
The bandits stormed the three villages of Kabaro, Danmani Hausawa and Danmani Dakarkari on motorbikes. They flagged off their operation in Kabaro village where most of the victims were killed and later moved to Damani Hausawa and Damani Dankarkari, leaving a trail of tears and blood.
The Zamfara State government said it had expended N14.8 billion on security in the state in an effort to address security challenges over the years. In 2016, it set up the Peace, Reconciliation and Disarmaments Committee, headed by the state Deputy Governor, Malam Ibrahim Wakkala Muhammad.
The report of the committee led to the recovery of 5,870 illegal arms from the bandits, which were very recently destroyed by the state in collaboration with the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons.
Worthy of note is that the government has been on its toes to combat the menace of incessant killings in the region, but incidentally, the more it fights, the more it comes short of its targets.
It is on record that a few years ago, the governors of Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano and Niger states met severally to strategize on how to deal with the menace. These meetings adopted several resolutions, but these resolutions have failed to tame the hydra-headed monster.
Equally true is that the Federal Government has been committed to efforts to stem these menace and restore peace in the affected communities and states. It has deployed more troops, upgraded nearby security outposts and offered various lines of support to the affected state government, but it is just that the festering sour has refused to heal.
Boko Haram re-insurgence in North-East
Boko Haram has stepped up attacks this year in the North-East states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe despite the claims by the military and the Federal Government that the insurgents have been defeated.
In four months, no fewer than 200 people have been killed with about 350 persons injured and over 120 kidnapped by the terror group in more than 30 attacks, a figure many argued, far exceeded 2017 (June-December) fatality index in the area.
At least 30 people were killed in three daring attacks on Maiduguri, capital of Borno capital and Boko Haram birthplace on January 2, April 26 and May 2. On May 1, 86 persons were killed and 58 others injured when two boys believed to be Boko Haram bombers detonated explosives strapped on their bodies at a mosque and market in Mubi, Adamawa State. The casualties included worshippers, traders and shoppers.
Earlier on February 19, the Al-Barnawi group had abducted 110 schoolgirls at Dapchi, a serene town east of Damaturu, Yobe State capital, almost five years after over 200 girls were kidnapped by the insurgents at Government Secondary School, Chibok in the southern part of Borno.
On April 29, Easter Sunday, 34 persons were killed and 90 injured in multiple blasts and attacks by Boko Haram near Maiduguri. The increasing attacks drew the attention of the United Nations, which called for more action by the government. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said the recent weeks witnessed a steady increase of attacks by Boko Haram.
“Since the beginning of this year, 120 women, children and men have been killed and over 210 sustained serious injuries in over 22 attacks allegedly by non-state armed groups directly targeting civilians,” UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Yassine Gaba, said in a statement.
So far in May, there have been over 10 attacks in Maiduguri, Kala-Balge, Dikwa, Bama, Gamboru-Ngala in the central part of Borno, Gwoza in the East and, of course, the volatile northern part. These attacks prompted the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in West Africa and the Sahel, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, to declare that Boko Haram was yet to be defeated.
“Boko Haram is by no mean defeated,” Chambas said in an interview with journalists in Maiduguri, on the sidelines of the recent meeting of governors of the Lake Chad Basin region for the stability of the area.
He said though the insurgents have been weakened, the military needed to intensify action. “The fight needs to continue,” he insisted.
2019: The Boko Haram threat
There are fears that the increasing attacks by Boko Haram may be a big threat to electioneering and elections particularly in Borno and some parts of Adamawa states.
Most communities in the northern and central parts of Borno are still largely inaccessible due to security issues and land mines. The military said it was conducting Operation Last Hold to push Boko Haram from the northern part, especially around the Lake Chad to re-establish civil authority and return displaced persons to their homes.
Many said they fear the insurgents may just be lying-in-wait to frustrate the electioneering activities and the balloting process by using suicide bombers.
“Conducting elections or campaigning in places like Kala Balge, Kukawa, new Marte is a difficult thing because Boko Haram are still very much around the area. They may flee to neighbouring communities in Chad or Niger when the military fight them, but they will surely return again someday,” said a chieftain of the All Progressive Party (APC) in Borno who spoke to Sunday Sun on condition of anonymity.
He said that most politicians may have to restrict their campaigns to only major towns believed to be relatively safe. But Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Rogers Nicholas said this week at a press conference that the military was determined to return peace to the troubled areas and called for support from the people.
Also, Field Commander, Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), Majar General Lucky Irabor said the regional forces would complement the Operation Last Hold of the Lake Chad region by pushing the insurgents from the communities in the neighbouring African countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
Interestingly, Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states rank among few states in Nigeria with no record of conflict or clash by herders and farmers despite being among top producers of livestock in the country.