From Noah Ebije (Kaduna) and Olanrewaju Lawal (Birnin Kebbi)
About a week ago, when the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) directed all telecommunications providers to shut down services in Zamfara State for two weeks in the first instance, the intention was to enhance anti-banditry operations of the security agencies.
It was the culmination of several stern measures taken by some governors in the Northwest zone, notably Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Kebbi states, “to enable relevant security agencies to carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenges in the state.”
This was disclosed by the NCC Executive Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, in his letter to the chief executive officers of the GSM companies to explain the rationale for the order to shut down.
Prior to the NCC directive, Zamfara had been in the grips of bandits who engaged in kidnapping and other atrocities. The daily worsening security situation compelled the government to shut down schools after the abduction of 73 students from a public school in the state.
The abduction of the students happened just 11 days after the students previously kidnapped from the College of Agriculture in Bakura, Zamfara, regained their freedom.
In response to the latest incident, Governor Bello Matawalle suspended the transportation of livestock beyond the state’s borders and ordered the closure of weekly markets across the state.
He stated that foodstuff would henceforth be subjected to thorough physical verification search, given that bandits transport caches of arms and ammunition by concealing them in bags of agro-produce to avoid detection by security operatives at checkpoints.
In what may seem like a domino effect, governors of Kaduna, Katsina and Kebbi imposed similar restrictions in their states.
In Kaduna State, the measures imposed by Governor Nasir el-Rufai to checkmate the bandits do not seem to have had any noticeable impact as bandits have become more daring and still abduct residents from the comfort of their homes in the wee hours of the night.
Like his counterpart in Zamfara, el-Rufai had on September 2 banned transportation of livestock, particularly donkeys to and from Kaduna State, suspended some weekly markets as well as banned sale of petrol in 20 or 50 plastic containers, popularly called jerricans, in local government areas where activities of bandits are most frequent.
Announcing the restrictions, Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, said: “The government of Kaduna State wishes to highlight that the previous directives suspending weekly markets, and selling of petrol in jerrycans in Birnin Gwari, Giwa, Chikun, Igabi and Kajuru LGAs, as well as banning of the felling of trees for timber, firewood and charcoal and other commercial purposes in Birnin Gwari, Kachia, Kajuru, Giwa, Chikun, Igabi and Kauru LGAs, are still in force. The government also wishes to reiterate that the transportation of donkeys into the state is a criminal offence and anyone found engaging in this will be prosecuted accordingly.”
As if thumbing their nose at the government, on September 7, a large number of bandits stormed Keke area of Kaduna, where they moved from house to house and abducted 18 persons about 12:30a.m.
Again, the following day, Wednesday, September 8, no fewer than eight vigilantes were ambushed and five of them were killed. Their vehicle was burnt by bandits at Udawa along Birnin Gwari while three others escaped in Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area of the state.
However, speaking on security measures put in place by the state government, Spokesperson of Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said that the combined effects of the closure of weekly community markets, ban on movement of cattle and restriction of access to fuel in some frontline states had already started yielding results.
Despite the good intentions of the then government, the measures have produced negative effect on the people.
Notwithstanding the pain and inconveniences, Suleiman urged the affected communities to endure the temporary hardships as necessary burden for the final restoration of security, return of peace and enduring public safety.
His words: “We call on the state governments involved to design emergency measures for easing the pains that would naturally result from the new security steps on communities and call for more cooperation and prayer from the public.
“While commending the efforts of our gallant troops on the frontline states, we particularly call on all northern governors especially those of states in the neighbouring current operational areas to take immediate steps to check the movement of people across their borders.”
For the market men and women, he said that the suspension of weekly markets was a big blow on their weekly income, adding that the government should rather beef up security in the affected markets instead of stopping trading activities.
Alhaji Adamu Mai Shinkafa, who sells local rice and other grains, told Sunday Sun: “This is not how to treat human beings who are not relying on government for anything, but struggling to fend for themselves and their families. How can government stop weekly markets activities? This is outright punishment for offence one did not commit. My advice is that the government should beef up security in those markets instead of suspending the markets indefinitely.”
For Mama Ejima who goes to Kujama market in Chikun Local Government Area and Kawo market in Kaduna North Local Government Area every week to buy fresh maize and groundnuts to sell, the suspension of markets has made her idle.
“I am now eating into my capital,” she said, noting that with the suspension of the markets, those who do menial jobs in the markets may resort to criminal activities.
An interstate driver, Amedu Oki shared his experience on the ban of selling of fuel in jerricans, saying that it is a good development because according to him, it will reduce queues at filling stations and prevent those who buy fuel in jerricans for evil intention.
Oki, however, advised other drivers to fill up their vehicle tanks at point of take-off in order to have enough fuel that would take them to their destinations.
Sunday Sun learnt from ordinary people on the street that the security measures raised the cost of transportation and increased the price of kerosene, firewood, meat, foodstuff, resulting in the skyrocketing of prices.
Hear Madam Victoria: “The prices of firewood and kerosene have gone up because drivers that used to transport them to the markets are nowhere to be seen because the markets are closed. Many people have been experiencing hardship since government introduced these security measures.”
Unlike Kaduna State, Kebbi State did not impose restriction in major towns in the state. Rather the federal and state governments have deplored troops and counter-terrorism squads to villages sharing boundaries with Sokoto, Zamfara and Niger states in the southern part of the state.
Part of measures taken by state government to curb bandits invasion in the state was the purchase of hundreds of motorcycles, provision of Land Cruisers SUVs and armoured personnel carriers (APC) for both soldiers and the police counter-terrorism squad.
Commenting on the effect of the steps taken by the government, an interstate commercial vehicle driver from Niger State, who regularly comes to Zuru and Yauri in Kebbi State, Abdullahi Sanusi explained that in the recent past commercial drivers from Kontangora could not travel to Zuru or Yauri area.
“But since the government deployed soldiers to the various checkpoints, we have been relieved from fear and danger. The only thing that remains now is to defeat these bandits in Kebbi. You know, they are either from Zamfara or Niger State. We are just praying that these criminals will be defeated permanently,” Sanusi said.
Another driver and NURTW former executive, Abdulrahman Salami, affirmed that there is no restriction in Kebbi State and stressed that their members freely travel from Niger to Kebbi State.
Salami explained that their members don’t have difficulties in getting fuel, adding that they usually buy petrol for their vehicles in accessible towns before going to border towns or villages.
However, a civil servant who works in Sokoto State, but resides in Birnin Kebbi, Jafar Giro, agonised over the effect of the steep increase in the prices of foodstuff and other commodities on his family budget. He explained that with a monthly salary of N70,000 he was no longer able to meet the needs of immediate family, parents, siblings and also pay house rent.
“The bag of Semovita we used to buy at N2,500 is now N3,500. Bag of beans, sugar, rice, groundnut oil and practically everything has increased. Initially, I thought Allah is not blessing my salaries, but after practical analysis of my expenditure, I discovered that the inflation is too much. I think our problem is that as the prices of goods and services are increasing, the minimum wage and salaries do not increase. That is our problem wallahi,” Giro said, throwing up his hands in frustration.