rural-bandits

Forests that Kill and Destroy: Rural Banditry in Northern Nigeria

The office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) should set up a committee to study the conflicts in Birnin Gwari, Dansadau and Sabuwa, as well as similar conflicts in other parts of the country, before decisions are taken to resolve them. The problem of rural banditry is not only in Nigeria but also in other parts of West and Central Africa. Our regional institutions therefore need to develop regional approaches to tackling the problems.

Last week, I attended a seminar organised by the Centre for Democratic Development and Training (CEDDERT) in Zaria where research findings on the senseless massacre and destruction emanating from the dreaded Kuyanbana forest was presented by Massoud Omar and Abubakar Siddique Mohammed. The forest links communities in Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State, Dansadau in Katsina State and Sabuwa in Zamfara State. A significant number of criminal gangs initially focused on cattle rustling have made the forest their home from where they wreck havoc on the three communities. Most of the cattle in the area have already been rustled and Nigeria is facing the threat of a significant decline in availability of beef. As is well known, 90 percent of our beef comes from Fulani pastoralists and their cattle have become a magnet of attacks by the gangs located within the Kuyanbana Forest. From cattle rustling, the gangs have moved into kidnapping and mass killings of innocent villagers.

Victims from the three communities were at the seminar to give testimonies of their plight. The village head of Yar Galidima in Dansadau, for example, gave detailed accounts on how the gangsters descended on the village and killed 130 people including three of his children. That was not the end of the story, they came back to demand for more money as protection against further attacks. The bandits then ordered the communities not to farm this rainy season. Today, 40 percent of the community have simply given up and fled the area. Some of the gangsters have now settled in one of the villages where they have set up a generator and organise regular discos with the sex workers they have imported. About six weeks ago, the Nigeria army organised a major security operation in the Dansadau area of Zamfara State and that became a disaster for the neighbouring communities in Kaduna State.

The gangs simply went back into Kuyanbana forests and descended on communities in Birnin Gwari Local Government. The Sarkin Fulani of Gundi was at the seminar to explain how his family lost over 500 cattle to the gangs. They came to him to explain that they took his cattle and would return them if he paid them one million naira; he paid and they refused to return the cattle. Families in Gundi cannot sleep in the houses due to constant raids – they go into the bush to sleep and drug children with Benelyn cough syrup so they do not cry and attract the marauders to where they are hiding.

In some of the communities, there is a cold war between the Hausa and the Fulani, with the Hausa suspecting the gangs are composed mostly of Fulani young men and turning and attacking Fulani residents in the area. Rural banditry is turning significant parts of rustic areas in Northern Nigeria into a regime of terror as looting, rape and arson become the regular routine.

The most harrowing story was that of girls kidnapped by the gangs and used as sex slaves. After about six months, the gangs returned the girls with two rams for each one and asked their parents to use the rams for the naming ceremonies when the girls deliver. I simply cannot see higher forms of cruelty. In some of the communities, there is a cold war between the Hausa and the Fulani, with the Hausa suspecting the gangs are composed mostly of Fulani young men and turning and attacking Fulani residents in the area. Rural banditry is turning significant parts of rustic areas in Northern Nigeria into a regime of terror as looting, rape and arson become the regular routine.

Between Gusau and Dansadau, there were over three thousand Fulani settlements with cattle and most of them have been basically destroyed as they lose their grazing land and cattle. Former Governor Yerima of Zamfara State was said to have given out a lot of the land to big farmers thereby squeezing out the pastoralists. Subsequently, the gangs came in to take much of what was left. As the researchers explain, there is no “ancestral land” for the Fulani, so their grazing lands can be given out with impunity.

Markets have been severely affected as the gangs regularly attack traders in cattle and grain in places like Birnin Gwari. After incessant attacks by highway bandits, traders started using bank transfers through the two banks in the town. The gangs attacked and burnt the banks insisting that there must be a return to cash transactions. As the gangs get stronger, they are now taxing communities on a regular basis and attacking the communities that resist their authority.

More studies are necessary to accurately describe and analyse the reality of these conflicts. Much of the available information about them is inaccurate, one-sided, deliberately misleading or does not give an accurate account of their genesis, causes, nature and patterns.

The research project is very important because it provides evidence that the type of rural banditry occurring in the North Central and Southern parts of the country is also occurring in the North West, although a lot of it does not get reported in the media. The problem, therefore, is a national one and cannot be addressed through massive troop movements similar to what occurred in Zamfara State. What is important is the local communities have a lot of intelligence on the criminal gangs and by working with them security agencies can start mopping up the criminals. More studies are necessary to accurately describe and analyse the reality of these conflicts. Much of the available information about them is inaccurate, one-sided, deliberately misleading or does not give an accurate account of their genesis, causes, nature and patterns. This, by implication, means that any effort to address these conflicts, before further, adequate and reliable information is obtained, will only succeed in treating the symptoms rather than resolving the long term problems that have given rise to them, as well as working out how to heal wounds and take all the affected communities and the rest of the country forward in unity, peace and prosperity.

The office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) should set up a committee to study the conflicts in Birnin Gwari, Dansadau and Sabuwa, as well as similar conflicts in other parts of the country, before decisions are taken to resolve them. The problem of rural banditry is not only in Nigeria but also in other parts of West and Central Africa. Our regional institutions therefore need to develop regional approaches to tackling the problems. I salute the researchers for taking the risks of going into these dangerous terrains to construct for us narratives on the breakdown of rural peace and the rise of criminality in our society.


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