Northern Bureau Chief, MUHAMMAD SABIU, writes on the plight of residents of Birnin-Gwari, a town located in the eastern part of Kaduna State, where bandits have now found a new home.
A community leader, who holds the title of Danmasani Birnin Gwari, Zubairu Abdulra’uf, recently shared an insight about the plight of the farmers in his community. He told journalists that communities can only farm if they pay taxes in millions to bandits.
Shedding light on the payment of taxes, Abdulra’uf said a district (Randegi) paid N200 million to bandits within two years as taxes to allow them to farm, adding that the Birnin Gwari local government paid as much as N400 million as taxes to the bandits.
He said the payment of the taxes is divided into three phases: pre-season, mid-season and after-harvesting season.
How did Birnin Gwari get here?
For decades, bandits have lived in Birnin Gwari communities. Even though the reason for their presence in the area is not immediately understood, many are of the view that the forest may have attracted them to the area.
Findings revealed that the forest covers the states of Kaduna, Niger, Zamfara and Katsina, thus, making it easy for criminals to operate and maintain it as their hideouts.
Residents of the area disclosed that there are different bandit commanders, who established different camps in the forests. According to them, the bandits launch their attacks on these communities at will and after abducting locals, they returned to the forests.
A resident, who didn’t want to be named, told Nigerian Tribune how a deadly attack on banks about a decade ago led to the closure of banks and by extension, the collapse of business activities in the area.
The resident said: “Since then, a town like Birnin Gwari has no banks. If we want to make transactions, we have to travel to Kaduna which is about two-and-a-half-hour journey and you are not sure whether you will come back alive.”
The source also noted that residents preferred to travel to neighbouring towns of Kagara and Kontogora in Niger state for business transactions.
“Sometimes, we travel as far as Zungeru and Minna for business transactions if we want to receive large sums of money. This is how we are surviving in Birnin Gwari,” the resident added.
In a statement made available to the Nigerian Tribune by the Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressives’ Union (BEPU), and signed by the Chairman of the forum, Ishaq Usman Kasai, the group expressed worry over the influx of bandits into the communities in the LGA.
“The forests house different groups of criminals/terrorists. The criminals used to go near and far to operate and then come back to the forests with their captives for negotiation of ransom,” the group said.
According to the statement, the western part of Birnin-Gwari is mostly being affected by the operation of large number of armed bandits who encircle the district and operate unchallenged.
BEPU added that the bandits at the western part of Birnin-Gwari forests are usually sighted by locals when they leave their hideouts to attack neighbouring communities in Niger State.
Kasai said more than 30 communities have been displaced in the western part of Birnin-Gwari by bandits, adding that “it is disturbing that many of these communities are currently being occupied by armed bandits unchallenged.”
Findings revealed that 75 percent of New Tabanni people have abandoned their homes and even those that remain because of their farms and other businesses do not spend night there.
He said: “Security problem in the eastern part of Birnin-Gwari is deteriorating where terrorists are presently governing the area.
The BEPU chairman also said Danwandara and Kwanar Dam are among the dangerous flashpoints where armed bandits used to attack, kill and kidnap people between Tabanni and Kuyello road.
So, Eastern Birnin-Gwari is surrounded by both armed bandits and Ansaru. If they want attack the neigbouring communities in Chikun LGA, Kaduna to Abuja or Zaria road areas from the forests, they move through Eastern part of Birnin-Gwari forests. They carried out these attacks and return back to the forests with their captives,” he added.
It was gathered that the Ansaru group is becoming more powerful and propagating their ideology in the eastern part of Birnin-Gwari, where locals are being recruited in the area.
Idris Kuyello, a resident, told the Nigerian Tribune that members of the group have been moving from house to house, mosque to mosque, preaching to the locals to adopt their ideology.
He said even though they preach about establishing an Islamic state, some residents are not satisfied with some of their teachings which are completely different from the Islamic teachings.
According to Kuyello they have also started marrying the girls from the area. It was gathered that in May, members of the group were engaged to two girls at Old Kuyello and the engagement ceremony reportedly took place in Old Kuyello, where the Ansaru members ordered that they would take the brides to the forests after the marriage ceremony. They were also said to have directed the parents of the brides to bring only plates, coolers and mattresses.
Two weeks ago, it was gathered the members of the group married another set of girls.
A resident of the community, Abubakar Hassan, said four of our girls were engaged to Ansaru members.
“We are expecting more girls to be engaged to them because they are reaching out to residents,” he said.
Youths joining Ansaru
Another worrying situation is the recruitment of youths. Findings revealed that more youths are joining the group and are taken to the forests. According to Kasai, after the initiation, they come back to the town to recruit more persons.
He said: “They usually narrate that the Ansaru members tell them to come and join them to fight government and democracy in order to form Islamic government.”
Kasai also disclosed that the bandits share memory cards containing their preaching and ideology to locals.
‘Over 20,000 IDPs in communities’
Another worrying scenario in the area is the issue of the internally displaced persons (IDPs). The attacks on the communities in the LGA have rendered thousands of people homeless. According to Kasai, there are over 20,000 IDPs in the area. While 5,000 of the IDPs are identified as men, over 15,000 are said to be women and children. He also said most of them are struggling to survive as there has been not much in terms of support to victims of attacks in the area.
‘Government needs to act fast’
The Birnin Gwari Emirate Progressive Union said it was concerned that despite the worrisome development, no meaningful response has been received from authorities.
“We are surprised that government has abandoned us to the mercy of criminals. In fact, so far, not much has been done on even acknowledging or sympathising with our people as is being done to the people of southern Kaduna. Our communities are being attacked, people kidnapped and killed daily without response, acknowledgement or report from government.
“We call on government to please ensure the carrying out of coordinated security operations, both aerial and ground, to the hideouts of criminals in our forests in order to stop the loss of human lives.
“BEPU is deeply surprised on why the operation has never been carried to their hideouts, despite repeated calls by these communities,” he said.
Kaduna government advocates theatre command
On its part, the state government has repeatedly said the issue of insecurity in the area needs the intervention of the federal authorities. The Birnin Gwari forest is a very area that needs the combined efforts of the military and other security agencies to tackle the menace of banditry.
Speaking recently on a radio programme, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State called for a total aerial bombardment of the forest as part of solutions to banditry. He had previously said from security reports obtained, the Ansaru are in two local government areas of the state: that is Birnin Gwari and Giwa.
The governor has also called for the establishment of a theatre command in view of the worsening security situation. He has, however, expressed his commitment to improving security in the state.