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It’s coming south: Rising insecurity in Kwara State

By Ilerioluwa Oladipupo
24 February 2022   |   7:00 am
Insecurity is like cancer. If not swiftly attended to, it spreads to other parts of the body. The same can be said of Kwara State neighbouring Kogi - to the east and Niger to the north. Both northern states have witnessed 154 and 1144 deaths in recent times after consistent attacks from armed criminal gangs.…

Omu-Aran, Kwara State

Insecurity is like cancer. If not swiftly attended to, it spreads to other parts of the body. The same can be said of Kwara State neighbouring Kogi – to the east and Niger to the north. Both northern states have witnessed 154 and 1144 deaths in recent times after consistent attacks from armed criminal gangs.

Kwara State used to be a relatively peaceful state but it is beginning to be on the receiving end of activities of disparate militant ‘Fulani’ herdsmen seeking fresh territories.

In November 2021, the state governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq raised an alarm over the influx of cattle herders into his state causing security panic in the communities.

International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) in a report quoted Abdulrazaq saying ”Fulanis have spread into multiple villages in Kwara, with their population gradually outnumbering indigenes.”

A report by SBM Intelligence, a leading Africa-focused geopolitical research firm, paints a rather vivid picture of the state of security in Kwara.

According to the report, Kwara State, in the last two years has witnessed a disturbing rise in kidnapping for ransoms, gang clashes, conflicts between local communities, coordinated and random attacks, cattle rustling, and targeted killings; most of which bear a resemblance to other North Central states where Fulani militants are held responsible for the rising violence.

The report disclosed that the Fulani militants have a common pattern of operations which they seem to replicate in any area they gain entry into in other parts of Nigeria where communal clashes between herders and residents have been recorded.

From late December 2020 through the first half of 2021, a crisis broke out in Igangan in Ibarapa Local Government Areas of Oyo state which shares a land boundary with Kwara. During this period, Kwara state witnessed a surge in kidnappings, with at least five persons abducted by suspected Fulani militia groups.

By the second half of 2021, the spate of kidnapping had risen in the state. A special report by the ICIR said that “in the last six months of 2021 alone, cases of kidnap for ransom were rife, especially in the southern part of the state.”

According to the report, 27 people were kidnapped for ransom through organised attacks during the second half of 2021. The abductees were adults, youths and children. Some were rescued by security agents, others had to pay huge sums of money as ransom but one was unlucky to leave alive.

The body of Adegboyega Onijala, a brother to ex-aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan was found in the bush on November 24, 2021, five days after he was abducted.

In a single day, the kidnappers abducted 13 persons in Kwara State, the report said they include a businessman, seven wedding guests, a pastor and his wife, who were abducted in two kidnapping incidents that occured between the Kwara-Ekiti axis of the state. The attacks were spreading like wildfire.

Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq PHOTO: Twitter

Five local governments of the state were badly-hit by kidnappers’ activities in the second half of 2021, with Omu-Aran in Irepodun Local Government recording the highest number of incidents.

Asides the growing cases of kidnaps in the state, there were also bloody clashes and targeted killings.

The SBM report showed that in May 2021, a bloody clash ensued between the Fulanis and Nupe youths of Pada village in the Edu Local Government Area of Kwara State following an attack on a Fulani settlement in the village. This left two people dead and several others seriously injured. Three more clashes have been reported in the state with five people dead afterwards.

About two weeks after the Fulani/Nupe youths clash, unknown gunmen killed the son of a village head. The suspected gunmen stormed Reke Community, Eyenkorin/Afon road in Asa Local Government Area at midnight and killed the eldest son of the Magaji of the community.

By June 2021, the gunmen had become deadlier in their attempts as the report showed that Alhaji Sheidu Madawaki, the head of the Fulani Bororo community in Oro-Ago, Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State was killed. Mr Madawaki had paid a courtesy visit to the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) office a few days back “to establish a synergy on how to improve and sustain the existing peaceful coexistence in the kingdom.” His cordial relationship with the law enforcement agency would have posed a threat to the criminal groups and could have made him a target.

If not swiftly curbed, these Fulani militants have shown their capacity to take over ungoverned spaces in any state. The spillover of armed groups’ activities into the North Central states have shown that the government needs to close all loopholes that enable these gangs to establish themselves in new regions as there are no bounds to their nefarious activities.

In early 2022, according to the SBM report, a prominent terror kingpin, Kachalla Turji, a Fulani who operated in rural Zamfara, had relocated to the forests of Kwara state – being the case of a North western terrorist seeking refuge in the North Central.

Turji who hails from Shinkafi in Zamfara State was responsible for the death of at least 30 passengers who were burnt beyond recognition on the 7th of December at the Sabon Birni Local Government Area of Sokoto State.

Last July, his gang abducted 150 villagers and travellers in Shinkafi Local Government Area in Zamfara in reaction to the arrest of his father by security forces in Kano. Going by these records, the mere thought of Turji’s presence in Kwara state’s environs is enough to damage the psyche of an average Kwara resident.

Kwara State Command of the Nigeria Police Force refuted the claim that Turji had relocated to Kwara forest. However, given how much the Police has struggled to prevent and successfully investigate insecurity in the state between 2020 and 2021, it is clear that the state needs more proactive steps rather than some reactive statements that will not restore the lives of 60 residents lost within this period.

Interestingly, in early February 2022, the Kwara State Police Command arrested a suspected Beninse trans-border kidnapper in a forest at Kosubosu, the headquarters of the Baruten Local Government Area of the state.

This occurrence is not unusual as Kwara state shares a long border with the Republic of Benin while it also shares borders with the Nigerian states of Niger to the north, Kogi to the east, and Ekiti, Osun, and Oyo to the south. These all serve as the five entry points into the state.

Kwara State police spokesman Ajayi Okasanmi said N2.3m cash, a locally-made gun, a knife, one machete and two telephones were recovered from the suspect, saying “the state has been witnessing cases of kidnapping, especially in the southern part of the state for some time now because of its proximity to Oyo, Ekiti and Kogi State.”

Governor Abdulrazaq has been meeting with community and Fulani leaders to prevent further breakdown of peace and security in the state. He said they would receive the government’s protection and patronage in terms of infrastructural projects and social security programmes in exchange for continued cooperation with the government in fishing out criminal groups among them.

As laudable as this sounds, it will take more than casual meetings to arrest the emerging unrest in the state. The situation requires consistent intelligence gathering, cooperation between local security operatives and the state police, deploying armed state actors to forests and possible hideouts, and swift arrest and prosecution of suspected criminals as evidenced by the recent arrest of the Beninese kidnapper.