Cattle rustling crackdown fuels kidnapping in North Nigeria
It was only when he was taken into the bush that he realised he’d been kidnapped. He was released 12 days later after his family agreed to pay a one-million-naira ($5,000, 4,400-euro) ransom.
Umar, 37, considers himself lucky. The kidnappers, who operated from thatched huts in the thick vegetation of the forest with machine guns for security, initially demanded $25,000.
“They’re never hostile to their victims but they won’t think twice about shooting you dead once they are sure they’re not going to get any payment from your family,” he told AFP.
Kidnapping for ransom has been a longstanding problem in Nigeria’s oil-rich south, where criminal gangs target the wealthy and expatriate workers.
But the problem has now spread to the north, normally associated with Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency which has killed at least 20,000 people and made more than 2.6 million homeless since 2009.
Security personnel say the kidnappers’ camps dot connecting forests between the northern and northwestern states of Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara and Niger.
Kidnappings have increased since the middle of last year and more than 200 people are believed to have been abducted since January, said a senior police source.
“This is only a fraction of the true number of abductions because many cases are never reported,” said the officer, who is involved in tackling the issue.
– Fall-out –
Nigeria’s federal police in early April declared a state of emergency in Kaduna following the murder of an army colonel who was kidnapped from Kaduna.
Vigilante groups sprung up to spot potential kidnappers, and villagers in the southern part of Kano state, near the Falgore Game Reserve, began leaving in droves to avoid the threat.
The authorities in the north and many victims blame nomadic Fulani tribesmen.
Armed bandits have regularly attacked Fulani settlements in the region, stealing cattle, setting fire to homes and raping women, prompting the herders to move south and across the border.
In response, young Fulani men have become involved in cross-border rustling and armed robbery syndicates in West Africa, according to the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), the umbrella body of Fulani herders in Nigeria.
They have turned on their kinsmen for not helping them out during decades of conflict between herders and farmers over grazing and watering rights, which led to loss of their entire herds, creating poverty, said MACBAN national secretary Saleh Bayeri.
In July 2015, the seven state governments formed joint military and police squads, raiding hideouts that led to the recovery of stolen herds. But that prompted a change in direction.
“The issue of kidnapping… is a fall-out of the fight against (cattle) rustling,” Katsina state governor Aminu Bello Masari said in January.
“The culprits may have decided to go into kidnapping since they have been blocked from stealing cattle.”
– ‘Renegade Fulani’ –
Emmanuel Dziggau, a Pentecostal Christian priest, was kidnapped with two colleagues in March from a church property on the outskirts of Kaduna.
He was held for nine days and said he was in no doubt his abductors were Fulani “from their accent”.
But Fulani herders themselves are still the most targeted of the kidnappers, said Aliyu Harazimi, the local chief of Doguwa district near the Falgore reserve, where more than 100 people, including women and children, have been seized since February.
“Instead of stealing cattle, the rustlers either kidnap a member of the herding family and demand ransom or send a letter asking for protection money, which is always huge,” he said.
The kidnappers also keep informants in the community, he added.
Some 30 suspected kidnappers have been arrested in Kamuku National Park and 13 have been charged, according to Kaduna state police spokesman Zubairu Abubakar.
In Kano, 22 suspects were apprehended in the Falgore reserve, state police commissioner Maigari Dikko has said.
But Bayeri said military deployments would not end the problem, calling for more community surveillance and the greater involvement of MACBAN.
“No amount of military deployment can check the activities of these criminal elements without the involvement of MACBAN because they are a trans-national syndicate of renegade Fulani who know the forests very well,” he added.
“We know many of these criminals and their collaborators among community leaders who we are ready to expose”.