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Zamfara, Kaduna in the throes of banditry


Travellers rushing for train tickets in Abuja PHOTO: Joke Falaju

Almost on a daily basis, Zamfara and Kaduna states hit the headlines. But it has been so for the wrong reasons as the reports that emanate from the two states in recent times usually have to do with killings, arson and near lawlessness. Whatever the governments of Zamfara and Kaduna states had been doing of late towards the development of their states have arguably been overshadowed by the activities of armed bandits that take delight in snuffing life out of innocent and helpless villagers and destroying their properties. When they run short of arms and need funds to procure more, they kidnap hapless travellers on the highways or herders in the bush even as they rustle their cattle and make fortunes from their families in ransom.

The security agencies have not been able to tame these daredevil men in spite of the different operational approaches that both the police and army have launched in recent times. As a result, the two states are fast taking over from Borno State, which has been battling Boko Haram insurgency in the past 10 years, and Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Nasarawa and Kogi states, that are known for violent clashes between herders and farmers, as Nigeria’s hotbed of criminality. They easily come to mind today as places in Nigeria where, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, life is “ cruel, brutish and short.” Consequently, the residents live in perpetual fear.

Sometimes, they go to their farms and get killed while trying to eke out their livelihoods; they go their markets and their attackers will pounce on them and their produce. When they survive and go to bed at night, they are afraid to close both eyes as many had been violently killed in their sleep and their houses razed.

According to Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, armed bandits have killed 3,526 persons and destroyed “nearly 500 villages” in the state in the last five years. Yari, who spoke last Tuesday through the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Abdullahi Shinkafi, during a town hall meeting in Gusau, the state capital, which was attended by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, gave further statistics of the devastation that the bandits have wrecked on the state: “Over 13,000 hectares of farmlands were either destroyed or made useless as farmers can no longer use the lands for farming. Nearly 500 villages have also been devastated and 8,219 persons were injured; some are still in critical condition. The economy of the state has seriously suffered because thousands of shops were destroyed by the rampaging bandits who had displaced thousands of our people from their places of abode, many of whom cannot sleep with their two eyes closed because of fear.”

The scenario might not be completely different from Kaduna if the state government were to dish out facts and figures about the carnage in the state resulting from the activities of bandits. Just last Monday, a fresh attack in Anguwan Aku village, Kajuru Local Government Area of the state claimed the lives of 21 people. Like Yari, Governor Nasir El-Rufai too has been helpless. He seizes every available opportunity to lament the woes of Kaduna people and appeal to perpetrators of these dastardly acts to sheathe the sword, while also reassuring the people of government’s determination to bring them to book if they persist. But nothing like that has happened. And the people are now looking for ways to evade their attackers. They have abandoned the Kaduna-Abuja highway for the kidnappers and now travel by rail. But even the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) has not been helping matters, as its services are grossly inadequate. As people keep waiting on government to restore normalcy, some of them, who had fallen victims of the bandits or were frustrated in their attempts to travel by rail, narrated their pathetic stories to The Guardian.

‘I Spent Eight Days In The Forest And Slept On Leaves’
From Joke Falaju, Abuja

A STAFF of Daily Trust newspaper, Ahmad Garba, who was kidnapped on his way from Abuja to Kaduna on March 7, this year, recently shared his harrowing eight-day ordeal in the kidnappers’ den on social media.“After we finished production in the office, I got set to travel to Kaduna from Abuja because I had an appointment with my doctor the next day (Friday). I left the office around 2pm and got to Zuba Motor Park around 3pm with a friend who was also travelling.

“I was excited that we got to the park on time as I had hoped to be in Kaduna in about an hour and a half. Despite the gridlock on the highway due to the ongoing road construction, we arrived Jere without much difficulty.“When we got to Rijana town around 7pm, one of the passengers alighted. We didn’t notice that there were no vehicles plying the road. Less than a kilometer from there, we started hearing gunshots close to a bridge.

“There were two vehicles before ours. When the two stopped, we did same but our driver immediately switched off the car headlights. By the time the shooting stopped, everywhere was silent and dark. One of the passengers in our car whispered to our driver to reverse the car and he obliged. But immediately he started the car, they came after us.“Unfortunately, the car fell into a ditch and then I knew we were in serious trouble. Our driver tried to engage one of the bandits in a fight to dispossess him of his gun but the rest of the group overpowered and shot him. I tried to run into the bush without knowing that one of them was close by, he ran after me and hit me with a stick. I fell down and he collected my phone.

“Amongst us, only one person escaped. When I didn’t see him after we were assembled by the kidnappers, I thought he had been killed but I later heard he escaped. They tried to take our wounded driver into the bush but he refused to stand up so they shot him again in our presence and left his body right there in the bush.“We trekked from 8pm to 2am before we got to their camp inside the forest. As we trekked, they kept flogging those who were slow. We had no shoes on as we moved deep into the forest. With the light from their flashlights, we were led to their camp after crossing several streams.

“We were seven males and one female – a lady of about 22 who I understand lives around Sabon Tasha in Kaduna. When we got to one area inside the forest, they called their gang members who came on motorcycles to convey us to their camp.”Asked if they were kept in a house inside the forest, Garba said: “No, we were kept in the open because there was no house there. From my estimation, we trekked for about 50 kilometres from the main road to the camp and we didn’t come across any settlement or village.

“At their camp, they shot in the air to alert their members who awaited their arrival. Those ones also responded to indicate they were around. We were kept close to a big rocky range of hill. “The gang leader, nicknamed ‘Commander’, came to us and read out the rules and regulations of the camp.“The first rule is that they brought us there to make money, so anybody that tried to escape would be killed. According to him, no matter how long one stays there, he/she would surely return home safe as long as he is disciplined and obedient. He reminded us of what happened to our driver and said anyone who misbehaves would face the same consequence.

“In the morning, they discovered my identity card which showed I’m a journalist, so they shifted their attention to me.”
Were the kidnappers educated? Garba responded: “Yes, some of them can read. They were Fulani between ages 20 to 25. It’s only their leader and a few others that were up to 30. They were all wearing camouflage uniforms and well armed. We got used to gunshots while in captivity, because they always shot into the air.On life in the detention camp, he reminisced: “We spent eight days in the forest and slept on leaves. No bath, no new clothes, and they didn’t care about our condition. The moment we lay down to sleep, they would surround us, which means there was no way to escape.

“There was an elderly man who always led us in prayer. Although they never prayed, they allowed us to perform ours daily. We sat in the open from morning till night. They served us rice and palm oil on cellophane bags. “The lady was served separately. Even at night, her space was away from ours. In our presence, ‘Commander’ warned his boys not to even attempt to misbehave with her because, according to him, he was in the business to make money and not to rape women. He warned that any of them that broke that law would be killed.

“In the first three days, we were treated nicely. Then it changed as the kidnappers started threatening us, saying we were of no value to our families because nobody has called to discuss our release. “They said victims only spend three days in their custody and are released or killed. But we have been in their custody for almost five days without any strong negotiation with our family members. We pleaded for more time.“They placed N30 million ransom on me because I’m a journalist. They blamed journalists for the nation’s problems, saying we were responsible for the raids carried out against them by security agencies. The leader said we write negative reports against them.

“I learnt he later reduced the ransom to N15 million. The amount was again reduced to N5 million. At a point, he realised we couldn’t provide that kind of money, so he assembled us to ask how much we could raise. I told him N500,000. He said he had reduced my ransom to N2 million as his final decision.“He gave Thursday as deadline but unfortunately my family couldn’t meet up. ‘Commander’ later told me the money has been reduced to N1.5 million because my aged mother called and pleaded with him.
“I spoke with Lawal, a friend of mine, who was raising the funds, and he told me they only had a million naira. I told him to bring it since there was no hope of getting additional N500,000 before daybreak.

“After the call, I told ‘Commander’ that my family could only raise a million naira. The following day, around 10am, he informed us that we were going home because they had received all the ransom.“They also gave us N1,500 each as transportation fare. About seven of them led us out of the forest with a warning to be fast or else another gang could kidnap us again. After a distance, they went back, leaving us to find our way out.

“I couldn’t walk fast due to my health condition so I was supported by one of the victims who always carried me on his back. The girl too was released even though she didn’t pay any ransom.  She had no phone and couldn’t produce any phone number off hand; she was just lucky.

“We started trekking from 10am and by 2pm we hadn’t reached Rijana town. Luckily, we came across some Fulani men on a motorcycle and my friends begged them to assist me because of my condition. They took me to the main road where I bought slippers and then boarded a bus back home.”

‘I Paid Kidnappers Ransom Right In Their Den’
From Saxone Akhaine, Kaduna

DANJUMA Sarki, President of Arewa Youth Development and Progress (AYDP), speaks on his experience with kidnappers at Rijana Village along Kaduna-Abuja Highway when he negotiated for the release of some victims.His words: “The experience was horrible. Some of my brothers were kidnapped. We had to report to the police and the police got our report and later denied that anybody was kidnapped. You see, at that time, about 27 people were kidnapped and some of them were even killed. If we were not resilient, something worse would have happened to my brothers.

“I established contact with the kidnappers. I went right into their den to pay ransom to free my people. I had interactions with the kidnappers in the bush. They told me categorically that they had connection with people in government, that they had connection with security agencies and that some of the security officials at the top provided arms and ammunitions to them. They said they were the ones that gave them target of people to kidnap regarding most of the high profile kidnapping they did. It was a very sad situation.“They told me that they knew that kidnapping business was better, that if they go to bank or people on the road to rob, they don’t get anything tangible. But, if they kidnap people, they could sit down and negotiate and get good amount of money.

“The incident took place in Rijana and I was the first person that told the whole world that Rijana, along Abuja-Kaduna Highway, is the headquarters or den of kidnappers.“What actually happened was that when we established contact with them, they asked me to come to Rijana and meet them. When I got to Rijana, I stayed there for several hours before seeing them. I was there from 5pm to 7pm before they now called me to say I should ask of Hita Chan Kanko where people gather firewood. They said that if I get to the place, I should keep going deep inside the bush and I would see them.

“So, when I got there, they asked me to keep walking down, which I did for over 40 minutes. They were communicating with me all through. They told me that I will see a stream but I did not see any stream as I walked. So, I called them and they told me that I should go back to Rijana; that I went to the wrong place. They told me to ask of Hita Chan Kanko, which is close to a farm house. I went back to Rijana and asked the people; they seemed to know all that were happening in the area but could not talk out of fear. They were even afraid to show me the place; it seemed they knew what I was going for. But I met a courageous young man who took me to Hita Chan Kanko. So, I called and told them that I had found the place. They asked me to keep going, that I would see the stream and then cross it, which I did and called them. Then they asked me to keep going and that I would see a heap of millet. When I got there, I called them again and they asked me to keep going. As I did, suddenly, I had a voice behind me that said I should stop and I obeyed.

“He came out in a military camouflage with two AK 47 guns in his hands and two other guns inside his camouflage jacket. Then another person joined him.“They told me that I should thank my God that I cooperated with them; that they would have used the guns on me if I misbehaved. They called the guns, yaro bashiyya, meaning the young boys that are not lazy. They told me to give them the ransom and I did. They asked me if I had transport money to go back and I told them I had N1000 on me. One of them dipped his hand in my pocket and confirmed that I had only N1000. The other person asked him to give me N5000 for my transport but he said no. He gave me N2000 instead. From there, they began to discuss with me. That was how they told me all I narrated to you earlier.”

Abductions Breed Wedlock’s Mistrust In Zamfara
From Isah Ibrahim, Gusau

OVER the past eight years, residents of Zamfara State have been experiencing different forms of crimes — armed banditry, cattle rustling, abduction and arson. It all began like the usual annual clashes between herders and farmers after harvesting of farm products particularly where farm products were not moved out from the farmlands. But it soon took another dimension when bandits started moving around Zamfara communities in broad daylight brandishing their AK 47 riffles. In some cases, as they moved freely, they told the villagers to mind their businesses and not interfere with theirs. Today, there is no part of the state that is not affected by either banditry or abduction for ransom. Several communities have been destroyed and attempts to go to farms have become life-threatening ventures even as many people have been displaced from their homes.

Investigations showed that the residents were worried that the bandits now rape many women and young girls they kidnap. It was learnt that the ugly development was causing tension and mistrust among family members. Findings showed that late last year, some girls were abducted while on transit to share their wedding invitations and were under the custody of the abductors for many days. When they were released after the payment of ransom to the bandits, one of the potential grooms called off the marriage. There are numerous cases like that but the victims were reluctant to tell their stories. Also, Zamfara is a state where polygamy is rampant. But as a result of the reported cases of rape of young girls by the bandits, the men are now reluctant to take new wife/wives for fear of contracting HIV/AIDs.

Motorists Now Rely On
Prayers, Luck

From Abdulganiyu Alabi, Kaduna
TWO commercial drivers and a journalist from Kaduna have continued to thank their lucky stars after successfully evading kidnappers on the Kaduna-Abuja highway. Armed robbery and kidnapping on the highway have made travelling on the road a huge risk, but some individuals must still take the route as they pursue their livelihoods.One of the commercial drivers at Kawo garage, Idris Muhammad, said he and his passengers evaded being kidnapped when his vehicle broke down along Kateri-Zuba axis of the road. He said: “That day, I had a tragic moment. I dropped from the car and raised the bonnet to check what went wrong with it. That was when I spotted three young men approaching where I parked.

“Looking at their appearance, I knew they weren’t ordinary people. So, I quickly shouted at my passengers to get out from the car and run for their safety. “Immediately they saw us running into the bush, they came to our car and started checking if there were valuable items. We thank God we escaped; we saw what they were doing from a far distance. “About two hours after they left, we returned to our vehicle. I quickly checked the alternator; luckily that was the problem with the car. So, I fixed it and we continued our journey to Abuja.”

Since then, Muhammad has been making two kinds of prayer before he proceeds on any journey. “First is that I shouldn’t experience breakdown with my car; the second prayer is that I arrive my destination safely.”The journalist with the Triumph newspapers, Mustapha Saye, said he had a terrible experience on the highway few weeks ago along the Katari-Rijana axis. Saye had gone for an assignment in Kagarko local council on Sunday, March 31 and had planned to return to Kaduna on Tuesday, April 2, at the end of the assignment but eventually suspended the journey when he learnt that kidnappers were operating on the highway.  Saye narrated further: “On Wednesday around 2pm, I left Kagarko with the intention of coming back to Kaduna. So, I followed one of my colleagues even though I was not comfortable with the journey. I had the premonition that something bad might happen. So, all my attention was on the road.

“About few kilometres to leave Katari and enter Rigana, we spotted some people coming out of the bush and entering the highway on the other lane. My thinking was that this people were hunters, but as we drove closer to them, I realised they were kidnappers.” Saye explained that the kidnappers were aged between 20 and 25 years, adding: “They were about seven in number. They were all wearing black suits and well armed with AK47.“As they were about to start operation, I advised our driver to quickly be on top speed before they jump to our lane and stop us.  Assuming that they were already on our lane, there was no way we could escape.

“We saw one Prado Jeep on that same lane, about one kilometre away from the kidnappers trying to reverse with speed.  All the vehicles that were coming from Kaduna to Abuja started making u-turn and there was a lot of accidents and confusion. Majority even abandoned their vehicles. “We were watching from a long distance after we escaped and that was when we saw the convoy of Kaduna State governor. He was there to disperse the kidnappers into the bush.” The journalist appealed to government to find lasting solution to the menace as he, like other people, would always ply the road for their daily subsistence.

Another commercial driver, Shehu Ibrahim also shared his bitter experience with kidnappers on the same highway. According to him, the kidnappers ambushed his vehicle about four weeks ago along the highway, adding that it took the favour of God for him and his passengers to survive, as the kidnappers shot at his vehicle’s tyre while on speed.His words: “Right now, I am always panic when I’m on the road. Four weeks ago on the Kaduna-Abuja highway, around 6:30pm, we passed Audu Jangom and entered Rijana.

“We were on speed that evening and all of a sudden, some armed men jumped on the road and started shooting at my vehicle. They shot at my vehicle’s tyre but I managed to drive almost one kilometre away from them.“I was so lucky that I quickly parked my vehicle on the road side. My passengers and I escaped by running into the bush. We covered about three kilometres trekking until we reached a village where we slept till the next day.”

Ibrahim, however, noted that kidnapping activities on the highway have reduced since the Kaduna State governor’s convoy foiled a kidnap attempt. He also asked government to intensify its efforts in protecting people plying the road.The commercial driver lamented that the activities of kidnappers on the highway have affected their businesses, as people now prefer to shuttle from Kaduna to Abuja by rail.

Kaduna-Abuja Travellers Evade Kidnappers Via Rail…NRC Overwhelmed
From Joke Falaju, Abuja

THERE is no gainsaying that passengers traveling from Abuja-Kaduna-Abuja either by railway or by road are having the most traumatic experience of their lives. Ever since the Abuja-Kaduna road became a den of kidnappers and hoodlums, passengers have resorted to the only available option, which is the train service.However, the experience is far from being a pleasant one as passengers not only have to arrive six hours before their train schedule so as to get a ticket but also have to seat on the bare floor outside the train station pending the time they start selling the tickets.

Usually, tickets are only sold to intending passengers one hour before the scheduled take-off time to avoid racketeering, a situation many passengers condemned. They said in most developed countries, tickets are sold online and passengers do not have to come to the station to queue up for tickets.The turn up of passengers at railway stations is becoming unprecedented. Typically, there is low movement of passengers on Wednesdays, causing the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) to assign the day to service the train and then reduce the train schedule from eight to four. But the number of passengers in the midweek has become so overwhelming and the services rendered a far cry from the expectations of passengers.

When The Guardian arrived at the Idu station around 2pm, passengers were seen loitering while those that could not stand had to sit on the bare floor as they waited to buy ticket for the 6pm train to Kaduna.A passenger who claimed to be based in the U.S was angry at the development. “They dare not try this in the U.S; if not they can be sued. I have been here since 12noon, thinking there was going to be a train by 2pm but I was told I would have to wait till 6pm, and that I cannot enter into the station until an hour before take off, that is so unfair. “I guess some people are used to sitting on the floor. I am so famished and hungry. Government needs to do something to ease the burden of the passengers,” he said.

One of the passengers urged government to work on their ticketing, saying a lot of passengers were stranded at the Rigasa Station in Kaduna because they were unable to buy ticket before the train moved even when most of the seats were empty.His words: “They really need to work on procedures for the sale of tickets. There are only two ticket selling points at the Rigasa Station and before they are able to sell to passengers, the train would have left. Instead of two selling points, they can make it like five or six, so that as passengers arrive they can easily get the tickets and wait to board the train. If they allow the train to go empty without carrying passengers, resources are wasted and how do they get funds to maintain the train. Workers who do that feel they are being paid and they can actually do whatever they like. This is very wrong.”

Another passenger, who simply identified herself as Titilayo, urged government to introduce online payment so that passengers can book and check in online just like what is done with flight, saying it would ease congestion at the stations.She further urged government to opt for Public Private Partnership arrangement in order to ensure improved service delivery. She believes that when the service is privatised, the people in charge would ensure service delivery, noting that workers usually take for granted services managed by the government.

The Managing Director of the NRC, Fidet Okhiria, who was on inspection of the Idu station when The Guardian visited the corporation, acknowledged that they are usually overwhelmed by the surge of passengers at weekends. He said they were yet to understand the pattern of movement of the passengers, saying passengers usually prefer to travel on Fridays with the last train while on Sundays, they opt to return with the last train.

Okhiria admitted that the corporation doesn’t have the capacity for such preferences at the moment, but disclosed that government had already ordered for more trains and locomotives that are expected to arrive before the end of the year.He said the arrival of the trains and locomotives would help them to increase the schedule and if possible double it.On why passengers are made to sit on the floor waiting to buy ticket, he said: “We have already put out our time table on when we will start selling ticket because in train service you have to ensure that the train is ready before selling ticket. It is not like airline that I will have my boarding pass and still be waiting for more than three hours. Because we carry people en-mass, we can’t afford to have that problem.“It is not unique to Nigeria; it’s all over the world. You have to make sure your train is going to run before you start issuing tickets.”On the recent directive by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, that two more coaches be moved to the Abuja-Kaduna railway, Okhiria said the corporation was working on it, saying it would take time for the coaches to arrive.

‘How Kidnapping Is Turning Nigeria To A Failed State’
Dr. Rapheal James, psychologist and Director General at Center for Research, Information Management and Media Development (CRIMMD) shares his thoughts on how kidnapping is turning Nigeria into a failed state. He spoke to IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA

What in your opinion is the long-term effect of kidnappings in Nigeria?
Kidnapping is traumatic on its own, when a person is taken forcefully from his or her place of comfort to a secluded and restricted environment. It builds fear and insecurity in people. Kidnapping may lead to mental challenges too depending on how the victim is handled by the kidnappers.

There are different categories of kidnaps, kidnapping of adults, children, women and men; they all react in different ways. Again people are also kidnapped for several reasons. It may be for financial ransom, political reason, for love and even for business deals. In all, it is turning our country into a country of insecurity. If we don’t stop this on time, Nigeria as a nation will not have foreign investors coming in to invest. If an investor is not feeling secured why would he come in to risk his life and funds. This will further increase unemployment; criminality will remain on the increase. The few lazy young ones seeing the life of affluence of the kidnappers may resolve to join them, after all we are breeding youths that are beginning to believe that crime pays.

What impact will it have on the people especially victims?
The kidnapped person and the family he or she left behind will react in different ways. Family members gets more frantic, exploring all means to get their kidnapped family member back. It may affect their work, their life style and their general state of mind. The kidnapped person will experience emotional harm; he may get physically abused, and mostly for ladies, sexually abused. That being the case, some people on return will have series of nightmares, fears of doors and windows, bedwetting (depending on age), fear of authority and strangers, anger will be displayed and blame on parents and loved ones. All these may lead to depression and anxiety.

From the point of a Psychologist, I must state that different people will respond and react differently. While some people may return home and blend back, others may find it extremely difficult to blend in. Some people may return from being victims and become withdrawn from the society, while others may have temper tantrums or become more defiant. When kids are involved, it may lead to disturbed sleeping habits and appetite. If a child is kidnapped from a school environment, it may lead to poor attention and concentration in class. Psychologists have recorded cases of victims experiencing ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ which is a high-functioning form of autism characterised by difficulties in socialising and communicating with others. The one thing family and society have to do is to provide a supportive environment, give them as much help as possible and assure them that it may never happen again.

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