Bandits burnt down Malam Sale’s house and stole his six cows during an attack in Gurza village in April. .
The 60-year old man could only find his two daughters that night and he fled with them to Tsamiyar Jino. He had decided to seek refuge in the neighbouring community with his relatives who live there. But he was shocked to be told on arrival that the bandits had first raided Tsamiyar Jino that night before moving to Gurza.
“When we reached Tsamiyar Jino, we found out that the village had also been attacked by the bandits and they left more casualties than in our own community. So, we decided to come to Katsina.”
With his two daughters, he walked from Gurza to Danmusa where they spent a night in a market stall before continuing the flight to Katsina, the state’s capital city.
“I now live as an IDP with one of my cousins here in Katsina and because he too is poor, I go out to beg for what to help him feed us with.” Mr Sale later received the sad news that his wife was among those killed in the attack that forced him to run away from home. Although he heard that some people have moved back to Gurza from Danmusa and other neighbouring towns, Mr Sale has no plan of joining them. “Never again. I have left Gurza forever,” he said.
Shamsudeen Shamo, left Batsari
The activities of bandits have forced hundreds of people to leave villages in search of safety in towns. As the attacks intensify in the villages, urban communities in Katsina are swelling with displaced people.
The communities mostly affected are in the local government areas touching Rugu forest where bandits have built their fortresses.
Many were forced to flee after bandits attack their villages, burn their houses and steal their livestock. But most of the villages were deserted because people got tired of living in fear of imminent attacks and decided to leave.
Sa’adatu Malik, covering her face with her phone.
For instance in February 2019, incessant attacks led to the displacement of over 2,000 people in Batsari Local Government Area alone, according to media reports. Sacked villages in the area include Garin Labo, Garin Yara, Kasai, Sabon Garin Dunburawa, Dantudun Garin Yara, Shingi and Garin Dodo
“Between the 26th and 27th of November, 2020 in Kankara LGA of Katsina State, there was a massive displacement of people in Gatakawa, Zurunkutu and Dan Nakwaguzo villages. An estimate of 3,472 individuals were reported to have arrived Kankara town with many immediate needs,” the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a report.
Other villages in Faskari, Sabuwa and Dandume have also been attacked several times, forcing members of those communities to seek abode elsewhere.
Overall, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) put the number of people displaced in Katsina State at 80,115 as of October 2020.
Sabuwar Unguwa, Tudun Matawalle and Titin Kwado in Katsina metropolis have over the months recorded influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs), most of whom have decided never to go back to their communities over the horror they had witnessed.
The migration continues despite warnings by sociologists and security experts of the danger the displaced persons face or constitute in their host communities.
Some of the IDPs who have found ‘home’ in the metropolis told Premium Times that living away from home was heartbreaking. But they also said “it is better to wander on the streets in a safe place than live in an unsecured place.” Mr Rabiu from Tsatskiya is one of those who have taken that stand.
Sa’adatu, Amina and Haruna Malik’s new family house in Kwabren Doruwa Katsina.
We have found home
In a long, stretched line of houses separating Sabuwar Unguwa from Kwabren Doruwa, lies a house that is now the abode of Amina Malik, 25, and her siblings. Ten of them, with their mother, have been living in the area for a year now after fleeing their hometown of Batsari.
“When we decided to leave Batsari, we had no idea where we were heading to,” Amina began. “But when we reached Katsina, my siblings decided we will live here forever.”
Amina, with her siblings, Haruna and Saadatu and the rest, are lucky because their late father was a local politician and businessman so they can afford to buy a modest house in Kwabren Doruwa. But hundreds of others are not that lucky.
“The sound of gun shots and cries of women and children still ring in my ears,” Saadatu, Amina’s eldest sister, said. “When it started, we were all afraid and cried every time they (bandits) attacked. But we eventually got used to the sound of guns and the sight of helpless people and that was when our mother decided we must leave Batsari.”
Amina said it would be suicidal to go back to Batsari. Saadatu agrees with her. “Never again. I have left Batsari for good because we have found home here.” Haruna, however, is not that sure. He said although the attacks have psychologically affected people, he could go back when they subsides.
75-year old Amiru Rabiu was also forced to leave his native Tsatskiya in Safana local government area, of which he retains fond childhood memories.
Mr Rabiu said if he were offered the choice of where to live a second life, he would not have given it a second thought before picking Tsatskiya. But that was before the guns of the bandits finally shattered the peace of the community, he said.
“I was born and brought up in that village,” he said, suppressing tears. “They first attacked us a few years ago and forced us to leave the village. We lived as IDPs for some months in Dutsin Ma but we went back, thinking that it was over. We were thinking of our farms, our houses, our ancestors’ graveyards and the memories,” he said.
Unknown to them, what was coming was more devastating. The next attack was the last stroke that broke the camel’s back for Mr Rabiu.
“Around 9 in the morning, the bandits arrived on more than 50 motorcycles, each carrying two men. That day, we buried 10 people and several other persons were injured.”
Mr Rabiu said he did not flee the village alone. He now lives with some of his families in Abattoir quarters while some others live in Dutsin Ma and Safana.
Asked whether he would return to Tsatskiya, Mr Rabiu let out a mournful smile. “Never again. I am not happy here because I pay rent though I am too old to work and we suffer to get food to eat. But it is better.”
Many of those who spoke to Premium Times said they did not find it easy adapting to their new lives. Shelter, clothing and food are the major challenges most of them face. But they feel better than those still in the villages.
“We are alive and still kicking,” Shamsudeen, who left Ruma village in Batsari for Katsina, said. “You cannot compare us with those who stayed there and got killed by the bandits or those who are still living there in total apprehension. We are far better.”
Halimatu Abubakar, Mr Rabiu’s wife, said she would stop him if he ever contemplates going back to Tsatskiya or would not follow him if he insists.
“For me, Tsatskiya is past. I will never go back to Tsatskiya because we’ have been living here for four months. It has not been all okay but living here is better.”
Malam Sale from Tsamiyar and Jino Danmusa.
It’s dangerous – Expert
Commenting on the high rate of migration, a security expert, who specialises in History and Strategic Studies, Baba Bala, said the trend could be dangerous in the nearest future.
“Let’s look at this from two angles; social-security and economy. They left their villages due to insecurity, are they safe in the city? Most of them are out there without shelter, so we could be facing a serious challenge of insecurity.
“Economically, is Katsina city, for instance, economically vibrant to accommodate them? The answer is no. So, those migrating could be a burden to the already fragile economy which would in turn bring more hardship for the natives and those migrating.”
He said overall, lack of social support from their host communities, who are also not economically buoyant, could frustrate the displaced persons.
“When they are not socially and economically supported, they may become frustrated in the long run and their children and the younger ones among them can resort to violence since they cannot go back to their sacked villages and the city is not conducive for them.”