Until recently, states in the North-west region of Nigeria plagued by banditry had treated the problem as a local affair. Former Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara, his successor, Bello Matawalle, and Katsina’s Aminu Masari negotiated with the bandits while Kaduna’s Nasir El-Rufai and Niger’s Sani Bello insisted on military force on them. But after the bandits went berserk in recent months, the governors were forced to reason and fight together.

The measures

It started with Zamfara State a few hours after the abduction of 75 students from Government Day Secondary School, Kaya – Governor Matawalle’s hometown. Following the incident, the Commissioner of Police in the state, Ayuba El Kanah, announced the suspension of weekly markets, ban of sale of cattle and imposition of a curfew across the 14 local government areas of the state.

Kaduna, Katsina, Niger and then Sokoto soon after followed suit by announcing similar measures.

In Katsina, Governor Masari closed two major roads – Jibia to Gurbin Baure and Kankara to Sheme – to traffic. Commercial vehicles were advised to take Funtua road but private vehicles can still ply the Kankara-Sheme road. The governor also banned cattle markets in 14 towns. These are Jibia, Batsari, Safana, Danmusa, Kankara, Malumfashi, Charanci, Mai adua, Kafur, Faskari, Sabuwa, Baure, Dutsin Ma and Kaita.

Empty cattle market in Charanci.

He also banned movement of cattle in trucks and of firewood from the bush. The governor also prohibited more than two people from riding on a motorcycle and more than three in a tricycle, and sale of petroleum in jerry cans. A popular second-hand motorcycles market in Charanci was also suspended.

To cut fuel supply to the bandits who ride in convoys of motorcycles to attack communities, the governor said only two designated fuel stations can now sell fuel, and of not more than N5,000 to a person, in the local government areas most affected by the crisis.

NCC Building, Abuja

To complement the measures, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) directed the immediate shutdown of telecommunication networks in Zamfara State. All the measures were aimed at restricting movement and communication by bandits as the military launched an offensive against them in their forest bases.

Situation

Bandits have been operating in most of the North-west states for over a decade but the situation has gotten worse in the past few years. Banditry is the code name in the region for organised crimes like kidnapping, cattle rustling, mass abduction, arson and even armed robbery.

It started as conflicts between farmers and cattle herders but has snowballed into terrorism. This year, bandits shot down an air force jet and have kidnapped more than 1000 people since January.

According to an American Security Project Report (2021), 200,000 people have fled their communities in Northern Nigeria this year, with 77,000 of them crossing the border in search of safer abodes outside the country.

The attacks have continued despite actions by security agencies and local vigilante groups and the attempts by some governors to pacify the bandits.

FILE PHOTO: Bandits [Picture credit: Voice of America (VOA)]According to Mr Masari, when he initiated dialogue with the bandits in 2017, the policy worked for some months before the ‘repentant’ bandits started backsliding, either due to the lure of ransoms or under attacks from their recalcitrant colleagues. Former Governor Yari had also tried the same measure in Zamfara, convincing a notorious bandit, Buharin Daji, to drop his arms and accept an amnesty by the government. This was until the bandit got bored and returned to the forest. Mr Daji was gunned down this year in the bush, reportedly in a clash with his estranged lieutenant, Dogo Gide.

In Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi and Kaduna, bandits routinely block roads to rob and kidnap travellers. They also raid schools to abduct students for ransom. But perhaps the worst hit are farmers in rural communities. Many of them have abandoned their farms and fled to urban areas as bandits steal their crops and burn down their homes and grain silos. An Amnesty International report (2020) showed that 33,130 people, mostly farmers, have been displaced this year in the Northwest.

However, the attacks on schools have also been just as disruptive. States shut down schools while Kaduna also adopted stringent measures to allow JSS3 students write their examinations. Meanwhile, the students abducted from FGC Yauri in Kebbi and Government Day Secondary School, Kaya in Zamfara are still being held by their abductors.

Reluctant embrace

However, traders, herders and other residents have reluctantly embraced the different measures recently rolled out in the offensive against the bandits.

The Chairman of the Amalgamated Cattle and Farm Produce Dealers in Katsina State, Aminu Sheme, said the traders will comply with the measures.

Aminu Sheme, Chairman Amalgamated Cattle and Farm Produce Dealers in Katsina state.

He, however, urged the state government to haste the fight to avoid creating new groups of frustrated Nigerians.

“We have no objection to the government’s decisions but we want the government to know that things are already hard for our members and that these decisions will definitely add to our issues.

“Most of our members are registered and we have ways of knowing the source of all cattle brought to us. As I said, we have no problem with the decision but we want the government to ensure that there is success in the fight because if you stop people’s source of income, you need to ensure that the result is positive.”

Mr Sheme said he was already receiving complaints from members of the association over their losses as a result of the restriction of trading in cattle. He said some of them took loans to buy cattle and other domestic animals.

A trader in Jibia, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said the shutdown of the Gurbin Bore-Jibia road has affected trading activities in the Jibia central market in Katsina State.

“You know our market largely depends on business people coming from Gurbin Bore, Gurbin Baure, Zurmi from Zamfara and other towns like Dan Isa in Niger Republic. This ban has cut the number of people in the market and businesses are suffering,” he said.

Due to the ban, the Batsari domestic animals market that used to operate every Thursday, was deserted when our reporter visited the town.

In Zamfara, PREMIUM TIMES observed that residents, especially from Talata Mafara, Gummi, Bakura and Shinkafi now cross into Sokoto State to access mobile telecommunications services.

Nura Muhammad, a federal civil servant who lives in Talata Mafara, said he had been going to Sokoto – 102 kilometres away, to use his phone.

Nura Muhammad, a federal civil servant left Zamfara state to Sokoto just to make phone calls and send SMS.

“I don’t have problem with shutting down networks as long as it brings positive results. My work requires that I communicate a lot, so to tackle that I go to Sokoto to make phone calls, chat and send messages through Gmail.”

Sulaiman Lawal, a trader in second-hand electronic gadgets at the Charanci weekly market, told PREMIUM TIMES that the ban on the sale of second-hand motorcycles and accessories has affected turnouts in their section of the market.

Sulaiman Lawal, says those selling second hand motorcycles in Charanci weekly markets have complied.

“I spoke with many of our people today (Sunday) and they all told me that they are not happy with the ban. But it is necessary since it was taken for their sake. Even we (electronic sellers) have been affected,” he said.

At the Katsina State Transport Authority’s motor park in Kofar Yandaka, drivers and park officials said the ban of traffic from the Jibia-Gurbin Baure- Zurmi road had caused a low turnout of travellers.

“We have to follow Funtua which costs us a lot in terms of fuel consumption and fatigue,” Musa Sambo, a driver with Sokoto State Transport Authority, said.

Jibia, Batsari, Safana, Danmusa Dutsin Ma, Kurfi, Kankara, Sabuwa, Dandume, Faskari, Funtua, Malumfashi and Bakori local government areas of Katsina were also experiencing erratic mobile telecommunications service. Only Airtel was working in Funtua and Malumfashi areas while all other networks are believed to have been shut down in the other areas, according to residents.

A vehicle leaving KSTA for Zamfara state through Funtua.

While inaugurating a security committee he tasked with enforcing compliance with the special measures, Mr Masari said he may ask the authorities to cut mobile telecommunications in the mentioned areas.

Experts talk

Yahuza Getso, a security expert, said the measures taken by the state governments were long overdue.

“Every responsible government places premium on creating an enabling environment for the provision of social services, which security is the number one priority.

“Therefore, the measures are necessary, looking at the number of lives being lost daily and how the activities of criminals are affecting socio-economic growth and development, especially how they are threatening food and national security.”

Also commenting, Baba-Bala Katsina, a History and Strategic Studies expert, asked for a strong military action to complement the measures.

“The governors took the decisions to show that they are doing their best in the fight against insecurity. But there is a need for review after maybe two weeks to assess how effective the measures are. That is the only way of assuring the public that the right decisions were taken.”

He said people have lost faith in government due to several ineffective decisions taken.

“There is also a need for a strong military action because when you stop people’s means of livelihood, you need to act fast before another problem is caused,” he said.

The situation is improving – Officials

The police spokesperson in Katsina State, Gambo Isa, said the measures were already having impact. He told PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday that the state did not record any attack in the previous three days.

“On several occasions we had paraded locals conniving with these people (bandits). So, without the local markets to sell the cattle, will they even rustle the animals in the first place? And even if they want to take it out, who will transport the cattle for them out of the state? So, I can confirm to you that with the recent decisions taken by the governors, the activities of these bandits will soon be frustrated.”

The spokesperson of the Zamfara governor, Ibrahim Zauma, also said the measures were already yielding fruits in the state.

“The measures to curtail the activities of terrorist bandits imposed by His Excellency, Governor Bello Matawalle, and replicated by the neighboring Northwestern states have started to show some effects on the monster,” he said to our reporter.

Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara state. [PHOTO CREDIT: @officialdrbellomatawalle]“Though, the level of bandit assaults on communities skyrocketed after the measures were taken, it is reliably confirmed that the recent bandits’ lunatic incursions are in protest of the cut-off of their supply lines.

“Reports from Zamfara and Kebbi states show that the terrorists are feeling the heat of the ban on weekly markets and the sale of petroleum to black marketers. The threats to attack communities for keeping the new measures speak volume about how the terrorists are getting cornered. We hope and pray it is the last kick of a dying monster.”

Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari

Governor Masari’s spokesperson, Abdu Labaran, said the measures were long overdue. He said the lack of cooperation and unity among the affected states’ governors had hindered the fight against banditry in the region.

He assured that the measures will be effective and called on people of the states to cooperate with the governors.

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