or years now, villages of Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State bordering the troubled Birnin Gwari have been through hell in the hands of bandits. Many were kidnapped, others killed and 18 villages sacked after a self-liberation move failed. ABDULGAFAR ALABELEWE reports.
Trouble started when members of the vigilante group from the villages spotted a bandits’ hideout. The troubled villagers, who were fed up with the gunmen’s terror attacks, moved in to root out the bandits, but the move was a costly gamble as it failed. They were overpowered by the suspected criminals and three of the local security operatives were reported killed in the gun duel.
The Nation gathered that the vigilantes who stirred the hornet’s nest, were scared that, informing the authorities before raiding the bandits’ hideout might not yield positive results. “Their fear was that, an informant might alert the bandits before Police or soldiers arrive. Even if no informant does, the Police themselves, in their usual way of operation, might be blowing siren before getting to the scene, which will alert the criminals to run away,” a villager said.
The Kaduna State Police Command’s Public Relations Officer, DSP Yakubu Sabo, who confirmed the incident, had said trouble started when a group of vigilantes from the villages discovered a bandits/kidnappers’ hideout and went to burst it. They went solo, but were unfortunately overpowered by the bandits.
He said three of the vigilantes went missing in the process, a situation he said sent fears into the villagers, who eventually fled their homes for fear of the unknown. “But, immediately we learnt of the situation, the command deployed men in the area to go after the suspected bandits.”
Police deployment not withstanding, villagers from 18 villages of Jura, Anguwar Gide, Anguwar Dan Gauta, Anguwar Nayawo, Anguwar Makeri, Jigani, Sabon Gida, Dallatu, Anguwar Ahmadu, Sabon Gari, Kosau, Gidan Sarkin Noma, Anguwar Pati, Anguwar Amfani, Anguwar Tofa, Kyauro, Burkawa and Soran Giwa, estimated to be over 1,200, fled their homes to take refuge at LEA Primary School Birnin Yero, along Kaduna-Zaria Expressway.
Some of the displaced villagers, who spoke to The Nation at the temporary camp, narrated their sad experiences with the dreaded bandits. They lamented that the criminals have no sympathy for fellow human beings; not even the aged, women and children
The predominant farming villagers said they had no option but to flee their homes and abandon their property and farms to save their lives because the bandits, according to them, don’t issue empty threats.
A displaced victim, who identified himself simply as Idris, said: “We didn’t just leave our villages; we received threat messages from bandits on a daily basis that they were coming to attack us; and because we know how the bandits have been terrorising our communities, we had to leave.
“Going to farm was sometimes difficult us; even when whenever we dared them by going to farm, they would kidnap our women and children and we often paid ransom to free them. So, many people had been kidnapped and ransom paid. This was the reason the vigilantes made the move to engage the bandits and liberate the communities.
“The vigilantes went into the forest to arrest the bandits, but in the process, three of them were instead killed and even some are still missing. That was why when we got their messages that we should leave the villages or be attacked, we had no option.
“The bandits had not attacked any village; they only asked us to vacate the communities or be attacked. But, we know them; they don’t make empty threats and if we say they will not come and they do, who is going to defend us? Some of the vigilantes we relied on were killed by them,” he regretted.
In another twist, another victim and a traditional title holder, Abdullahi Jibril, said the gunmen actually came to Ungwar Gide in broad day light on October 20 ordering them to vacate the village.
According to Jibrin, a septuagenarian farmer, “On Sunday, the day we came to this camp, the bandits came into our village on bikes, brandishing their guns and ordered us to leave our ancestral homes.
“Now, we are here living like refugees in our own state begging for food. Meanwhile, just like many others you are seeing here, we have our farms; we are not liabilities, but these people have prevented us from going to our farms.
“I invested about N2million on my farm but now I can’t go there. Even before our coming here, I couldn’t visit the farm anymore because of the bandits; they kidnap people on their ways to farm. In fact, I have spent about 30 days now without visiting my farm and you know what that means for a farmer, who is supposed to be harvesting by now.
“I am also a victim of ransom payment. The bandits kidnapped my daughter-inlaw and I had to pay through my nose. I went begging for money and borrowing and I paid almost a million naira to secure her release.
“As you can see now, we are over 1,200 here, including women and children. Now, I have not even seen one of my wives and even some of my children. I just hope and pray they are safe wherever they are.
“So, beyond the relief materials, we want goverment to get rid of these bandits so we can continue to live and farm peacefully, he pleaded.
Ibrahim Dodo, a displaced victim from Burkawa, said they were ready to go back home as three ‘battalions’ of soldiers have been sent to their communities.
Narrating his version of why they had to flee their homes, Dodo said: “Vigilantes from our villages had a meeting where they resolved to go and attack bandits in their hideout in the forest. They didn’t inform the security agencies. They just went into the forest on their own. On getting to the forest, the vigilantes engaged the bandits in gun battle and in the process, the bandits succeeded in killing three of the vigilantes.
“The bandits also chased the vigilantes to some villages where they set some houses ablaze. And they also sent messages to other villages to leave. That was why we left, because if they could kill our kinsmen, our vigilantes, who are we to wait for them?
“This is not the first time they would be killing our people; they have been tormenting, terrorising and kidnapping us for long. Now, they have even displaced us from our homes, as if there is no goverment”, he lamented.
He,however, opined that unemployment was responsible for the criminalities in their area and asked goverment to provide job opportunities for the people, especially the youth.
Another displaced resident, Salisu Lawal, recalled that the son of the Village Head of Bakin Kasuwa, Tukur, was among the three vigilantes killed in the cross-fire with the bandits. Others, according to him, were Danbirni and Yushehu.
Lawal said the criminal elements were so heartless that they even called the villagers, asking them to come and retrieve their corpses.
According to him, “After killing our people, the heartless bandits even called us to come and pick our corpses. But we were scared for our own lives too;we could not go there.
“Most of us who fled our villages are farmers, but now we have been turned to refugees. So, we are begging government to do something urgently so that we can return home and go back to farm. The bandits have prevented us from harvesting our farm produce.”
Another villager, Salamatu Mohammed, who commended the goverment for bringing them relief materials, also appealed to the state government to chase out the bandits as their huge investments in the farms would be wasted if they cannot go back to farm.
“We are not enjoying this place because we left everything behind to save our lives. We need the government to help us,” he pleaded.
The chairman of the troubled Igabi council, Khamis Jabeer, also called on the federal government to end banditry in the country, but noted that the local vigilantes in the villages, if fully supported by the security agencies, can engage the bandits who are still hiding in the forest.
However, the villagers as at last Monday had started going back home after they were assured of security presence by goverment.
The National Commission for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons had penultimate Saturday given the displaced villagers relief materials ranging from local mats, plates, tea cups, cooking materials and food items.
Addressing the displaced persons at the camp, an official of the commission, Senator Basheer Muhammed,said he was at the camp to commiserate with the IDPs over the unfortunate incident, adding that the items brought by the commission were to cushion the effects of the challenges the villagers faced in the past few days, which must have caused them great distress.
He, therefore, assured them of the Federal Government’s commitment to addressing the insecurity problem in the country. “I am here to condole with you and to conduct a needs assessment of your situation. I want to also state that the Federal Government under President Mohammadu Buhari is fully committed to finding a lasting solution to the plight of persons of concern,” he said.