Katsina: A State Under the Gun! By Olusegun Adeniyi
AREWA AGENDA – My simple question seemed to have thrown the Emir of Katsina, His Royal Highness, Dr Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, off balance. After a brief pause, he countered: “You are asking me how I feel when my people are being killed everyday? We can spend a whole day discussing that. We are dealing with murderers, people for whom lives mean nothing but they seem to have overwhelmed the capacity of the state.”
He explained the nature of the challenge, the historical decision that disempowered the traditional authority and in the process emboldened criminals within their domains, and added, “When the former Agriculture Minister, Mr Audu Ogbeh visited me last year with the CBN Governor, (Mr Godwin Emefiele) and they gave me some cotton seedlings, I asked what they wanted me to do with them. I told them what I needed from the federal government is protection for my people, most of who in any case have been forced to abandon their farms.”
As the emir spoke, his pain was palpable. His encounter with Ogbeh and Emefiele occurred on 6th May last year and was lavishly reported in the media. The duo had visited Katsina State to launch the distribution of cotton seeds/inputs to farmers for the 2019 planting season. In the course of their courtesy call to the palace, the Emir had said: “Hon. minister, tell the president that we have to take very good care of our people’s security first.
All these programmes, as good as they are, cannot be without security. Every day I receive reports of kidnappings and killings from district and village heads. I have not seen this kind of country; how do we live like animals? Three days ago, Magajin Gari (of Daura Emirate Council) was abducted. Nobody is safe now, whether in your house or on the road or wherever you are. Many people have abandoned their farms in fear of kidnapping and killings and other atrocities. It’s very unfortunate.”
During my visit to his palace last Thursday, the Emir was being briefed by palace chiefs and a retinue of security officials and he allowed me to join the session. From what transpired, it appears the security challenge in the state is almost out of control. Sadly, the same can also be said of other states, including Zamfara and Kaduna in the North-west and Niger State in the North-central where Governor Abubakar Sani Bello lamented at the weekend that bandits “have made life very uncomfortable for our people.” The situation in the North-east where Boko Haram and other terror affiliates have been attempting to carve out ‘caliphates’ for themselves needs no further elaboration. So, it is safe to conclude that the northern region of the country is for all practical purposes under the gun!
But there is a method to the madness in Katsina. While the killings may have started more than a decade ago, recent years have witnessed a heightened scale and ferocity. This year has been particularly bloody. The violence has come in two phases: the first four months and the past two months.
From 1st January to 30th April this year, according to a security document I sighted, there were 117 attacks within the state which led to 234 fatalities (all the names are recorded). These attacks cut across practically all the local governments. In Kankara, no fewer than 14 communities were attacked within the period. These communities include Dankamawa, Gureta, Doka, Unguwar Sarkin Aiki, Batsirari, Gidan Sarkin Gurbi, Tsamiyar Jino, Yangeme, Modibbo, Katsalle, Yar’Bakiya, Zurunkutum, Mabai and Majifa that was invaded twice within a period of two weeks. So emboldened were the bandits that on 12th April, they killed five members of ‘Yan’Sakai volunteers’ (a vigilante group) in Pouwe forest within the precincts of Kankara local government. In Danmusa local government, some of the communities attacked by bandits were Katsira, Kurechin Giye, Kanawa, Unguwar Kaura, Dufar Mato, Tashar Kaura, Dandire-Dantutu, Unguwar Haro and others.
From Batagarawa to Katsina to Kurfi to Malunfashi to Funtua, there is hardly any local government that is out of the reach of these bandits. Not even Daura, where President Muhammadu Buhari hails from. On 24th March, Ahmadu Dagwale, 45, was assassinated in Kurneji on the outskirts of Daura by bandits. But as bloody as the first four months were, the spate of attacks in the past two months has been numbing. In the first five days of May, no fewer than 14 persons were killed in ten daring attacks in Batsari, Kankara, Jibia, Kurfi, Batagarawa, Matazu, Bakori and Faskari local governments. Since then, there have been other major attacks. What has worsened the situation is that the bandits seem to now target traditional rulers, perhaps in a bid to underscore the saying that once you take the shepherd, the sheep will scatter.
This month, the Village Head of Mazoji who doubled as the Sarkin Fulanin Fafu, Alhaji Dikko Usman was killed by bandits and a few weeks later, the Hakimin Garin Yantumaki, Alhaji Atiku Maidabino was assassinated right in his palace in Danmusa local government. The ease with which these bandits can reach palaces and take out traditional rulers has put fear in district heads who now threaten to leave their domains. But their subjects have nowhere to run. On 10th June, dozens of innocent villagers were killed when bandits on motorcycles invaded Kabalawa, Kwakware, Unguwar Wahabi and Raudama in Faskari local government area. “The bandits attempted to loot food items. However, the residents resisted their attempt. As a result, the gunmen opened fire…We recorded 20 deaths, and 20 injuries during the unfortunate incident,” explained the state police spokesperson, Gambo Isah. Many of the injured victims have since died.
However, this renewed wave of violence may have finally prompted the federal government to respond, especially following protests against the president in his home state. Last week, the National Security Adviser, Babagana Mungono, the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, the Director of State Security Service, Magashi Bichi, and the Director General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Rufai Abubakar visited Katsina to dialogue with the state government and critical stakeholders. From my interaction with Governor Aminu Bello Masari last Thursday, a number of crucial decisions were reached at that meeting. Hopefully, there will be concrete actions in the coming days and weeks to address the challenge.
Meanwhile, from my findings (and I interacted with a broad spectrum of Katsina elite), the crisis in the state is neither peculiar nor is it different from the one in Zamfara or Sokoto states. It originated in the usual spat over crop damage by herders and encroachment on grazing reserves by farmers resulting in killings and reprisal attacks as more and more people took the law into their own hands. Most farmers in the north, according to Ugwumba Egbuta who has interrogated this crisis, “view cattle tracts and grazing reserves as lands not possessed by anyone and can therefore be freely encroached” while every herder “believes that feeding his cattle at whatever circumstances is a superior and uncompromising right given to him by nature.” To compound the situation, most of the herders “do not recognize the existence of any boundary in terms of their grazing and are usually fully armed with modern guns”.
That precisely is the situation in Katsina today but it did not begin that way. The encroachment of grazing reserves in Kankara, Malunfashi, Bakori and other local governments in southern Katsina resulted in many of the herders feeling short-changed. The moment they started losing their cattle to rustlers, many of these herders began buying arms as a means of protection. With time, some also introduced kidnapping and armed robbery to their trade. The moment they realised that more money could be made from demanding ransom than rearing animals, the ‘diversification’ led to the violence that has become almost a daily staple in the state. When you combine these criminalities with poverty, drug abuse, illiteracy etc. in a milieu where there is a clear absence of government at the local level and traditional authorities have been rendered impotent, it is no surprise that the result is anarchy.
But the bandits had to find a cause: they see themselves as avenging the way they were treated by farmers in the past and the loss of lives and herds of cattle they have, at different times, suffered. That is how notorious kingpins began to emerge among the bandits who are well known to officials of the Katsina state government and the security agencies. The top guns among them are Ado Aileru, Dankarami, Abu Redde, Dogo Dide and ‘Dangote’.
These bandit leaders have carved out empires for themselves within Rugu Forest in Katsina and Dunburun Forest in Zamfara. Each of them, I understand, has over 300 followers with the kind of weapons that may not be readily available to our military. They are also well organized with informants which perhaps explained why they now target traditional rulers who, in a bid to protect their people, work with the security agencies. These bandits don’t see themselves as criminals and apart from armed robbery operations, most other attacks are usually carried out to avenge what they consider injustice against them. For instance, the February mass killings in Tsawwa and Dankar communities in Batsari local government were reprisal attacks, after the death of two herdsmen suspected as bandits.
As I spoke to critical stakeholders in Katsina, I could understand the desperation that pushed the governor into the bush to pose with bandit leaders wielding AK-47 guns. Even though it has turned out to be a misadventure, most of the people I spoke to agree that dialogue and a measure of accommodation should not be ruled out. “These bandit leaders are well known. Their families are known. Their villages are known. They are all Fulani indigenes of these localities, not foreigners. But whenever they want to attack, they can easily ask for reinforcements from Zamfara or even from Niger Republic which explains why they often come in large numbers,” a prominent person in Katsina explained to me.
The question now is: What is the way forward?
From my reading of the situation, the banditry in Katsina and other states in the North-west is essentially rooted in socio-economic and environmental factors. The conflict is not religious like the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northwest nor is it political. It is therefore not impossible to address if the authorities in Abuja and the states concerned will muster the necessary will to do the right things. Related to this is the potential risk that Boko Haram and global terror franchises operating in the greater Sahel pose. I understand from security sources that terror networks like ISWAP, Ansaru and others are already making overtures to these Fulani bandits for alliance and possible indoctrination. This must not be allowed to happen.
There is an urgent need for critical defence and security measures geared towards protecting vulnerable communities from continued attacks. Considering the nature of the crisis, we should also deploy a soft approach that is well articulated and managed by committed and trusted officials. Certainly not some ‘grass-cutters’ who feed on the misery of internally displaced people in our country. The objective should be to enumerate causes of the conflict and proffer workable solutions in the short, medium and long terms. That must include addressing current challenges such as displacement of villagers and loss of livelihoods. More importantly, there is need to pursue a rigorous prosecutorial regime. Impunity for heinous crimes should not be condoned. Anyone involved in mass killings and rape of women, whether they are Fulani bandits or members of vigilante groups, must be prosecuted and brought to justice. If we are to achieve social healing, the nexus between justice and reconciliation is not negotiable. This conflict constitutes an existential threat not only to a section of the country but to our collective integrity and sovereignty.
Various solutions have been tried by governors in the zone. Following a meeting of the North-west governors on 1st August last year, Masari, in his capacity as chairman of the forum, announced to a bewildered nation that these bandits and cattle rustlers had been granted amnesty. He read the communiqué issued at the end of a one-day security and reconciliation meeting with security agents, vigilante, volunteer groups, herdsmen and farmers in Katsina. “As from today, no vigilante group member or volunteers should attack or kill any herdsman, as sacrifice must be made by both sides to ensure peace reign,” the communiqué read.
The governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle said at the meeting that “the governors took a uniform measure” and added for the benefit of the people in the seven states, “you should also take a uniform decision not to rustle animals, kidnap or kill anyone.” The permanent secretary, Special Services, office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Dr Amina Shamaki explained that “the application of the carrot-and-stick approach is an effective strategy that enables criminals willing to embrace peace to do so while repentant ones are identified and isolated for appropriate actions by security agencies.”
A month later, Masari, along with other top government officials, security operatives, traditional rulers and representatives of Miyetti Allah, held sessions with the bandit leaders. “We are ready to dialogue with the bandits and ready to go anywhere they invite us. We are not afraid to meet anybody to end this problem,” he said at the time. Within a period of one month following that ‘amnesty’, the bandits killed 17 people and injured dozens of other innocent citizens in 82 attacks that coincided with 41 incidents of cattle rustling. And with that, the peace deal collapsed. “We chose to sign a peace agreement with the bandits to avoid loss of lives and property, but it didn’t yield a positive result. This time around, we will hand it over to security personnel”, lamented Masari early this month.
Apparently incensed by what is happening in their home state, prominent citizens from Katsina have lately been raising their voices. Last week, former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf released a scathing statement that puts the president on the spot. The North, he argued, “is under siege and terrorized by rampaging bandits and insurgents”, for which he said President Buhari must be held accountable. He then painted a gory picture of how the bandits operate: “They roll into our towns and villages in convoys of motorcycles riding three on each, brandishing AK47 rifles with impunity. They spend hours killing, burning, raping, carting away livestock and abducting women as sex slaves. In many of these villages, they put taxes on the people and keep coming back again and again to attack because there is no law enforcement presence to protect them. The Police or Military always show up after the carnage to count the bodies.”
Shortly before he died last year, a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Mamman Nasir who was both Galadiman Katsina and District Head of Malumfashi, also spoke to the helplessness of the people. “They (bandits) arrest rural people at will and demand ransoms which, if not paid, result in the killing of their victims,” he said.
The Emir of Katsina placed blame for the current situation on the 1976 Dasuki Report on the reform of local government by the military regime of the then General Olusegun Obasanjo that castrated traditional authorities. He spoke extensively about how power was wrested from traditional rulers and “handed to nobody”, though this is an issue for another day. And he made valid points. If we are to find a lasting solution to the current security challenge, especially in the north, we need to involve the traditional rulers who still command a measure of respect among the people but lack any power or authority. We also need concrete measures such as improving the operational capacity of the police whose personnel seem to enjoy guard duties with our politicians and business people. It is therefore no surprise that one of the local governments prone to frequent attacks by bandits in Katsina has 28 policemen whose entire weaponry consists of five AK-47!
Meanwhile, to successfully tackle this challenge, we must come to terms with the fact that herders do have genuine grievances. In 2018, I visited several Fulani settlements in Kebbi State where I encountered hundreds of children of school age whose parents were desirous that they be educated. There was either no school or they had collapsed. What I saw in the Fulani settlements was total neglect.
The take-away from my interactions with the Fulani men and women at these settlements, as I wrote back then, is not only that pastoralist societies face more demands on their way of life than at any previous time in history, but also that in our country, the real Fulani people, as opposed to political opportunists who use them as cannon fodder, are also victims of the way we have mismanaged our affairs. “While it may suit some reckless individuals to propound nonsensical theories of how Fulani people are ‘born to rule’, majority of their people are living in deprivation and want. Those fat-cat Fulani politicians who send their own children abroad to school yet argue that it is the tradition of Fulani men to roam the bush must be called out for what they are…The greater danger is that in the process of allowing these hapless Fulani men to roam, we unwittingly encourage the violation of the rights, as well as lives and livelihoods, of other Nigerians, especially settled landowners and farmers,” I wrote as I highlighted some of the consequences of the choice we have made.
The Katsina crisis is of course different from the larger Nigerian ‘Fulani problem’ fuelled by ethno-religious prejudices, toxic politics, manipulation of our differences and the inability of the current power holders to be even handed in the distribution of opportunities. It is traceable to marginalisation of the Fulani in their own land and the fierce competition for scarce resources that has in turn led to self-defence since police see their duty primarily as protecting the secretariats of political parties rather than providing security for the people. It is in fact this lack of capacity by the state to restore law and order that has, more than any other factor, created many ungoverned spaces in the North, including Katsina.
In his interrogation of the crisis, Dr Suleiman Abdullahi Shehu of the Federal University, Gusau advocates the deployment of security personnel to the forests that serve as hideouts for the marauders. “The forests must be governed and the illegal users must be dislodged and permanently prevented from controlling the spaces”, he wrote. “In addition, the security forces must strengthen the intelligence-gathering system, with support from the local population. Also, the Butchers and Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria must be involved in the fight. They are in a better position to identify rustled cows when they are brought to the market. The most important strategy is the use of technology…”.
While a carrot-and-stick approach that the North-west governors adopted last year offers a way out of the challenge, the stick has to be big enough to deter bandit leaders. That the military has not shown that they possess such capacity is what continues to keep the bandits in business. A peace deal with them as opposed to the so-called amnesty is a good idea in the circumstance, provided they are ready to lay down their arms. That such will not happen until there are sufficient threats from the military is where the current challenge lies.
In the course of his meeting with the military and security chiefs last Thursday, President Buhari reportedly told the service chiefs that their efforts to tackle violent crimes in the country were not good enough. That is the biggest understatement of the year. What Nigerians demand on this issue is action and the continued retention of officers who ought to have long retired does not indicate that anything will change. But I have already made my point on this issue.
Exactly a year ago, this was what I wrote about these same Service Chiefs: “In a regimented service, there is no greater incentive for professional excellence than the aspiration to reach the top. Yet from 2016 to date, well over 100 Major Generals and their equivalents in both the Navy and Airforce have been retired due to a lack of vacancy at the top. After 35 years, Olonisakin should have retired from the army on 18th December 2016 while the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas should have left the Navy since 1st January 2018. Buratai of course was due for retirement on 17th December 2018 before his tenure was extended. Meanwhile, for the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadique Baba Abubakar, his course-mates in the three services (Air force, Army and Navy) have all since retired and he should have joined them on 15th May 2017 after serving 35 years. For how long shall we continue to recycle officers who have entered professional menopause? From my reading of the situation, when you leave officers who have nothing to lose at the helm of affairs, you encourage errant behaviour. The service chiefs have not only reached the pinnacle of their careers, they have stayed beyond the normal course. The talk in town is that there is no better employer than President Buhari because he will never sack you no matter what you do, sometimes even against his own interest. However, the issue here is national security…”
On the whole, the security challenge in Katsina, and indeed the North-west, is not different from that of other areas of our country. It is only compounded by the factor of geography (the huge forests and a treacherous border) and an absence of deterrence for bad behaviour. The enduring solution lies in reforming/repositioning our armed forces and the police in such a manner that they would have the capacity for dealing with the challenge. National defence preparedness, according to the 19th century German military strategist, Carl von Clausewitz, presupposes “an army which is soundly trained for war, a military leadership which does not await enemy in perplexed and confused uncertainty…and finally a healthy nation which does not fear its enemy any more than it is feared by the enemy.”
Shortly before I submitted my column for publication last night, I got news that the Village Head of Barkiya in Kurfi local government was on Tuesday abducted but abandoned about 40 kilometres away by the bandits after a hot chase from some Vigilante. Two daughters of the Village Head of K’arare in Batsari were also reportedly kidnapped and were yet to be recovered as the time of going to press last night.
President Buhari must act now, and very strongly, to retrieve his state of origin from the grip of murderous bandits and the country at large from those who threaten the lives and livelihoods of our people. He must particularly understand the meaning of the Katsina challenge. One of the planks on which he came to power is to tackle insecurity. If the state from where he hails continues to roil in turmoil, whenever he promises to secure any other part of the country, there is the likelihood that some may remind him of the Yoruba adage: ‘Eni ti o y’ani l’aso, t’orun re laa ko wo’. Crudely translated, it means before you take seriously someone who promises to robe you in a beautiful apparel, you will first check out what the person is wearing!
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Arewa Agenda is a Publication of young writers from Northern Nigeria towards peaceful coexistence and national development through positive narratives.