Was it not strange that the abduction of Kankara boys occurred on the day President Muhammadu Buhari arrived in Daura, his hometown, in Katsina, on a private visit? It is even more curious that the abductees were released on his birthday. Buhari last visited the state in December 2019, when he inaugurated construction work on the N18billion University of Transportation, Daura.
While Borno in the North-East is the epicentre of Boko Haram terrorism, Zamfara in the North-West seems to be the hotbed of armed banditry, and Katsina, the home state of the President is fast becoming the haven of the fusion of notorious gangs of terror-bandits. Recently, terrorists massacred over 45 farmers at Zabarmani in Borno. Bandits kidnapped an Imam and 17 Muslim worshipers while observing congregational prayer at Dutsen Gari mosque in Zamfara before the terror-bandits abducted large population of students in Kankara.
The Katsina State Government officially announced the abduction of 333 pupils before the Government of Zamfara State confirmed the release of 344 boys. In the peak of the crisis, an audio message from Shekau’s faction of Boko Haram, which had claimed responsibility for the abduction, did not provide video footage or photo evidence. The propaganda merely confirms the fact that bandits in the North-West and terrorists in the North-East are forging ties to destabilise the nation.
PR Nigeria had reported that terrorist groups are now recruiting the services of local gangs of bandits to carry out attacks and abductions for rewards. The claim of responsibility by Boko Haram compelled Katsina, Kano, Kaduna, Zamfara and Jigawa States to announce the closure of schools
The latest abduction which evoked memories of the 2014 kidnap of more than 275 students of Chibok Girls Secondary School in Borno by terrorists is fuelling a rivalry between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) as they engage in blame game. When the spokesperson of APC, Yekini Nabena, issued a statement that a governor in the North-West was sponsoring bandits in the region, Governor Matawalle of PDP promptly retorted by saying that Zamfara was a den of bandits with high cases of banditry under the leadership of APC.
Even though Governor Masari had confirmed a negotiation between the Katsina government with the abductors, Governor Matawalle insisted that he facilitated the release of 344 schoolboys without any payment of ransom. In an interview with Daily Nigerian, the Zamfara Governor said he deployed repentant bandits and the leadership of Miyetti Allah to identify the syndicate that led the abduction, and then started the negotiation process.
While security services, especially the military are also laying claim to the rescue of students from captivity, it would be recalled that a joint rescue operation was launched when intelligence services identified Zango/Paula forest as the hideout of the abductors, before a leader of a terrorist group claimed responsibility for the abduction. There are aerial videos and photos of troops monitoring the movements of the bandits and the students in the forest during the saga.
The persistent military surveillance through ISR to some extent denied the abductors freedom of action and prevented the movement of the children across the border to a neighbouring country. The motorcycle-riding armed bandits have been actively involved in cattle rustling for trade, kidnapping for ransom, raping for pleasure and mass murder in reprisal attacks, sometimes against security forces in most daring and worrisome coincidences.
Apart from the abduction of Kankara students during the President’s visit, another coincidence was the killing of 23 Nigerian soldiers in an ambush by armed bandits in the Jibia area in July. That attack occurred after the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai flagged off a Special Army Super Camp IV in Faskari. Buratai said the establishment marked the commencement of “Exercise Sahel Sanity 2020” to curb banditry and other forms of crimes plaguing communities in the North-West. He also commissioned intervention projects executed in various communities in Katsina to improve the civil-military relationship.
Similarly, in November, heavily armed bandits, dressed in military camouflage, kidnapped nine police officers in the rank of Assistant Superintendents of Police (ASPs) between Kankara and Sheme towns in Katsina, before they were rescued/freed afterward. Earlier in June, bandits stormed communities in Faskari and killed more than 46 people, mostly the aged, women and children. Some of the communities affected in the gruesome attacks include Kadisau, Maigora, Kabalawa, Kwakware, Raudama and Unguwar Wahabi.
Intelligence has shown that the bandits operate from their hideouts in the massive and dreaded Rugu forest that cuts across Jibia, Safana, Danmusa, Batsari, Dandume, Sabuwa, Kankara and Faskari Local Government Areas of Katsina State. Surprisingly, as the Nigerian military intensifies its offensives in decimating several camps and neutralising many of the bandits, mostly through massive air raids and ground operations, the ranks of bandits increase by the day.
Despite the release of Kankara boys by terror-bandits, citizens still live in fear and apprehension of further attacks. The freed students, while lamenting the suffering they went through in the kidnappers’ den, said they were not willing to return to school. There is also the fear that with the vast majority of the population in that region living in extreme poverty, and kidnapping becoming a lucrative industry, some of the youths may be tempted to join the underworld in the nefarious business of ransom payments.
There must be concerted efforts to tackle the emergence of armed terror-bandits, a conspiracy between terrorists and bandits not only in Katsina but elsewhere in Northern Nigeria. I strongly believe that the government and the citizens should evolve strategies in crushing the menace. They should address poor education, improper upbringing, drug addiction, joblessness, poor governance and weak intelligence gathering to help security services in tackling the worsening insecurity in Nigeria.
By Yushau Shuaib