NIGERIA – Since 1999, when cases of armed robbery began to disturb the people of Birnin Gwari, the third largest emirate in Kaduna State, Northwest Nigeria, the socio-economic activities of the people in the area began to be threatened.
Governments in the past and the present have tried insufficiently to curb the problem, at some time, they have succeeded and the problem continued to reemerge in clandestine ways. One is not wrong to say that, there is no success in the fight as at this moment.
This is because the cases of insecurity in Birnin Gwari appear to defy all measures being taken by the government, though we are still optimistic and remain hopeful.
From 2010 to date when armed robbery became a daily affair along the two notorious Highways linking Birnin Gwari to Katsina, Zamfara, Niger and Kebbi states, Birnin Gwari has terribly suffered substantial losses in terms of agricultural and socio-economic.
The losses incurred on Birnin Gwari are so devastating that the lives of the people are in shambles. People are living in excruciating moments as the insecurity has plunged and muddled their lives in pigsty.
Since 1999, armed robbery along Kaduna-Birnin Gwari highway and Birnin Gwari-Funtua highway has been worrisome. It has ravaged the agricultural sector of lots of farmers; it has crippled the commercial commitment of many business people due to irksome fear of armed robbers and of recent, kidnappers.
BANKING OPERATIONS CRIPPLED:
The closure of banks in Birnin Gwari was one of the immediate repercussions of armed banditry in Birnin Gwari which followed a violent attack on the banks on 31st January 2013 by armed bandits as a result of which the buildings of the banks were destroyed.
These banks suspended their banking operations since 2013, four years precisely. The community banks were source of great convenience for the entire people of Birnin Gwari as they encourage savings and have empowered small scale businesses significantly.
Before the establishment of those branches of banks, people in Birnin Gwari used to travel all the way to Kaduna, some 120 kilometres, for banking operations, and savings were not taken to heart in those days.
Those branches of banks were indeed the heartbeat of Birnin Gwari. They helped tremendously in facilitating loans for the farmers and business firms to boost entrepreneurship.
Birnin Gwari developed greatly into becoming a modern business hub before those banks were forced to stop operations.
When those banks were operating optimally, banking operations were made more personal to the people of Birnin Gwari. Customers were treated with high sense of professionalism and they trouped en-masse to those banks to patronize their operations.
Most of the customers of those banks in Birnin Gwari reside within Birnin Gwari; as such they have earnestly provided funds for various community services.
The presence of those banks was a source for jobs for various Birnin Gwari people. They have built a formidable relationship with the people of Birnin Gwari especially the working class among them. Their salaries follow through those banks.
Unfortunately, Birnin Gwari is still suffering from the closure of those banks.
People have to travel far distance in order to make banking transactions, as a result of which they get attacked and killed or kidnapped for heavy ransoms by armed bandits.
Birnin Gwari has lost not less than 100 billion naira from 2013 to date as a result of the closure of these banks (names withheld). This is because small scale business that access their seed monies through those banks have to shut down and those businesses have to be abandoned. I know about 100 youths that were forced by the impending circumstances to abandon their local businesses as a result of the closure of the banks.
FARMING ACTIVITIES HAMPERED:
It has been in the news that Birnin Gwari local government area in Kaduna state has been disturbed by cases of Armed Robbery, Kidnappings and Cattle Rustlings. Farming which is the long practiced profession of heritage in Birnin Gwari has been crippled, fishing which was originally hampered by the death of Bagoma Dam was significantly affected as well, gold mining in nearby villages was considerably squashed to quagmire, the socio-economic facets of Birnin Gwari; the food basket of not only Kaduna state but the entire country was put at epileptic state.
People on daily basis are being stricken by death, palpitations, perspiration and hypertension. It has almost become a norm broad light robbery, raping, abductions, killings and all sorts of pains.
A very disturbing development that happened last year was scorching the farm produce of farmers by the armed bandits. There were reports that a number of farms were set ablaze burning all they have produced over night by these armed bandits. This is a strategy they followed in order to cast hunger on people so that people may out of desperation and frustration join their heinous criminal way. We are still palpable that same may occur this harvest year.
Almost all farmers along Birnin Gwari-Funtua highway have been placed on red alert by the bandits that they should not cultivate this farming season or else risk their lives and property. Farmers, very prominent farmers, have to succumb to this warning by the armed bandits as they have not cleared their farms as I am writing this piece.
They have chosen not to cultivate so as to save their lives and their loved ones from the pangs of these armed bandits. This is not only dangerous scenario for Birnin Gwari, but the entire Northwest of Nigeria. Birnin Gwari is one of the major producers of grains in Nigeria, farming is our pride and it is the biggest business we do here.
Not only in Nigeria, a substantial number of people from nearby countries like Niger, Chad and Cameroon troupe to Birnin Gwari to buy hundreds of tons of grains every Thursday. This has stopped because the market is not safe, the business is no longer safe, only a handful of people who chose to confront the issue head on are sacrificing their lives for that business. This portends danger ahead. Hunger may strike our people.
Those people coming from nearby countries and from across many states in Nigeria to buy our grains have stopped. Many of them were abducted, some were killed. The major grains market of Birnin Gwari is severely crippled today. We lose billions of naira on weekly basis. A number of people who rely on grain business called “Sakai” in Hausa language have to abandon that profitable business due to fear of being killed or abducted by the merciless armed bandits.
A lot of families were broken by this development. A lot of them were put apart; several others were made desperate and have been forced to lose their faith. Everyone is in grief. No one lives with two eyes closed at night. The old jungle days of Nagwamatse have resurfaced. People are crying helplessly and authorities are very stagnant in their efforts to bulwark and beat off these atrocities.
SPATE OF ABDUCTIONS:
Since 2017, around this time, when Hon Salisu Isah, member Kaduna State House of Assembly was abducted by the armed bandits to date, we have witnessed not less than 100 cases of abductions. Abductions for ransom happen in villages, the armed bandits would kidnap unsuspecting farmers in their farms and demand for heavy ransoms which have to paid by selling their farm produce. They intercept commuters along Birnin Gwari Kaduna Highway and Birnin Gwari Funtua Highway to abduct all passengers.
They demand for heavy cash ransoms, with sumptuous meal of choice and some N30,000 recharge card. In those reported cases of abductions that escalated since 2017, we have confirmed that not less than 500 people were abducted during the period of 2015-2018.
Just last month, precisely on 14th May 2018 over 100 passengers were abducted along Birnin Gwari Kaduna highway. Some of them are still under captivity. On 17 May 2018, after killing a number of innocent people in Kakangi ward, they abducted several persons. Similarly, 42 people were kidnapped on 23rd May 2018 along Birnin Gwari-Kaduna Highway; some are still being held hostages.
Recently, over 30 people were abducted including a nursing mother and a newly wedded bride who is confirmed to be critically ill as the time I am writing this piece. None of them was released as negotiations on the ransoms are still ongoing.
The abductors demand for heavy ransoms from their captives or kill them if they fail to provide the amount within stipulated time. My investigation shows that the people that are abducted are usually demanded to pay heavy ransoms, the least of which is N500, 000 (Five Hundred Thousand najra). They collect as high as N10, 000000 (Ten Million Naira) from their victims.
There are still people in captivity, they are moved from one camp to another, investigation revealed. The hostages are kept in open space without any cover or protection against the scorching sun or rainfall. There are dangerous reptiles in those thick bushes were abductees are kept. Most of the abductees are critically ill, some of them are molested by the armed bandits.
Those who are lucky pay their ransoms after selling all possessions desperately and have their relatives released after days. Those who could not provide the demanded amount by the bandits are usually kept and threatened until when negotiations are over. Many of the abductees are too poor to generate even N10 000, but the bandits demand the minimum of Five Hundred Thousand naira.
Investigation reveals that they insist on their demands if their victim is female like the most recent one they did. The last one that included two women is very excruciating and devastating. I had cried on hearing that there are small children alongside their mother, one is still being breastfed.
The other woman who got married recently is critically ill. The bandits have to call the husband last Sunday during a heavy rainfall and made him hear the cry of his child, so as to prompt their payment. The husband could not raise the amount and the government was not ready to help even though it has the money.
The life of a small child is at stake. The life of a nursing mother is at stake. The life of all abductees is at stake and our governments must do everything within its jurisdiction to secure their lives now. This should have been an International issue with headlines on CNN, BBC etc but the APC government is selective and kept deaf ears to the agonies of those who were abducted and lost their freedom.
Since they are not Chibok or Dapchi women, then it is just as if no abduction has taken place. This makes me feel pained. For how long will this lethargy end?
People are suffering from abject poverty. Many people today cannot afford to eat three times a day. A lot of families are struggling to survive. How do you expect such people to provide any ransom? The abduction has continued unabated and even those philanthropists who help to generate the ransom when the problem began, have been exhausted, they can no longer provide such help, plunging the lives of the abductees in danger.
Already, about N10billion Naira were expended by various families of the abductees to secure the release of their wards. Government did not care to help on this since the abductees are not from Northeast or more precisely are not from Chibok or Dapchi. Remember that the victims of the abduction are not only from Birnin Gwari, they are from all over Nigeria.
It is against this backdrop that I call of the peace-loving and very kind President Muhammadu Buhari to as a matter of urgency set up a panel to negotiate swiftly with the armed bandits and pay all the ransoms so as to secure an immediate release of all Nigerians abducted over three months who are still under captivity.
I also implore the President to grant immediately Birnin Gwari as one of the beneficiaries of the Presidential Intervention on ravaged States by armed banditry or herdsmen conflicts. Our people need immediate cushinary measures to immediately come up from the wreckage of armed bandits. Birnin Gwari should be visited immediately by Vice President Osinbajo and he should during the visit announce to us that we will benefit from that money set aside to rebuild those North Central States damaged by the conflicts there.
By the same token, I call on the Kaduna State government under Malam Nasir El Rufai to as a matter of urgency embark on negotiations with the armed bandits so as to pay the ransoms on behalf of the abductees. This is to ensure that no abductees are killed or molested by the merciless armed bandits. The abductees do not have money to pay as ransoms because most of them are the sacked teachers and those who depend on the sacked teachers for survival. It is therefore very important if the Kaduna State governor can swing into immediate action to secure an immediate release of the abductees so that they can reunite with their families and celebrate the forthcoming festive period of Muslims.
It is my pertinent call on the government to also pay off those who suffered the fate of abduction before and have to sell off their lands and other possessions to get their families and friends released from the pangs of the merciless armed bandits. This can mitigate the agonies they are currently experiencing. I believe that the government can do this.
Finally, I must commend the gallantry of the Soldiers deployed to Birnin Gwari following the directives of General Buratai to establish a Battalion of Army at Birnin Gwari with a view to squashing armed banditry in the area. The army has so far opened Birnin Gwari Funtua highway and commuters follow that highway safely. They have also secured some hostages abducted by the armed bandits. However, the presence of these Soldiers is as of now, only felt along Birnin Gwari Funtua Highway, and not on Birnin Gwari Kaduna Highway and in villages.
We hope that they will soon extend their operations in these places so as to ensure optimal success.
We also commend the efforts of the Kaduna state government for whatever efforts its doing to forestall the crime in Birnin Gwari area and the state entirely.
We hope they will sit up and double up in their effort. We also urge the government never see us as its enemies for voicing out our worries. We love this government so dearly and that’s essentially why we chose to tell the government the bitter truth on its weaknesses and nonchalance towards solving our insecurity.
Isah Muhammad is a lecturer at Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto and can be reached on 08033464831