From 2015 to date, the federal government has launched five security operations in Katsina State which is one of the frontline states in the ongoing fight against banditry and kidnapping. Experts have argued that with the heavy military presence in the state, the terrorists should have long been defeated and peace restored to the Sahel State.
Banditry in Katsina State was an offshoot of armed robbery and cattle rustling which worsened in 2015 leading to the launch of several military operations to curb the menace, starting from a joint security operation tagged ‘Operation Sharan Daji’ which was carried out across Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara and Niger states at the early stages of the crisis.
Subsequently, the Katsina State government granted amnesty to the bandits in 2016 after the crisis subsided, but the amnesty programme failed a few months after it took off, leading to a fall-out between the state government and the ‘repentant’ bandits.
Armed robbers and cattle rustlers that inhabited Rugu Forest began carrying out raids on villages where the killed their victims, vandalised their property and abducted wealthy residents of the local communities.
Areas worst-hit by the menace were Faskari Sabuwa, Dandume, Jibia, Batsari, Safana, Danmusa and Kankara local government areas which have part of their territory in the deadly Rugu Forest, an international cattle route that crosses into Niger Republic and the western Sahara.
What could be the possible reasons for the spate in banditry?
In an extensive interview on the complex nature of the security situation, the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences at Umaru Musa Yaradua University, Dr Aliyu Mukhtar told Radio Nigeria that the cross-border dimension of the crisis makes it hard to overcome, particularly with the free flow of arms, ammunition and drugs from Libya through Niger Republic into Nigeria via the unguarded points of its border.
“You cannot secure a country that has too many porous borders. You cannot effectively secure a country that has vast un-governed spaces, and you cannot effectively secure a country when its neighbours provide a gateway for the inflow of small arms and light weapons as well as hard drugs.
“When a strategic country such as Libya is vandalised and broken, you cannot prevent arms from Europe finding their way into all parts of the western Sahara.
“The western Sahara has vast areas of ungoverned spaces, if you have dangerous weapons in the hands of rebel groups and gun-runners in Libya, then they will invariably find their way into neighboring countries.
“Therefore the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and illicit drugs is at the heart of the banditry and kidnapping happening in most parts of northern Nigeria today”, Dr Mukhtar noted.
How much has the military, security forces contributed to tackle the menace?
Troops of the Nigerian Army under ‘Operation Sahel Sanity’ have since the launch of the operation in 2019 arrested hundreds of terrorists including bandits, kidnappers and gun-runners.
In one of such major operations last year, Acting Director Defence Media Operations, Brig General Bernard Onyeuko said the troops have arrested no fewer than 733 terrorists that include illegal miners, bandits, kidnappers, informants and gun-runners.
These operations were carried out jointly by troops of Operation Sahel Sanity, 17 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Operation Hadarin Daji of the Nigerian Air Force, and Operation Puff Adder of the Nigeria Police Force mostly with intel from operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS).
Malam Ali ‘Yantumaki, a resident of Danmusa, one of the banditry flashpoints, told Radio Nigeria that the area has witnessed significant improvement in terms of security after a major Air Force operation where a notorious bandit warlord and his boys were killed.
He also recalled that a couple of military operations carried out between August and September 2021 contributed to the restoration of peace, particularly in Dan-Ali, Yantumaki, Danmusa and parts of Safana Local Government Area.
“Although the shutdown of telecom services last year affected our businesses negatively, I know it made much positive impact in terms of security, it cut off bandits from their informants and kidnapping was greatly minimised, but there are still pockets of abductions around these areas”, Malam Ali said.
The call for community policing continues
University don, Dr Aliyu Muri, is of the view that community policing is the most effective tool against all forms of security threats including banditry and kidnapping.
“It is an obvious fact that this country is grossly under-policed”. Until each community is closely policed, there are bound to be various forms of insecurity every now and then, the government should provide leadership in this direction”.
It would be recalled that lat year Governor Aminu Bello Masari called on the people of the state to posses catapults and firearms for self-defence against bandits and kidnappers, a call that generated mixed reactions with many urging the state government to rather train vigilante operatives to guard their communities.
Meanwhile, the Katsina State government has since commenced the training of over 3,000 vigilante to guard their various communities against bandits and kidnappers.
At an inaugural parade held in Katsina, the Special Adviser to Governor Aminu Bello Masari on Security Matters, Ibrahim Ahmed Katsina, decried the situation where residents of communities rely solely on security agents to protect them.
“These security agents are doing their best, they are human beings too, and we know their number is not enough, therefore we have resolved that we can no longer leave this all-important matter in their hands, we must make individual and collective efforts to guard our villages, towns and communities.
“These 3,000 vigilante are the first set of volunteers we would train, the training is being conducted by civil defence officers, and after the training we will present them with certificates which would make them licensed guards in their various communities.
It is hoped that with such efforts by the Katsina State government and by the communities that are at the center of the security crisis, normalcy could be restored to the state which was adjudged in the past to be one of the peaceful states in the country.
Writing by Isma’il Adamu; Editing by Muzha Kucha