Worried by the increasing rate of banditry in the North, particularly in Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Sokoto states, the apex northern socio-cultural group, the Arewa Consultative Forum, has convened a meeting of its board of trustees.
A member of the Board of Trustees of the ACF, who confided in The PUNCH on Tuesday, said the meeting, which would hold on Wednesday (today), would discuss the rising incidence of kidnappings and killings in the North in particular, and the country in general.
The ACF convened the meeting just as the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, indicted some prominent traditional rulers in the North for aiding bandits in the North-West.
Although spokesman for the ACF, Alhaji Muhammad Biu, declined to comment on the allegation against the traditional rulers, he confirmed that the forum’s BOT would meet on Wednesday (today) over the problem of banditry.
In an SMS to one of our correspondents, Biu stated, “We have the BoT meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) to discuss the general insecurity due to kidnappings and insurgency in the country; for now, no comment please.”
But another member of the forum, who issued a statement last week, said the group was concerned that banditry was assuming a dangerous dimension.
“The ACF’s Board of Trustees is meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) and the issue of banditry which has assumed a dangerous dimension will feature prominently during the meeting,” the source said.
The northern body last week raised the alarm over the rising spate of kidnappings and other forms of banditry in some parts of the region.
Biu, who issued a statement on the issue, had said, “The Arewa Consultative Forum and indeed Nigerians are worried by reports of the kidnapping of innocent people along the highways and the frequent attacks on villages by some bandits.
“The kidnappings and attacks on the people, especially along the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway and many villages in Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and Kaduna states as well as many parts of the country are cruel, barbaric and inhuman.”
However, in a statement on Tuesday, the Defence minister said the Federal Government had ordered the security agencies to tackle banditry and killings in Zamfara State and the entire North-West geopolitical zone.
He said some top traditional rulers in the communities were helping the bandits to perpetuate criminal activities.
The minister, who did not name the traditional rulers, also accused them of “compromising military operations.”
He warned that the armed forces would go after “any person or group of persons who choose to connive or sympathise with the bandits to perpetuate crimes against law-abiding citizens.”
Dan-Ali, in the statement signed by his ministry’s Public Relations Officer, Col. Tukur Gusau, said the military had been directed to deal with anybody identified to be helping the bandits under whatever guise and “no matter how highly placed the person or persons may be.”
The minister said, “The ministry is very concerned about the security challenges in the North-West, particularly in Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and Kaduna states. Due to the prevailing security situation in the states, the Nigerian Army is already conducting Exercise Harbin Kunama IV in Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto states.
“The purpose of the exercise is to effectively flush criminal elements out of the North-West. The Nigerian Air Force has also intensified air strikes against bandits in Zamfara. So far, the combined efforts have yielded a lot of successes leading to the killing of many bandits and rescuing of many persons, including a renowned Islamic scholar, Sheik Ahmad Suleiman.
“The government is also addressing the remote and immediate causes that gave room for the high spate of banditry in the states. Recently, the government acted on the advice of the Ministry of Defence to suspend all mining activities in Zamfara State and its environs, following an intelligence report that suggested a close collaboration between the activities of the bandits and illegal miners.
“However, in spite of the concerted efforts of the armed forces and other security agencies, some unpatriotic persons, including highly placed traditional rulers in the areas were identified as helping the bandits with intelligence to perpetuate their nefarious actions or to compromise military operations.”
The minister added that the Nigerian Army had established Division 8 with headquarters in Sokoto State to cover Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara states while the headquarters of 1 Brigade was relocated from Sokoto to Gusau in Zamfara.
“Presently, the tactical headquarters of 8 Division has since relocated to Gusau. Similarly, the Nigerian Air Force also established a Quick Response Force in Gusau and landing areas in Gusau and Birnin Magaji respectively,” he noted.
Miners aiding bandits, kidnappers, says IG
Also, the acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has defended the recent ban on mining activities in Zamfara State by the Federal Government.
Adamu, who stated this at a stakeholders’ meeting on security held in Gusau, said the decision was “to bring an end to the wave of bandits’ attacks and kidnappings in Zamfara State as the miners are accessories to the crimes.”
He said investigations had shown that the miners were aiding and abetting the bandits hence the decision by the government to ban mining activities in the state.
“The ban was to cut off the collaboration between the miners and the bandits and kidnappers to end the senseless killings and kidnappings in Zamfara State,” he said.
Bandits killed 3,526 in Zamfara, says Yari
Speaking at the meeting, Governor Abdulaziz Yari said 3,526 persons were killed by bandits in the state in the last five years.
He said, “Nearly 500 villages have also been devastated and 8,219 persons were injured. Some are still in critical condition.”
The governor, who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Abdullahi Shinkafi, also said over 13,000 hectares of farmlands were destroyed by bandits.
“The economy of the state has seriously suffered because thousands of shops were destroyed by the rampaging bandits who had displaced thousands of our people from their places of abode, many of who cannot sleep with their two eyes closed again because of fear,” he added.
Yari said the government had written a 7,000-page report that gave details of the crises right from the beginning to the infiltration of bandits from Libya and Boko Haram fighters.
The governor, who said the government was aware of eight bandits’ camps in the state, urged the security agencies to destroy them in order to decimate the criminals.
The governor said the suspension of mining activities in the state by the Federal Government must “be followed by enforcement, because it is one thing to ban, it is another thing to enforce.”
Buhari has no solutions to security challenges – PDP
But the Peoples Democratic Party lamented insecurity in the country, particularly killings and kidnappings in the North, adding that President Muhammadu Buhari had no solutions to the nation’s security challenges.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement, said the opposition party was grieving over the pain and anguish Nigerians had been subjected to following the alleged failure of the Buhari administration to provide adequate security for citizens despite the huge resources at its disposal.
He said, “The Federal Government has failed to exert enough commitment to protecting the lives of Nigerians and curb the bloodletting and kidnapping of compatriots in Zamfara, Borno, Yobe, Kogi, Kaduna, Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau, Bauchi and other states. We have been proved right that President Buhari and the APC do not believe in their campaign promises.
“The PDP notes that by every indication, the President Buhari-led Federal Government has no solution to the security challenge bedeviling our nation, which has festered under its incompetent watch.”
Buhari condemns Kaduna killings, orders security action against cultists
But President Buhari on Tuesday condemned the killing of over 20 people in Adara community of Kaduna State.
The President, who sought peace, noted that reprisals would not resolve the dispute between the parties but a search for peaceful solutions.
“President Buhari appeals for peace and decries the ongoing culture of ‘an eye for an eye’ that has fuelled a number of attacks and reprisals, with the two communities at different times, suffering casualties in Kajuru and Kachia Local Government Areas of Kaduna State,” Presidential spokesman, Mr Garba Shehu, stated on Tuesday.
“President Buhari makes a special appeal to traditional and religious leaders to be cautious about their comments on the conflict, insisting that whatever words they share publicly should not be inflammatory but be inspired by an interest in peace,” the statement added.
Buhari condoled with the families of the victims, saying, “The entire nation grieves with you. The Nigerian Army and the police are already in the area to ensure that peace and security are restored.”
The President also condemned the resurgence of killings by cult groups in Rivers State and ordered an “increased community and law enforcement action against its escalation.”
21 killed, 50 cows rustled, 10 houses burnt in Kaduna attack – Police
In a related development, the Kaduna State Police Command on Tuesday confirmed the attack on Ungwan Aku village in the Kajuru Local Government Area of the state, where 20 people were reportedly killed on Monday.
The Command’s Public Relations Officer, DSP Yakubu Sabo, said 21 not 20 people as earlier reported, were killed by bandits in Kajuru LGA.
The spokesman added that during the attack, three persons sustained gunshot wounds while 10 houses were razed.
The police chief said, “At 9.30am on April 8, we received a distress call that a group of armed men in large number on motorcycles entered Banono and Anguwan Aku, both are remote neighbouring villages in Kufana district of Kajuru LGA.
“The attackers started shooting sporadically and attacking the villagers. In the process, they killed 21 people, injured three others and burnt 10 houses. The bandits also rustled about 50 cows.”
The spokesman said during the attack, a combined team of the police mobile force personnel, regular police, the Nigerian Army and the local vigilantes were promptly mobilised to the area.
“They repelled the attack and evacuated both the dead and the injured to hospital,” he said.
NAF bombs bandits’ positions in North-West
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Air Force on Tuesday evening deployed six aircraft from Katsina to pound bandits’ positions in the North-West.
The aircraft are two Alpha jets and four combat helicopters.
Two combat helicopters took off around 4pm while the two Alpha jets and other helicopters followed them about 20 minutes later. They were still on the mission as of the time of filing this report.
All the aircraft took off from the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua International Airport, Katsina.
The Air Officer in charge of Special Operation Command, Air Vice-Marshal Napoleon Bali, told journalists shortly before the aircraft took off that the mission was to dislodge the bandits and make it easier for the police and other ground troops to battle the criminals.
He added, “I will, however, appeal to the members of the various communities where the bandits carry out their dastardly acts to come out and give us necessary intelligence on the bandits so that we can precisely pound them.
“We have the mandate of the President and Commander-in-Chief and the Chief of Air Staff to destroy the bandits’ positions wherever they may be in this part of the country.
“We shall be pounding them until all the bandits are flushed out. As they restrategise, we too will restrategise and we are taking the battle to them.
“We shall conduct this operation and ensure that the bandits are neutralised with little or no causalities on the part of innocent Nigerians.”