A large stretch of land thought to be rich in gold deposits, Birnin-Gwari, Kaduna State, has since become a killing field. ABDULGAFAR ALABELEWE, who visited the area after the latest killings, reports
More than 200 indigenous people of Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State last week took to the streets with placards, protesting the killing of their kinsmen which they say has lingered for more than a decade.
While the killings remain an unsolved puzzle, some have established links between the attacks and the quest for gold deposits in the area.
The state governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai had in 2016 said that the gold deposits in Birnin-Gwari were larger than the gold reserves in South Africa.
Last week’s protest was informed by another round of killings at Kakangi community penultimate Saturday, during which two policemen were killed in a gun duel with the dreaded armed bandits
The protesters stormed the streets ahead of the acting Inspector-General of Police Abubakar Adamu and Governor el-Rufai’s visit, chanting that killings and kidnapping in the area must be brought to an end. Led by the Coalition of Birnin-Gwari Association, angry protesters also laid siege on the Emir’s palace, where they also demanded for deployment of more troops to the town which had over the years been ravaged by the activities of kidnappers, armed robbers.
The major challenge with Birnin Gwari is the existence of the expansive Kamuku, Kuyanbana and Falgore forests. The forests which border Kaduna, Kebbi, Katsina, Sokoto, Niger and Zamfara states, are so large that the bandits are said to have established so many camps inside.
A security source said the gunmen hide there and only come into town to buy foodstuff in disguise and go back.
They come out of the forest when they want to kill people. The difficult terrain of the area also makes it impossible for security personnel to respond promptly to any emergency situation.
The hoodlums who had settled in the forest for years are also believed to be serving an unknown interest, which seeks to prevent government from mining the large solid mineral deposits beneath the forest.
However, local miners and their customers have been making brisk business at different mining sites at the local government area, despite having their own fair share of the killings.
Nobody has been able to identify the attackers or their sponsors. Yet, they have moved from one village to another, namely Nabango, Janruwa, and Gwaska, among others, leaving tales of woes behind. While some believe they are cattle rustlers, others think they are just armed bandits, depending on the type of crime committed in a particular area.
The road from Kaduna to Birnin Gwari town is in a terrible state of dilapidation. In 2015, governors of the six states bordering the forest sponsored military operations that lasted six months as part of efforts to flush out the hoodlums. But as soon as the operation was over, the bandits returned to the forest.
At one of the meetings of the Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF) sometime in 2016 in Kaduna, El-Rufai advocated that governors of the Northwest region should approach the federal government with a proposal for the handing over of the Kamuku, Kuyambana and Falgore forests for them to manage.
El-Rufai said in view of the high level of crime across the forests, it may be prudent for the states to manage them rather than leaving them in the hands of the federal government. He said: For such efforts to be credible and sustainable, the state must vigorously reclaim its prerogatives as the guarantor of security.
“Robust actions in the security sector must be undertaken quickly to implant a visible, reassuring and effective presence of the protective hand of the state across our region,” he said.
According to El-Rufai, the forests constitute sources of perils to ordinary people, the states and the country. Adding that, after the bitter experience with Boko Haram, it will be a mistake to allow the emergence of a new Sambisa in the forests, which he said provide safe refuge for outlaws and have become the headquarters for robberies, kidnappings and cattle rustling.
“What is proposed is that we continue to jointly fund special security operations to sanitise these spaces, which must now be accompanied with a development agenda to convert them from areas of insecurity to places that are properly integrated into the economy,” El-Rufai said.
But after the governors’ joint security programme came to a close, the criminals staged a comeback, and they came back more dreaded than before. This informed the full involvement of the federal government.
In its efforts to tame the bandits’ acts of terrorism, in Birnin Gwari general area, the Federal Government launched several military and joint security operations, with the peak being the launch of a Forward Operation Base (FOB) in the area by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai. This only subdued the crime rate in the area, the killings have since resumed in grand style, while the Kaduna-Birnin road according to remains a dangerous terrain to operate in.
Motorists, especially commercial drivers plying the road, especially Kaduna-Birnin Gwari axis still go through ‘hell’. They claim that, security and criminals operate like they run shifts on the road.
Our correspondent who was on an assessment tour of the road recently reports that though there were more than 20 security checkpoints on Birnin-Gwari Road manned by men of the police and local vigilante groups. Motorists said that the checkpoints are only mounted for a few hours daily.
A commercial motorist, Aliyu Isha whose vehicle our correspondent boarded from Kontagora in Niger State to Kaduna, through Birnin Gwari said, “The only time we enjoy this road is in the afternoon like this. If you follow the road in the morning before 10am, it is almost certain that you will be attacked.
“I ply this road everyday like other drivers around, but we are safe because we know when to move and when not to. Like now, there is nothing you can give me that will make me go back to Kontagora today except I get passengers to take back before 3pm. Anything after 3pm, I will just sleep in Kaduna.
“Experience has shown us that, security resumes at their checkpoints around 10am and they close around 4pm. And once the security leaves the road, the criminals take over; it is as if they run shifts with the police. So, anyone who passes Birnin Gwari Road before 10am and after 4pm is doing do at his own risk.”
Another commercial motorist, who simply identified himself as Shehu, corroborated Isha’s claims, saying, “The armed robbers have suffered these days in the hands of the security agents. So, I will say we have enjoyed the roads to a large extent, but that is not to say that the criminals have disappeared.
“What the armed robbers do is, they climb trees and rocks to watch security operatives’ movements. Once they see the police leaving the road in the evening, they take over the road. So, for us, we already know their system, so we only work within the hours police are on the road.
But, if you are so unlucky that your vehicle spoils on the road, you just have to fix your passengers in other vehicles and leave your vehicle there and bring a mechanic to repair during the safe hours.
“We appreciate the presence of the security personnel and even vigilante on the roads, but if they can stay there throughout the day, it will permanently keep the criminals away. Again the government too should repair the Birnin Gwari road, it is long overdue. If the road is smooth, it will become very difficult for armed robbers and kidnappers to operate.
“For example, the criminals on Kaduna-Abuja road cannot operate freely like the ones on Birnin-Gwari Road do. Some of our colleagues that have been survivors of the robbers and kidnappers have narrated to us how they operate without fear. They block the road in such a way that that you cannot escape them and rob your passengers, if they don’t get enough money, they march you people into the bush and contact your family for ransom,” Shehu narrated.
The community leaders have always raised concern of the security situation. The Emir of Birnin Gwari, Malam Jibril Zubairu Mai Gwari in the heat of the armed bandits’ atrocities last year cried out that his people are being killed on a daily basis, stressing that the federal government should intensify efforts at ridding the area of bandits.
Emir’s lamentation came few days after 11 soldiers on Operation Ayem Akpatuma were killed in the area last year, saying that, armed bandits terrorising his domain hibernate in Zamfara state and come to attack in Birnin Gwari and hibernate in Birnin Gwari and go to Zamfara to carry out attacks.
He said, he had to cry out about their predicament because until the coming of the minister, they felt they were no longer part of Nigeria. According to the Emir then, “just day before yesterday, two people were killed and nine others, including a newly wedded bride were kidnapped.
He however asked the interior minister who was on an assessment tour of situation in Birnin Gwari to tell President Muhammadu Buhari to rehabilitate Kaduna-Birnin Gwari-Jebba Road, which has been in a deplorable state for long, arguing that, doing so will help in addressing the security challenges in the area.