Investigation: Insecurity: Fears Trail Peace Efforts in North West Nigeria.

By Ahmad SALKIDA and Yusuf ANKA.

 Background

Jibia, a border community in the North West of Nigeria, sits precariously on the road cutting through Katsina town into Niger Republic. The fierce desert wind frequently blazes through, triggering a storm of dusty earth over the market stalls and farmsteads. Traveling on the road from Katsina, capital of Katsina State, the presence of the ubiquitous checkpoints mounted by security personnel is unmistakable. Sadly, the securitymen at the various checkpoints along the road are devoted to transactions having little to do with actual security. Little surveillance or scrutiny of human and cargo traffic was going on. Rather, commercial vehicle drivers are seen routinely stretching out hands at each checkpoint to drop naira notes. 

There are several rural Nigerians fleeing from villages in Katsina State and going towards Jibia, the border town with Niger Republic. These include families comprising women, a few men and children. These are families fleeing from villages that had been razed by bandits, left bare of livestock, farm produce and housewares. The bandits are ruthless, and no village had any provisions of defense capable of withstanding their assault and giving shield to villagers. The villagers are the life of trauma of rape and open humiliation they have suffered in the hands of the armed bandits for months. Moving into an uncertain future, but happy to be leaving behind a hostile, brutal existence, the families are taking any means of transport, including riding a donkey. The border post is marked by some buildings and simple shades, some of which are marked out for the official duties of the Immigration and Customs services. Beyond these and the roadblocks, there are only occasional community clusters across the vast expanse of bushland and fields. 

On the road

There were seven check points manned by different services of the Nigerian security within the 30 miles stretch between Katsina and Jibia local government area that sits along the border with Niger Republic. The highway was active in the hours of the day and considered safe. However, the road from Zurmi in Zamfara state that connects to Jibia is classified as the most dangerous, most unsafe and most treacherous highway in the North-West region of Nigeria. The security personnel at the check points on the highway evidently are not equipped to address the magnitude of violence associated with that highway. Strutting across the road with their AK47 rifles strapped across the shoulders, the security officials, without exception, appear overly driven to receive ‘contributions’ from commercial vehicle drivers, rather than securing anybody or anything.

A tenuous peace

Natives in the territories around this dangerous highway confided that the road is relatively safer now because the bandits, rustlers and militia groups operating in the northwest rarely ventured out during the raining season. The terrain in the raining season hampers movements, making swift attacks and escapes impossible. They additionally attribute the relative lull in violent campaigns to the on-going exploration of grounds of peace between the government (Katsina and Zamfara states) and the bandits. As evidence of returning peace, the residents pointed to the Fulani settlers in the territory who have returned to their regular business of selling livestock, milk and fat (mai-n shanu). They are basking in the livestock boom as the women and children hawk the milk and fat across the communities while the men sell the rams for the season.

 Nevertheless, tension is still palpable in the air and it is obvious that the peace is tentative. Also, it appears that some people are unsatisfied with the peace negotiations by the state government, positing that one side of the divide has been favoured. For instance, some of the livestock being sold at the Gidan Bore market, going by our investigations are rustled cows. These are cows rustled from surrounding villages now brought back to the community to be sold.

Bala Dauran, a resident of Gidan Jaja in Zurmi told The ICIR: 

“My neighbour brought my attention to over ten of my rustled cows being sold in the market in Gidan Bore. Before I could make it to the scene, most of the cows were already sold, there was nothing I could do because the Fulani men that sold them had left. But with the help of some vigilante men we put up a chase. As we made progress in a bid to apprehend them, they sensed that they were being tracked and they abandoned the few remaining livestock in their possession and fled. I was only able to retrieve two of my cows, the frailest of them all.” 

Going by the terms of the amnesty granted the rustlers and the bandits by state governments, it is assumed that the rustlers retain what they had rustled. So, in these communities, the villagers keep seeing an influx of their livestock that had been rustled being presented for sale in the markets with little resistance. As an opening for tension among the communities, the governments that initiated the amnesty have not fully addressed these pockets of disenchantment among the villagers.

To underline the shaky nature of the peace process, some commercial vehicle drivers that risk plying the Zurmi-Jibia road told our reporters that they would not use the road again once it is end of the raining season. Nigerian refugees in Niger Republic express the same fears. 

“I am not fully convinced that the relative peace has everything to do with the ongoing peace process because over the years there has been a reduction of attacks at the height of the raining season. For me, I will wait until December before I can celebrate or contemplate returning home,” said Maryam Hamso, from one of the Nigerian border communities, called Hamso. 

There’s a price

Smugglers retro – fitting their vehicles

While many in Zamfara and other states of the Northwest under the dreadful hold of banditry and insecurity genuinely want a return of peace, there are others who actually thrive or even benefit from chaos and confusion.

For example smuggling, particularly of banned items, continues to thrive unhindered, while security men, including soldiers, policemen, customs and immigration officials, also continue to laugh all the way to the bank.

One of the commercial transport drivers involved in smuggling activities, who cannot be named, said those of them engaged in the business understand the risks and dangers involved but added that there really is no problem unless “you have refused to pay the bribe for each category of items or when it is time for the officials to sacrifice you as an indication that they are working.” 

He added that every month there are a few of them that get unlucky. For instance: “I was arrested last year by the Customs because there were visiting officials when I was crossing with large quantities of petrol loaded in jerry cans in a truck. I paid huge sum before I was released at the headquarters in Katsina.” 

A lot of criminal activities also go on in this region, with security men either aiding and abetting them or turning a blind eye. There is free passage for all persons, no matter where they come from and no matter what they carry. And there is some order and structure to the illegal activities. There is also language that is used and understood by all.

For instance, a pass is the waiver for passengers without official documentation to proceed to their desired destination across the border. For each passenger, there’s a fee of between N500 and N1, 000 paid to Immigration officials. A regular police checkpoint on the highway collects N100 from each commercial passenger driver.

The investigative team of three, two reporters and a fixer paid 500 Naira each to cross the border. They were not asked to pay more because they dressed up like distressed villagers from the Katsina or Zamfara communities. As the reporters prepared for the reporting trip to the Northwest, the local fixer had warned that they must never put on an appearance that will give them out as visitors.

According to him, dressed as poor and distressed locals, the ransom would be low if they were kidnapped. Most likely, they would not even attract the kidnappers’ attention.

At the border, passengers with official documentation pay N200 each to the customs desk. As long as the passenger has fulfilled the pass requirement, nothing else is probed concerning the passenger’s mission and luggage.

There are others, either because they are not documented or because they carry banned items, who chose to cross the border through bush parts. The bike riders at Jibia border post are part of the entrenched system. With N200 or N300, an undocumented passenger can choose to avoid the Immigration and custom desks altogether, electing to be ferried through the bush paths by the bikers.

It was very risky to take a smart phone for the purpose of taking pictures as too many curious or wary eyes would be on them, but the reporters discretely put their smart phones to use.

One of the most shocking scenes, witnessed by the reporters is that at a few of the check points, the security officials engage children of between 13 and 15 years of age to collect the stipulated bribes from the drivers.

 Rice merchants and gunrunners, we are informed, regularly take advantage of the lax security to bring their wares into the country in a steady flow. Several people who spoke to the reporters said that most of the merchants work closely with the security officials, cutting deals, agreeing to terms and pushing their deliveries across targeted destinations.

The rice merchants barely hide their operations. Rather than drive trucks to across the border with their merchandise, they go through the more laborious route of offloading the goods a few hundred meters away from the border security post and use smaller carriers like motor cycles, horses or cattle to ferry from them from hideouts in Niger Republic into Katsina for onward transportation to other parts of Nigeria.

According to Aminu Jibia, a shop owner and resident of Jibia who transported arms in the region for over three years before he stopped early in 2018 following the surge in banditry in the region, smuggling of arms is rampant in the area.

Smugglers at work

“Arms are fitted inside customized seats in vehicles. We meet panel beaters who reconstruct the seats of commercial vehicles into mini containers for us. In the night, we fit in at least five to six dismantled AK47 in each of the front seats and the back seat can take as much as 25 rifles. The boots of the cars are only loaded with normal luggage of passengers who are unaware of the contraband in the car,” said Jibia.

When asked if he has ever been caught, he answered “No, security officials are more interested in the passengers and the boot of the car, we either pay bribes to go unchecked or when they insisted on a search, it doesn’t go as far as where the contraband is concealed.” 

What type of vehicle have you used for arms trafficking? He was asked. “I used Peugeot 406 more, but I have also used Toyota Hilux,” Jibia stated.           

The Fleeing Displaced Nigerian Villagers

Thousands of persons have been displaced by the insecurity occasioned by kidnapping and attacks by bandits, with most of them fleeing into communities in Niger Republic. Our reporters tracked several hundreds of them who fled villages such as Sabon Birni, Isah, Rabah and Goronyo, as well as Gidan Roumdji in Sokoto State to camps where they are being accommodated in Dan Kano, Basira and the rural communities of Chadi in Niger Republic.

About 500 displaced Nigerians are being accommodated in Basira, a community with just a single public school. Another 500 fleeing Nigerians are quartered in Chadi where there is no medical facility in the community. 

“They have rustled our animals, they have killed our people and we have not seen any security to help us. We have to run to Niger Republic, we are now in a village called Chadi in the past 5 months,” said Adamu Galube, a refugee.

In terms of basic health amenities, these Nigerian refugees do not have access to water and only depend on rainwater for drinking and domestic use. In most of the communities, there are no health facilities, and irregular supply of basic medicines and other consumables.

It has not been possible for the refugees to enroll their children in public schools. A mother of six who does not know the whereabouts of her husband said that school is a luxury that they could not afford even when they lived in Nigeria. Another mother, Maimuna, said since they fled Zamfara school for children has stopped. “It is only here in Niger Republic that we were able to sleep with our two eyes closed,” but schooling for her children is out of the question because they are all displaced. She then called on the Nigerian government to send maize flour for them to be able to survive. “We are starving.”

Refugee woman and children, labourers on a farm

According to Hauwa, mother of six and several dependents, “as a refugee and mother not knowing where my husband is, school for my children is the last thing on my mind. I only think of three things more often now, the safety of my family, what to eat with my children and shelter to protect ourselves from the rain and cold.” The refugees said that the government of the host country has promised to ensure that their children are enrolled in schools but we could not get any official of the government in the country to confirm this.

Most of the displaced persons who spoke to the reporters are more occupied with the task of surviving from day to day. They offer themselves and children as daily paid laborers to their hosts in their farmsteads and use what they get each day to fend for their families. 

A refugee mother and her children

Another mother said that she and her kids go out every day to work for what they can eat and, according to her, a day’s work can only provide money for feeding that last two days. So, they have to go out and work again and again. 

“There are days when we are not paid money, we are given grains and food as payment for a full day’s work with my children because those that employed us don’t have the money to pay for our services,” said a mother of four.

Living a life of subsistence, they hardly pay attention to more tangible needs like school enrolment. There are no designated refugee camps where these people live. Some of them actually rent where they stay, others stay in any open and public place while some move from one location to another in search of acceptable abode.

Their situation is dire and horrifying for the reporters to witness. Sarkin Hwawa Shago, the traditional ruler of Burkusuma, Sabon Birni in Sokoto State narrates a gripping tale of misery.

We are now in Basira in Niger Republic after we fled Sokoto. Our locality has 77 communities but no community has a single person at home. Children are not going to school. Pleas on the Federal Government as well as the Sokoto State government to help with security fell on deaf ears. We have nothing to feed our families since insecurity has stopped us from farming,” said the traditional ruler. 

Choosing between the “Ingilishi” and the “Hwaranshi” territories.

Among the fleeing Nigerian refugees there is none who has anything reassuring to say about Nigeria. They describe as disappointing the total lack of interest in their condition by the Nigerian authorities. No word or indeed any humanitarian intervention has come from any government in Nigeria to them and neither from the Sarkin Musulmi to encourage them. 

“We have been informing our local chiefs since that is the only thing we can do, but aside the rice they once gave us from Nigeria, they have done or said nothing,” Sarkin Hwawa Shago said. 

Nigeria is referred to as the “Inglishi” territory which we understand to be the native corruption of “English” while the Niger Republic is referred to as the “Hwaranshi” territory, clearly a corrupt reference to the French speaking territory such as Niger Republic. The refugees express comfort and relief at staying in the “Hwaranshi” territory given the sense of safety they feel as well as their belief that the bandits are more afraid of the Francophone security agencies than they are of the Nigerian forces. Asked if they were willing to go back to Nigeria any time soon, none among them is contemplating that in the near future. 

“We survive first and seek out schools for the children thereafter,” declared Shago.

Who else is concerned about the plights of these refugees?

The reporters met with officials of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, (UNHRC) in Basira community while they were taking records of new arrivals. The officials confirmed that they normally start with taking records followed by delivering critical supplies. They stated that they had already supplied food items to the refugees on two different occasions. This was confirmed by the refugees, who, in spite of the rains, find themselves sleeping in the open. They mostly arrived bare having been impoverished by bandits who destroyed their farms and rustled their livestock. Some, before they escaped North West Nigeria had sold their livestock to pay for ransom to free their loved ones who had been kidnapped by bandits.

In Niger Republic, living as refugees, they are left with nothing. A local official with the UNHRC who does not want to be named said, “there is no interest and commitment to address the problems here. Maybe the media will need to step in to generate the kind of attention that will begin to address the problems.”   

Many of the refugees place the guarantee of security as top priority for them to consider returning home to pick up pieces of their lives back. They observed that if they were assured of security they could go back and resume their farming. Security, for them, is the assurance that they could live where they have a shelter without fear of losing it unexpectedly, work in the farms without the fear that bandits would come and raze the farms, and earn income from proceeds of the farms they cultivate without the fear that they would be kidnapped for ransom. They desire amenities like shelter, water, healthcare and education opportunity for their children but none of these, they aver, compares to the assurance of security. Basiru Ibrahim,a civil servant who abandoned his work in Sokoto and now lives as a refugee said, “I fled because of incessant attacks. They forced us to vote them now they have failed to protect us.”

Typically, the Nigerian officials are unperturbed.

According to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, which is working with local authorities and other humanitarian partners to assist the refugees, more than 40,000 people have now been forced to cross from North West Nigeria into Niger as a result of an upsurge in violent attacks on civilians over the last ten months. The UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said, “the escalating violence in the Nigerian states of Sokoto, Zamfara and Katsina has led to a new humanitarian emergency in Niger’s border regions.”

There is no exaggeration in this as our reporters witnessed healthcare issue, shortage of food and portable drinking water, while there are already cases of starvation and malnutrition amongst the refugee population. From observation, over 50% of the refugees are still without any form of shelter. In their search for shelter they move from community to community with some of them crossing territories outside of the Maradi areas in Niger Republic.

“Nigerian refugees continue to arrive in more than 50 villages in the departments of Guidan Roumji, Guidan Sori and Tibiri. On September 11 alone, more than 2,500 people fled when civilians were targeted by armed groups on the Nigerian side. As the security situation continues to deteriorate in Sokoto State, we are expecting more refugees to arrive in Niger,” the UNHCR spokesperson stated.

“People are seeking safety from indiscriminate attacks unleashed by organized armed groups on men, women and children alike. There have been frequent reports of kidnappings, torture, extortion, murder, sexual violence and destruction of houses and property,” he lamented.

Another official of the UNHR stated that the Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, promised to visit the refugees, but despite detailed arrangements, he did not show up. Since then, no government agency or official from Nigeria or has as much as inquired about the welfare and status of these refugees, as at the time of filing this report. There is also no demonstration of any intention to reschedule the earlier planned visit by the Sokoto State governor. Nor is there any official acknowledgment of the spill over of refugees to the neighbouring country.

The official further revealed that “a 747 Cargo plane carrying 98 metric tonnes of relief items from UNHCR landed in Niamey on Monday (September 23). But more resources are urgently needed to support refugees and their hosts. An inter-agency refugee response plan launched this week (a week ago)  seeks US$ 35.5 million until the end of this year. So far, we have 6 per cent of the required funding.”

The cat and mouse game called peace initiative in the North West?

Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle

Initiating peace deals in this period has become a yearly routine. It is important to note that armed groups started calling for peace talks towards the demise of Governor Abdul’aziz Abubakar Yari’s tenure. It usually becomes a steady chorus in the crisis territories two to three months before the rainy seasons. A major feature in the banditry that has consumed Zamfara state in the past couple of years is the Buharin Daji splinter group of the Fulani bandits. Daji’s group was the most ruthless of the groups. The group’s leader, Buharin Daji, was killed sometime in March 2018 by Dogo Gyedi, who leads another group, and according to multiple accounts, the latter has very strong links with local and foreign Jihadist groups.

Gyedi’s group is known to maintain a formidable force and a colossal arsenal while building a steady liaison with the Ansaru terror group. Neither of these two formidable groups is party to the on-going peace process initiated by the new Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle. There is a feeling among stakeholders in the conflict that the peace process is a public show standing on shaky ground with its boycott by armed groups like Haliru Mairakumi, Gajere, Dogo Gyedi, yan bakwai-bakwai, some of the major Fulani bandit groups. What this means, in the reckoning of informed watchers of the crisis, is that a significant population of the armed Fulani groups are not surrendering and therefore not taking the peace process seriously. 

The ethnic coloration in the banditry is not being acknowledged or addressed by government. For instance, many of the people that spoke to our reporters believe that the dominant victims in the relentless onslaught of the Fulani bandits in Zamfara are mostly the Hausas who have been the principal victims of kidnappings and payments of ransoms. The Hausas are also believed to have been the major victims of rustling too. Given that the state government has offered amnesty to the Fulani bandits without creating any basis to give succour to Hausas who have lost farm stock, leaves ground for discontent even in the midst of the on-going peace initiative. 

This is compounded by the boastful tone of the Fulani groups at the peace meetings at both the governors offices in Gusau and Katsina. The commanders who were brought into the sessions with government officials rather than table any grievance and make demands preferred to boast that nobody can do them anything, declaring how unconquerable they were. Given that the raining season is mostly an off season for the militias and the terror groups, it remains to be seen whether these groups of the bandits are not taking advantage of the naivety and desperation of government officials to get some unmerited concessions and await the end of the raining season for them to unleash further mayhem. Those who have surrendered include Sabo, Yusuf Kachalla, Yusuf Kwachabawa, Dan Shehulle, Alhaji Garki, Nashawari. 

However, there are indications that many of the bandts that surrenders in Zamfara State have since moved to other places to continue their criminal activities.

Our reporters have tracked the movements of some bandits, who embraced the peace initiative in Zamfara and it was confirmed that they have moved to neighbouring Katsina or Niger states to continue with banditry. 

A video has surfaced online, verified by our reporter and shows it was recorded on October 2, 2019 at Mayanchi-Anka junction, in which more than 300 armed bandits stopped at a gas station, robbing and forcing the fuel attendant to fill up their motor bikes. They did not harm or attack bystanders, but chanted that they are on their way to Birnin Gwari in Kaduna state.

A Fulani source said, “most of the bandits are not happy with the Kaduna Sate government for not participating in the peace process. You know the process comes with the unconditional release of our brothers and cash rewards,” said the repentant bandit.

Gains and Gaps of Ongoing Peace Initiatives by Governor Matawalle

Even though Matawalle has publicly expressed no interest in payment of ransom, a member of the state reconciliation committee, Alhaji Abdullahi Shinkafi said the body has designed a process to award monetary compensation to armed groups consistent with the strength and type of riffles surrendered. Locals who have been keeping a close eye on the process said that there is almost a stampede among the bandit groups to source unimportant weapons to surrender to the government since that is an opportunity to receive vital cash for their operations. 

Also, some of the bandit groups which have not featured in the negotiations are believed to be currently releasing their captives ostensibly as a fallout of government ongoing buyout. Quite critical also, is the suspicion that members who have received the buyout and have ostensibly put down their arms and surrendered are being targeted by opposing bandit groups that are determined to continue their violent campaigns. 

“And because the number of violent armed groups determined to fight on outweigh the ones interested in the peace process, we have seen fighters returning to violence, especially the ones whose leaders were assassinated,” said a top security source. Also, some of the bandits that claimed to have repented are not back to normal communities. They still maintain and occupy their camps in the vast forests,”Shinkafi said.

Even now that the borders are officially closed, the lax security at Nigeria-Niger border, has made arms shipment and delivery into the country a normal daily routine for the bandits and terror groups. Specifically, the Sububu forest in Shinkafi, in neighbouring Niger Republic, is believed to be a shipment ground for arms in the areas. 

 What is not being reported about the ongoing peace process?

The terrorism component of the crisis in the North West is either being missed or deliberately overlooked. However, last week the Zamfara State government confirmed the presence of Boko Haram in the state. Competent sources in the region say that Ansaru terror group has been present in the region for years but have grown in alarming numbers lately following insurrection that begets more insurrections in the Lake Chad, where some of ISWAP’s most daring Ka’id and Munzirs deserted the group and found a new home in parts of Katsina, Niger and Zamfara states.

It was reliably gathered that hundreds of Jihadists have moved from the North east to Zamfara and other forests areas in the North West, pledging allegiance and forging partnerships with local Amirs. Thus, the criminal bandit gangs operating in the North west, rustling cattle, kidnapping and attacking people, are a mix of Boko Haram jihadists and local bandits.

Multiple knowledgeable sources believe that these Jihadists from different backgrounds are mainly using the area as a refuge, for evangelization and forging partnerships with other groups before they engage in an all-out war with the state and what to them are criminal armed groups.

Sani, a former Boko Haram member who now works with Ansaru, was asked if there were plans to stage attacks at the end of September 2019 with the connivance of politicians. His answer was “it may take time before we begin attacks, the unruly Fulani armed groups outnumber us, but we are working on a strategy, and we have no business with politicians.”

All the bandit and militia groups in the peace process with the state government have insisted that vigilante groups must be disbanded. This might be an indication that much more than the police and the military, the factor that truly presents a major resistance to the marauding bandits is the vigilante groups. The vigilante groups, much like the Civilian Joint Task Force, CJTF, in the North east, have been the major force holding the bandits back and sometimes showing more determination than the military against a ruthless foe. However, like their North east counterparts, there are documented complaints of vigilantes carrying out reprisal attacks that further complicates the problem.

What is the effect of raining season to be conflict?

Since the start of the crisis and its escalation into major violence over a decade ago, the rainy season has always been a season of lull in hostilities. With or without negotiations, hostilities cannot be sustained at this time of the year. The season has always been a period when some of the armed groups are susceptible to peace talks. It is a period of incubation and healing for their wounded. The terrains become impassable. In most cases, this is the period for them to move out of forest areas which become unstable during the rainy season due to flooding. During this period, they stay under trees and open places, roads are blocked by water ways and the grasses have grown tall, making them to easily fall into the waiting traps of security forces and vigilantes. 

Because the rainy season brings a lull to hostilities, farmers freely plant their seeds but the greatest nightmares of farmers are the harvesting season when hostilities are intensified at all levels. “After the raining season people who are deceived that the peace process involves the majority of the bandits will be shocked,” said one of the bandits in an audio recording that our reporters were able to listen to. 

What are the ethnic and religious motivations of this conflict?

The crisis started as a misunderstanding between herders and vigilante groups, who tend to protect farmers and farmlands from invasion by pastoralist herders, who are principally Fulani. This can be traced back to Dansadau with the attacks carried out by Dangwannawa and later Buharin Daji, the Fulani militia leader in 2012/2013. It later became a conflict between herders and farmers, and later, cattle rustlers against any livestock owner. About 90% of the pastoralist herders are Fulani while the farmers are mainly Hausa

However, it later became an ethnic conflict between Hausa and Fulani with both ethnicities holding people captive over actions of the other.

Other factors that contributed to the ethnic transformation of the crisis, according to Shehu Lili, a member of the banned vigilante group, include non-inclusion of Fulanis in the vigilante groups, victimization of many Fulani youths who latter embraced banditry as self-defense. Escalating encroachment of grazing areas and forest reserves as a result of over population and demand for crop farming are also remote factors.

Our reporters witnessed cases of displaced Hausas not allowing displaced Fulani to settle with them at the refugee camps in areas like Anka.

There is an the impression that in every Fulani household in the region there must be one person who is a rustler and that in cases where they are not directly involved they do not resist harbouring other criminal elements including militia members.

“These claims a bit extreme,” said a top Miyetti-Allah official in Gusau who does not want to be quoted. At the refugee camps within and outside the country the displaced accuse the government of not showing interest in protecting them but sending polio staff to the borders to inject their children. “Officials seem to be more concerned in eradicating polio than eradicating armed bandits that killed, maimed and sent hundreds of thousands out of their ancestral settlement,” said a resident of Zamfara who threatened to deal with the health workers the next time they come. 

Two of the refugees currently in Niger Republic said it is shameful to say they are Nigerian citizens because Nigeria has failed them but Niger Republic is protecting them. ‘Shame on Nigeria. They have chased us away, killed us, chased our families and properties. We have disintegrated but the only thing you bring to us is polio?’ Peace deal with Buharin Daji and former Governor Yari’s government in the past only lasted for nine months. The current process is following the same doomed trajectory, they argued.

Refugee women and children in a camp in Niger republic

Nigerians from about 76 communities are displaced and living in Niger Republic. One angry and frustrated displaced villagers declared: “The Nigerian government should be ashamed. Whoever is a Nigerian leader should feel shameful including the Sultan of Sokoto because he has failed to do anything as a Muslim leader. Muslims are being killed and chased away and Niger government has put them in shame for protecting us. It is a shame on Nigeria. 

Basiru says “as a civil servant I had to flee from Nigeria to come here in Niger for safety.  Our people feel safe here in Niger since we have peace. Nobody has come to support us from Nigeria but Nigerien authorities are always coming.

Culled from The ICIR.

Flash: Abubakar Shekau Reads BH ideology, Recites Nigeria’s National Pledge in New Video.

The embattled leader of Jama’atu Ahlil-Sunnah Lid-Da’awati Wal-Jihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram appeared in a video robed in flowing white apparels whilst clutching an AK47 rifle as he read a prepared speech in Arabic about the doctrines of Boko Haram.

The factional leader of Boko Haram that have been weakened by an internal feud that led to the emergence of another faction in 2016 and persistent military campaign by the Nigerian Army and the Multinational Joint Task Force appeared to have impaired eyesight as he struggled to read his group’s ideology in Arabic, while intermittently reciting Nigeria’s National pledge in English, which he repeatedly said was an act of Shirk.

The 35 minute long speech in Arabic, according to analyst may be targeted to the international jihadi community, and not the local audience in the Lake Chad region because Boko Haram have been made a pariah terror group in the region, following feuds between Shekau and several warlords that gainsaid his more extreme ideology, especially the use of women and children as suicide bombers in Muslim places of worship, Internally Displaced Persons camps and markets.

Shekau may be reaching out for support, according to analysts, which rival groups in the region enjoys, by clearly highlighting the group’s doctrines. Detailed translation of the video to be made available shortly.

CORPS MEMBER, HUNDREDS MORE NIGERIANS ROT IN BOKO HARAM CUSTODY.

Recent photo of Maryam.

Halima Umar, a mother of two, knows the joy and challenges that come with raising her children. But her life is much more complicated than just such emotions. She also has been embedded in the daily pandemic of wrestling against afflictions, frustrations and poverty. She has been the mainstay of her aged mother who is stricken with cancer. She has lived a lifetime of drinking agonizingly from the broth of served by sorrow and wretch.


Married off at a very young age, she hungered desperately to submit her life to a privilege of education. The side of her life that desired education also ushered her into irretrievable struggle that ultimately cut short her marital life. She obtained a higher national diploma, but was thrown out of marital home. Presently on national service at Damaturu, Yobe state she has been supporting her children since Boko Haram abducted and killed her ex-husband when the terror group first invaded Gwoza and declared it as their caliphate.

On the threshold of victory over the subduing wretch of her life, a mere breath of a distance from recognizable honour, the tragic happened. Travelling to Gwoza mid January to see her children the vehicle in which Umar was traveling in was ambushed by Boko Haram. Other passengers made a dash into the nearby grooves. Miss Umar was not so lucky. She has been in captivity, making the number among the hundreds of anonymous Nigerians in captivity in Boko Haram hands.

According to Halima’s brothers, they are yet to tell her ailing mother that one of her favorite daughters has been abducted by Boko Haram and worse of all, the family is not sure if she is dead or alive. Investigations by our reporter revealed that there are between 600 to 700 young women, without a name, face and hashtag, spread across the three main factions of Boko Haram operating in the Northeast. This number does not include older women and children in captivity. Both the captives and their loved ones despair of any likelihood that there will ever be any rescue or negotiated settlement for the captives to reunite with their loved ones. “Halima is poor, she is not the daughter of any influential person, she does not fit into the profile of those that people will create hashtags on her behalf,” said a family member.

Halima and her colleagues

For instance, across the Northeast, hardly any week in the past five years goes by without communities being invaded, burnt down, with scores of captives taken away, never to be accounted for by officials. The Nigerian Army has rescued thousands of captives over the years. However, many of the victims, especially young women remain in captivity because Boko Haram place importance in securing them, as they have done with the likes of the Chibokgirls, Leah Sharibu etc.

Recently, dozens of men and women were abducted after the convoy of Governor Kashim Shettima was armed bushed, Tuesday, February 18, 2019 by the Islamic State affiliate of Boko Haram. Till date, no official confirmation of the actual number of those killed and abducted in that incident, let alone, a mention of their identities and background. Another set of Nigerians were abducted on the eve of the postponed elections on February 15, 2019 on their way to discharge their civic duty in Gwoza LGA. These missing persons, alongside, hundreds of other captives of Boko Haram rot in captivity, unheard, unaccounted for by officials while their families grieve endlessly.

By Ahmad Salkida

WAR OVER KADUNA KILLINGS

Even while in the grave, the dead in Kaduna rarely find the luxury of resting in peace. Years ago, after over 300 Shiite Muslims, including women and children were extra-judicially murdered by the Nigerian Military in Zaria, Kaduna State, the fury and storm of death still followed them to the grave. Unsettled in the shallow, unmarked mass grave, the victims were to later be exhumed from the indignity of their burial under a flurry of international controversies and contention. 

Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of the North Western state of Kaduna, a stormy petrel in the political space and remarkably imbued with corrosive energy was in the midst of the ignoble, premeditated campaign against the Shiites. Working hands-in-gloves with the Military authorities, he excoriated the Shiites, advocated a false equivalence in which the battle-armed battalion of soldiers was framed as victims of the verbal adversarial impulse of faithful worshippers massed in the sacred temple. It needs re-emphasizing that it took over 300 lives of Shiite faithful sacrificed in brutal ignominy, without the dignity of body bags to appease the hounds baying for blood.   

Last week, on the eve of the now rescheduled presidential elections, El-Rufai elected to serve his audience with yet another drama. Versed in the intricate plots only him is capable of weaving he announced in a broadcast that a massacre had been visited on the Fulani communities of Maru Gida and Iri in Kajuru Local Government Area of the state. A nation already at edge from electoral tension was alarmed. The Nigeria Police Force, and indeed other security and paramilitary formations appeared to be totally in the dark about this. Most stakeholders were familiar with an earlier killing on 10, February, 2019 against the communities in Adara. This particular killing was feared to have been masterminded by some elements within the Fulani communities.

It elicited instant intervention by security agencies, including the Police in the Local Government. Humanitarian agencies including the National Emergency Management Agency, (NEMA), Red Cross and the Catholic Church mobilized to bring things under control. The Kaduna State government reportedly dispatched a delegation a few days afterwards to calm down nerves in the affected communities. With Governor El-Rufai’s alarm on the eve of the postponed elections conceived and sold as a totally unconnected attack, stakeholders familiar with the delicate and repeated hostility defining relationship among ethnic groups in the areas were distraught, expecting the very worst. The governor’s narrative concealed every connection in terms of motive, timing and sequence with the attacks that occurred nearly a week earlier.

The Zonal Coordinator of the North West office of the National Emergency Management Agency, (NEMA), Mr. Ishaya Chonoko set out to local communities but did not receive testimony or any confirmation of such incident from the villagers. The local Red Cross reached out to local leaders in the communities to verify and offer assistance but received no confirmation of such incident. The senator representing the district in the Nigerian Senate, Comrade Shehu Sani reached out to his constituents to verify but finding no evidence of such incident was indignant. “What the people of the area told me was that the issue happened since Sunday (10, February, 2019) and that security agencies waded in and resolved it immediately,” reported Senator Sani.

The state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) described the Governor’s claim that killings occurred in the Fulani communities as ‘intentional false alarm.’ The Violent Incidents and Election Atrocity Fusion Centre, (VIAFUC), a social monitoring and intervention group on violence in Southern Kaduna equally found the governor’s claim worrying. “We have trawled all possible sources… we report that the alleged attack and killings claimed by Governor El-Rufai did not occur.” The group affirmed that there was indeed an attack on 10thFebruary, 2019.   

With the governor’s claim steadily coming under intense scrutiny and outright dismissal from members of the public he began to take even more bizarre steps. The Government House in Kaduna started circulating ghoulish, gory images of dismembered corpses, some incinerated beyond recognition. He reinforced his media outreach. But most significantly he got the Army led by the General Officer Commanding One Division of Nigerian Army, Faruk Yahaya and the Kaduna State Commissioner of Police, Ahmad Abdurrahman in a delegation to the village. After touring sites of what was supposed to be the mass grave, the GOC, Yahaya was expected to give the weight of authority to the evidence on ground.

Yahaya’s trajectory of report failed to bring evidence derived from personal encounter. Speaking to the reporters ferried in the governor’s delegation to the community, Yahaya said: “We have shown you the other area in that village, where according to information, the residents were lured to that riverine and were slaughtered. A total of 37 were said to have been buried there. You have seen the grave there and you have also seen elements of their materials that were on the ground, including some traces of blood…” Not sure the GOC had adequately delivered as envisaged, Governor El-Rufai asks him what the casualty figure was. He says: As far as we are concerned, what we reported was 66, comprising male, female and children. Defying established protocols of suppressing casualty figures the GOC has dragged the Nigerian Army into ethnic motivated overdrive on casualty figure. As bad as this is, it is further worsened by posting a personal opinion of an officer as the official position of the Army.

Abdurrahman, the Police Commissioner, was careful to avoid the boobytraps of casualty, mass grave and ethnicity. He announced that six people had been arrested in connection to the incident, assuring that suspects would be charged to court as soon as possible. Meanwhile back in his official fold, the Police Commissioner has issued a damper, distancing the Police from the casualty claim and associated wild goose chase. Fixated with a desire to force through a narrative that some Fulani communities were attacked, Governor El-Rufai is too eager to sweep aside the more complicated, even depressing context of the incidents. A factcheck by the Centre for Democracy and Development, (CDD) established that attacks occurred in Adara, a non-Fulani community and a possible retaliatory attack on the Fulani community days afterwards. There are disturbing casualties on both sides.

So why is the governor alarmed about one and not the other? That’s really the elephant in the room that is not receiving attention. El-Rufai’s policy of changing chiefdoms to emirates may be at the root of the heightened attacks and killings in the area. The non-Fulani communities have been resisting the policy. Amid the tension the chief of Adara community was summoned by the government to Kaduna. On his return journey from meeting government officials in Kaduna, he was abducted and later murdered. With tension escalating, words began to go filter that government planned to install an emir for the community. 

With question mark over the murder of the Adara community chief and rumor of installing an emir as replacement government may have been the one stoking the mistrust and violence. It has equally shown by the pattern of the arrests and threats following the recent killings. A more urgent step to be taken by government ought to be to address the primary concerns of the various communities and ethnic groups particularly where the concerns are derived on fears of cultural domination and official intimidation.

By Ahmad Salkida    

NIGERIANS WANT MEDIA REPORTS OF CRISIS IN THE NORTH EAST TO REFLECT ALL SIDES – SURVEY.

With controversies raging in Nigeria over what should be reported of the insurgency in the North East by the media, a survey seeking public position on this has come with a resounding public endorsement for journalists to professionally report all sides to the conflict. A single item survey asked: “How beneficial to Nigeria is it for the mass media to professionally report all sides (military, insurgents and civilian victims) to the conflict in the North East?”

The online survey polled 2,178 participants across Nigeria within a period of 24 hours. Of this number, 1,677 respondents making up 77% affirmed that it was ‘very beneficial’ for the mass media to professionally report all sides to the conflict in the North East. Similarly, another 196 respondents representing 9% agreed that it was ‘beneficial’ for the mass media to professionally report all sides to the conflict. On the contrary, 174 respondents representing 8% dismiss the proposition as ‘not beneficial.’

The remaining 108 respondents representing 5% state that they do not know whether the proposition was beneficial to Nigeria or not. Over the years, the Military and officials of government have been on short fuse over reports of the crisis in the North East that are not officially authorized information. Media reports drawing from the activities of the insurgents, particularly on occasions when military facilities have been over-run have drawn the ire of the Military. Recently, the Maiduguri and Abuja offices of Daily Trust newspaper were invaded by soldiers this January. Earlier in 2018, following independent reports on steady cases of extra-judicial killings by the Military in Nigeria by the Amnesty International attracted direct official offensive against the agency.
By Ahmad Salkida

BREAKING NEWS: Boko Haram Overrun Rann Provoking Massive Refugee Surge – Video


For the Nigerian military, there is a rapid reversal of fortunes after their recent recapture of the base in Baga, Kukawa Local Government in Borno State. On Monday, the strategic military position in Rann, Kala Balge Local Government Area, where the State shares boundary with Cameroon, was lost to insurgents with little or no resistance from the military. In a video released by the Abubakar Shekau led Boko Haram, moments ago, the terrorists breached the Nigerian Military facility with relative ease.

The casualty level could not immediately be determined but from the video images, bodies of fallen troops could be seen littering the landscape. Houses and facilities were burnt down with the insurgents having a field day emptying the Military armoury of hard wares and ammunition. The facilities of humanitarian agencies were equally attacked and stocks of medical supplies looted.

In a move that underlined the lack of any sense of urgency, the insurgents were seen in the video tearing and clearing the street walls of electoral campaign posters of Nigerian politicians. The attack provoked a massive surge of refugees flowing across the Cameroonian town of Bodo. The humanitarian agencies are particularly wording these dimensions of the losses in very strong and disturbing terms. 

For instance, an official of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Hugues Robert, lamented: “Our team in Bodo estimates that some 8,000 people arrived yesterday, and we expect several thousand more may come today. We are preparing to assist 15,000 people with food, water and medical care over the coming days.” Robert states that “many were in a state of shock and were clearly distressed by what they had witnessed. Now they have lost all that they have and need absolutely everything.”

The incidence of internally displaced persons and cross border refugees have become a growing nightmare for humanitarian workers and donors in Nigeria with independent groups recording that the number of IDPs in Nigeria spiked from 65,000 in 2011 to 3.7 million in 2018. The loss of the base in Rann together with the Military hard ware and ammunition is particularly a major setback for the campaign against the insurgents because the relatively dormant Shekau’s group are getting a major lifeline through this cache of war chest. 

By Ahmad Salkida

IN A TWIST OF IRONY NIGERIAN ARMY SAVED BOKO HARAM AND ISWAP FROM SELF DESTRUCT.


There are several ironies that have dogged the war on terrorism in Nigeria. For those who closely follow the conflict, both the Islamic State West Africa and its progenitor, Boko Haram, are still in existence is all thanks to the Nigerian Army. Hard to believe, yet at the point between 2016 and 2017 when ISWAP and Boko Haram fought fiercely, exerting so much energy and resources to neutralize themselves it was the Army that inexplicably built a buffer between the enemies, in effect, restraining them from taking further steps at self-destructing.

Old Marte and New Marte are separated by a paved road. While ISWAP controlled Old Marte and all the territory up to the border with both Chad and Niger Republics, Boko Haram controlled New Marte and the territory towards Central and Southern Borno, and stretched towards the border with Cameroon.

However, in a rather curious step, the Nigerian Army decided to create a base in New Marte, just in-between the two insurgent groups. That singular move by the Military offered a lifeline to the foes who would later exert all of their hostile energies and resources against the Military barely 15 months afterwards. As at result, ISWAP fighters have crossed over and expanded their footholds further into central and southern Borno, with their eyes now set on Bama, Gwoza and the Sambisa forest, Boko Haram’s turf. 

Given the manner in which ISWAP broke away from Boko Haram there were bound to be grievances and hostility in their relationship. Boko Haram, under Abubakar Shekau had been midwifing a strategic relationship with the Khalifa, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Sources within the sect say that Shekau’s trusted “protégée,” Abu Musab Albarnawi, son of the slain founder of Boko Haram was directly managing the process. 

Under the surface, however, a plot was heating up within the sect targeted against the leadership of Shekau, and Albarnawi was the arrowhead of the insurrection. Before his disloyalty could be found out, said insiders, he had led a formidable corps of the field commanders of Shekau’s forces into a splinter force. Because of the nature of the structure of the sect, external and inter-unit engagements and information are never freely shared. Two different units or cells of the sect may not know or inquire into what each is doing.

For this reason, apparently Albarnawi was the only one directly in conversation with IS in Iraq and Syria. Following the split, all institutional memory and references to the process were swiftly slit from Boko Haram. The newly conceived sect, taking advantage of this, guided its conversation with IS in a manner that recognized it as the only one of reference and note in West Africa. Apparently to fully milk the situation the new sect took up the name Wilayat West Africa otherwise known as Islamic State West Africa, ISWAP. The sense of betrayal, grief and animosity that came with ISWAP’s emergence snowballed into a fierce contest over ideology and territory. The fight that engulfed both sects from 2016 into late 2017 was so vicious it seemed to close watchers that the two forces would finally cancel each other out irretrievably and finally usher the peace that had eluded Borno state and the North East for several years.

Notwithstanding that Boko Haram has been living in the shadows of ISWAP, it has consistently presented itself implicitly as an affiliate of IS in Iraq and Syria. While ISWAP with access to a massive cache of military hardware used the IS communication template and has responded submissively to doctrinal and operational reprimands from leaders of the IS. Reliable sources also reported the presence of IS advisers in the region and growing communication platforms between Lake Chad and Raqqa. However, a member of Boko Haram recently asserted, concerning the sect’s affiliation with IS, that “we have not renounced our oath of allegiance to the Khalifa, al-Baghdadi and neither did IS come out to denounce it.” 

It is not difficult to see which of the two sects is milking the IS connection the most. Unlike Shekau’s group that seems to mimic IS template, the ISWAP attacks and operations have consistently been featured in the Amaq News Agency, the official media mouthpiece of IS. Abdulbasit Kassim, the author of Boko Haram Reader brings interesting insights, “Boko Haram bulletins have a lot of errors in Arabic, which probably show that their bulletins are locally crafted and not embedded with IS bulletins that produced that of ISWAP.” 

Besides, several IS publications refers to Abu Musab led faction as “soldiers of the Islamic State West Africa,” and IS have all along snubbed Boko Haram, yet the group has not stopped trying. ISWAP refers to Boko Haram as Khawarij, a name given to those accused of disrupting the unity of Muslims, Shekau too, used the term to describe ISWAP, but curiously, he has not openly called IS Kwawarijites. To further underline the seeming cold shoulders from IS towards Boko Haram, Shekau in 2016 in an audio exchange with the trio of Abu Musab, Mamman Nur and Abu Fatima lamented that he had written eight letters to IS in Raqqa and had received no response.

By Ahmad Salkida

SPECIAL REPORT: NO SECURITY STRATEGY DESPITE MASS KILLINGS IN ZAMFARA.


A survey on the state of insecurity in Zamfara state gives a damning no-confidence-vote on President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.

In February of 2018, officials of Zamfara state government took stock of losses from the festering banditry in the state. The records, by conservative official standards, suggested that a full scale war situation was in play. Alhaji Sanusi Rikiji, speaker of the state House of Assembly who chaired the State Relief and Damage Assessment committee, said between 2011 and early 2018, 1,321 people were killed, 1,881 persons injured and 185 cars and motorcycles lost to wide scale banditry. Within the period, over 10,000 cattle were lost to rustling and 2,688 hectares of farm lands and 10,000 houses were destroyed.

Within the intervening months of 2018 the killings escalated and became so commonplace that communities routinely engaged in daily mass burials. By 24th December, 2018 villagers from Tsafe, in Zamfara state could no longer take it. Men, women, youths and children took over the highway connecting Gusau, the state capital and Sokoto, in Sokoto state. They blocked the highway in protest for the degenerating insecurity. On 2nd January, 2019, the Governor Abduláziz Yari, in a move designed to give the ruling party an undeserved life line having been removed from the governorship ballot in the February general elections in the state approached President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja requesting him to declare a state of emergency in Zamfara state.

This would seemingly be the first demonstration of high level official design tied to the unrestrained killings in the state. As it seems evident, it would appear that the motive is anything but about the people. With the benefit of time it became necessary to find out what the people in Zamfara and indeed Nigerians thought of the security strategy of government in the state. The only time they took up the stage last December to vent their frustrations Police personnel swiftly deployed force in a manner not witnessed against armed bandits against the Tsafe community, calling them “miscreants.”


With straight forward five-item questionnaire we polled opinions of 468 Nigerians from social media platforms for about 36 hours. Reaching out to individuals on ground in Zamfara state during a reporting trip and interviews were set up with real people from different parts of Zamfara who have been directly affected by the protracted crisis. The interviews took four consecutive days. Fifteen persons in all were directly interviewed in the state. The data collated from the field work were grim and sobering. A dominant number of respondents representing 86.61% agreed that they have received information or news on many occasions concerning killings in Zamfara state. 

Respondents who admit that the sequence of killings in Zamfara state does not give them any basis to be confident at all with the security of lives and property in Nigeria were 97.09% while those who expressed confidence in the security of lives and property in Nigeria are 2.91%. Strikingly, a significant number of respondents representing 61.34% express conviction that were the Armed Forces to be more professionally managed they were capable of addressing threats to national security. The respondents who believe that the Armed Forces could probably address threats to national security if managed more professionally represent 30.45%. 

Two categories of the respondents seem to have lost confidence in the capacity of the Armed Forces to self-correct. While 5.83% of the respondents believe that with better professional exposure the Armed Forces would probably not effectively deal with its primary objective, the other 2.38% completely rule out the possibility of the Armed Forces turning new leaf by delivering on its mandate even with better professional handling.

The survey item in the questionnaire that seems to have mirrored the hopelessness in the situation simply asked: “have you identified any strategy from the Commander-in-Chief or the Military High Command aimed at addressing the killings in Zamfara?” Two categories of respondents were clear with 64.79% declaring that they see no strategy while 35.21% say that the strategy is not clear. Drawing from the foregoing, respondents were asked to “rate the Buhari government in the area of security of lives and property?” A dominant number of the respondents, representing 73.76% rated his government as disastrous, 22.58% of the respondents state that his government was making efforts without impact while 3.66% of the respondents state that his government was doing well in the area of security of lives and property.             

The field interviews presented similar questions with the opportunity of follow-ups. The views of Mr. Ubaidullah Yahaya Kaura, a university lecturer based in Gusau bring interesting insight. He, just as did other interviewees, point out that with increase in the deployment of security personnel in the state have come a radical surge in the cases of armed banditry in the state. He paints the picture of a state without authority and without security. He highlights how the armed bandits have taken over the daily affairs of the people in most parts of the state.

“You will see them (the armed bandits) in broad day light brandishing their AK 47 riffles. In some communities they move freely, demanding of the villagers to mind their business, while they (bandits) mind theirs. Some members of the community even approach the bandits to settle their disputes. The bandits lord it over these territories with 100% control. The only difference between them and Boko Haram is that they do not govern or administer Sharia. Some of these communities are mostly in Zamfara north. “In Birnin Magaji, there is a village like Gidan Kasso and Dumburu, close to Niger Republic that are completely subject to the bandits. But as at today, there is no part of Zamfara state that is not affected by either armed banditry or kidnap for ransom.”

Since several communities have been sacked and attempts to go to farms have become life threatening risks, many have become internally displaced but the government is reluctant to categorize these hordes of people as IDPs most likely to forestall the negative optics such characterization will foist on its claim of securing life and property. “There are lots of IDPs in Zamfara and a lot of them rely on the host communities through begging, because there are no official camps. In most cases they occupy school buildings and these have affected the education calendar in the affected schools,” revealed Mr. Kaura.

Yusuf Anka of Zam Charity, a humanitarian platform corroborates Kaura. “Even if people want to help, there are no camps in the state, government seems to be preventing the establishment of formal IDP camps across the state. Therefore, most of the displaced, look for their relatives, kinsmen or abandoned buildings, especially schools to seek refuge. There is hardly any major town that there are no less than 5,000 to 6,000 displaced persons scattered around. This figure is for July 2018, the figure is much higher today.” 

One interviewee, Abdulmalik Saidu, a unionist, in affirming government’s lack of strategy to dislodge the armed bandits, highlights the lack of empathy and concern by state and federal government officials towards victims and the distressed. “The governor (Abdulaziz Yari) hardly visits areas of mass murder and devastation. He lacks empathy and as we speak he is missing from the state. The governor gives security agencies in the state a lot of money.” Throwing money at a problem only complicates the problem and nowhere is this more evident than in the Zamfara killing field.

Zamfara state, with over 4 million people, has 2,000 policemen, 315 soldiers, 400 mobile policemen and less than 100 Air Force personnel, governor Yari said in February 2018. “The number of officials have increased today, so have the incidence of violent crimes and abductions across the state,” said Adul Balarabe, an advocate for youth inclusion in politics in the Northwest, who provides timely information on the crisis in Zamfara, using his Twitter handle. 

Most of our interviewees trace the Zamfara armed banditry to the conflict between herdsmen and farmers. There were indiscriminate cases of cattle rustling. With such frequently occurring vice to contend with, cases of armed bandits with eyes set on controlling the economic route and trade in illicit mining of precious minerals such as gold deposits burst into the scene killing villagers in rampant orgy. Very discerning watchers to this bloodletting trace the unrestrained surge of the violence to government’s democratization of the weapons of war by its marching order to local communities to set up vigilante units. 

With this, the units of the Army deployed to the state appeared determined to pick and choose friendly and enemy communities on the basis of which communities had established operational vigilante units and which had not. Sadly, this was the same error that turned Boko Haram against defenceless communities in parts of the North East zone of the country. Each community with vigilante units was automatically seen as an affiliate of the military, who, when the armed bandits invaded the villagers were hardly ever available to intervene. The villagers we spoke with believe that a de-escalation of vigilante units might lessen the viciousness deployed against villagers but both the Army and the state government would take none of such. But he who wears the shoes, as it is said, knows where it pinches.

On the 21st of October, 2018 two sisters who are twins, Hassana and Hussaina Bala, visited their pregnant Aunt in Dauran village in Zurmi local government area in the state. All three ladies were speedily abducted alongside dozen others by gunmen. After nearly a month in captivity, a recorded frantic voice-plea by the twins was released to the family members with an ultimatum to pay ransom or have the ladies killed. The kidnappers demanded for ransom in millions of Naira. Helplessly, the family members shared their predicament on social media. 

One Maryam Ado with the Centre for Information Technology and Development, CITAD, based in Kano, and Ubaidullah Yahaya among others spearheaded a campaign of crowd funding to raise the ransom money, the group made a compelling campaign to raise cash to secure the release of the two teenage twins. In a few days Nigerians, including a Federal legislator who represents that part of the state donated money. On 17thNovember, 2018, the two ladies regained their freedom, having had the ransom paid, and carrying the scourge of being repeatedly raped by the bandits.

The only silver lining in Zamfara so far was the recent arrest of twelve notorious bandits and the abductors of Hassana and Hussaina, by the operatives of the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT), where the criminal gang admitted receiving ransom payment of 16 million Naira from the family of the twins before they released them. Does the arrest of these bandits represent a sustained effort by the security authorities to stop the carnage in Zamfara and the rest of Northwest Nigeria, or was the arrest a lucky guess of an uncertain future for the people in the region? Abdul balarabe said, “it was the best new year gift.”

However, as a metaphor, nothing, perhaps better illustrates the situation of Zamfara state in the hands of this government better than the experiences of Hassana and Hussaina, kidnapped, violated, abandoned by the authorities that should defend them, rescued only by the intervention of the power of the united voice and steps taken by members of the public. 

By Ahmad Salkida

SPECIAL REPORT: WHY TROOPS ARE LOSING GROUND TO ISWAP.


In the few days leading to the eclipse on 2018, reports from the warfront in North East Nigeria provoked huge concerns, fiercely stirring panic within communities in and around Maiduguri, Bornostate. Governor Kashim Shettima, within this period, quickly called an emergency security meeting to receive briefs from different security commands in the state. At the Executive chambers of the Government House, Maiduguri, the seat of power in the state, the situation was grim and faces drawn.

In fact, the situation appeared so dire as Nigerian troops facing the onslaught of the combined affront of insurgency from terror groups, Islamic State West Africa Province, ISWAP, and Boko Haram forces, beat a steady retreat, incurring monumental losses of locational facilities. Within two weeks, the Nigeriantroops had retreated tactically or been overran in strategic military bases. Out of 20 military bases in northern and central Borno where Nigerian troops were in control 14 had been overran or altogether been shut down.

Does the recent string of losses by the military represent a momentary setback likely to be overturned swiftly by the military or is the trend a fore-test of an uncertain future? All diplomatic and international military platforms knowledgeable about the escalating conflicts in the Lake Chad Basin affirm that at no time since the surge of violence in the region have the terrorists been in command of the level of weapons available to them today. Two developments explain this.

The terror groups, in recent time, have received a flush of funds from ransom paid to them allegedly bythe government. Equally, there have been a steady access to unimaginable cache of military weaponry including hard wares and ammunition from bases overran by the insurgents, remarkably bolsteringtheir war chest. For instance, the loss of the International Military Task Force Base, headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force, in Baga, headed by an Army General, is reported as monumental not merely in the loss, of location but because of the massive military hardware and ammunition only comparable to what is available to the Military Division in Maiduguri, to ISWAP. 

The insurgents are obviously riding the momentum and are motivated in manners that are completely alien to the military. According to a recent report by the AFP, in no year since the upsurge of conflicts in the North East have Nigerian troops been exposed to the level of casualties inflicted on them by the insurgents in 2018 alone. With an enlarged war chest, a strategic control of the economic mainstay of the Chad Basin cross cutting fishing, all season farming, water and control of cross border trade routes, the insurgents are looking formidable.

No wonder, they have recently scaled up recruitment of new fighters across both English and French speaking countries in the surrounding countries of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Information gleaned from contacts within the fold of ISWAP paint an insight that seems to have challenged the position of politicians and the military in respect of holding territory. ISWAP always considered the territories of Northern and Central Borno their Caliphate territories. The presence of the Nigerian troops and particularly military bases were considered invasion by the military.

Bidding their time until they had adequate ammunition with additional army of motivated fighters to unleash new wave of violence the group was willing to stay under the radar for a few years before drawing the line on the sand. Their long wait paid off in 2018. They have been on the offensive all of 2018. The ISWAP’s strategy is to put everything available to ensure that military presence in those territories they consider part of their caliphate is made ever untenable. ISWAP considers all parts of north and central Borno as its caliphate and territory and therefore obligated by doctrines and commandment to repel every external aggression within the territory. 

This is irrespective of whatever politicians and the military claim is the situation within those territories. In fact, Boko Haram / ISWAP policy with respect to physically holding territories changed after the steady losses they suffered in the run up to general elections in Nigeria in 2014. They do not want to physically hold unto territories anymore than they are determined to ensure that the military does not have any sustainable presence in the territories. Furthermore, ISWAP is paying more premium to wooing local communities to feel more secure with them than they could ever be with the military. That is their strategy.

They have secured the economic lines in the territories they control. The Lake Chad territories have become more fertile for famers and more viable for commercial fishing activities. They have largely crippled the fish and onions markets in Maiduguri. In its stead, they have opened secured trading locations in Kinchandi, in Niger Republic and another in Kusiri, in Cameroon. Nigerian traders rely on the market in Kusiri, Cameroon through Mubi, in Adamawa. The other in Kinchandi, in Niger Republic. The Nigerian market in Hadeja, Jigawastate depend heavily on the market in Niger Republic. 

Nigerian troops apparently would rather confiscate a trader’s wares, forcibly take their livestock for their feeding than device any system of commercial comfort that would help them grow their business. It therefore seems not far fetched that several local communities appear to cooperate better with ISWAP than with the Nigerian troops. ISWAP want to primarily make it unattractive and too expensive in terms of body count and loss of hardware for the military to maintain a base in any of these territories. They calculate that as long as they continually target and attack military formations, forcing them to beat a retreat so long would it be easier for local communities to accept that they were more secured in the territories under them than under the cover of Nigerian troops.

Moreover, they envisage that for as long as they sustain the push back against the military for so long will it be difficult for the demoralized troops to muster confidence to put them at tactical disadvantage anytime soon. Is the 2018 military strategy and campaign working? The facts based on the number of military formations successfully attacked and overran by ISWAP in 2018 in the areas of its dominance is 70 percent. What this translates into is that out of 20 military bases in these territories, ISWAP have either sacked by overrunning or forced the military to shut down a total of 14 bases within 2018 alone. The only time this ratio of attacks and take overs came close to the 2018 numbers was in 2014. By the end of 2015 it was below 50% success ratio which further dropped in 2016 and 2017, only to witness a sharp surge in 2018. 

The outlook of the map in the battle theatres is grim. The territories that constitute Northern Borno are 10Local Government Areas lying north of Maiduguriand bearing natural land borders with three countries namely Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon. ISWAP have full sway in these territories currently. The territories that constitute Borno Central are made up of eight Local Government Areas, and both ISWAP and Boko Haram have significant footholds in these territories. Southern Borno, made up of nine Local Government Areas is the least affected with the exception of flashpoints like Gwoza, Damboaand Chibok. With barely 45 days to presidential election in Nigeria there seems to be more energy at official quarters to cover up the tragic situation than acknowledging it.

The military have rightly stated that ISWAP may not be holding most of the territories where it overran its bases, especially the town of Baga. ISWAP on its part, is also right when it says it has sacked soldiers from the areas it attacked, including Baga. Neither the military nor the insurgents have the manpower and capacity to hold and govern over these large expanse of land sustainably. But in desisting frombuilding visible administrative and military structures in the areas of their primary interest ISWAP have evolved in a way that is difficult for Nigerian troops to track. On the other hand, by being fixated with claim of control of territories the military have only succeeded in making its troops sitting ducks and easy targets of the enemy.

More clearly, ISWAP is no longer showing interest in taking a formidable military base such as was in Baga and staying put there. It doesn’t apparently serve their tactical and strategic interest well. They are more interested in taking over military hard wares and ammunitions in those bases while instilling fear on the troops and making it extremely difficult for the military to have the comfort to plan and launch attacks. For instance, two days after overrunning the military base in Baga, the ISWAP moved out of location with military hard wares and ammunition. According to knowledgeable sources, the objective is not to necessarily capture and hold new territories, what is far more strategic to ISWAP is to continually “unsettle the military in their bases across the Lake Chad region.”

There is no better indication to the effectiveness of the tactical approach of ISWAP against the military than seeing that Nigerian troops in the troubled locations are unable to undertake patrol duties. Rather, they are mostly in the trenches practically waiting for the next attack. One troubling outcome of this is the escalating number of troops on desertion charge. For instance, in just one detention centre in Jos, Plateau state, there are over 20 military deserters rounded up and detained. Similarly, a growing army of deserters are being held across major military detention facilities in the country. Obviously embarrassed at this turn of events, the military authorities are zealously covering up on these.

An Army officer currently hospitalized lamented that “soldiers have become cannon fodders,” revealing that “there are more soldiers deserting their commission over Boko Haram war. “I can count dozens in my unit alone that escaped after they survived an attack.” The Nigerian Police Force are embroiled in similar matter with 121 officers of the rank-and-file who reportedly deserted in protest against planned deployment to the warfront dismissed with immediate effect. 

The Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris, according to a report in Premium Times (December 28, 2018), ordered their dismissal. “The Police are very kind to their officers for dismissing them, we are not that lucky because after we attempted to escape, we were arrested and detained without trial for severalmonths,” said a soldier detained in one of Special Task Force (STF) detention centers in Jos. He was arrested after he absconded along with scores of his colleagues from the warfront. 

A confident Army Captain in the frontlines who spoke with our reporter on condition of anonymity extolled the troops for their gallantry on several occasions. He said that unlike the terrorists, the military do not carry cameras into the battlefront to record gun exchanges. According to him there are far more attacks on military bases and units by the terrorists that were repelled than the ones in which the locations were overrun. “The terrorists go to battles with cameras, while we, as a matter of policy don’t.” Nevertheless, he contends that Nigerians do not care about the number of insurgents that we have killed, “the killing of soldiers that protect the country’s sovereignty constitute a source of concern, what this means is, if soldiers continue to die, Nigeria itself may fail to exist,” he concludes.

Some of these attacks were so overwhelming that the bases were overran with hundreds of casualties. According to multiple media reports, not less than 1,000 soldiers have been killed within 2018. These casualty figures do not include soldiers killed in Niger Republic, Yobe, Adamawa and in Southern Borno. “In fact, there has never been a year soldiers were killed more than in 2018, not even 2013 and 2014 did we see the kind of casualties we experienced today,” said another soldier who doubles as a medical doctor in Maiduguri. More traumatizing for soldiers, according to ISWAP sources, are the humiliating experience of scores of abducted soldiers compelled to tutor the insurgents on new weapons handling before they are enslaved or executed. 

Informed sources state that the Military facility in Monguno is probably the only larest operational base outside of Maiduguri presently that is unaffected. Four or five are in Gajiram, Gajiganna, Gubio, Kareto, while Damasak is manned by the Multi-National Joint Task Force at the border with Niger republic. According to a serving military officercurrently hospitalized, “the soldiers in most of these bases have all taken up defensive positions to protect their turfs and can hardly venture outside to patrol or engage in any offensive attack.” 

Just like the officers deserting, the Military itself has long abandoned any mentality of “no retreat, no surrender,’ having steadily been on the retreat from several Military bases. Weeks ago, they shut down two bases in Gudumbali and Kukawa. “We retreated to Monguno before Baga was attacked. Now, some soldiers and residents are running away from Monguno to Maiduguri,” reported a soldier in Shagari Low Cost Housing Estate in Maiduguri. Hehighlights the utter helplessness of the soldiers: what is disturbing is the effrontery of “ISWAP in makingsure that we are fully made aware of their plans ahead of any attack. There was never an attack that we don’t see in advance, yet we are helpless,” he lamented.

In the midst of these setbacks Military fat cats are feeding exceedingly well on account of the war. On28, December, 2018 the Defense and Foreign Affairs of the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) based in the United States of America stated that “the conduct of the war in the North (East of Nigeria) is tied to the corruption in the military, and (President) Buhari – ring-fenced by his own team – is unable to tackle the issue. ISSA, the Washington-based non-governmental organization with a worldwide membership of professionals involved in national and international security and strategy in its report stated that massive corruption among top military chiefs appointed by President MuhammaduBuhari is the reason Nigeria is losing the war against Boko Haram.

According to the report, the only significant engagement which the Nigerian military leadershipseems determined to fight “is to stop the leakage of information about massive corruption, running into the equivalent of several billions of dollars, in the purchase by senior military officers of major military capital goods and military consumables, including the troops’ own food.” More than anything, it is the noticeable resurgence of the Lake Chad and the commercial viability of the territories under ISWAP that present the greatest pull on individuals in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps to return to their villages. But for others, it is their ability to put out a good fight and sometimes win with an Army that enjoys global support, that is the biggest inspiration that makes many want to join. A recent recruit and a Francophone citizen said, “ISWAP fortunes only means one thing, Allah with us.” Another that abandoned his rich family business in Kano to become a fighter said, “I have no doubt Angels are fighting with us, otherwise there is nothing that explains our victories.”  

In the light of these realities, should the Nigerian Military continue with the tactical mentality that is leading them into embarrassing losses? For a government that has made so much premium of a claim on its control of territory from the insurgents, what these developments point to is probably worse than a setback. Efforts by independent observers to point out the evidently skewed tactical mentality have been visited with official hostility. Local and international Civil Society Organizations and the media have, for these reasons, come under attack by the military. For calling the Military out on its ignoble human rights abuses, including rape and extra judicial executions, Amnesty International and other Human Rights organizations have been targeted for official harassment.

Despite a consistent stream of global ratings and reports about Nigeria’s crisis, notable among them being the 2018 Global Terrorism Index in whichNigeria emerged the third most terrorized nation globally, both the Military and politicians in government have carried on as if this was of no consequence. The index placed Nigeria behind war-torn countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and ahead of Syria and Pakistan. However, the report also showed a 16% drop in the number of deaths linked to terrorism in 2017 from previous year. 

Also, the World Economic Forum in its biennial tourism report with the specific section focusing on safety and security, recently ranked Nigeria as one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Amid all these disturbing realities the local media generally have caved in to a new sense of self censorship promoted by the Nigerian military, which is, “stop reporting the killings to dissuade Boko Haram from further killings” instead of, prevent the insurgents from killings in the first place, so that, there wouldn’t be any death to report. 

~ By Ahmad Salkida