There were recent reports in the media, notably the Punch Newspapers Nigeria, of 27th January, 2020 with the caption: “FG, Salkida know Leah’s whereabouts-Father,” which seek to address me in strange and grave apparels regarding the aggravating insecurity in North East Nigeria. In the report, Punchng.com claims that Nathan Sharibu, father to Leah, the lone school girl from Dapchi who was left behind when her school mates, abducted by the Islamic State West Africa Province, (ISWAP) were released from captivity in 2019.
Pa Sharibu, and every member of his family have naturally gone through unspoken trauma as a result of Leah’s captivity. His condition is understandable. Equally, given a possibility that over this period, a flurry of voices claiming to have the best interest of the family must have been feeding the family with strange narratives and fantasy scenarios, the assertions attributed to him by Punchng.com in the said interview to the effect that I know where Leah is, at best, be seen as unfortunate.
But particularly grave and injurious to my person and professional integrity is the assertion by Punchng.com in the following description: “Ahmad Salkida, known for being the courier and media relations expert for the dreaded Islamist Boko Haram terrorist group…” That line is a premeditated attack on my reputation and professional integrity carefully plotted, in the light of the upsurge of official persecution of journalists on trumped up charges not excluding terrorism, by the newspaper to open me up for the next onslaught by the powers that be.
I do not take this lightly and have forwarded the report to my lawyers for closer analysis and advise. As a journalist focusing on insecurity, particularly in the North East of Nigeria, I have painstakingly developed professional sources from all sides including the protagonists and the antagonists. The principle of primary sources in professional journalism practice is not lost to me even if I now see presumably old hands in the profession defecating on that sacred altar.
It is disturbing that more than even the forces of any state junta, some media professionals have taken it upon themselves to serve up their colleagues as meal to the baying wolves. There is nothing anywhere under the principle of cultivating professional sources that suggests that a professional journalist is subsumed as a “courier” or even a worker in any guise for the source. This is the perfidy that Punchng.com is promoting.
About a year ago, after I reported on an unfortunate insurgency attack of the military, no less a professional than Bayo Onanuga, erstwhile Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN and publisher of The News magazine declared publicly that I had committed treason. What have they not thrown at me? From the media, the military, security forces and even rabid religious people have accused me repeatedly and irrationally. Over every passing year time has always vindicated me.
Religious people have also accused me most vigorously in recent times of using my report to promote Christian-Muslim divide in Nigeria. What were those reports of mine, you may ask? I reported the appalling executions of Christian captives by ISWAP. You may ask: has ISWAP become a state actor as to have its actions read as a reflection of government policy? When more recently I reported the beheading of Reverend Andimi, I carefully removed his religious toga. It was the Presidency, not Ahmad Salkida, who meticulously identified Andimi by his religious position. Have the same people accused the Presidency of the same promotion of religious division?
If there is evident and escalating division between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, the root can be found elsewhere not in the journalistic reports that I make. All of those who accuse me should actually know that the blood of Nigerians who continually are wasted because there are no warning information about the reality of war fronts in parts of Nigeria should accept that the blood of those innocent people are in their hands. Shouldn’t Nigerians have been warned before-hand, for instance, that the Damaturu-Maiduguri road was no longer safe? Between November, 2019 and January, 2020 do you have the figure of Nigerians who have been abducted and killed from this particular highway by the terrorist group?
I am a journalist, a professional journalist and I know the boundaries, the ethics and the responsibilities of my calling. I am not a Commander-In-Chief. I do the best I can, always, to stick to those boundaries. The accusations notwithstanding, I shall continue to do my utmost best to bring verified and credible information to Nigerians in the areas I cover.
A reverend and a senior member of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Mr. Lawan Andimi, declared missing following a raid by the Abubakar Shekau led Boko Haram group in Michika, Adamawa State on the 3rd January, 2020 has been confirmed a captive of the terror group. In a video message exclusively obtained by salkida.com, the Mr. Andimi pleaded with his colleagues in CAN and the Adamawa State Governor, Ahmadu Umoru Fintri as well as other authorities to intervene and push for his soonest release.
The CAN scribe was declared missing following a raid by the Abubakar Shekau led terror group, Boko Haram in Michika, Adamawa state 3rd January, 2020 has been confirmed a captive of the terror group. In a video message exclusively obtained by salkida.com, the Mr. Andimi pleaded with his colleagues in CAN and the Adamawa state governor, Ahmadu Umoru Fintri as well as other authorities to intervene and push for his soonest release.
Mr. Andimi, in a little over six minutes of recorded video spoke in Hausa and English. He wore an overall sport tracksuit, grey of color, with a bold orange line running across the chest. He commended his captors for treating him humanly, providing him with blanket cover, decent beddings and good food. He requested his colleagues in CAN as well as his family members not to be distraught nor to sorrow since God’s will must be respected in all of their lives. He declared that if its pleased God that he be released, he would be out but if God decides not to get him out that his wife should be patient and they should look after his children.
On the evening of Thursday, 3rd January, 2020 while people were still celebrating the new year, there was a sudden appearance of a convoy of trucks with armed men, some of them disguised in Military fatigue invading the town. With the first volleys of gunshots, the town broke into a bedlam of sorts with people running for their lives. The invading forces combed the town for several hours, pillaging for foodstuff and valuables. The Military reportedly reinforced, engaged the marauders in fierce gun battle, forcing them to flee.
Says it is revenge for the killing of its leaders after failure to negotiate their release.
As the reveries and celebrations of Christmas wound up in Nigeria, the Islamic State West Africa Province, (ISWAP) released a video of its execution of 11 captives, most of whom are Christians. The identities of the captives had earlier this month been exclusively reported by salkida.com from a video recording of their plea for intervention and rescue to President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN).
The terrorist group claimed that they spared the lives of two persons that appeared in the earlier video, but did not give their names, however, a careful assessment of the video revealed that Suwaiba Kashimu from Nasarawa state, and one other male, were apparently not amongst those killed on Christmas. If this is the case, not all 11 of the victims are Christians as claimed by the group, there were three Muslims and 10 Christians that appeared in the capture video on the 17th December.
ISWAP, however gave two reasons for the executions, “we killed them as a revenge for the killings of our leaders, including Abu bakr al-Baghdadi and Abul-Hasan Al-Muhajir in Iraq and Syria,” said a member of the group’s media unit. The decision to execute the captives was rather swift, abrupt and shocking. ISWAP had reportedly opened a window of negotiations ostensibly to exchange the freedom of the captives with those of its members in government custody but the Nigerian government failed to take the offer.
The United Nation’s Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed solidarity with the Federal Government and Nigerians, following reports of killing and abductions of civilians in a statement released by the spokesman and seen by this reporter on Christmas day. “The Secretary General is deeply concerned about reports that civilians have been executed, and others abducted, by armed group in northern Borno State, northeastern Nigeria. He expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and reiterates the solidarity of the united Nations with the people and Government of Nigeria,” said the spokesman, Mr. Stephane Dujarric.
More details have emerged of the identities of the 13 captives abducted last November by the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) exclusively reported by Salkida.com at the weekend. Notable among them is the lady whose face was shrouded by the terror group, creating widespread speculations about her actual identity. According to sources in ISWAP, the reason her face was screened out in the video was because the terror group was still investigating her claims of professional non-military affiliations.
The sources declared ominously with regards to why they were investigating her identity beyond her claims: “we don’t put up military for possible negotiations.” The terrorist group claimed the female captive was in the convoy of soldiers ambushed in Mainok, close to Maiduguri and was attired in a patch of military fatigue, but the lady by name Suwaiba Kashimu, from Nasarawa state as investigations revealed, denies membership of the Military.
As at press time, it is not clear the current situation of Kashimu, but Nigerians have joined the captive’s plea for swift intervention by the Nigerian authorities to rescue the hostages. Below is the full list of the captives: Yahaya Tanwua from Adamawa state, Kirenubi Bakari from Adamawa state, Solomon Sini from Adamawa state, Irimiya Ndawa from Adamawa state, Zira Usman from Adamawa state, Sunday Okoye from Anambra state, Bitrus Zakka Bwala, a lecturer with College of Education, Gashua Yobe state, who is from Borno state.
Others are Mukhtar Adam, a Non-Academic Staff with the Bursary department, Federal University of Wukari in Taraba state and hails from Borno state, David Charles from Borno State, Unah Audu from Borno state, Suwaiba Kashimu (the only female) from Nasarawa state, Bashir Abdulhamid with the Primary Health Care Department of Kanam LGA in Plateau state
Barely 24 hours after the execution of four aid workers engaged by the Action Against Hunger, an international humanitarian organization working in North East Nigeria, the Islamic State West Africa Province, (ISWAP) has released a video of Nigerians abducted within the Damaturu-Maiduguri highway just last November. The captives are 13 in number and the video shows them identifying themselves in front of the capture camera.
The captives comprise Nigerians, Muslims and Christians, who were ambushed as they commuted along the Damaturu-Maiduguri highway. They include Bitrus Zakka Bwala, a principal lecturer with the College of Education, Gashua in Yobe state, Muktar Adam who works with the Federal University of Wukari, Taraba state. Among the captives is one female whose face, the group screened off in the video. The terrorist group claims the female captive was in the convoy of soldiers ambushed in Mainok, close to Maiduguri. She is attired in a patch of military fatigue but denies being a member of the Military, said the group.
Zakka who was the first to speak, appeals to the Federal Government of Nigeria as well as the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) to intervene and rescue them from an uncertain fate. “I was on my way to my station when I was abducted. I appeal to the Federal Government, as you can see here (there are various Christians among those) abducted at various points. When we came we saw some workers here particularly the ones with the Action Against Hunger before they were executed. We saw that government has not done enough and that is why Leah Sharibu is still here. We therefore appeal in particular to President Muhammadu Buhari to do whatever is within his reach to rescue us. We equally appeal to our various governors to come to our aid and rescue us. The leadership of Christian organizations, we appeal to you to liaise with the Federal government and push for the rescue of all captives here.”
One of the captives, Bashir from Plateau state also spoke in similar vein, pleading for the intervention of authorities. The last to speak among the captives, Adam, appealed to the Federal Government and Governor Baba Gana Zulum of Borno state to do all within their powers to rescue them as they had done in the past in rescuing several other Nigerians.
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
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.
“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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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