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Birnin Gwari: How 121 were killed in 11 attacks in 5 months

Between January and May, many communities in Birnin Gwari local government of Kaduna State have come under attacks by armed bandits. Though the number of…

Between January and May, many communities in Birnin Gwari local government of Kaduna State have come under attacks by armed bandits. Though the number of cases reported by the media stands at 11 within less than five months, villagers say there are many more unreported ones. 

The attackers appear to pick villages at random, as there appears to be no pointer as to what informs their choice. Records gleaned by Daily Trust Saturday indicate that both thickly and sparsely populated communities have been attacked, and some were looted, while for some, nothing was taken. Some have had their houses burnt, while some were spared.  

On April 1, bandits attacked Tsohuwar Gwari village, killed 2 men and abducted 9 persons. While the people were yet to get over their plight, the bandits struck at a nearby village called Sarari the next day, and killed the village head, and five others.

The casualty rate in all these attacks within less than 5 months, has equally been alarming, as within this year alone, no less than 112 persons have been killed, shot or stabbed to death. This includes 11 soldiers, some weeks back, in which case about 18 persons were abducted. 

The Emir of Birnin Gwari, Malam Zubairu Jibril Mai Gwari II also  believes the number of attacks and casualty rate are higher than the ones the public is aware of. He told Daily Trust that over 30 communities in his emirate have come under attack in the past one year, while more than 64 have been killed within three months.

The attack on Gwaska village, few kilometers to Dansadau in Zamfara State on Saturday, has however been the most devastating. From an initial figure of 27 bodies left at the center of the attack, more bodies were later discovered in the bushes, revealing that no less than 71 persons, mainly women and children, were killed in that particular incident.

The village head of Gwaska, Isa Musa, who was in the village when it happened, said the attack was an ambush, adding that nobody should describe it as a case of robbery. He said the attackers came in droves, on many motorcycles, and surrounded the village while shooting sporadically. Some of them wore red caps, while some wore black gowns, and some came in camouflage uniforms, he said. 

Musa said: “I have seen armed robbery attacks, and that is not what happened; the bandits surrounded the whole village, and just started shooting people. They did not ask for money or cattle, they did not kidnap anybody, but they made sure they killed all the young men in the community who are part of the local vigilante in the area.”

“We have the local vigilante who help secure the area, on many occasions, these youth have aided in the arrest and capture or killing of bandits, so maybe that’s the reason why,” Musa told Daily  Trust. He added that he lost two of his relatives, including Aliyu Abdullahi, 60, and Umaru Nabo, 35. 

Musa said the late Abudllahi had tried to alert members of the community when he sighted the bandits coming on their motorcycles. “But they struck him with one of the motorcycles, and slashed open his stomach with a knife, which led to his death,” he said. 

Musa observed: “The bandits are well-trained shooters, obviously, and as soon as they rounded up their killing spree, they set foodstuff on fire, broke into drugstores and raided them. The bandits had threatened to sack many communities in Birnin Gwari, and Gwaska was one of the ones on their list.”

Another member of the community, and the Ward Head of the village, Yahaya Muhammad Lawal, also lost a relative, called Muhammad Galadima, 30, who was shot by the bandits during the attack. 

Lawal told Daily Trust that communities sharing borders with Zamfara State are in dire straits. “The bandits have taken over our communities, kind of like how Boko Haram took over territory in the past,” he said, adding that the bandits attack communities at will because they know there is no security, except for the local vigilante, who are not equipped. 

Lawal said before the last bloodbath, the bandits would kidnap locals at their farms, and demand for huge amounts of money as ransom. “When families cannot come up with the ransom, they negotiate, and the amount is dropped to what is available,” he added.  

“We’re not rich, we do not have money, or cattle anymore; all we had were our farms and harvests, which the bandits have burnt to the ground. The government should look into the matter and find a lasting solution to the problem because we are citizens of Nigeria and we have the right to security,” Lawal said.

Lawal said the bandits killed the community’s youth, who were helping to secure the village and prevent further attacks.

A group called Birnin Gwari Stakeholders, in a joint press statement, observed that in recent times, cases of armed robbery and kidnappings have escalated in villages around Birnin Gwari town and on the major highways linking Birnin Gwari to other states. Part of the statement read: “The issue is increasingly becoming more agonizing and disquieting. Lives of innocent and indefensible citizens are being taken on a daily basis, their property dispossessed, and means of living threatened.”

Corroborating, another group called Birnin Gwari Vanguard for Security and Good Governance, said the bandits came shooting around 2:30pm on the fateful day. “The armed bandits from neighbouring Zamfara, encircled Gwaska up to Kuiga village shooting sporadically, and also burnt down completely the village of about 3,000 inhabitants. Most of those killed are volunteers who tried to defend their village, and children who couldn’t escape,” read the group’s statement. 

A history of violence

Major attacks on communities in Birnin Gwari between January and now includes the January 13 one, during which 7 people were killed. Not long after that, on February 1, six persons were killed while five others were wounded in Kaguru village. 

The assailants were said to have stormed the village some few minutes to midnight, shooting into the air. They also shot at persons who ran out in an effort to flee to safety.

Then on February 25, Kano-based politician Ibrahim Little was attacked by yet-to-be identified gunmen at Kidan-Dan Town, near Birnin Gwari. One of his aides, who narrated what happened to Daily Trust, said the criminals opened fire at Little and his driver after they left his employer’s farm. 

On March 21, bandits numbering up to 100 attacked a military camp at Kampanin Doka village, killing 11 soldiers. A source close to the emirate council said the bandits attacked the soldier’s camp between 8pm and 9pm and killed the nine soldiers at the camp and the others in a nearby bush, while the soldiers were eating dinner.

On April 1, unknown gunmen also killed two people in Tsohuwar Gwari village, after the gunmen stormed the village at 12 midnight. They also kidnapped nine people. 

Not long after that on April 5, armed bandits attacked Sarari, a small community killing the village head and five others. 

The village head, whose name was given as Sule Sarari, is said to have been shot at his house. 

Fifteen newly-recruited teachers on April 11 were lucky to have escaped harm from the bandits, who only robbed them. The teachers were on their way to Dogon Dawa village in Birnin Gwari LGA. On the same day, two brides and a man were kidnapped at a nearby village, and nothing has been heard of them till now. 

On April 12, Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Birnin Gwari, Malam Audu Kano, and six others, were abducted by unknown gunmen. The chairman and six members of his executive committee were on their way to Zamfara for a wedding. 

And on April 29, nine artisanal miners were gunned down by yet-to-be identified gunmen at a mining field in Maganda village, near Birnin Gwari. 

Deep tunnel, no light

District Head of Gwaska, Malam Musa, said the government should as a matter of urgency come to their aid, by raiding the bandits’ hideouts. “People of Maganda – which was attacked sometime ago – are fleeing for their lives. We need security, so we can go back to our farms, as that is the only means of livelihood we have,” he said.

Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, expressed concern. He visited Gwaska on Monday, where he assured the people that both the state and federal governments will intensify action to address the lingering problem of banditry. He told the people that government will assist in rebuilding the affected communities and he urged them to continue to be law-abiding. 

In addition, he said the army will station a permanent battalion in Birnin Gwari. “The engagements between the state and federal governments have yielded results. President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the establishment of a permanent battalion of the Nigerian Army in the Birnin Gwari general area. The new security arrangements also involve policing. The Inspector-General of Police has already announced the creation of the Birnin Gwari Police Area Command and two new Divisional Police Headquarters. The State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), has also been directed to provide relief materials with immediate effect to the affected communities,” El-Rufai said.

Kaduna State’s Commissioner of Police, Kaduna State, Austine Iwar, has said that three units of Mobile Police (MOPOL) have been deployed to Birnin Gwari LGA, following last Saturday’s attack. He assured that the force is putting in all efforts to ensure the culprits are brought to book. 

But some residents refuse to return to their razed homes, in fear of a return of the deadly gunmen. “We’ve lost so many people, so much property; We can’t go back and lose ourselves, too,” sighed Malam Muntari Miko, a blacksmith who vowed never to return to Birnin Gwari either alone or with his family. “Birnin Gwari and its environs have become killing fields,” he said.

 

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