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Community plans to relocate due to bandits’ incessant attacks

This apparent and irrepressible fear stems from the threat that the dreaded cattle rustlers pose to the lives and property of the people in the…

This apparent and irrepressible fear stems from the threat that the dreaded cattle rustlers pose to the lives and property of the people in the entire local government area and across neighbouring towns.

Idi Yakubu is a member of a vigilante group that has had various memorable encounters with cattle rustlers who have for years been robbing the people of his Gulu village of their cattle and other livestock. Because Gulu lies close to a river border separating Rimin Gado from Madobi Local Government, clashes with robbers who want to take their loot across the river are regular. And Yakubu has on many occasions fought alongside his group members to dispose the robbers of people’s property.

But Yakubu’s zeal to confront the robbers has waned following the killing of the leader of the vigilante group by suspected armed rustlers on 10th January, 2009. To him, that singular attack was symbolic and was a show of determination of the bandits to crush members of the vigilante.  Frightened by the killing of his boss and immediate neighbour, this once brave village guard who has earned the respect of his people has now turned into a shadow of his former self – panic-stricken.

“They listed five of our members for execution and now they have killed one and they have vowed to come for the remaining,” he said of the criminals, adding, “we the men, not only our families, are afraid, because we don’t want what happened to our leader to befall us,” he explained.

When this reporter visited Gulu, Yakubu and his family were minutes away from fleeing their home apparently to avoid falling victim to the rampaging bandits. The only thing he said that could prevent him from abandoning the place that has been his home all his life is if there’s a decisive government intervention to halt the criminals from accomplishing their objective of “eliminating us.”

Not confined to Yakubu’s household, the fear has permeated every home in the village and has equally made their occupants jittery. According to Yakubu, one message which members of the community have derived from the merciless killing of Ilya, the vigilante head, is that no other person is safe.

To the villagers, Ilya represented the symbol of resistance against aggression from criminals until he was butchered by a dozen of suspected cattle robbers. Ilya had fought the rustlers to a standstill, the villagers said and they respected him, because even with one attempt on his life in which he lost two teeth, he remained undeterred in stopping the criminals from perpetrating atrocities against members of the community.

Therefore, when the robbers who are believed to have been led by a suspected notorious bandit, one Haruna Acikaya, mobilised and killed him, villagers saw themselves as highly vulnerable. The threat which cattle robbers pose to lives and property in Rimin Gado and the neighbouring local government has been a long one, Weekly Trust gathered.

The bulk of the cattle rustlers that terrorise the communities reside in Jili and Gulu villages and most of the people, including local government officials, interviewed by Weekly Trust claimed that the bandits are known. But they however expressed fear in exposing them due to potential unsavoury consequences. Our reporter gathered that time and again, vigilante groups and some community members have made spirited attempts to check the activities of the robbers by apprehending and handing them over to authorities for prosecution. However, according to the villagers, no sooner are they are arraigned in court than that they get bailed out and come back to haunt the people that handed them over.

Yunusa Usman resides in Gulu and his father’s stolen cow was allegedly recovered three months ago in the house of Acikaya by the late Ilya in a village inside neighbouring Madobi Local Government. It is rumoured that it was upon the recovery of the cow in Acikaya’s house and the subsequent arrest of three of the suspect’s gang members that he openly promised to end the life of Ilya.

Usman described the dilemma which they faced with regards to arresting the bandits thus: “When you hand over a suspected criminal to authorities for prosecution and you end up realising that he is the first person to return home that day even before you who handed him over, that act is very ugly and discouraging,” he said.  

The seeming unhelpful attitude of the authorities has contributed in rendering the villagers helpless, Usman averred. “Sometimes, if they steal your cow or property, instead of reporting to the police, you will, if you know the thieves, go to them and appease them with money and beg them to return your cow or asset to you,” he said. He said even those who challenge the robbers and recover their cattle by force don’t dare keep it. “They rather sell it or risk losing it to the thieves again.”

Reports abound in the local area about the thieves’ way with charm. In a chat with a motorcyclist who transported this reporter on a dusty 14-kilometre feeder road to Gulu, it was gathered that if the robbers steal a white cow, they have a way of disguising it by changing its original colour such that even if the owner sees it, he cannot recognise it.

In an attempt to douse the growing tension and fear in the community, the Rimin Gado Council chairman, Alhaji Ahmed Bello Yalwan Danziyal; the district head of Rimin Gado, Alhaji Shehu Mohammed Dankade and Divisional Police Officer of the area, paid a condolence visit to Ilya’s father, who was also inflicted with a deep machete cut in the head by his son’s assailants.

During the visit, they were greeted with horrible tales of the atrocities perpetrated by the criminals and the fear that has gripped members of the town. The late Ilya’s brother, Nasiru Bello, who is also a member of the vigilante group, revealed to the visiting officials that the village people receive constant threat from dozens of armed bandits who invade the village every night.      

Similarly, they warned that the threat could trigger a mass exodus of the people from the area. “For sure, we are facing serious threat. They come in groups that are far bigger in number than fifteen or twenty of us. So we have now suspended our patrols until when the authorities intervene and bring the situation under control,” Inusa Maishanu, a former vigilante leader, told Weekly Trust.

In their responses, the chairman and the district head vowed to fish out the killers of the vigilante leader and assured the community of improved security, just as they informed them about the procurement of a patrol vehicle for the police.

To the joy of the villagers, just two weeks after the killing of Ilya, the Kano State Police Command through its spokesperson, SP Baba Mohammed Azare, announced the arrest of seven suspects in connection with the killing and vowed to go after the rest.

However, on Tuesday this week, the bandits struck again at a secondary school in another part of the local government, killing one of the school’s security guards and injuring another. Police said the criminals went to steal a solar system that supplies the government school with power. Although none of the students or teachers was harmed in the attack, its barbaric nature has raised fears in some quarters that the criminal attack knows no bound.

Meanwhile, reacting to the recent attack, the vice chairman of Rimin Gado Local Government Area, Alhaji Muhyi Magaji, described the incident as an act of terrorism on the people of the area, saying the criminals have become a thorn in the flesh of the community.

The council vice chairman disclosed to our reporter that the local government has never relented in its efforts to curb rising crime incidences in the area, but the criminals have been fiercely fighting back. Magaji then appealed to both Kano State and Federal governments to come to the aid of the council as the surging crime rate is beyond its power to check.

A local Fulani chief told Weekly Trust in the wake of the renewed attack that soon, they will migrate to Falgore area where their herd will be safe.


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