Worried by incessant killings and kidnapping by bandits, the authorities in four states in the North Western part of the country —Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara—in September, 2021, imposed stringent measures as part of effort to stem the tide.
The containment measures, which was the first coordinated effort among the affected states, were shutting down telecommunication facilities, cessation of weekly markets, ban on transportation of livestock and sale of petroleum products in jerry cans, among others.
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However, early December, 2021, the authorities announced adjustments on some of the restrictions, including the restoration of telecom services in most of the affected areas.
Though authorities in the states concerned praised efficacy of the measures in helping reign in the bandits, checks by Daily Trust on Sunday in Kaduna and Katsina states, showed that not much was achieved in terms of stopping the attacks, as the bandits evolved strategies to adapt to the changes introduced.
Also, residents were largely exposed to hardship due to widespread implications of the measures while the bandits continued unleashing terror and other atrocities against people, especially in the rural areas.
Scores of local people interviewed by our reporters in both states confirmed that bandits still operated unchallenged despite the restrictions while the people often lacked the means to raise alarm or seek help during raids by the gunmen.
According to a data analysis by an Abuja-based security risk management and intelligence consulting firm, Beacon Consulting Limited, which focuses on Nigeria and the Sahel Region, its incident tracker and several other data sets on security occurrences in Nigeria showed that bandit attacks continued in the four states where the containment measures of telecommunication blackout and shutting down of rural markets were imposed.
Similarly, data collected by Daily Trust corroborate that of Beacon Consulting, as it showed that despite the restrictions in Kaduna and Katsina states, killings and abductions for ransom spiked during the period.
According to the data, from July 1 to September 29, 2021, a number of people were reported to have either been killed or kidnapped by armed groups in the four states.
Kaduna recorded 231 killings and 290 kidnapping incidents; Katsina witnessed 72 killings and 70 abductions; Sokoto had 30 people killed and 40 abducted; while Zamfara recorded one death and 456 abductions three months prior to the imposition of the restrictions.
Despite the restrictions, the data showed that far more people fell prey to attacks by armed groups in the four states within the period compared with the period before the containment measures.
For instance, in Kaduna alone, no fewer than 595 people were killed between September and November, 2021, while 778 were abducted.
In Katsina, 173 people were killed and 389 kidnapped within the period. In Zamfara, 522 people were reported killed while 1,041 were kidnapped; and in Sokoto, 109 people were killed and 46 others abducted.
The data also showed that Kaduna has the highest number of deaths countrywide, with Zamfara where restrictions were imposed coming second. In kidnapping, Zamfara topped the list, while Niger, where there were no restrictions, followed with 864 abductions reported, and Kaduna came third.
Following the development, residents have bemoaned the consequences of the measures on their everyday life as they groan under the restrictions, which they say, has led to hardship and greater poverty.
When Daily Trust visited a weekly market in Giwa Local Government Area (LGA) in Kaduna State on a Thursday – the market day – in early December, it found that the market was not officially opened and there were skeletal commercial activities going on.
An official of the grain suppliers association in Giwa, who craved anonymity, said with the restrictions, commercial activities declined and the weekly market split into smaller markets at Yakawada, Turawa and Mararaban Kuka, hence the Giwa market was now operating at less than 10 per cent normal capacity.
Umaru Lawal (32), a livestock trader in Giwa, told Daily Trust that, “Before, I was running my business with N2m, but as I’m talking to you now I don’t have even N100,000. I have two wives and four children and all my siblings are dependent on me. On a daily basis, I spend more than N5,000 on my family. We now live from hand to mouth. I have nothing except some farm produce.
“I had been lending money to small business people but now we’re all collapsing. I am now idle at home.
“Telecom network blackout and market cessation turned out to be disastrous on us as the places where the bandits hitherto couldn’t access until night time; they were able to invade such communities in daylight and unleash terror as no one can inform others about their movements. The measures have been nothing but damaging to us.”
A vegetable seller at the Giwa market, Umar Usman, said as far he was concerned small traders were the worst hit by the restrictions.
Usman said, “I hardly sell two bags of okro in a day, unlike before when I could sell more than 10 bags. I now realise only N2,000 a day, or less. Before the measures, I made profit of almost N15,000 daily.
“Sometimes my family of 12 go to bed hungry. This thing has heightened the hardship on the common people, especially we in the rural areas, as prices of food commodities have jerked up.
“Please, help us tell the government to withdraw these measures since security has relatively improved.’’
Alhaji Jibril Shekarau, who is the chairman of traders in Birnin Gwari LGA in Kaduna State, could not hide his reservations to our reporter over the restrictions.
Alhaji Jibril said, “Though we don’t know the real motives of government, honestly we’re unhappy with the situation. But we have no other option than to abide by the restrictions.
“I can confirm to you that small businessmen are running out of their seed capital. The marketplace here is barricaded and has since been overtaken by weeds. The closure also aided the already skyrocketing foodstuff prices. There’s a glut of farm produce here where it is cultivated and scarce where it is most needed.
“To me, the containment measures have not been yielding the desired results as a number of our colleagues are in the dens of the bandits.
“My immediate younger sister, alongside her children, is currently in the hands of her captors. They have demanded that I bought a brand new motorcycle for them otherwise they’d kill them. They took delivery of the motorcycle but they are yet to release them.”
For Saidu Idris Rufeya (47), a livestock trader in Giwa, the situation prior to the restrictions was better than what is being experienced as the bandits strike at will at any time.
Rufewa said, “Eight days ago, our Village Head of Rufeya was abducted. We did not see him again until two days ago when we stumbled upon his corpse alongside eight others.”
He further said, “The bandits now disguise by wearing hijab. Honestly, in my village of Rufeya, these containment measures have not made any positive impact as the rate of killing has increased.
“Our economy is negatively affected. We’re stranded at home as markets are closed; every business is affected, including farming. Even if you’re blessed with good farm produce, you have no market to sell it.
“Therefore, my advice to government is to consider people’s plights; we’re not animals, we’re human beings. We sacrificed everything at our disposal in voting for this administration with the hope that things would be better.”
In Katsina State, Malam Musbahu Kabiru, a butcher and suya seller, who came from Musawa LGA to Kafur Main Market for his trade, explained that it was difficult getting livestock to buy.
Malam Musbahu said, “The state government’s decision to close markets and telecom network is quite understandable, and we all appreciate it, but currently it has completely crippled our business because there is no more livestock for us to buy.
“We source meat by waiting for someone who is in desperate need of money to bring out livestock for sale within the community. And once we are lucky to get that you will see at least four butchers sharing the meat.
“We are silently suffering along with our families because most of us that are in the meat selling business are not used to farming. And our only source of income is down and the government does not come up with any alternative means or support.”
He further said, “It’s high time the state government reviewed the measure as now bandits are even taking advantage of it, especially lack of telecom network. They attack villages, rustle animals and kidnap people at will.”
Speaking to Daily Trust, the Chairman of Grain Sellers Association in Danja LGA, Alhaji Isma’il Danja, said though the telecom blackout had improved security in the state, it had negatively affected their business of buying and selling.
According to him, the volume of sales of grains has drastically declined due to the gap created by lack of communication between the sellers and the major dealers of grains who are mostly from other states.
Alhaji Ismai’l said, “Before these restrictions, most of the major dealers who bought grains here in bulk had since devised the use of telecom and e-transfer of cash to buy grains due to insecurity.
“But with these containment measures in place, the situation is getting worse as they can’t be here in person; and they can’t communicate with us to do e-transfer. This has reduced the volume of sales by more than 50 per cent.
“Before the telecom blackout, every market day we could sell at least 100 trucks of grains. But now the situation is bad as we barely sell half of that number.”
Speaking to Daily Trust in his office, the Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Jibia LGA, Alhaji Hamza Lawal, explained that their members in the state were in full support of the state government on the containment measures.
Alhaji Hamza said, “We support the effort put forth by the government because we are living in Jibia, which is a border town between Nigeria and Niger Republic. We all know what we have suffered in the hands of bandits. There was a time when nobody was sleeping with his eyes closed here in Jibia.
“But you know that the challenges these measures have caused are enormous, as it is now difficult for us to communicate with our drivers that are on the roads to know about their safety and location.
“Likewise, the number of passengers has drastically decreased because people are afraid to travel on all the major roads linking Jibia town due to the activities of bandits.”
Alhaji Lawal Maikantin Sauki, who operates a provision store in Jibia, also affirmed support for the Katsina State Government on the restriction order.
Alhaji Lawal said, “I support the government’s orders to fight banditry despite the fact that some of these orders are affecting my business.
“Our sales have truly decreased as we cannot go and buy new items, and we also can’t find all our suppliers to supply the goods for us.”
Also, the Chairman of Truck Loaders Association in Danja, Malam Garba Mustapha, said his members who solely depended on the job of loading and offloading bags of grains to cater for their families were facing difficulties due to the reduction in the number of trucks.
Malam Garba said, “Porters in this market are about 300 in number, but the true situation is that we and our families are in a difficult situation because our work has decreased. We can now hardly load 50 trucks on a market day because most of the buyers are no longer coming and there is no means of communicating with them.”
Katsina gov’t reacts
In an interview with Daily Trust over the measures, Ibrahim Ahmad Katsina, Special Adviser (SA) on Security to Gov Aminu Masari, said the measures had caused drastic reduction in the activities of the bandits – by 70 about per cent – especially as it was difficult for the criminals to kidnap people and negotiate for ransom.
Katsina said, “They (measures) have seriously affected the business of kidnapping and ransom collection, and also cut the activities of informants that often served as the basis for kidnapping. So, to some extent, the containment order has worked.
“Actually, there are tremendous successes, especially the level of kidnapping itself has reduced, cattle rustling has reduced despite the pockets of attacks we’re seeing here and there. So, we can say the containment order has reduced the banditry in the state by about 70 per cent.”
Asked why despite the measures the bandits still moved on motorcycles fueled by petrol, he said before they were moving in large numbers of up to 300 motorcycles, but that they “now hardly can you see a convoy of 20.
“As I said, every human endeavour has its shortcomings. There are bad elements that smuggle the fuel to them despite the effort that security agents put to cut this chain. But despite that, you hardly see any attack on any community where there are up to 20 motorcycles – the maximum number now is five to 10.
“This is against what was happening before when a convoy of 100 to 200 would surround a village. So, you can see, whether we like it or not, the measures have incapacitated the movement of the bandits, and it has also grounded their networking activities of calling their brothers from other parts of the country to come and join them because the supply chain of fuel has been cut off.
“So the security containment measures have assisted in reducing the potency of the criminal elements.
“Now, the issue of the markets; it is not every market that is closed. It is the animal market that is closed to stop the network for the sales of stolen cattle. And through that, I’ve told you that more than 70 per cent of cattle rustling has been addressed.
“Secondly, the issue of supplying petroleum products: I’ve said it has reduced the potency of the vicious attacks they used to unleash against our people.
“And cutting off the network has reduced kidnapping and the network of informants. Most of these measures; we know there are certain pains people are feeling, but they’re just for a certain period.
“The government is reviewing measures from time to time, and these containment measures are not permanent; they’re temporary, to enable our security forces and the government to see the threat perspective and the possibility of containing them through certain measures.”
However, Daily Trust learnt that the kidnappers have evolved a means of reaching families of victims through dispatching letters.
Telcos ‘lose N16bn’ to service shutdown
The four big telecom operators in the country jointly lost about N16bn when their services were shut down in Kaduna and Katsina states, sources within the companies and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) told Daily Trust.
The NCC had ordered MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9mobile to shut down all their telecom sites for weeks in the North West states ravaged by banditry and insurgency.
Though the shutdown has been lifted, the telecom operators have been counting their losses. Their inability to sell voice and data services for almost a month in the two states made “the four big telecom operators to lose at least N4bn each,” a senior NCC staff told Daily Trust.
The staff, who pleaded anonymity, said based on Nigeria’s Average Revenue Per User (APRU) of telecommunication services, and the estimated number of telecom users in the states, the telecom operators’ losses could be more.
ARPU is defined as the total revenue divided by the number of subscribers of telecom operators per month. Nigeria’s ARPU stands at $4.14 (about N2,500).
Though the telcos said it was difficult for them to estimate how much they had lost, some of their top officials said it might be in the region of between N3bn and 6bn.
The total number of active telecom subscribers across all 36 states and Abuja currently stands at 190 million, according to NCC.
By Daily Trust estimates, if at least five million people spend N2,500 on telecom services for one month in the states, the telcos would earn about N8bn to N10bn each in revenue for the period.
The NCC and the four telcos declined to comment on the issue.
What should be done – Analyst
An Abuja-based independent security analyst, Kabiru Adamu, of Beacon Consulting Limited, said bandit attacks were ceaseless in the four states that adopted the restrictions, maintaining that though there was difficulty in gathering information from the affected areas, data showed a steady level of occurrences suggesting that the measures were not effective.
He faulted the manner in which the measures were imposed, saying it was not consistent with both local and international laws on human rights; describing the restrictions as obsolete and unconventional.
Adamu said, “In all the states, the imposition was made by executive fiat. None of the states bothered to ensure the legislative arm of government was involved to ensure the implementation was not adverse on law-abiding citizens, as well as being consistent with our democratic practices.
“International laws on freedom of speech and fundamental rights require that democratic governments respect citizens’ rights to fundamental freedom. These were all abused by the extraordinary measures.”
The security analyst, therefore suggested “conventional and possible most effective measures, including dominating the ungoverned spaces”, especially the forests where the armed groups hibernate and commit their atrocities.
He said, “We should enhance regional cooperation, especially with neighbouring countries, to ensure the sharing of intelligence on threats, border management and weapons’ proliferation.
“And addressing our failed values system through the challenges that are affecting our families, religious, educational and media institutions to ensure that traditions that expound good and bad are revived.
“We should also strengthen the rule of law and the administration of criminal justice so that offenders are arrested and punished irrespective of their affiliation.
“In addition, there is a perspective that says the security forces and government, instead of implementing the extra measures, should have used intercepting devices to extract actionable intelligence from the communications of the gunmen. This is what most countries of the world do.”
On his part, spokesman of the Katsina State Police Command, SP Gambo Isa, said the containment measures had to a greater extent assisted the security agencies in curtailing the menace of banditry, especially in the state.
SP Isa said, “Because before the measures were taken these bandits used to come in large groups, but with these measures we have succeeded in curtailing the impact of banditry. We have also successfully dealt with the people that are taking commodities to the bandits with the help of the containment order which prohibits the selling and taking food items and fuel to the bandits.”
SP Isa further said, in some instances, the measures forced the bandits to release their captives because they could not establish contact with their victims’ families for ransom negotiation.
He explained that, “The issue we had with the closure of network was that if the bandits came out to attack villages, especially those close to the forests, people from such villages, unfortunately, would not be able to call the security agencies or even the vigilantes because there was no network.
“But to a greater extent, we were able to curtail the issue of rustling because the markets were closed. And you should know that this containment order is not permanent; rather, it was just put in place to see whether it would work or not.”
Effort to speak to the Kaduna State Commissioner for Home Affairs and Internal Security, Samuel Aruwan, proved abortive as he could not be reached by our reporter.
With additional report from Zakariyya Adaramola
This report was produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)