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How realignment in bandits’ hierarchy spurred Kaduna’s mass abductions

The elimination of key bandit leaders, initially hailed as a victory, has come with unforeseen repercussions on Kaduna State as community leaders and sources reveal…

The elimination of key bandit leaders, initially hailed as a victory, has come with unforeseen repercussions on Kaduna State as community leaders and sources reveal that the power vacuum has led to realignment within the ranks of the non-state actors.

Findings by Daily Trust revealed that with the emergence of new leadership among several groups and the relocation of some notorious bandits to forest areas around Kaduna, a new leadership of bandits, desperate to assert control and fill the void left by their fallen leaders, has resulted in a surge in attacks and mass kidnappings. 

In three weeks, many communities have been plunged into turmoil, with over 400 citizens becoming victims of mass abductions, particularly in Birnin Gwari, Kajuru and Chikun local government areas of Kaduna. 

While security experts call on the government and military authorities to reassess their strategies, some community leaders however say the loss of key bandit figures, which was initially seen as a breakthrough by Nigeria’s security forces, has led to this unforeseen chaos.

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The recent spate of kidnappings in the state began on February 29, with the kidnap of 10 residents of Gonin Gora community in Chikun Local Government Area of the state. This was followed by the kidnapping of 137 pupils, students and teachers of LEA Primary School and Government Secondary School, Kuriga on 7th March. The abductors of the school children had demanded a N1 billion ransom for their release. 

Again, on March 12, the bandits kidnapped 30 residents of Budah Hausa community and another 16 residents of Unguwan Gamo village including 15 women and a man on March 16, in Kajuru LGA. 

Barely two days after the Unguwan Gamo incident, bandits besieged the same local government area and abducted 86 villagers from Kajuru-Station. 

Presently, at least 435 people have been kidnapped within three weeks across the three local government areas of Kaduna State. 

How new bandit leaders are spurring abductions 

Daily Trust findings revealed that the relocation of a key bandit to Kaduna as well as a frenzied reshuffling within the bandit hierarchy is spurring an increase in abductions. 

In Kajuru LGA, local vigilante groups informed this newspaper that the relocation of a bandit kingpin known as Sharma from Katsina State, a little over two months ago, has led to an upsurge of attacks and mass abductions in the area.

“Sharma relocated to Kaduna State sometime in January and many of his victims say he has camps around the rocky forest areas behind Kajuru,” said the leader of a vigilante in Kajuru.

“He is responsible for many of the abductions and has now demanded for N200m for the release of the victims of Kajuru station abduction. Where there are children, he demands N100,000 per child,” another source said.

Daily Trust also gathered that military onslaught on bandits, which led to the killing of some kingpins such as notorious bandit leader Boderi Isiyaku has led to reshuffling within the hierarchy with the new leadership aiming for dominance.

Boderi, who was popular for plotting and executing the March 2021 abduction of 39 students from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka in Igabi LGA, was said to have been neutralised by men of the Nigerian Army in February. 

Speaking on this, the former Chairman of Birnin Gwari Emirate Progressive Union (BEPU), Ishaq Usman Kasai, said that the elimination of key bandit leaders, such as Boderi were initially beneficial, but had resulted in a power vacuum and subsequent reshuffling within their ranks, ultimately leading to an uptick in abductions.

He said the bandits now operate collaboratively with smaller groups to bolster their numbers before launching attacks on villagers.

He said this is because many of the top commanders have been weakened by the security agencies.

“This shift towards collective action enables them to execute mass abductions, particularly targeting vulnerable populations such as students, as traditional sources of ransom diminish due to economic hardships in affected communities.

“Even the Kuriga school children abduction, we learnt, was not done by a single group; it was a combined operation because the number was too large for a single group to handle,” he said.

He said it has become obvious that the bandits were now focusing on mass abductions, especially targeting students, since many villagers or farmers no longer have the means to pay ransom.

Bandits luring locals to join their ranks – Community leader

A community leader in Chikun has told Daily Trust that the bandits are luring locals to join them as many of their foot soldiers have been killed by military onslaught.

Imam Muhammadu, a community leader in Udawa, Chikun LGA said the bandits are increasing because villagers facing economic hardship are being lured to join them.

“There are people finding it difficult to get N500 and the bandits are reaching out to such people to join them,” he said.

“These bandits are increasing in numbers because villagers facing economic hardship are joining the bandits to survive”

He said they have stopped villagers in the hinterlands of Birnin Gwari and Chikun from farming, leaving locals helpless.

“Not everyone is strong enough in faith to resist their offer. With the current poverty, the bandits are now increasing more than you can imagine,” he said.

He added that killing the bandit leaders only creates a vacuum for other junior commanders to rise and take over the group.

“The bandits are human beings like us, let the government provide weapons to local vigilantes to work alongside the soldiers to engage them. When you bring soldiers from Asaba, Enugu, or Borno to work in Birnin Gwari forest, you need to combine them with locals who know the forests better,” he said.

What government must do- Expert, locals

A security expert, Major Mohammed Bashir Galma (rtd) has said the forest areas of Birnin Gwari, Chikun and Kajuru LGA’s make it easy for bandits to launch attacks and mass abductions of residents.

“There are so many reasons why the spate of kidnappings in Kaduna State is on the increase, but the most pressing one is the lack of pursuit of these bandits to their enclaves, whenever they attack, to see where they come from and their camp site.

“The intelligence gathering should be upscale and focused on the cities because the people controlling these bandits are in the cities. They design the plan and send it to the bandits in the forests to execute. We should train vigilantes on counter intelligence to enable them to counter the plan of the criminals,” Major Galma (rtd) said.

Speaking on the abduction of students, he said there have been several recommendations in the past, which the government has ignored. “This is not the first-time school children have been abducted, but the act is being repeated because the recommendations were not followed. 

“We recommended perimeter fencing of all vulnerable schools, installations of early warning systems and teaching the students basic defence skills to defend themselves and make it difficult for the bandits to abduct them. But they were not followed,” he said.

He called for an expansion of the intelligence collection network to counter the intelligence of the bandits as well as an emergency response military unit to respond to distress calls when communities are under attack in each state.

Former Chairman of Birnin Gwari Emirate Progressive Union (BEPU), Ishaq Usman Kasai, advised that security agencies must find a way to work with local vigilantes as they have full knowledge of the terrain, enabling them to provide intelligence information to security agencies.

Also, a resident of Birnin Gwari, Sa’id Damari called for the securing of key transit routes used by bandits.

He said most of the bandits coming from Zamfara, Katsina and Niger states, transit through Damari village in Birnin Gwari LGA. “There are no security checkpoints from Farin Ruwa, Saulawa axis up to Damari town. We usually see them on motorcycles passing through the village. They move freely, unchallenged,” he said.

In Kajuru, Maigari Yunana, a resident, said soldiers need to have a combined simultaneous security operation across Chikun, Birnin Gwari and Kajuru forest. “Failure to do so is what gives the bandits the opportunity to move freely.

“Each time the military chases or attacks the bandits in Birnin Gwari, they move to Chikun, if they attack them in Chikun, they move to Kajuru. The only way out is for the soldiers to carry out a massive operation at once in these three LGAs.”  

Provide us with intel, police plead with residents 

The Kaduna State Police Command has said it will continue to do its best to protect the people but urged locals to provide them with vital information on the movements of bandits.

The state Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Mansir Hassan told Daily Trust that the command was doing its best to curtail the situation.

“We will continue to do our best, but we still need vital information from the residents of these places on time, before such incidents happen. This will help us in the fight against banditry across the state.”

The state overseeing Commissioner, Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan couldn’t be reached for comment as he did not respond to calls and a message sent to him via WhatsApp.


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