From bandits blocking the Kaduna-Abuja highway at various intervals to kill and abduct travellers, to launching attacks and abducting villagers and urban residents for ransoms, Kaduna State seems to be in the spotlight lately as government and security agents battle to find ways of tackling the myriad of security challenges.
Within three days, gunmen launched multiple attacks on four local government areas of Kaduna State and also blocked the Kaduna-Abuja highway, which cuts across Chikun, Kachia and Kagarko local government areas in a massive and coordinated operation that left many people dead and scores of travellers abducted.
Though troops of Operation Thunder Strike had rescued nine persons from a group of travellers earlier abducted from an 18-seater bus, many cars had at different locations been forced to stop along the highway.
By Tuesday, November 17, attacks on Kaduna central and southern senatorial districts concentrated on Kajuru, Igabi, Giwa and Zangon Kataf local government areas of the state had within three days left at least 16 dead and many abducted or injured.
It was not the first-time bandits had launched such attacks in some of Kaduna’s flashpoint areas, but the incidents of the past few days came after months of respite in most parts of the state.
This has left many people asking what is the problem
Also, in recent years, the Kaduna-Abuja Highway has become what many refer to as “a death-trap” due to the activities of bandits along the highway that leads to Kano and other states in far north.
Motorists told our correspondents that there are four main dangerous spots on the highway which makes every driver shiver.
Saidu Hamza, a driver plying the road said the first dangerous spot while travelling from Kaduna to Abuja is about 30 kilometres from the city which is around Olam farms.
“The next is Rijana area and then you have another spot after Akilbu just before Gidan Busa. The fourth dangerous spot is about five kilometres after Gidan Busa,” he said.
His assessment was corroborated by Nurudeen Mohammed, a bus driver at the Mando Park who recently cheated death when he got trapped in between groups of bandits while conveying 12 French students of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria who were on their way to Lagos.
Nurudeen Mohammed had survived the attack alongside three other students while the remaining nine were abducted.
“It is every driver’s nightmare to be caught in such an ambush,” he said, adding that “Every driver plying the Kaduna-Abuja highway has to pass those four dangerous spots and it is almost as if you have your heart in your mouth until you finally pass Gidan Busa area before you heave a sigh of relief.”
‘I’ve no job, my husband is sick, we can’t pay ransom’
The multiple attacks by bandits on Kaduna-Abuja Highway last Sunday had caught up with 12 ABU students who boarded an 18-seater bus belonging to Nurudeen Mohammed and were on transit to Lagos.
Following the abduction of nine of the students and subsequent demand of N30 million on each of them, the mother of one of the abducted students told our correspondents that the family is devastated.
The student – Elizabeth John Sani is the fifth and last child of a laid-off teacher whose family is struggling to make ends meet.
At their penurious family home in Narayi, Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, a distraught Talatu Sani, Elizabeth’s mother, is still in shock that her daughter was one of the students abducted on Sunday, November 14, while travelling with her classmates to Lagos.
Tracing back her daughter’s footsteps on that fateful Sunday, Talatu said Elizabeth had left home around noon to meet her classmates for onward journey to Lagos.
“Around 2 pm, she called her father to say she had boarded the bus and was on her way together with her classmates to Lagos,” the mother said.
Oblivious to the heart-breaking news along the Abuja-Kaduna highway, Talatu said they had tried calling Elizabeth, hours later to find out if she arrived Lagos safely but there was no response from her phone.
“The phone kept ringing, but she wasn’t answering. The next day her brother went to the park to find out if there had been an accident or something on the road and that was when we learnt that the road had been blocked and several people kidnapped.
“Later, my daughter’s friend came to tell us that my daughter had contacted her through her phone and told her that they had been abducted. She brought the phone number the kidnappers used to make contact and we called the number. They told us that our daughter is with them and in good health. They assured us that they don’t harm their victims because all they need is money.”
She said even when they pleaded with the bandits and tried to reason with them by telling them that they were of poor background, the bandits had insisted that they tell the government to pay for the release of their daughters since the victims are students.
“This is why we are appealing to the federal government, the Kaduna State government the ABU to help us. The kidnappers asked us to pay N30 million for my daughter, but where will we get that money? I am not working, I used to be a teacher, but now I’m out of job. Her father too has not been working for the past 25 years due to ill health,” she said.
Similarly, a weak-looking John Sani, Elizabeth’s father, told our reporter that he had no way of sourcing the money to regain his daughter’s release as he has been out of work for 25 years.
“I don’t have any money, I can only plead with the federal government to come to our rescue and save all the children in captivity,” he said.
A nightmare for travellers
Some commercial drivers said the highway is gradually becoming one of northern Nigeria’s dangerous routes.
According to them, the increase in attacks and abductions along the highway has prompted the deployment of additional security operatives including police and Army personnel while more checkpoints have been mounted.
The Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) for buses at the Mando Park in Kawo, Suleiman Gora, told one of our correspondents that while others see returning to the road as risky, it was part of the life they chose as commercial drivers, adding that their members would not be deterred by the activities of the bandits.
Goro said: “It is something we are used to already if it doesn’t happen today, it will happen tomorrow but God has been the one protecting us and our lives and safety is not in our hands.”
He said his members have met several challenges on the road, adding that it used to be armed robbers who demanded money, but things have taken a drastic turn with bandits who kill without hesitation and abduct as many as they can.
The chairman said despite the recent rush at the train station at Rigasa, they still convey passengers to different parts of the country from Mando and Kawo parks.
Officials of the Kaduna State Government led by the Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, had on Thursday visited the Kaduna-Abuja road.
Aruwan said ground troops of Operation Thunder Strike (OPTS) and Police operatives of Operation Puff Adder were carrying out aggressive fighting patrols on the route that stretches the three local government areas.
Albasu villagers narrate encounter with bandits
Apart from the attacks on the Kaduna- Abuja highway, bandits on motorcycles also hit Albasu village in Igabi Local Government Area in an operation that lasted almost three hours, leaving behind them a trail of blood and anguish.
Abubakar Lado, a vegetable farmer, said it was the first time Albasu village was attacked even though bandits had for years tried to penetrate their defences.
“We heard gunshots from afar on that day,” he recalled. First, it was coming from a distance and then gradually you could hear it within the boundaries of our village.
“So, we armed ourselves and went out to the borders. We saw the bandits in their dozens, alighting from motorcycles and approaching our village. The first casualties were farmers within the outskirts of the village,” he said.
According to Lado, the bandits had during the operation pronounced that women and children would be spared while directing that men be shot dead. He also said the assailants not only stole motorcycles from the village but unashamedly vandalized homes and shops, looted foodstuff and money while chanting that they were not hungry.
He said because there was a military outpost about four kilometres from the village, the villagers made attempt to contact the military headed by Operation Safe Haven and their village head but could not reach them.
“The soldiers later came long after the bandits had left. They asked us for the firearms left behind by the bandits,” he said.
Speaking on the attack, Commissioner Aruwan gave names of those killed as Amadu Mallam, Idi Gefefe Isah, Goma Awwalu, Goma Babangida, Iliyasu Lado, Iliyasu Ya’u, Jumare Hamza, Umaru Shehu, Jibril Tukur, Albasu Musa and Adamu Muruzuwa.
He also said Muazu Albasu, Samaila Chairman, Junaidu Husaini and a yet to be identified woman earlier thought to have been killed sustained injuries from the attack.
Aruwan said security agencies have identified the remains of one Albarka Addu’a, a former village head of Kyemara Gari who was killed by bandits on Sunday after they kidnapped two persons at Maraban Kajuru in Kajuru Local Government Area.
Months of peace threatened by Zangon Kataf killings
Months of peace efforts in parts of Southern Kaduna, especially Zangon Kataf, was threatened when five men wielding AK-47 rifles and machetes breached the home of the District Head of Gidan Zaki, Haruna Kuyet, on Tuesday, November 17 and gruesomely killed him and his son, Destiny Kuyet.
According to the Kaduna State government, the attack, based on security report from Operation Safe Haven, also left the wife of the district head and his daughter injured.
“The security report indicated that the assailants tried to burn the house and a vehicle. The district head’s wife sustained machete wounds on her hand while his daughter had a gunshot wound on her finger,” it said.
However, many see the attack on the district head as an attempt to sabotage the peace efforts championed by the Agwatyap, the paramount ruler of the Atyap chiefdom, Dominic Gambo Yahaya.
The Southern Kaduna Peace Practitioners Network (SOKIPEP) while condemning the attack described it as a “callous and insensitive action” which came at a time that peace had returned to Zangon Kataf.
“The intention of the attackers is yet unknown to us even as we are compelled to believe that their premeditated action was intended to cause ethnoreligious disharmony in our area,” a statement issued by Rev. Dauda Fadia stated.
Kaduna State Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) also described the killing of the district head as clear sabotage of the peace and reconciliation process being undertaken by the people of Southern Kaduna.
A statement issued by the state MACBAN Chairman, Alhaji Haruna Usman Tugga, while condoling the families of the deceased and the people of Zangon Kataf, urged security agents to work assiduously in tracking the assailants while also reiterating their support for the peace and reconciliation efforts towards restoring peace to southern Kaduna.
A chronicle of attacks on Kaduna communities
At least 90 people were killed and many others injured and abducted between June and November in parts of Kaduna State.
Apart from Sunday’s killing of about 15 people by armed men who blocked the Kaduna-Abuja highway and the subsequent attacks on Igabi, Kajuru, Giwa and Zangon Kataf LGA which claimed 16 lives, 58 other people had been killed in either attempted kidnapping or banditry attacks on villages.
At the beginning of November, a pregnant woman was killed by gunmen in a kidnap attempt around Rigachikun, a suburb of Kaduna metropolis. Gunmen within November had also killed a traveller and abducted several others near Rijana town along Kaduna-Abuja Highway.
The Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU) also within the month raised alarm over the killing of their member, Kaduna Garba, by bandits.
In October, suspected gunmen killed a seven-year-old boy and five other persons at Kidandan village under Giwa Local Government Area while about 20 other residents sustained gunshot injuries. A day later, bandits killed nine people in Kadai village in Fatika district of the same LGA. This was followed by the killing of the Village Head of Runji in Auchan ward, Alhaji Musa Abubakar, in Ikara LGA.
The month of September witnessed pockets of isolated attacks, especially in Chikun Local Government Area of the state. Bandits in the early part of the month killed one person and abducted a ward head and five other farmers at Manini village.
A few days later, bandits killed a commercial driver and abducted two traders around Kaduna – Birnin Gwari highway. This was followed by the abduction of a nursing mother and 16 others at Gonar Lema; along the Kaduna- Birnin-Gwari expressway in Udawa village of Chikun LGA.
Daily Trust reports that still in September, bandits stormed Barakallahu community, a suburb in Kaduna metropolis and kidnapped four children of the same parents, as well as their mother.
Less than a week later, gunmen abducted another nursing mother identified as Rebecca and five others at a village called Jigi under Udawa town in Chikun. Bandits also in late September killed one person and abducted the Interim Chairman of Kaura LGA, Dr. Bege Katuka, while on his way to his farm around Kidinu; a small settlement in Maraban Rido of Chikun LGA.
Within the first week of August, about 22 people were killed in an attack on four communities in Zangon Kataf local government area in what has been months of tit-for-tat killing between Fulani and Atyap ethnic tribes.
Less than two weeks later, five people were killed and another five injured in a suspected reprisal between the two tribes in Zangon Kataf. Late August saw the invasion of Damba-Kasaya community in Chikun Local Government Area and the abduction of six junior students and a teacher while a farmer was killed. Days later, gunmen also killed two youths in Juji area in the same LGA.
In July, bandits wearing police uniform blocked the road to Keke area of Kaduna’s Millennium city in Chikun LGA killing one person and abducting about 20 persons. Late July also saw the killing of a farmer in the small town of Udawa in Chikun LGA.
Suspected bandits in early June killed nine villagers at Agwala in Tudun Wadan Doka community of Kajuru local government area. The casualties were children and women.