Insecurity: Guns galore, as Nigerian villagers arm selves

Constant attacks from bandits in some states, especially Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and Kogi, appears to have made residents lose confidence in security agencies, seeing them resorting to secret procurement of locally-made arms for self defence. Daily Trust Saturday takes a look at the growing, worrisome trend. There is palpable apprehension among residents of communities in […]

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Constant attacks from bandits in some states, especially Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and Kogi, appears to have made residents lose confidence in security agencies, seeing them resorting to secret procurement of locally-made arms for self defence. Daily Trust Saturday takes a look at the growing, worrisome trend.

There is palpable apprehension among residents of communities in Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and Kogi states, which have come under constant attacks from bandits. Many residents in several local government areas of these states daily count their woes as a result of increasing banditry and kidnapping, which they say appear too difficult for security agencies to handle.

In Katsina, the dreaded Rugu Forest serves as hideout for bandits who frequently attack villages and communities and disappear into the forest.

Residents of frequently-attacked Kankara LGA, especially those in Dajin Yarcenta and Dajin Dinya, are reactivating their security through self-defence, especially through the reinforcement of local vigilante groups.

The bandits have also made life unbearable for residents of Matsiga, Tsadara, Dan Nakwabo, Gatakawa, Mabai, Biya, Jeka Malali, Dakamawa and Babkai. Hardly a day goes by without any reported killing, kidnapping or attempted attack. Bandits storm villages on motorcycles, shoot sporadically and attack residents, taking some of them away.

In the past two months, locals witnessed many attacks which resulted in loss of lives, and the abduction of many.

There was an attack on the residence of one Malam Adamu at Kofar Yamma.  A popular resident of Matsiga, he is still in captivity alongside two girls, aged 10 and 20, respectively. During the attack, Adamu’s two children were shot. One died, while the other was wounded.

The family of Lawal Kasko had to pay a heavy ransom to secure the release of two of their children, 11-year-old Amina and nine-year-old Abdullahi after 23 days in captivity. Also kidnapped, but later released after ransom payment, are schoolteacher Hajiya Maryama Yusuf, and a businessman, Abdullahi Batse-Batse, all residents of Matsiga. Still in captivity are a renowned Islamic scholar, Ahmed Suleiman, and five others.

Last week, the bandits attacked the area but were repelled by a vigilante group. During the attack, several of the bandits were injured while some were arrested and handed over to security operatives.

‘Locally made weapons recovered by Katsina State government during an amnesty programme for repentant cattle rustlers Photo: Habibu Umar Aminu
‘Locally made weapons recovered by Katsina State government during an amnesty programme for repentant cattle rustlers Photo: Habibu Umar Aminu

Loss of confidence

Residents say they are skeptical of the activities of security personnel, who they accuse of freeing suspects after arrest, without punishment. As a result, the residents once converged at the palace of the District Head to protest. They also sought the permission and support of the government to enter the forest to confront the bandits head-on.

The chairman of the vigilante group in Matsiga and Kankara, Shuaibu Aliyu, said life had become unbearable. “This area has become a target. They come and attack us and kidnap our people. We had to resort to self-help, as security personnel are not enough, or sometimes they are reluctant to help,” he said.

His counterpart in Dan-Nakwaba, Hudu Alleri, said the self-defence effort had checked the crime wave, and that bandits fear the vigilante groups more than the police because confrontation with them is usually more intense. He noted that whenever arrests are made, and culprits are handed over to the police, they get released. “And this is disturbing,” he said, adding: “The bandits know that we don’t take nonsense, and our local guns are more destructive than AK-47 rifles, so they fear us more than they fear the police.”

No sleep in Jibia

In Jibia, residents say they can no longer sleep in peace. They said in the past two weeks, about 11 people were kidnapped while 15 villages were sacked. They expressed fear that the approaching farming season would not be successful as a result of activities of the bandits.

Last Saturday, the bandits blocked Shinfidda village road, killing one person and kidnapping four others, while on Sunday, traders in no fewer than 12 vehicles on their way to the Jibia market abandoned the trip because bandits had blocked the road.

The residents, too, believe security personnel are not doing enough to address their insecurity challenges. Malam Abdullahi told Daily Trust Saturday: “People have deserted their homes for relatively safe areas, their farms are gone and will remain uncultivated for long unless a miracle happens. We value the vigilante groups more, and will ever be grateful to them but their main shortcomings have to do with working with the police and other security operatives in the area.”

Abdullahi said last week, the chairman of the vigilante group was robbed of his motorcycle.

Daily Trust Saturday reports that the situation is worse in Batsari LGA, especially in Kasai village, where two attacks recently led to the death of 18 people. On February 17, an attack on the village led to the death of an army captain and six civilians. Last week, the bandits attacked the village, killing 10 people.

Reports from Faskari, Dandume and Sabuwa say residents have stepped up efforts to tackle the bandits by exposing and arresting suspected informants.

On March 17, there was a serious manhunt for the bandits and their informants in some hamlets around Barebari, a border village between Dandume and Faskari LGAs by members of the vigilante group.

Alhaji Kasimu, a resident, hinted that the procurement of locally-made guns by villagers is fast checking the menace. “Villages known to have such guns are largely avoided by the bandits. The guns, said to be sourced from Zamfara, are locally-made,” he said. He added that in the past few weeks, three bandits were killed by vigilantes at Rugar Ga’e, a Fulani hamlet near his village.

The rush for local guns

Many people in the traumatized communities are rushing to get locally-produced guns for self-defence. Expired engine plugs, our correspondent learnt, are being used to fabricate ammunition. They began with crude designs, but have developed a more sophisticated one, which fires similar to an automatic weapon.

“I always make sure I carry the gun with me to the farm, market, home, everywhere I go, because bandits could strike anytime. We made mistakes in the past when we were going round without guns and the criminals took advantage, mowing us down. We’re correcting that now,” a resident of Yankuzo community told our correspondent.

Daily Trust Saturday learnt of the mass production of locally-produced guns, popularly known as “Mai Plugo” in the communities. Almost every household, a source told our correspondent, has acquired the gun. Our reporter spotted dozens of residents on trucks moving in and out of their communities wielding guns, such that it would be difficult for one to differentiate the vigilantes from ordinary residents.

Some gun-wielding locals waved at passersby while moving in a truck to Tsauni. Eastern Tsafe had suffered series of deadly attacks from motorcycle-riding gangs.

A local gunsmith who pleaded anonymity, told Daily Trust Saturday that a customer would have to place an order and wait for at least two weeks before one is ready. “It is made of iron pipes and a few metallic gadgets. After the pieces of the metallic objects are gathered, they are taken to a welder for the final stage of production. The welder then puts together the components of the gun and thereafter it will be delivered to the owner for testing. Prices range from N5,000 to N6,000, depending on a weapon’s sophistication, and people are buying it like hot cake,” he said.

Another resident identified as Saminu Maishanu said it was the failure of those who were supposed to protect them that forced them to resort to self-help. “We wake up every day and hear about attacks. The gunmen had once attacked Asaula and killed more than a dozen people: do you expect us fold our arms and watch?” he asked.

Efforts by Daily Trust Saturday to identify the gun welder proved difficult, as deals are usually shrouded in secrecy.  A series of arrests of the suspected gun runners by the police had been made in recent times. However, their activities have heightened fears of possible proliferation of illegal firearms in the state.

From January to March, the Zamfara State police command has recovered more than 20 illegal firearms, the spokesman of the command, SP Muhammad Shehu, said. In November last year, more than seven AK-47 rifles were collected from suspected armed bandits after the state government had placed a reward of N1m per rifle recovered.

In May 2018, the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons destroyed 5,870 illegal arms and ammunition recovered by the state government. The exercise marked the launch of the pilot stage of the destruction of arms and weapons recovered from persons who illegally acquired held them.

‘Arms race’ in Kogi

In Kogi State, the activities of criminals, coupled with communal clashes, appear to be pushing residents to acquire arms for self-defense. In Koton Karfe, for instance, residents have been facing the double challenge of kidnapping and armed robbery, making some to find alternative means of defence. Although a number of people declined to comment, findings showed that some of them have acquired locally-made weapons for personal defence.

In Bassa, the Bassa Kwomu and Ebira Mozum ethnic groups had over the past two years been at loggerheads over fishing rights. The development, it was learnt, made residents to acquire arms which they use.

Residents of Dekina, Ofu, Igalamela-Odolu, Omala and Olamaboro had also witnessed attacks by suspected herdsmen. The situation is equally said to have fueled the acquisition of locally-made weapons, for self-defense.

Another factor that has increased the rate of illegal arms in circulation, according to security experts, is the activities of political thugs. In the build-up to the just-concluded general elections, politicians allegedly armed thugs with arms, which they used to perpetuate electoral violence.

Speaking on the situation, Kogi State Commissioner of Police, CP Hakeem Busari, said the rate of violence and crimes must have pushed people to acquire arms for self-defense. He however warned that the command would not condone illegal arms in the hands of the people as that could lead to lawlessness and chaos. He said the police had been conducting raids in various criminal hideouts and had been able to recover a large number of illegal arms and ammunitions.

Proliferation of arms thrives in Kaduna

Several communities in Kaduna State, especially in Birnin Gwari, Kajuru, Kachia and Sanga, have come under attack, and the victims usually recall the assorted weapons used by the attackers. A resident of Birnin Gwari town and senior member of Civilian JTF who identified himself as Musa, said a majority of them now own locally-made guns to protect their villages against bandits. He said while the crude gun isn’t as sophisticated as an AK-47, it’s better than having no weapon at all.

“The security operatives cannot be everywhere, so the people have to stand up to help themselves. They are doing this because they have no option. For instance, right now I’m at Pandogari town, but not everybody owns a gun. Same goes to Birnin-Gwari main town. But in rural communities, locals have no choice but to protect themselves,” he told Daily Trust Saturday.

Another resident of Birnin Gwari, who also preferred anonymity, said most have resigned to fate as there is no amount of arms to match the bandits’. “They have even killed well-armed soldiers, so what can we do in the face of such?” he asked.

In Kajuru, which has recorded a number of crises in recent times, our correspondent learnt that most of the residents have resorted to arming themselves in preparation for any eventuality as there have been hostilities between ethnic groups in the area.

A resident of Kasuwan Magani who does not want to be named said during the crisis last year, he was amazed at the speed with which people brought out arms when there was a clash between some youths at the market.

In Sanga, residents said they are not arming themselves. “We are not even allowed to carry local guns for hunting, so how can we defend ourselves from people who are well-armed?” said one of the victims of the Nandu attack. “We rely on security operatives, that is why we are calling on the government to deploy more, and to establish a police outpost in Nandu,” she said.

Experts weigh in

A retired Colonel, Muhammad Abdul, said it’s very dangerous for people to own guns without acquiring licence. He observed that majority of the people that own guns under the guise of protecting themselves don’t even know the dangers of doing so. “You can’t just buy a gun and keep in your house without learning how to use it. You need to undergo different trainings on how to use it but how many of those people do so? There are laws guiding guns in the country which should be enforced by the government because failing to do so can lead the country into chaos. You can see what is happening now since the crisis in Libya majority of sub-Saharan African countries are facing insecurity problems.”

A security expert, retired DSP Ibrahim Garba, said the implication is that the arms might be used at the detriment of others which may not be compliance with laws of the land. “My Advice to the authorities is that people who want to purchase personal fire arms for protection should be screened. I think people should be allowed to purchase personal fire arms in as much as they abide by the rules and regulations guiding the possession of personal fire arms.”

Dr. Musa Ahmed Jibrin of the History and Security Studies Department at the Umuru Musa Yar’adua University, Katsina (UMYU), said weapons regulation in the country began after the Civil War, but people were allowed to obtain dane guns for hunting but only a few persons have them on licensed authority. He said government categorically made it clear that such guns would only be allowed for hunting and not for self-defence, and from then to now, there have been changes in the security pattern. He attributed the rise in proliferation of small arms to the Libyan crisis and insurgencies in North Africa as well as poor control of Nigeria’s borders.

In Katsina, he said, everywhere is an entry point and people move in and out freely without checks: “This is a failure on the side of government and security agents to address the situation and threat of armed bandits.”

Magaji Saleh of the Sociology Department, Federal University Duste, said there are both positive and negative tendencies associated with possession of arms. On the positive side, he said, “It can provide a sense of security among households, it will complement the role of law enforcement agents and it will inhibit the courage of bandits as they will hesitate to attack many people. In this case, even those who don’t possess weapons can be safeguarded, because the bandits don’t know who possesses it and who doesn’t. After all, both bandits and legal owners of guns didn’t take an intensive gun use training. Therefore, both are amateur shooters and they will fear attacking each other.”

On the negative side, he said, “It will lead to rise in more crimes because gun possession is a means of many crimes, especially in the hands of criminally-minded people.”

 

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Source:Daily Trust

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