The gradual decimation of rural areas in some parts of northern Nigeria is a result of many things, including years of the neglect of rural communities. So many places are not covered by any aspect of governance or government. As such, murderers have tested the waters and now know that they can attack any rural community and get away with it, or even probably get amnesty for this when they are ultimately caught.
Almost a year ago, Katsina State was under the siege of ruthless marauding murders who moved in convoys of motorcycles with AK-47 rifle on both shoulders. They attacked villages, killed people, rustled cattle and burnt homes and shops. In some cases, they also slaughtered villagers, raped women and abducted people they deemed should die more painfully. About eight months ago, a peace deal was struck between Katsina State government and the bandits. The government, lead by the governor, met with the representatives of the murderers. On a platter of gold, the killers were offered amnesty and, according to some reports, a huge undisclosed amount of money.
At the ceremony of the peace deal, the governor was seen all-smiling besides one of the ‘killers’ or their representative, who held an AK-47 rifle, was clothed in rags and had no smile on his face. According The Nation newspaper of November 2, 2019, the ‘repentant’ murderers even exchanged phone numbers with top Katsina State government officials. It all looked like a fair deal for both the State government and the gunmen, until one realised that the peace deal did not include disarming the killers. Therefore, they went home with amnesty, cash in their pockets and their weapons intact. The killers equally went home with the assurance that the real authority rests with them, while the Katsina State officials went home with optimism and a gullible trust in the words of killers.
No one was surprised that almost eight month after the ‘peace deal’, the killers are back with more dedicated brutality and rampage, which has seen them moving from one village another, killing men, women and children. This time, the killers are working hard to destroy Katsina State. They attack during the day, at night or at dawn. They have also been abducting women and girls, and sometimes they set homes and shops on fire. Gradually, the numbers of internally displaced persons has kept rising in the state, while what appears to be a big humanitarian crisis is surfacing. Women with malnourished children in tow, have been moving about, begging for food and shelter.
What is happening in Katsina is just the latest in the cycle of vicious violence, and the destruction of rural communities, ravaging some parts of northern Nigeria. For over five years, killer bandits were on rampage across Zamfara State, killing and looting whatever they came across. It was estimated that from 2014 to 2019, at least 3000 people were murdered in the rural areas of Zamfara. Just like it happened in Katsina state, Zamfara State had also entered into a peace accord with the killers, with the murderers reportedly getting cash settlement and amnesty. Although, while there is now relative peace in Zamfara State, yet between June 2 and 3, at least 70 people were killed in attacks on Gidan Ƙane, Tungar Mawa, ‘Yar Gada villages and others.
Clearly, the ‘exodus’ of youths from the North to the South is nothing other than a matter of survival. It is also a result of the fact that the youths have had to run away from the dangers associated with living in rural areas, which have been consistently targeted by bandits or gunmen.
In Sokoto State, one local government has become the focus of the atrocities of killers. Across Sabon Birni local government area, gunmen have been ruthlessly attacking villages, while killing men and boys. They have also been abducting women. On Wednesday May 27, gunmen on motorcycles attacked Garki, Dan Aduwa, Kuzari and Katuma villages, killing at least 70 people. A few days later, four communities were attacked in Gatawa, with many killed and hundreds of women and children ending up displaced and sheltered at the Government Day Secondary School Gatawa.
While rural dwellers are being killed almost on a daily basis, both those killed and those in authority have appeared helpless. The governments of Zamfara and Katsina States may have entered into peace deal with bandits in desperation to end the brutal killings of their people. It seemed that the peace deals were the only options they had. In addition, the whole situation has been complicated by the failure to find out or make information available to the public on who these killers are, and what might be their motivations or what they seek to achieve. Above all, that what happened in Zamfara is now happening in Katsina, Sokoto and some parts of Niger States, is only symptomatic of the bigger problem confronting our region.
Northern Nigeria was well known for peace and harmony until about 12 years ago. And, the situation has gotten vicious in the past four years, to the extent that for the fear of kidnappers, the creation of a flight service from Kaduna to Abuja (a journey of about just two hours by road) is being contemplated. Rich and powerful people have had to end the usual visits to their villages, and many have had to move their dears ones from the villages to cities; away from danger. Because the killers always target young men, many in this demographic have moved to the cities and urban areas to earn a living riding ‘Achabas’ – a very reckless pillion ride filling the gaps in functional public transport system.
The majority of jobs in the North are in the agricultural sector and it is the rural areas that shoulder much of productive agricultural activities that feed the country. But with rising insecurity, villagers are having to choose between producing food in conditions of great danger or staying alive.
Many youths from northern Nigeria are moving to the South, to survive there on menial jobs. Even this is now risky because they are getting arrested and humiliated on baseless conspiracy theories of the phantom plan of northerners to invade southern states. Imagine a Nigerian travelling to another part of Nigeria, and being held or ‘intercepted’ on the way for illegal movement, as the media have been reporting. Clearly, the ‘exodus’ of youths from the North to the South is nothing other than a matter of survival. It is also a result of the fact that the youths have had to run away from the dangers associated with living in rural areas, which have been consistently targeted by bandits or gunmen.
The majority of jobs in the North are in the agricultural sector and it is the rural areas that shoulder much of productive agricultural activities that feed the country. But with rising insecurity, villagers are having to choose between producing food in conditions of great danger or staying alive. Going to farm is no longer an easy decision to make, as it is now a matter of life and death in some states of the North.
The gradual decimation of rural areas in some parts of northern Nigeria is a result of many things, including years of the neglect of rural communities. So many places are not covered by any aspect of governance or government. As such, murderers have tested the waters and now know that they can attack any rural community and get away with it, or even probably get amnesty for this when they are ultimately caught. Historically, rural areas used to be the safest places in the north, and in the past, when a northerner needed to escape the hassle of city life, he went to the village. But things have now changed in a brutal way. Also, some state capitals are getting littered with the camps of internally displaced persons, in which a new generation is being raised, without proper having childhoods or education.
Isa Sanusi writes from Abuja, Nigeria.