Native speakers of Hausa usually say “Tafiya mabudin ilmi” meaning “Traveling is a source of knowledge.” However, a national assignment that recently took me to four universities in the northwest geo-political zone of Nigeria inspired me in the middle of the job to alter this Hausa adage into “Tafiya mabudin tsoro” meaning “Traveling is a source of fear.”
About an hour after departing the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, our second destination in the assignment, on our way to our third destination, the Federal University, Gusau (FUGUSAU); the calmness that filled our spirit all along was shattered as soon as we passed by Funtua township. The driver of the commercial vehicle in which we were traveling changed the topic of the discussion among the passengers when he spoke in Hausa saying, “May Allah deliver us from the evils of bandits and kidnappers.” We felt scared as people coming from Nigeria’s capital city where no one seems to know much, or rather, pretend not to know much of the horrendous insecurity from which Nigerians in other parts of country suffer.
The driver told us how, two days earlier, some villagers were kidnapped and few others killed. With the uncountable number of military check-points almost after every one kilometre, the trip from Funtua through Tsafe to Gusau was no less dangerous than crossing danger zones on a battle field. When fear completely gripped me as I listened to those dreadful tales in the rest part of our journey to Gusau, I made sure I did not speak ‘university English’ which I thought could expose my background. Anyone who speaks good English is, in the mentality of Nigerian kidnappers, highly-placed and has access to much money; the ultimate target of bandits and kidnappers.
The moving stories told by one of the passengers on the passenger’s seat suggested he’s a serving military personnel on special operations in Zamfara state. Without having to give details of the stories ‘from the horse’s mouth’, some truths of the entire matter of insecurity in Zamfara are discernible. We shall come back to this in the next few paragraphs.
During our courtesy call on our host, the vice-chancellor of the FUGUSAU, he expressed delight that we accepted to come to their university for the assignment because many people have, since Zamfara became the epicentre of banditry, turned down invitations that required them to come to Gusau. Since 2019 when the Academic Society for Arabic Language and Literature in Nigeria (ASALLIN) had its national conference in FUGUSAU, the university, had not hosted another conference until this year when the faculty of management and social sciences hosted one; all due to the persistent insecurity. Even the recent one was held outside of the university campus for the same reason.
From all we heard, it is simply public knowledge that all the security agencies, government authorities, and residents know where all the bandits live. But, even if the insinuation that those benefitting from the ‘business’ of banditry do not want the scourge to end, it is the worst form of recklessness ever for the government to lack the political will to confront and summarily deal with bandits and kidnappers.
In a recent interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja, Bello Matawalle, former governor of Zamfara State and the current Minister of State for Defence, said conflict entrepreneurs were responsible for the unending banditry in Zamfara. “Banditry has its economy, which is fuelling the crime in the country. Conflict entrepreneurs don’t want insecurity to finish in this country. I call it business because those selling drugs are part of it, those selling food, fuel and other essentials are all part of it. The informants get a lot from doing that. They are paid handsomely for that crime. So, they don’t want the evil to finish. Many people have keyed into the business,” he said.
From obvious indications, there seems to be no political will by relevant authorities to end the spate of insecurity in parts of the country. Mutawalle said, “As Governor of Zamfara State, I cut off the network to push out criminals because there were many times that if our soldiers were going to do some operations, before they reach the enclave of the bandits, they would be informed. Their informants will inform them and they would ambush our soldiers.”
While at the Federal University, Dutsinma, Katsina State, our host colleagues whispered to us to close from our assignment and leave the campus before dusk because they cannot guarantee our safety beyond sunset. “Another danger zone?” I quietly exclaimed in my heart. When we reached Mararabar Dan-Ali on our way back from Katsina in the morning, I sent an SMS to a close associate who hails from Dan-Ali saying it would be good if we could find time to visit Dan-Ali together because I like serene environment such as obtains around there. His reply was “As someone who knows what lie behind the ‘serene environment’, I will not be traveling this early on that road. But I also know that Allah guards and protects.” This message from ‘the son of the soil’ sent cold blood down my spine. The thought that having passed Dutsinma meant safety quickly vanished from my mind. I started feeling the urge to urinate but fear did not allow me to ask the driver to stop until much later when he stopped over for passengers to eat.
Because I sat in front of the vehicle, I was privileged to hear the driver’s account of the insecurity there; frightening indeed. That, so many residents including farmers in that axis of Katsina have relocated to safer places outside of the state. Those remaining pay taxes to bandits in order to be allowed to harvest crops from their farms. When I saw a herd of cattle, the driver said the cows belonged to bandits. It was said that lives and property in 12 LGAs of Katsina are not safe. Indeed, the fear of crossing danger zones in Zamfara and Katsina is the beginning of wisdom while on a national assignment in the two states.
I wonder how a group of non-state actors would be so organised and powerful to challenge legitimate institutions of government including the military, which is trained to supress criminality. To suggest a panacea, the Chief of Defence Staff is advised to direct the service chiefs of the army and the air force to respectively relocate their offices to Zamfara and Katsina with a view to ending criminal activities within a defined period in these two states. Since they know where bandits’ leaders including Bello Turji and Dogo Gide live, they should take the fight to their dens. May Allah bring this horrific trial to an end, amin.