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Concerns as New Vigilantes in Katsina, Zamfara Exacerbate Banditry in North West Nigeria 

“With almost exclusive Hausa membership it is easy for the Fulani to feel it’s a force formed against them.”

Findings have shown that activities of militia groups working as vigilantes for Katsina and Zamfara State governments have led to renewed hostilities in the two states which have now spilled into neighbouring states in the north-western region.

Some security sources and locals who disclosed this on Friday pointed out that the raging banditry conflict in the region has claimed hundreds of lives and led to the displacement of thousands of people from their communities in Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto Niger, Kebbi and Nasarawa States as well as the FCT.

This emerged just as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Country Representative in Nigeria, Christian Munduate, on Friday pointed out that schools were supposed to be sanctuaries of learning and growth and not places of fear and violence, condemning the recent attack and abduction of 287 primary and secondary school pupils in Kaduna State.

Also, the United Nation’s Special Envoy for Global Education and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown, on Thursday, said the abductions of young students – the second in only a few days – has made the case for urgent action to both secure the pupils’ release from their captivity and create safer schools across Nigeria.

However, disturbed by the development, President Bola Tinubu, on Friday condemned the heinous incidents and charged the security agencies to ensure the safe release of vulnerable victims, internally-displaced persons in Borno State and students in Kaduna State.

Not less than 287 students and a principal, Abubakar Isah, were abducted in broad daylight on Thursday when bandits invaded the LEA Primary and Junior Secondary School, Kuriga in Chikun Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State.

Officials of the school and community leaders had told Governor Uba Sani, alongside key government officials, who visited the school on Thursday, that 187 students were abducted from the secondary school section and 125 from the primary school section.

However, Katsina State was the first to launch 1,466-strong Community Watch Corps at a ceremony held on October 10, 2023 which had in attendance former President Muhammadu Buhari.

Thereafter, in February Zamfara followed suit by inaugurating 2,645-member Zamfara State Community Protection Guards at an event attended by a former National Security Adviser (NSA), General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau.

Zamfara and Katsina are among worst hit states by the banditry prevalent mostly in the North West and North Central parts of the country.

Despite warnings of the danger by intelligence and security agencies, the two states decided to establish paramilitary vigilante groups to confront the sophisticated bandits.

But rather than for the killings to abate, the activities of the community-based security outfits have worsened the security situation in the two states, with sudden upsurge in killings, a security expert said 

Reports from the two states indicated the opening up of a new spate of killings which has further deepened the ethnic dimension of the conflict.

A researcher on the conflict in the North West, Dr. Murtala Rufa’I, said the fresh hostilities were predictable.

He explained: “First, they made a big mistake from the beginning. The recruitment into the vigilante groups was not inclusive. With almost exclusive Hausa membership it is easy for the Fulani to feel it’s a force formed against them, and also for those involved to now conspire and target those they consider as the enemy.

“Secondly, the training was not extensive and their weaponry is not in the same category with what the bandits possess. At the end, the vigilantes now target soft targets that look like the people they are fighting with while the bandits renew their hostilities on account of this targeting of their kins and kiths,” he said.

According to him, many bandits who had hitherto downed their arms due to non-kinetic steps taken by government and admonishing of their leaders have now picked up their arms in response to the “indiscriminate attacks on Fulani soft targets and their settlements.”

He said many of the vigilantes were also being killed, “because of their inexperience, exuberance and low-grade arms.”

“The two governors wanted to do politics with the security issue but we warned them because we know the dangers. We were here when Abdulaziz Yari did a similar arrangement in Zamfara and we witnessed the terrible consequences of that experiment. In fact, we wrote the two states and told the political leadership here in Abuja but nobody listened to us,” a senior security officer who pleaded to remain anonymous said, as he was not authorised to speak with the media.

According to him, the activities of the vigilantes has eroded the gains made in taming the conflict.

“Honestly I blame our ministers and the NSA. They are the right people to advise the President against allowing any governor to go this route. But they did not.”

Another security source also attributed the security breaches, including recent kidnapping of students in Kaduna as response to the activities of the vigilates.

“There are several cases of extra-judicial killings, arson and confiscation of property, mostly unreported in the villages of Zamfara and Katsina states.”

In February, former Zamfara Central senator, Kabiru Mafara, had cried out saying the Zamfara Community Guards Corps arrested, detained and tortured his political allied, one Magaji Lawali to death.

Also last week, a prominent cleric and chief Imam of Mada town, Imam Abubakar Hassan Mada was allegedly summarily killed by the security guards.

In Katsina, a former local government chairman, was killed in similar fashion by members of the Katsina Community Watch Corps.

“Government at the centre must be courageous to stand up against this. Otherwise it is going to cost us a lot. It will be an endless vicious circle,” Rufa’i said.

UNICEF: Nigerian Children Deserve to Learn in Peace, Rues Abduction Of 287 Kaduna Students

Meanwhile, UNICEF’s Country Representative in Nigeria, Munduate,  in a statement, rued the attack, saying Nigerian children deserved to learn in a peaceful environment.

Munduate said schools were supposed to be sanctuaries of learning  and growth, not places of fear and violence.

The statement read: “I am deeply saddened and concerned by the reports of yet another abduction of students in Kaduna State. The alarming frequency of such incidents across the country signals a crisis that requires immediate and determined action from all levels of government and society. Schools are supposed to be sanctuaries of learning and growth, not sites of fear and violence.

“This latest abduction, as any previously, is highly condemnable and part of a worrying trend of attacks on educational institutions in Nigeria, particularly in the North-west, where armed groups have intensified their campaign of violence and kidnappings. Just a day prior to this incident, the UN Resident Coordinator spoke about the abductions of large numbers of women, girls and boys by members of a non-state armed group in Borno state.

“UNICEF urges immediate action to ensure the safe return of the abducted children and staff and calls on authorities to implement comprehensive measures to secure schools across Nigeria.

“It is imperative that the safety and security of students and educators are guaranteed, allowing schools to fulfill their role as safe havens for learning and development.”

It added: “Our hearts go out to the families of the abducted students and staff, and we stand with them in this harrowing time. The right to education is fundamental and must be protected against any form of violence or intimidation. The children of Nigeria deserve to learn in peace.

“UNICEF is coordinating with local officials and providing assistance to the affected parents and families through psychological support services.

“Every child deserves to grow up in an environment of peace, away from the looming shadows of threats and insecurity. 

Unfortunately, we are currently facing a significant deterioration in community safety, with children disproportionately suffering the consequences of this decline in security.”

UN Special Envoy, Gordon Brown, Promises Global Support for Safe School Initiative in Nigeria

According to Brown, the international community must urgently do all it could to support the release of the students, adding that the Nigerian government should have immediate surveillance support from international partners to locate the kidnapped pupils.

“As UN envoy for global education, I am in contact with governments asking them to offer help to find the girls whereabouts with a view to their early release. But no child should be in fear of going to school, and no parent, worried as   their children leave for school that they may never see them again, should need to consider keeping their daughter or son at home because the risk of kidnapping and violence is too high.

“And because these abductions continue to recur because of terrorism, I want to set out what can be done to make sure schools are safer places to attend and our proposals are modelled on safe schooling initiatives throughout the world I have been involved in, not least in Nigeria at the time of the Chibok Kidnapping.

“Then, I visited Nigeria on many occasions to advise successive presidents, and our global Safe Schools Initiative was launched at the World Economic Forum in May 2014.

“Now I believe that at every level – federal, state, and local – Safe Schools measures  must be reintroduced, reinvigorated and supercharged from today, with technical support and funding available internationally and nationally to ensure schools have significant security and safety upgrades.

“For parents who are now wondering whether their daughter or son will be the victim of violence or kidnapping, and whether when they leave for school that day, whether they will see their children again, we must provide reassurance. We must end the unfair choice parents face: send a child to school, at risk of being abducted, or keep a child out of school, at risk of them forgoing a better future.”

Furthermore, he stressed the need for the four broader initiatives needed to be considered as a matter of urgency, that add up to a comprehensive blueprint for safe schools.

“First, we need enhanced intelligence and security information-sharing through the engagement of the Governors and intergovernmental forums. Second, we need detailed state-by-state school safety plans which are made public, with detailed actions both to build walls and fencing and to introduce   state- of- the art telecommunications connections and security alarms that can be easily actioned.

“Third, we need to invest in community outreach and engagement programs, working with traditional and religious leaders to explain why if schools are protected and safer children should continue to attend. And fourth, we need to empower local people – school-based management committees – to make their own decisions to prioritize pupil and teacher safety to best meet local circumstances and needs.

“My offer is to do everything I can to mobilise international financial and other support and worldwide expertise to help deliver the safe school programmes

“And my message to children is:  if you come to school, we will make it more secure. And my promise Nigeria is this: You have suffered too much from the interruption of schooling because of terrorism and threats; it is now for us, the whole international community, to show solidarity and support your efforts to build back better, to make schools safe and secure, making a reality of the promise of high-quality education for every child

 “The international community must urgently do all it can to support the girls release The Nigerian government should have immediate  surveillance support from international  partners to  locate the kidnapped girls, and as UN envoy for global education , I am in contact with governments asking them to  offer help to find the girls whereabouts with a view to  their  early release.”

Chuks Okocha, Deji Elumoye and Kuni Tyessi

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