‘I saw over 1,000 bandits under the influence of drug, carrying AK-47 rifles’

Sometimes mid last year, bandits in Katsina State needed a deal badly to stop fighting. They approached a journalist about their wish. As they said at the time, they were tired of fighting. They got a deal with government. And government kept to its side of the agreement.

But banditry in Katsina never stopped. The continuation of banditry in the state led to the kidnapping of 344 students, among other criminal activities, in Katsina penultimate Friday by bandits.

The journalist, Lawal Saidu, who claimed to have met with armed bandits in Katsina last year in their hideout located in DunbunMuazu forest, after an invitation, tells his story: Can you tell us how your journey and meeting with bandits in their hideout went? What actually happened is that vigilantes and farmers in Dunbun Muazu, Dankolo in Sabuwa and Dandume local government areas of Katsina State realized that the farming season is around the corner and that, if there is no peace between them and bandits operating in the area, they cannot cultivate their farmlands.

So the communities initiated a meeting to enable them have understanding with the bandits in such a way that they are allowed to go to their farms while the bandits are allowed to move freely, especially to visit markets to transact their businesses.

So when they held that meeting, the communities felt the need to invite somebody in the media. And you know I am from Funtua and I am known locally there as a journalist. So they got in touch with me so that I could witness the event and report it to the outside world. The bandits sent one of their low ranking members to come and meet me. When he met me, he said I should speak with their leader, Idris Miyaya, on phone. I said “no, I don’t want that idea because if I am speaking on the phone, I cannot ascertain the identity of the person I am speaking with”. I told the bandits’ leader “I will come and see you face-to-face”.

The member who came to see me was shocked and said “are you not afraid?” I said “I am not afraid and since you gave me this trust, I will try to contribute my own quota to ensure that peace returns to those areas”. It was a Monday, so I promised to be there on Saturday. The following Friday, I left Katsina for Funtua where my family is based. I passed the night in Funtua. On Saturday, for strategic and security reasons, I refused to go there.

When they called me, I said I was on my way from Katsina to Funtua but that I will arrive late. I also told them I will not be able to make it to their hideout that Saturday. And this was strategic because if there was any evil plan, I had dislodged it. So on Sunday, I left for Dandume, and from Dandume, I headed to the hideout around Machika, Maigora. There is one village that had been completely destroyed by the bandits in the area but we agreed to meet at a primary school. When I got to the primary school, I didn’t see anyone. So I called their telephone number and they told me that for strategic and security reasons, they were not there but they could see me from afar. After about two to three minutes, they showed up on motorcycles, fully armed with AK-47s. When they came, I said “why can’t we meet here?”

They said I had to go with them to their hideout inside the bush. The bandits’ leader who I earlier spoke with on phone, Alhaji Idris Miyaya, gave me a ride on his bike into the forest. When we got into their hideout, we sat down and, before we started talking, I told them that  “I am wearing two caps – a journalist and a volunteer adviser” to them. That “this bloodshed certainly will not last, and you are destroying your economy and relationship with your local communities.

So you have to find a way of settling issues”. They told me categorically they were tired of their situation and needed peace. And that it was the reason they initiated peace with Dunbun Muazu, Dankolo and other communities around their hideout. So we continued discussing.

“What happened and what do they want?” They said what they wanted was that they have two leaders, Alhaji Lawal Bardu and Alhaji Ibrahim Nakutama. And those two leaders were arrested by security agencies two years ago in Katsina while returning from Hajj.

Along the line, they could not trace them. So they said these two leaders are very important to them because they have influence to tell them to cease fire and they will stop. So they asked for the release of the two leaders. Secondly, they want vigilantes to stop attacking them whenever they come into town.

Meanwhile, I was there when the Chairman of the vigilantes of Dandume also came to the hideout in relation to the peace initiative. So, both of us discussed with them! They were fully armed and you could not estimate their numbers but, from what I saw, they were over 1, 000. And almost all of them were carrying AK-47s. They were all youths. You will see a boy of 14 years carrying AK-47. Some of them were under the influence of drug.

Where did the person they sent met you?

He came and met me in Katsina. And he wanted me to talk to their leader on phone. But I decided to go to their camp.

So you met with leaders from both sides (bandits and embattled communities)? How many of them?

Yes, the leader of the bandits, the leader of the vigilantes and the leader of another group.

Did they tell you exactly why they were doing this?

Yes, it is clear; two of their leaders were arrested. I mean before their leaders were arrested. If you observe it from afar, for long, the Fulani have suffered, especially in the hands of security agencies. Most of the Fulani were cheated. A Fulani man will have about 100 cattle; the moment they find out that he has these cows, some people will initiate a plot that will make him lose the cows. So, the Fulani were pushed to the wall. Also, their cattle routes were taken over by farmers, especially rich farmers. Over time, even those in government were allocating these plots as farmlands. So, anywhere they moved, they would say they have encroached into farmlands. Definitely, there was going to be crisis. So this is actually what you could see from afar

. When you were going, did you inform security agencies?

No, I did not inform anyone for security reason. You know in Nigeria, you cannot trust anybody. There are situations where security agents will leak information. It is a known fact. If you are going on this kind of mission, you have to be very careful, because you can talk to someone and that person may leak the information and put your life in danger. So, it was kept highly confidential.

Read more at: https://www.vanguardngr.com/2020/12/i-saw-over-1000-bandits-carrying-ak-47-rifles-some-under-the-influence-of-drug/

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