A peace deal to bring to an end the surging cases of banditry in Katsina State finally takes effect as kidnapped victims recount lives in captivity.
It was a moment of joy for abductees of banditry in Katsina State as a peace deal led to their release recently. Tears of joy flowed freely as family members embraced one another in a reunion never expected.
Katsina, like its neigbouring states, has its share of bandits’ attacks which led to the peace deal and exchange of captives. The state Governor Aminu Masari had expressed worry over the spate of banditry and explained that the administration was convinced that dialogue was the best possible solution towards restoring peace across communities.
In fact, the governor led top government officials to a dialogue with the bandits and forest commanders. Bandits’ leaders at the meeting were Alhaji Masume, Marwana, Leko, Alhaji Ado “Maikzo” Alero and Alhaji Lawani.
In the peace deal, bandits have so far released of 32 abductees while government has freed 17 suspected bandits.
Some of the freed captives who spoke to newsmen after being handed over to the state governor said life in the bandits’ hideouts in the forest was an unforgettable experience.
Safiya Ibrahim from Tone village, in Niger Republic was among the captives so far freed during the on going prisoners exchange.
Safiya who spent 58 days in captivity said when the criminals attacked their village, her 22-year-old son was shot in the arm. She said she was sleeping when gunshots awoken her. “As I was about to stand, a gun was pointed at me. The person told me to follow them or I be shot. They dragged me on foot till we got to the road were they put me on bike at the Nigerian border.”
Safiya spoke of the precarious situation she and others found themselves. “They fed me once a day in the morning. It was only few days that we got food twice a day, sometimes we could go all day without food and water,” she lamented.
Married with 8 children, Safiya said the food given to them was boiled rice and salt.
Zainab Isyaka, a nursing mother who was picked from Zango village in Kankara Local Government Area spent 53 days in captivity. “They stormed our village about 5pm on a Sunday and after their operation, they took me and others away. In the camp which I can’t say where it is as it is in the bush, they provided us with a bag of rice, salt and some seasoning,” she recalled. She said she was in captivity along with one Zuwaira, Halima, Zinatu and Hafsat who she left in the bush.
Saadatu Garba was picked along Shinfidda road in Jibia Local Government Area and spent 16 days in captivity. “The bandits blocked the road. Even security personnel vehicles were blocked as well, they opened fire and all of us were asked to lie down. We all laid in the car unknown to us some had come down and fled. The security and men among us ran away. The bandits came and met us in the car. A woman got shot there. They however said since all of us were women, they won’t kill us.
“They arranged us in a single line and placed some calls to their bosses who further instructed them not to kill us but to take us to them,” she narrated.
Zainab said they walked long distances in the bush and “the elderly women who were unable to cope with the tedious trekking were shot.” She narrated that when they got to the bandits’ camp they were sorted out based on their villages, with those from Shinfidda kept in one place and told that if their people did not come with N10million each they would all be killed or turned slaves.
According to her, they kept on praying, which was their only hope. “They would come once a while and fire shots in the air, scaring all of us. They would ask whose husband has money and they kept on beating us,” she said.
Zainab described the situation as horrible, pointing that whenever it rained, they got drenched alongside their children. “We slept in the rain for the 16 days there. Every morning they will bring rice and salt for all to eat. No lunch.
It is only our babies that got to eat something in the afternoon if they heard them crying. “Last Sunday they came to our camp and asked all those from Shinfidda village to rise up, telling us that they were taking us away to kill. They told the others same as well,” she said. But after that they called for motorcycles and transported us till we got to where we were picked.
Hassana, a nursing mother, also from Shinfidda said life was terrible and horrifying in the camp with sound of gunshots, abuses and threats to life all the time.
She said there were uncontrollable cries of babies as mothers could do little to fend for them. “It was sad to see the babies crying for food as no one could help. The breast milk wasn’t forthcoming because even the mothers were starving and uncomfortable,” Hassana lamented. “I’m lucky and thankful to God for coming out alive. Many were still there when we left.”
Binta from Zango who was seen with a boy of about three years said he is not her son but that she has been taken care of him since they were picked from the village.
She said: “I don’t know the status of his parents, if they are still alive or dead.” This is a disturbing situation and the peace deal might just be a way out to bring succour to the once serene communities of Katsina State.