Abu is an elderly woman from Yar Larba village but is presently at Batsari Model Primary School, which is now home for her since she was dislodged by bandits several weeks ago.
Life in the camp is not comfortable, but life after camp is what she dreads most.
“I foresee that my worst nightmare will be after my stay in this camp,” she said. “My two sons, who are my source of hope, are no more. They fed me and took care of me. One was killed, the second is unconscious with bullet wounds.”
Both her children were farmers before bandits struck their locality. Now, she fears that when her injured son recovers, he might not be able to farm because of the damage the bullet had done to his leg.
“[He] is more or less dead because he can’t farm anymore,” she said. “I fear for my life”
Her family merely got by on their income before now, but having lost everything, including one son and the other injured, the future is bleak for her.
“This camp is just a temporary relief for me. I get food and a place to sleep even though I would have preferred my home, devoid of unnecessary attacks,” she said.
Aisha Mohammed from Kandawa village of Batsari LGA also lives in the camp. She too is longing for home but fearful of what awaits her there.
“Living in the camp is a tedious thing,” she said. “I would have loved to be back home alongside my chicks, goats and milking my cows.”
Aisha, who was forced out along with her aged mother when their village was attacked by bandits, said she had endured a lot.
“I pray that even my enemies don’t pass through what we went through,” she said. “I had to back my aged mother and walk through bushes in the night to escape when they began to burn our village,” she said
For Maryama Duma, whose husband was killed last year from a similar attack, a fresh bandits attack last month was doubly traumatizing. She too was forced to flee and now she, and the other IDPs, rely on the generosity of others who support them with food and clothing.
“We were last week moved back to Batsari into this camp to continue again, we hope to return to our village once more,” she said.
There is no record of how many displaced persons are taking refuge in Batsari.
“I cannot say the number of people taking refuge all over because every day my house is filled,” The Sarkin Rumah and district Head of Batsari, Tukur Muazu, said. “I have exhausted my farm produce on feeding them. I have reached my limit. These people are stranded all over. Small children begging for food. “
Though he understands their longings for home because the situation in the camps is not ideal, but a return home for them now is unlikely.
“At present, many villages are deserted and occupied by the bandits,” he said. “We need urgent intervention from the Federal Government. They [the bandits] see themselves as above the government. Please show them the might of power. We need security for a final onslaught.”
The persistent bandits’ attacks have had serious social and economic implications on the people with loss of lives and constant disruption of the farming circle.
“Last year, 43 per cent of my people did not farm,” the district head said. “The few that did could not harvest because these bandits moved into farmlands with their animals to feed their cattle. They are armed so, you can’t do anything. If urgent action is not taken, this year, we cannot farm and hunger will be with us.”
The fear of hunger is a real threat for the people in this area and in the circumstances, the global COVID-19 pandemic pales in significance.
“This corona pandemic is better for us than these bandits,” Sarkin Ruma said. “Corona has not killed any of our people but these bandits have killed more than I can count. If the government would be given them N100m daily, these bandits won’t stop what they are doing. We know their psyche. They should just be finished once and for all. What of the poor ones? If the government would be giving bandits money, what about the poor, who are victims of their atrocities. I don’t support that. “
Batsari Local Government is among the worst affected areas in terms of bandits, attacks in Katsina. Many villagers have fled to neighbouring areas, including the state capital Katsina, in search of accommodation and protection from attacks.
Most of the victims are from the villages of Yandaka, Kandawa, Bakiyawa, Runka, Yau Yau, Yar Gamji, Garin Labo, Ruma , Wagini and Ruwan Faru.
They were so numerous they became a common sight in the state capital where they are often found loitering around ATC, Yammawa, Sabon Gida where they slept in open spaces.
Bothered by this development, the state government three weeks ago evacuated the IDPs to their respective councils.
Sani Danlami, the state commissioner for sports and community development, and chair of an ad hoc committee for the evacuation and resettling of the displaced persons, said, “Over 1500 of these IDPs were returned to various councils where adequate provisions were made for them in terms of feeding and medical care.”
He said that after thorough scrutiny, a number of people were discovered to be posing as displaced persons whereas they are residents of the capital, taking advantage of the situation to beg for alms.
He said the genuine ones were relocated to their various local governments while those found to be residents of the metropolis were cautioned and sensitized on the ills of what they were doing.
“It will amaze you to know that more than 40 are from Niger Republic and we arranged with immigration to return them to their country,” he said
“Many have since been repatriated, we want to sanitise the state capital and address their plight by ensuring we return them to their local governments and establish camps therein for them,” he said.
He said arrangements have been made for their feeding and healthcare in these camps.
One of such camps is at Faskari Local Government, where 1000 IDPs mostly from the villages of Unguwar Tsamiya, Birnin Kogo, Kah, Unguwar Liman, Unguwar Zuru, Unguwar Kwantai, Unguwar Rabiu, Unguwar Marke, Kogon Kura, Bangi, Gidan Bakwai and Raba are housed.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that not enough provisions have been made for the IDPs in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Katsina State recording about 350 cases already.
These IDPs are crowded in the camps without facemasks and disregard to social distancing rules, as advised by health officials. They are also lacking hand sanitizers.
A staff of the state emergency management agency who spoke anonymously said health concerns in camps are very sensitive issues that are not toyed with, noting that personnel on the ground are always on alert for any eventualities.
“Our health personnel are always sensitising them on best health and hygiene practices for their wellbeing and those of others within the camp,” he said.
However, a recent massive joint security operation launched across the front-line eight local government councils has started yielding results as according to the Nigerian Air force, 335 bandits have been killed.
Only yesterday, the state command of the Nigeria police said that, based on intelligence report, a notorious syndicate of bandits had escaped from the Rugu Forest to avoid the present Military/Police onslaught.
Consequently, a team of the Operation Puff Adder and other police patrol teams raided the bandits’ hideout near Fasada Village, Dutsinma LGA of Katsina State, where six of the bandits/kidnappers were arrested and 130 cows and 225 sheep were recovered.
They gave the names of those arrested as Lawali Hali, 19, Shamushalle Zamfara State, Abdullahi Alh. Juli, 13, also Shamushalle,
Rabe Bello, 12, of Nahuta village, Batsari LGA, Auwalu Halilu, 16 also of Nahuta, Lawal Hassan, 23, of Katakam, Wurma, Kurfi LGA of Katsina State and Ibrahim Sani, alias Nabuhari, aged 30yrs of Gamji, Zakka district of Safana LGA of Katsina State.
Also, a combined operation of police and repentant bandits, led by Sani Muheddinge, killed two notorious kidnappers, rescued three victims and recovered one AK 47 rifle.
Yet despite the efforts, the bandits are still holding sway in many villages, and until that situation changes, the likes of Abu, Aisha and Maryam and thousands of others will continue to languish in camps counting their loses.