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To my sister in Katsina

My sister, I am aware that it is very unlikely that you will read this, but I write in the hope that somehow, someone will convey my message to you. I am your sister although you may never have heard of me. Like you, I am married, a mother, a Muslim and Hausa and Fulani. Unlike you, I live in a city with my family, and in sha Allah, I will celebrate Sallah with my family. It will not be the happiest Sallah, because we have lived with many restrictions and most of the social activities associated with Sallah will be missing. Still, unlike you, I will celebrate Sallah with my entire family around me, in my home, and we will eat well and sleep well, in sha Allah.

I have no specific idea of your current circumstances. I keep tracks of your pathetic travails from the media, often, days after you have gone through life-changing experiences. You could be one among thousands like you who are now seeking shelters in other villages or towns or relations because your homesteads have been sacked, burnt or your entire village has been rendered inhabitable by criminals. You may be cowering in your room or in a neighbouring village which could be attacked again today, tomorrow or next week. Our own Ramadan was most unusual, and many have said it is the fastest month they have lived through. But we have been lucky. I imagine ours has nothing compared to your holy month, and many times I have wondered how you start your fast and break it amidst fear that you or your family members may not live to see the next one without blood or tears, or see one at all.

I think of you when we gather as a family to break our fast, and how you may not have anything to eat, or know where some members of your family are, or if they  are alive. We hear of attacks on villages at night or in broad daylight from many evil men on two wheels who appear not to have heard of coronavirus or that this is the holy month of Ramadan. We hear how they cause panic and shoot everything at sight, then set about pillaging, burning, killing, raping, rustling and choosing those to kidnap. We hear of heroic resistance from local vigilantes which generally collapses in the face of superior weapons of bandits. We hear stories that bandits and rustlers and kidnappers have detailed information regarding members of the local vigilante, and how many families try to dissuade young men from joining in the defence of villages and settlements for fear of certain retribution. We hear of advance notices from bandits to communities, and we hear stories of total submission from villagers who cannot run.

We have been told that the rains have come without any planting on farmlands that have been cultivated for decades. They say men are too afraid to venture to till the land, and many women who would prepare to support them with food while on the farm have moved away from husbands and fathers. Women who have been raped, sometimes in the presence of husbands and fathers withdraw into a mixture of shame and self-loathing, so they are of little value to the community. Wives and children who have lost breadwinners have no lifelines in communities that are already familiar with crushing, routine poverty. When bandits take away your dignity and a few goats or cattle, you are left with nothing to live for in the village. Women like you and their children stay in villages at great risk, and leaving is difficult without the men to find the means to re-locate.

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I imagine what life will be like for you with the onset of the rainy season. We hear that many women like you are in places as far away as Niger Republic, living as Internally Displaced Persons, and many are living in schools and other public buildings in local government headquarters. Some are without husbands, fathers and relations, and many do not even know if they are alive. When we eat after breaking of fast, I wonder how or if you feed and sleep. I look around at my growing daughters and young men who I pray will never know the pains you go through. A few years ago, you might have had a family like mine, and may even have looked forward to happy marriage ceremonies and grand children.Today you may sleep alone in or near the rain, wondering where your family is. Perhaps you are living with relations and will soon become a burden when scant resources like food and sleeping spaces have to be shared with you.

This will be cold comfort to you, but many of us privileged to read about your tragic experiences  in local government areas in Katsina State do feel some of your pains. We know you expected a lot more from political leaders, traditional rulers, policemen and soldiers, and you had faith that the distant sounds of gunshots will never reach you. Perhaps your hopes had been raised by many arrangements between government and the bandits which collapsed. Governments in Zamfara, Niger and many other states of the north have struck deals with these bandits that have collapsed. Many times, governments have sent policemen and soldiers to push the bandits a bit further away, but they have returned as soon as the soldiers and police leave. Then they attack with greater venom.

My dear sister, my family and I  will pray for you in these last few days of Ramadan. It may be all we can do, but prayers are all we can offer against the evil that has turned you into an internally displaced destitute. We will pray that the latest order given by President Buhari to the military to clean up your communities of all bandit activity will bear lasting fruits. We will pray that some levels of authority or wealthy people will provide you with decent shelter and food. We pray that your family (or what is left of it) will be reunited. We pray that those kidnapped will find freedom. We pray that those raped and molested will  heal, and those women abducted will be freed. We pray that your children will not be permanently scarred from the traumatic experiences their young lives have witnessed. We pray that you will go back home and live in peace.

Prayers are all we can do, my sister. What happens to you and thousands of you depends entirely on where our leaders place your plight on their priority list. I am sure you fasted for most of the Ramadan. May Allah accept our ibadah. I could advise you on coronavirus, but I suspect it will be wasted advice. Still, try to live clean. In sha Allah, this too shall pass.

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