The Emir of Birnin Gwari, Malam Zubairu Jibril Mai Gwari II, in this interview, speaks on the increasing insecurity in his domain, which led to the killing of 11 soldiers last week, and suggests how the issue can be tackled. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: What do you think is responsible for the increasing insecurity in Birnin Gwari emirate?
Malam Zubairu Jibril Mai Gwari II: First, we have a terrible road which has helped the bandits to do what they like. Only God can give the answer, we have been standing up against these people, fighting them in the hope that it would end, all to no avail. I must say that the Kaduna State government, particularly this present governor, has done his best, and I believe he is still doing so, but I think when you say somebody is doing his best, maybe their best is not enough. That is why, when they do something, it would look like they are succeeding, but then, eventually, the bandits find a way to unleash terror on us.
I have once said here that we are living in hell. All development projects, and everything good intended for Birnin Gwari, are blocked by these criminals. We are suffering, and even government does not want to come to us, nobody is sure whether his life is safe and this has been going on for a long time. Whenever we try our efforts, the security agencies would say that our local vigilante group is over stepping its bounds.
DT: You set up a vigilante group in order to curb the menace?
Mai Gwari II: Who hasn’t? All over Nigeria, people have had to resort to vigilante groups because the police are not enough. Birnin Gwari is one of the largest local governments in Nigeria, and we do not have a hundred or so policemen. They can do nothing.
DT: Has the setting up of the vigilante group made any impact?
Mai Gwari II: The vigilantes have been there. They have been helping, but it is getting to 20 years that we have been facing this problem. When the thing started, I led the vigilantes, we went into the bush and we were able to deal with them, that was during the military era in 1995 or so. But we have been suffering since then. When this governor came, he was so passionate and concerned but I am telling you, he is getting fed up. We did not invite these people, we do not want them here, but they are here and the only people that can dislodge them are the security agencies.
When security forces are deployed here, they would do some work, arrest or kill some of the bandits, and at one time they would be released back to us. And once they come back, they unleash more terror. Another batch of soldiers would be deployed, they would come, approach the bandits or disturb them and then they go away. The criminals would wait for a time and come back. About a week ago, government sent a special force which did well. But while in the middle of it, they were removed. I cannot give you the reason why the insecurity has lingered. What I can tell you is that we don’t like it and we are suffering.
DT: From your interaction with some of your people, which aspect of their socio-economic lives have been affected most by this wave of insecurity?
Mai Gwari II: Every aspect of life – religious, political, health, economic, all have been impacted negatively. In fact, if not because we are a resilient people, our economy would have collapsed. But if you had come here yesterday, at our biggest market, you would have seen that people are striving, despite the insecurity. People come in from all parts of the local government and all parts of Nigeria, they have to travel by road and they run the risk of being stopped by bandits, but they still make it.
Our economy is really suffering, political life is suffering, our health facilities are suffering, and nobody can go there. Right now, teachers are being recruited, they are sending teachers to us. We do not know what will happen. No teacher will go to an area where soldiers have asked people to vacate.
We heard that the president has visited many places where there were disturbances, and because people were killed. From January to date, bandits or whatever you call them, have killed more than 64 people, including the soldiers killed recently. This is a simple estimate. It could be more than that because in some villages, they kill people and they do not report. Nobody cares about it because we don’t shout, we have no means of reaching the media, nobody cares about us. When you talk about Zamfara State, they are our neighbours, what they suffered, we have suffered, but the president was there two times! Everybody would say he heard about the town, but nobody cares about Birnin Gwari. Why shouldn’t the president come here to see us and find out what is going on? Why is it that for over 20 years, these people are there, they are human beings, they have not been removed and nothing has been done? The governor has done his best, he has spent money, and he cannot order soldiers or the police. It is very unfortunate. The road leading to Birnin Gwari is one of the most important roads in Nigeria, and many trucks ply the road because it is the most important road economically between the North and the South. They have given contracts for everything except the road. What have we done? The bandits are using the bad state of the road to attack and kill people, and this figure I gave you is for people who were killed, not kidnapped. If we talk of kidnapping, it is worse.
DT: Where do you think the bandits are coming from?
Mai Gwari II: These are people we do not know. Like what you heard, they said they have killed Buharin Daji, and this incident of killing him started from Birnin Gwari area because they came here, they were fighting among themselves and they killed him. They are people we do not know, they could be Fulani or anyone. We are not tagging them as herdsmen like what many other people are doing. They are not herdsmen, they are armed bandits who could be anyone.
DT: Part of the security measures adopted by traditional rulers that we used to hear in those days was that anybody coming into the town would first report himself either to the district head or the head of the town. Do you think this should be reintroduced?
Mai Gwari II: Do you think somebody who has come to steal and rob will report to the village head? No, that system works when people live in peace. These people would come, they would go into the thick forest and put their camps with their gangs and just start unleashing terror on people, they don’t report to anybody. More than a decade ago, they came into Birnin Gwari, they robbed and bombed some banks and went away and because of that, most of the banks have refused to come back.
DT: Within the last one year, how many communities have been affected?
Mai Gwari II: I can tell you that more than 30 communities have been affected, and these are just a few that we selected. If you take the case of about one or two years ago, one place near the Zamfara border called Nabango is not here, they went there and killed more than 20 people. These killings have been going on here, yet nobody cares, and nobody has come to commiserate with us. Our case is not different from the case in Taraba, Benue or Zamfara. We deserve a presidential visit. I have been attending meetings with the government, so I know what is going on. At one time the governor had said that in order to fight the menace, he would move the seat of government to Birnin Gwari, but he too is getting tired.
DT: What should be done to tackle this?
Mai Gwari II: What have they done in other places? Send in security agents, people who are ready to work. But they would instead bring a detachment that would go in, arrest people, and after three weeks, they say it is an operation and they withdraw. In some cases, they came here, arrested some bad people and released them after two weeks. What we want is for them to bring back the young people they brought earlier. When they came here, our people thought they were the normal soldiers they used to see, and they took food items to them which they refused and told them ‘we get our food from Abuja’. That is a good soldier for you. When they were here, they arrested some people and dealt with them, things started to become normal, but all of a sudden, they were withdrawn. I am advising government to bring security agents who will come and work until they finish the bad people. We know the areas and we have been telling them where their locations are. But they would rather pick wrong people to show them the hideouts. They do not come to me, they would find some people in the villages and towns and say they are their scouts. They are the people who give them intelligence reports. They do not trust me. How can they work without me? I have been here, my parents fought and died here, I cannot bring any bad thing to my people.
The government should deploy troops along the borders of Niger, Katsina, Kaduna and Zamfara states. I bet you, within one month, they would finish the bandits. Otherwise, if you look at the area between Kaduna and Buruku, it is a zone for kidnappers. If security agents go there, they would deal with them.
DT: People have been advocating for the conversion of the adjoining forests into parks. What do you think?
Mai Gwari II: The forest is large and part of it is a national park where there are animals and where we are now protecting some species of birds and reptiles. They go in there because they know nobody would want to destroy the park. Apart from that, we have large, vast forests, thick ones, and they hide there and only come into town to buy food stuff in disguise and go back. They come back when they want to kill people. Look at what happened to the soldiers who were killed. I was told that the number of soldiers killed was more than the reported 11 because they found some dead soldiers somewhere in the forest. If they can attack soldiers with arms, what of a small village of 200 people: what can they do?
DT: This must have you under stress…
Mai Gwari II: I cry every day because my people are suffering. I may look like I am okay, but I am not. I travel between Kaduna and here almost every week in order to keep our economic life going on. If I had stayed in Kaduna for fear of the bandits, most of our people would not venture out of Birnin Gwari. But when they see my car driving out, they summon courage and follow. I suffer too, as the road is terrible, but we move like that.
DT: What is your advice to your people in the face of this?
Mai Gwari II: A month ago, in one area called Anguwan Gajere, the bandits attacked a village, and the villagers fought back, in the process they killed more bandits than the people of the town. All of a sudden, we were told that the people who came were Fulani men, and Miyetti Allah was in the vanguard of protecting them. What we have been preaching to our people is that they should not sit down like fools and watch themselves and their families get killed. If you can do anything to protect yourselves, protect yourself and I will repeat it in front of anybody.
We can’t be fools to wait for somebody that will not come. Nobody can stop me from telling my people to protect themselves. And that is what we are doing now, because the policemen that are in Birnin Gwari cannot protect. The soldiers that are being brought come and sometimes make matters worse. My advice to my people is that we should sit up and ask for forgiveness, whatever we have done, because this is beyond explanation. I am also appealing to the president to come and see things for himself, because we are also Nigerians.