By Emmanuel Nduka
Despite housing majority of the country’s elite military formations and institutions, Kaduna State appears to have been humbled down to its knees by bloodthirsty bandits who take instructions from the dark kingdom of hell to carry out their operations. One would have imagined that with such huge military presence, Kaduna would be guaranteed peace, and any armed group would think twice before wielding their guns in the state.
Kaduna which is almost equally mixed with Christians and Muslims, plays host to the elite 1st Division of the Nigerian Army; Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria; Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji; Nigerian Defense Industry; Nigerian Airforce Training School; Nigerian Police College and the Nigerian Navy School of Armament, Kachia. The state also hosts the Nigerian Army School of Legal Services, Bassawa Zaria; the Nigerian Defence Academy; the Nigerian Army School of Artillery, Kachia, the Nigerian Army School of Infantry; the Nigerian Army School of Military Police; and the Army Operation Base, Southern Kaduna.
Sadly this has not translated into peace in the state. Within the last one year alone, security has been breached in key military facilities and other government infrastructures. After strings of bloody attacks on some tertiary institutions and military formations, the terrorists have stepped up their game to send a clearer message, perhaps, that they mean serious business.
Recently, when passengers plying the Abuja-Kaduna highways switched to flying by air into Kaduna to evade the attacks of bandits, the bandits followed them to the Kaduna airport and struck, gunning down a security personnel. Then they ran to the trains, especially the VIPs. The bandits trailed them, smoked them out with bombs and continued from where they stopped as usual.
After the daring train attack, at least 168 people remain missing, the state rail company said. Around eight perosns or so were said to have been killed. Out of the number, some are being held for ransom, while many others may have found their way home without updating the authorities.
One of the survivors narrating his ordeal, said his decision to switch carriage in the train saved his life and those of his family members. “I am happy that I am alive and well. But I feel so sad for those killed and the injured – it could have been me,” he said.
“We heard a loud explosion at about 19:45 – it shook the train and then the train ground to a halt. I gathered my family and we laid on the floor of the train as we saw other passengers doing.
“After some time, it seemed the gunmen forced their way into the coaches because we heard people barking orders at passengers in other coaches. There were some gunshots inside the coaches as well.
“People were ordered out of the coaches and led into the bush. Nobody entered our coach. My decision to change coach saved my life and my family,” he added anonymously.
Given the smooth and unchallenged pattern in which the operation went, security experts are already expressing fears that there may have been an unholy marriage between forces of boko haram in the North East and bandits from the North West. As at the time of the train attack, there were at least 18 policemen on board. But they quickly ran out of ammunition and were outgunned by the bandits. Unverified sources also said the first set of soldiers mobilized to fight the bandits were gunned down quickly.
Apparently bereft of more strategic solutions to bring to the table, Nigeria’s Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi hastily suggested that in the future, military aircraft will escort passenger trains between Kaduna and Abuja once repair work on the 190km (120-mile) track is complete. His suggestion has however been criticized by Nigerians as insensitive, especially considering the cost implications vis-a-vis the current economic realities on ground.
After the train attack, Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba in a large convoy, braggadociously patrolled the dreaded Kaduna-Abuja highway. According to him, the move was to show Nigerians that the road is safe. But he would have convinced Nigerians better if he had gone alone. Barely 24 hours after his gracious patrol, the terrorists who probably may have been monitoring him from afar, returned and kidnapped 22 persons, and raided houses in Jere town along the highway. The terrorists invaded Angwar Maji village located in Jere, Kagarko Local Government Area of Kaduna State, and carried out a house-to-house operation unchallenged.
While the Federal Government and its armed forces appear confused and unable to tackle the worsening situation, the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, has stated that he and his counterparts in the North West region may resort to importing mercenaries to protect their citizens if the military fails to wipe out the bandits. But sadly, he lacks the constitutional powers to do so. Only the President can wield such powers.
The governor whose outburst projects confusion, frustration and incapacity, bared his mind in an interview at the Presidential Villa last Friday. El-Rufai said he has informed President Muhammadu Buhari that if military actions are not taken against bandits, governors from the zone may hire mercenaries to defend their people.
“That is why I have come to see Mr President and also I have said that, if these actions are not taken, it becomes a must for us as governors to take measures to protect our citizens, even if it means we will import mercenaries from outside the country to do it, if our soldiers fail.
“I swear to God, we will do that. This issue has got to an alarming state. Mr President assured me that he will take action and that this thing will be brought to an end within months.
“It is certainly an attempt to cripple the economy of Kaduna and that of northern Nigeria entirely. All these are only happening in the north — it is a disturbing development.
“All these are happening in Kaduna because people are investing in Kaduna, that is what they want to stop, they want to spoil Kaduna, which is the nerve centre of the north — the nerve centre of Nigeria politics.
“Some people say they are doing it because of me; it is not because of me, they want to fight President Muhammadu Buhari, fight our party and fight the north,” he cried out.
According to analysts, the tragic train attack which has climaxed the activities of the bandits, either showed “the absence of even a pretence to government in Nigeria”, or a “dereliction” of their duties. The Nigerian Government can take a cue Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, who became President only with experience in stand-up comedy, but has risen to the occasion honourably when his people needed him to protect their lives and properties. He is at the centre of a powerful Russian invasion and he is doing well, given the limited weapons and manpower at his disposal, especially when compared with what Russia brings to the war.
The situation is worrying. The attack at the airport was coordinated by at least 200 men, reports said. The Federal Airport Authority of Nigetia, FAAN, said the armed terrorists invaded “runway five” of the airport from a nearby forest and opened fire, killing one official and causing flight delays. As usual in its reactive, rather than proactive modus operandi, the Kaduna State Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, said the military immediately deployed men to the airport to “repel” the attack before it escalated.
For reasons not yet clear, armed gangs have been terrorizing Kaduna for years. Kaduna has sadly become an anchor point for bloodbath. Decrying the situation, Jakes Tudu, an activist from southern Kaduna, said the recent development is worrying, and that he is “scared because it is actually overwhelming. These guys are actually doing the unimaginable, like things you could not believe or imagine. Coming out in broad daylight to attack the airport is really crazy and scary”.
With 2023 just around the corner, the leadership at both federal and state levels have switched their focus to pursue their respective political ambitions. For those leaving office soon, they are concentrating on how to eject safely with their spoils of war. While the Nigerian President and other top brass of the ruling political party, All Progressive Congress, APC, gathered in Abuja to hold their National Convention ahead of next year’s polls, bandits unleashed terror at will in Kaduna.
Years back, the crisis in Kaduna was mostly tied to religion. But the crisis in the state has moved from that rhetoric to just a mere urge to spill blood. Nigeria’s military has been overstretched in the whole crisis. They are battling separatist groups in the South East, boko haram in the North East, bandits in the North West, oil thieves in the Niger Delta, and other pockets of criminality spread across the country. The country is also exhibiting symptoms of a failed state. Confirming the government’s incapacity, the Transport Minister said: “I am devastated and I honestly don’t know what to tell Nigerians any more”. “The process of procuring the integrated security surveillance and monitoring solution has been tedious. If the processes were shortened, we would have saved lives,” he added.
Just recently, about 50 persons were reportedly killed and several others kidnapped by bandits in Giwa Local Government Area located in the central senatorial zone of Kaduna State. The incident came barely a week after 37 people were killed by bandits in a similar attack at Agban Kagoro Chiefdom in Kaura Local Government Area in the southern part of the state. As it stands, there hardly an 48 hours that goes by without news of fresh attacks by the bandits in the state.
In a bid to reassure citizens, the Nigerian Army after the airport attack, said it gunned down 12 men suspected to be attackers of the airport in air strikes. But other reports said the attackers were up to 200. Brigadier-General Uriah Opuene, Grison Commander of the Kaduna Division 1, told journalists that preliminary investigations revealed that the bandits were passing through the airport on their way to Riyawa village, when they sighted and killed the security guard.
“They just took advantage of that to pass a message that they have attacked the airport. There are several layers of security at the airport. This is the first layer and even this first layer was not breached, because from the moment of hearing that shot, it took our men just about three minutes to get here from the next layer of security.
“On arrival, the bandits were already running away, so we engaged them through the use of ground forces. Then we called for an air strike and a helicopter was deployed and from the air report, about 12 of the bandits were killed.
“As you can see from the distance, the insinuation that the terrorists took over the airport is not correct. If the terrorists had entered, they would have met us there,” the Commander explained.
Worried by the trend, former President Olusegun Obasanjo lamented that the security challenges in the country are becoming more overwhelming m, and that Nigerians are no longer safe on roads, in trains or at airports.
Obasanjo noted that the situation overwhelmed the country’s leadership, but warned Nigerians not to allow the situation overwhelm them. The former president noted that the level of insecurity in the country calls for concerted efforts among citizens to reverse the trend.
“A situation where we are not safe on the roads, in the train, we are not safe at the airport then what is remaining? The situation we’re in, in the country today, is not a situation where one man will say yes, I have a solution. Unless we are deceiving ourselves. I believe we need to sit down collectively and look at the situation,” he said.
Shehu Sani, a former Senator from Kaduna revealed after the train attack that the bandits had actually attempted severely beforethey eventually succeed. During one of the attempts, he said the bandits used herds of cattle to stop the trains, but usually end up meeting their end, which led them to using explosives to carry out the attack. According to Sani, the attack occurred at the exact spot of a similar attempted attack in October last year.
“Many times the bandits try to use their herd of cattle to stop the trains but they are usually crushed and then they resort to use of explosives. The trains were attacked in the very spot it was attacked last October. Passengers of 5 coaches were taken as hostages,” Sani tweeted recently.