Communities in Kankara and Bakori local government areas of Katsina State on Friday, February 3, woke up to the sad news of a fatal clash between bandits and members of vigilante groups who mobilised to retrieve rustled animals.
The clash, which took place at Yargoje Forest in Kankara Local Government Area, claimed the lives of yet to be ascertained number of vigilantes mostly from communities in Bakori Local Government Area on one hand, and unknown number of bandits on the other hand.
While some community leaders from the affected areas put the number of casualties at 102 thus far, the Katsina State Government said nobody could tell the actual number as the bodies were scattered in the forest and the bandits were an obstacle in retrieving the bodies in some places.
Addressing journalists after leading a government delegation to the affected areas, the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Muntari Lawal, said: “Nobody can tell you the number of casualties, but in the next few days, we should be able to tell you the numbers. But you have to bear in mind that while we count our dead bodies, the bandits are also counting their dead bodies, so it is both ways.”
He called on the communities to be courageous in defending themselves, saying it was not something that they should wait for the government to single-handedly do for them.
Families recount ordeal
One of the young men who witnessed the encounter, Mustapha Abdullahi, said: “Our brothers went to retrieve some animals rustled by bandits, and the gunmen ambushed and killed some of them.
“Those who escaped the first attack called for reinforcement so that they would be able to recover the bodies of the dead for burial. I was one of those who went in the second batch together with my brother. Unfortunately, from nowhere we saw ourselves surrounded by the gunmen who pounced on us and started using all sorts of weapons, including guns and cutlasses, against us.
“We had to defend ourselves because we were not there empty-handed, but because of their numbers and the superior power of their weapons, they overpowered us.
“We were trapped with my brother, Shugaba, at a place and he told me that if I got a chance, I should run away because he wouldn’t want a situation whereby two of us from the house would be killed. Shortly after that, Shugaba’s dead body was lying before me.
“It was a terrifying and unforgettable moment for me. I could not count the number of dead bodies I had seen because it was so scary. All we need now is that the government, especially the security agents, should come to our rescue.”
One of the commanders of the vigilante group, who did not mention his name, said: “For us, this unfortunate incident is like an energizer for us to wake up and get more prepared to defend our lives and properties. We have accepted the fact that whosoever is killed is because his time is up, but if they are to strike back, there will be no retreat; no surrender on our side.
“What we are asking for is that as they inflicted this harm on us, if they are to return, not that we are praying for that, but if they should, and we strike back, the government should not come after us.
“Secondly, the small amount of weapons that we used to have are either taken by the terrorists or seized by the security agencies, and it is what we used to defend ourselves, so we are pleading that our seized weapons should be returned to us,” he said.
How it happened – Security source
A security source in Kankara Local Government Area that pleaded anonymity said, “From what we have gathered, it is that some bandits went to those areas and rustled some animals and residents of the communities mobilised and followed the footpath that led them to the main road, not really close to those Fulani hamlets. But because they were notorious in the area, the vigilantes decided to search for their cattle and possibly impound some of them so that they would talk to those that rustled theirs to return them, believing that they knew the bandits.
“This was how the clash started and by the time we got the information, about 18 people were killed. When we got there, both sides had retreated and we thought the fight was over, not knowing that they all went back to regroup, mobilise more fighters and return. And unfortunately, it was late in the evening and our Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) was faulty, so we could not go back.
The following morning (on Friday), we got reinforcement from the military that came with APC, together we went to the scene and evacuated 20 corpses. The second time, the area commander of Funtua came with two APCs, and we went and evacuated another set 15 corpses and then six, making a total of 41 on Friday.
Recurring vigilante/bandits clash
Daily Trust gathered that there is a long standing enmity between the people of the affected communities, particularly in Guga village, and the bandits as both were involved in attacks and counter attacks.
It could be recalled that on February 8, 2022, the police in Katsina confirmed that bandits in their numbers stormed Guga village of Bakori Local Government Area, where they reportedly killed eight people and abducted others including the village head, Dan Alhaji Umar.
Another source from the area also confirmed that it was not the first time bandits were attacking Guga village; describing it as a reprisal attack.
Also speaking to our reporter, a community leader, Alhaji Mahdi Guga, said: “On February 7, 2022, Guga village was attacked during which 12 people were killed and 36 kidnapped. The sum of N21 million had to be paid by their relatives as ransom for their release.
“It is exactly a year now. On February 1, they attacked a village, Gidan Gari, and rustled 50 cows. Our people received information that the rustled cows were sighted at a village across the stream, in Kankara Local Government Area, called Dan Kumeji.
“Those who called them to pass that information might be setting a trap, because it was on their way to Dan Kumeji that they were ambushed and killed. From our count so far, 102 bodies were buried and I assure you that there are more that have not been seen up to this moment, and we are sure they are dead.
“These figures are only those from Guga, Kakumi and Kandarawa villages. There are others across the stream, in Jargaba ward, which include Gidan Baushe, Birdigau, Gidan Kogo and many other villages like Tashar Filani, Marabar Minista and others that lost their people in this clash.
This means you have at least 500 women who are made widows and more than 1000 children made orphans in these areas.”
Our area is now porous
While expressing their determination to remain in their settlements, residents said they are in serious fear because the majority of those that could defend the communities from the attacks of the bandits were no more.
“Even after that clash, on that day, they attacked two villages; Ungwar Shu’aibu and Yan Mayu and rustled their animals. They also attacked Dan kumeji and kidnapped over 20 of their women,” Mahdi said.
Role of security agents
Some of the leaders of the vigilante groups have criticised security agencies in the state for their late response to the incident. Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said they did not receive any assistance from the military or the police despite being informed about the situation.
“The security agents mainly played a role in evacuating the corpses. It would have been far better if they had tried in preventing the carnage before it happened or better still minimise the casualty while the clash was on-going,” they said.
Some also called on the security agencies and the state government to take preventive measures to avoid future occurrence.
However, the Special Assistant to the Governor on Security Matters, Alhaji Ibrahim Katsina, assured adequate measures were taken, including the deployment of security personnel to the area as well as taking count of the victims with the view to supporting their families.
Why we are constituting commission of enquiry – Masari
Meanwhile, Governor Aminu Bello Masari has said the tragic incident was a massacre orchestrated and masterminded by some people.
The governor disclosed this while briefing newsmen shortly after meeting with security chiefs in the state on Wednesday.
Masari said it was not normal banditry or kidnapping known in the state, hence a commission of inquiry would be set up to unravel the immediate and remote causes of the unfortunate incident.
“We have been following up what happened in Bakori. It is something which we felt was carefully planned. All those who died were either Yansakai (volunteers) or bandits. The local communities and local vigilantes were not affected.
“For that reason we decided that we have a judicial commission of inquiry to unravel the remote causes of this; how it happened, why it happened and the persons responsible for its happening, then we must take decisive action on this.
“This is not normal banditry or normal kidnapping. It was a massacre orchestrated and masterminded by some people,” he said.
He said the commission would, among others, establish the number of persons killed.
He said the area was under control and the situation was calm as people were expecting the action the government would take, assuring that the government would certainly take appropriate action.