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At least 48 people were killed and scores of others were injured when gunmen attacked Kizara village in Tsafe local government area of Zamfara State last Tuesday. Among those killed in the attack were the district head, the chief imam and the leader of the local vigilante group.
In what must rank as one of the most atrocious deeds in the annals of Nigerian crime, the gunmen laid siege to the village for a full five hours. Survivors said the gunmen arrived at the village on several dozen motorcycles at about 4am and proceeded to sack it for the next five hours. They fired at the villagers at random, while some groups of the gunmen went from house-to-house looking for vigilante group members that they said had been threatening them for a long time. Some of the gunmen also climbed atop a hill behind the village and shot at people trying to escape the attack. They also repelled a vigilante relief squad that tried to come in to help from neighbouring villages. Eleven of these helpers were killed. The gunmen also set fire to many houses and shops before they fled the village.
The attack at Kizara was the deadliest but it was by no means the only one in the series of bandit attacks on villages in Zamfara State over the past two years. In November last year, 20 people were shot dead in a similar attack in Kabaro town. A month earlier, 27 people were killed at Dangulbi, while 15 people died in a similar attack at Birnin Magaji in February 2012. These were preceded by the August 2011 attack in which 19 died at Lingyado town. In all these episodes the motive appeared to be the same: the gunmen were out to exact revenge from vigilantes that had previously arrested armed robbers terrorizing local traders. The vigilante groups themselves had sprung up in response to the activities of the armed bandits who in recent years have almost grounded rural economies by attacking traders going to or returning from village markets as well as by rustling cattle herds. The inability of the authorities to do much by way of protecting them drove the locals to organise and help themselves, which in turn led to these deadly revenge attacks.
Nor are these atrocities restricted to Zamfara State. Similar attacks have also happened in neighbouring Kaduna and Katsina states in recent years. Just days ago, bandits attacked Kwasa-Kwasa village of Birnin Gwari emirate in Kaduna State, killing two soldiers and four other people. In previous incidents in Kaduna State, 20 people were killed at Dogon Dawa also in Birnin Gwari emirate in October 2012. During the same month, 3 policemen died in Birnin Gwari while another seven people were killed at Goron Dutse earlier this month. Southern Zamfara, southern Katsina and north-western Kaduna State is a contiguous belt of forested, sparsely populated, very rich agricultural land. Rural banditry in these areas and in other parts of the country has a long history, but its upsurge in recent years has assumed emergency proportions. The occurrences in this new belt of death appear to be different from the continuing hit-and-run attacks against villages in southern Kaduna State, which appears to be a case of continuing reprisal attacks from the post-election violence of 2011.
In all cases however, the effect is the same. With so much insecurity pervading the air, people are reluctant to leave their surroundings and engage in economic activity which in turn compounds rural poverty. The activities of these gunmen that cart away livestock and agricultural produce is very devastating to local folks, since livestock is often their main capital which they drag to the market and sell in times of need. Needless to say, the authorities must wake up to this security emergency in a very large area. The impression must not be given that government is concerned only with the security of urban folks.
Why was Kizara left to its own fate? Acting Governor of Zamfara State Alhaji Ibrahim Wakkala Muhammad said when he visited the area on Thursday that the deadly pre-dawn attack was caused by negligence on the part of security agents. While on a house-to-house condolence visit to the people, Wakkala asked why security agents stationed in the area were redeployed just two days before the attack. That is one issue; the other is why, in these days of mobile telecoms, it was not possible for the police to rush to the scene for five hours while the carnage lasted? Inspector General of Police Mohammed Abubakar [who is a native of Zamfara State] flew into Kizara village by helicopter on Thursday, along with Minister of State for Works Bashir Yuguda and Assistant Inspector General Of Police in charge of Zone 10, Mamman Sule. The IG said he was there to commiserate with the people, but beyond that he must find out why security failed the people of Kizara village in such a disastrous manner.
The police have over the years acquired several helicopters such as the one in which Abubakar arrived at Kizara. Rather than use these for VIP transport, they ought to be used in emergency operations. Even though security of lives and property of all Nigerians is primarily a Federal responsibility, it is now incumbent on all tiers of government in Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states to get together and find a lasting solution to the growing problem of banditry and so-called revenge attacks in the rural areas. What is needed is a quick reaction mobile force. Such forces presently exist in every state but if they are kept in the state capitals alone, they could not move fast enough to keep up with sneak attacks on hapless villages by mobile bandits. Hence the need to station adequate mobile police forces with enough firepower, adequate armoured personnel carriers and good communications in each local government or at least in groups of local governments. The belt of death due to armed banditry must be tackled and very fast too.