By Hauwa Ibrahim
Kaduna may not be the commercial nerve center of the Northern region but being the defunct capital of the region before the creation of states by the Gowon military regime in 1967, the crocodile city still occupies a central position and had remained attractive to many notable personalities, groups and corporate organizations who have over the years enjoyed a flourishing business climate in the state.
At a point, Kaduna was like a mini Manchester where textile and other agro-allied industries held sway. It was a city that hardly sleeps because the textiles were working on shifts all through the days and nights. Together with the automobile assembly plant, furniture and beverage making industries, the oil refining and petrochemical plant which came up in the late 1970s and many other cottage industries within and outside the state capital, this sector complemented the government in providing employment to hundreds, thus making the local economy so viable and life was good to many families.
Although banditry is not a new event in Kaduna State, it was previously restricted to robbery and cattle rustling in rural communities in Birnin-Gwari, Chikun, Giwa, and Igabi local government areas.
Kaduna then was only witnessing a spillover of the crime in the Kamuku, Kuyanbana, and Falgore, a large forest spanning Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Zamfara, and Sokoto states.
On the Kaduna side of the forest, which envelopes Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area, the bandits were as far back as 15 years ago known for their trademark highway robbery and cattle rustling.
They used to block the Buruku, Birnin-Gwari axis of the Kaduna-Lagos Road, rob travelers of their hard-earned possessions but rarely killed.
The group became more dreaded when they began mass rustling of cattle around 2001. Communities had to form vigilante groups against the robbers and cattle thieves.
The measure did not however yield many results. Instead, it aggravated and toughened the bandits, as they became more audacious and even followed members of the vigilante groups to their communities to kill them in their numbers.
The climax of such an attack was in 2013 when the bandits rounded up vigilantes and other community members at a mosque and killed 33 during the dawn prayer in Dogon Dawa, Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area.
The bandits became untamed after the Dogon Dawa killings and the Kamuku Forest where they operated became dreaded and home only to the criminal gangs, who established links with their likes in Niger, Zamfara, and Katsina ends of the forests.
The alliance made it easy for them to strike in one state and hibernate in another.
Governor El-Rufai has consistently blamed the return of the bandits on the failure of lasting cooperation amongst the affected states, believing that the hitherto simultaneous security operations would have ended banditry in the region if sustained.
But the famous Kaduna-based Islamic Scholar, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, who is well known for his peace mission to the bandits’ forests, holds a contrary view. To Gumi, the use of force created the current challenge in the first place.
Succeeding administrations, however, were not able to sustain the tempo as many of these industries are either nonexistent currently, dysfunctional, or grossly underutilized. This has in no small measure, affected the economy as many were thrown out of jobs which further compounded the socio-economic problems of the local fledgling economy.
Souhir Mzali of the Oxford Business Group had said Kaduna’s performance in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index has been instrumental in attracting investors.
According to her, Since 2015 Kaduna has secured investments in excess of $180m. Singaporean agri-business firm Olam International has invested $150m in poultry facilities, while the African Industries Group is investing $600m to build a steel plant that is currently under construction. She explained that Kaduna has attracted many other small and domestic investments in the tens of millions of dollars.
However, there should be reconciliation between the governments and the bandits, there’s no more effective solution than forceful inland and frontier policing. Such policing must deal with the region’s peculiar circumstances of diverse borderlines, forestlands, and hinterlands. This requires a tactical synergy between grassroots vigilantes and state security operatives.
Hauwa, is an intern at PR Nigeria Kano state.