During the last Eid-el-Fitr, members of Ansaru, a breakaway group of Boko Haram, reportedly entered Kuyello village in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State and distributed sallah gifts to the locals. In this interview by Nigerian Tribune’s Northern Bureau Chief, MUHAMMAD SABIU, the chairman of the Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressive Union (BEPU), Ishaq Usman Kasai, speaks on the presence of members of the terrorist group in the area and the plight of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) there.
What would you say about the presence of members of Ansaru terrorist group in your area?
The name ‘Ansaru’, fully known as Jamaat Ansar al-Muslim fi Bilad al Suda, may be new to many Nigerians but the group has existed in the country for over 10 years. Ansaru is different in ideology and operation, compared to its rival, Boko Haram.
While Boko Haram’s allegiance is to ISIS, Ansaru’s is to Al-Qaeda. Therefore, I can say that Ansaru is a de facto branch of Al-Qaeda in Nigeria.
However, despite being rivals, Ansaru and Boko Haram forge occasional cooperations out of necessity as the two groups would not want to risk weakening themselves by fighting each other.
The presence of Ansaru in Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area and their recruitment of locals are a great cause for concern to our people. We fear the growth of the interaction and movement of terrorists to our area.
This means that Ansaru’s presence in our area and recruitment of locals amidst the inability of government to provide security have ramifications for the growth of Al-Qaeda in West Africa because it could lead to Al-Qaeda uniting its Sahelian and Nigerian jihad theatres.
We are afraid that Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area is being considered by internationally connected terrorists as their new operational base after being technically dislodged from the North-East.
Fresh evidence shows that the two terrorists groups (Ansaru and Boko Haram) may be re-merging. We have been raising the alarm and calling the attention of government and security agencies to the recruitment of locals and propagation of Ansaru terrorist ideology and activities in our area but no serious action has been taken to arrest the situation. You will remember that the group claimed responsibility for the prison break at the Special Anti-Robbery Squad headquarters in Abuja in November 2012. It also said it was responsible for the attack on the Emir of Potiskum on Kaduna-Zaria Road on 14 January, 2020, in which about 30 people were killed.
In fact, the group has carried out several attacks, killings and kidnappings in Nigeria. This is our concern because as of now, the group has begun preaching and recruitment in the eastern part of Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area, in villages like Old Kuyello, Kazage, Kutemeshe, Kwasa-Kwasa, Gobirawa and Farin Ruwa.
Ansaru members go to mosques in various communities in the area wearing military uniform, preaching and sharing pamphlets containing their ideology to congregations.
It is our concern that many villagers are losing hope in government for protection against bandits and are beginning to develop interest in joining Ansaru so that they can live freely and do their businesses without fear in their communities. Therefore, the operation of this terrorist organisation in our area is a serious concern.
What is the condition of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Birnin-Gwari Emirate?
Insecurity has resulted in a protracted humanitarian crisis in Birni-Gwari. Most people fled their homes as a result of incessant kidnapping, killings, rape and torture.
The IDPs include persons with special needs, the elderly, children that are chronically sick and unable to care for themselves and persons with disabilities as a result of gunshots.
The IDPs also comprise people with mental illness with no one to cater for them and widows without livelihoods. According to the statistics released by a committee set up by the local government chairperson, there are about 20,309 IDPs comprising 5,251 males and 15,058 females. Women and children are mostly affected.
The IDPs are scattered over about 50 communities of the local government area. And for these IDPs, only seven camps were established by government — three in Birnin-Gwari town, two in Randagi and two in Kakangi.
There is no single camp in the eastern part of Birnin-Gwari despite the fact that thousands of IDPs are scattered across communities. Some of the IDPs are squatting with their relatives and friends. In fact, IDPs are all over the various communities in Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area. Some IDPs are even living in uncompleted buildings within communities.
Where are the IDPs now?
The IDPs are scattered across various communities in an out-of-camp situation without proper, organised assistance. Some of them with means usually pay rents ranging from N10,000 per annum.
Inability to sustain rents usually leads to evictions and there is congestion when many of them collectively rent a place. Their houses back home were burnt and their crops destroyed by bandits. Some of the houses are even being occupied by the bandits.
Therefore, most of the IDPs feel safer in their host communities compared than in their places of origin where they suffered different forms of abuse. Some camps that were initially provided by the authorities were later closed.
The closure of some of the camps that were located within public facilities such as schools led to secondary movements whereby the IDPs moved into the host communities because the security situation that triggered their displacements persists, which makes it impossible for them to return home.
The majority of the displaced persons are now inside the host communities, some of them living in uncompleted buildings.
What is the state of the education of the displaced children?
Most of the displaced persons are in locations where schools are accessible. However, due to lack of funds to pay certain dues and purchase learning materials, most of the children are not enrolled. They are rather engaged in hawking and begging to support their families.
Children who used to walk to school in other towns have stopped doing so for fear of being kidnapped or attacked.
Most parents consider it unsafe to allow their children go to school with the level of insecurity in the areas. In most communities, the children are enrolled in Islamiyya schools.
Also, there is shortage of teachers in remote locations due to fear of attacks but some schools in locations with military operational bases are given cover by security agents. But many schools remain abandoned because of insecurity.
Many teachers and pupils are no longer able to go to school in areas where the security threats are high. For instance, in Kakangi ward, schools in Ganda, Ishiwai, Mashigi, Kataki, Baskin, Shiwaka, among others, are abandoned.
The state of education in Birnin-Gwari is very bad. In schools where teachers are available, parents are terrified to send their children there.
WAEC, NECO and other examination bodies may decide to close Birnin-Gwari centres because of the level of insecurity there. There is no UTME centre in Birnin-Gwari and therefore many of our students get killed or kidnapped on their way to Kaduna or Minna to register or sit for JAMB examinations.
How about access to healthcare by the IDPs?
Access to healthcare services is limited, mostly due to lack of financial means to pay for medications. In many cases, most of the IDPs resort to traditional healers. Clinics and other facilities are being abandoned by health service providers for fear of being killed or kidnapped by bandits.
Medical supplies and equipment have become scarce and skilled health workers have fled to more secure areas. For instance, Katakaki clinic, which is considered to be among the average health centres in Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area with facilities serving many surrounding villages, is abandoned.
The area is presently taken over by bandits. If this security problem continues to escalate, the routine immunisation programme may be stopped in the area and that would have a dangerous consequence for healthcare in Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area.
What is the state of water and electricity supply there?
Availability of water to the IDPs varies. In some host communities, water is available either through communal boreholes or wells while in others, it is not available and open dry wells can be seen all around.
Lack of clean water sources causes various ailments among the IDPs. Some IDPs depend on water vendors; they spend money on water every day.
Problem of water in and out of camps leads to open defecation and exposing the IDPs and host communities to health hazards. Some of the IDPs usually bathe in the open.
Electricity supply is only in the Birnin-Gwari metropolis. There is no electricity supply in all the rural communities that constitute nine out of the 11 political wards, namely, Magajin Gari II, Kakangi, Randagi, Dogon-Dawa, Kazage, Tabanni, Kuyello, Gayam and Kutemeshi.
Disconnection of electrity supply to these rural communities for over three years now has aggravated the hardship being experienced by the IDPs.
What is the effect of insecurity on business activities?
When there is no security, it is difficult for businesses to survive. Ordinarily, citizens with small and medium scale businesses cannot open shops in the affected areas. Insecurity has seriously affected wholesale and retail businesses. Many business owners have relocated their businesses to safe areas.
Bandits usually roll into communities to loot shops. Travelling by wholesale traders has reduced due to high incidence of killings and kidnappings on Birnin-Gwari roads. Many traders have stopped usiing Birnin-Gwari-Kaduna Road due to incessant cases of killing and kidnapping on that road.
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