Nine forests linking almost the entire northern part of Nigeria and some neighbouring countries are being governed by bandits, thus worsening the insecurity challenges bedevilling the region, Daily Trust Saturday report.
Bandits, terrorists and kidnappers have taken over many forests from where they are reportedly launching attacks and subsequently keep kidnapped victims hostage. While civilians see the forests as ‘dead zones’, such places have remained mysterious for security personnel.
The nine forests include Sambisa, Alagarno, Kamuku, Kuduru, Kuyambana, Burwaye, Ajja, Dajin Rugu and Sububu have become the hotbeds of insurgency and banditry, and therefore a no-go area.
Analysts told the Daily Trust Saturday that unless the forests are ransacked, reclaimed and properly guarded, authorities would never get it right in terms of securing the people.
Kamuku, Kuduru: Birnin Gwari’s deadly forests
What started as local criminality and cattle rustling around communities surrounding large forests in Kaduna’s Birnin Gwari and Giwa local government areas have over the years snowballed into full banditry and terrorism that have led to the killing of hundreds of villagers while thousands have been displaced. Criminals in Kaduna’s Birnin Gwari and Giwa LGAs have over the years found shield within the Kamuku and Kuduru forests.
For residents of the affected communities, Kuduru and Kamuku forests have come to be identified as the two deadliest bandit enclaves that have become a nightmare for residents around the area. The Kamuku National Park criss-crosses five northern states of Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, Zamfara and Kebbi states even though a large portion of the forest is situated within Kaduna’s Birnin Gwari LGA. With a total land area of about 1,121 square kilometres, Kamuku is said to extend to Chikun, Kajuru and Giwa LGA within Kaduna State.
With Kuduru forests also situated west of Birnin Gwari LGA, communities have over the years faced some of the most gruesome attacks.
Residents’ harrowing tales
Our correspondent reports that the banditry activities have largely ravaged dozens of villages in Giwa LGA with at least 30 villages becoming ‘danger zones’ with bandits operating freely.
“Bandits come from Kuduru forest, transact their business activities fully armed in Girya, Goburawa, Karshi, Garke, and Uguwan Idi villages and many others unchallenged,” said Ishaq Tanimu from Giwa.
Shehu Ibrahim who lives around Dogon Dawa in Birnin Gwari said presently, dozens of communities including big ones such as Damari and Saulawa have been vacated due to activities of bandits linked to Kamuku forest.
“They travel on motorcycles, hundreds of them sometimes, two or three on motorcycles and heavily armed, they attack our communities, steal our farm produce and animals, kill the men and abduct the women and children,” he said.
He added that major towns such as Birnin Gwari town and Dogon Dawa are today heavily fortified with security teams at all locations while residents have taken up to vigilante teams to defend their communities.”
Our correspondent reports that Kamuku as a park was established in 1936 as the Native Authority Forest Reserve Birnin Gwari under the Northern Nigerian Government. It was later upgraded from a state game reserve to a national park before it was closed down due to increasing cattle rustling and banditry.
In 2015, the governors of the affected states which share boundary with Kamuku had collaborated in a joint operation involving the army, air force, mobile police and other security agencies to launch an operation that will exterminate and arrest suspected terrorists and bandits within the forest. This, however, has not resulted in the expected dislodgment of bandits.
Inside Zamfara’s Kuyambana, Burwaye, Ajja, Sububu forests
Zamfara State has suffered a series of deadly raids by armed bandits and cattle rustlers in the past 10 years. Hundreds of residents have been killed, and thousands of cattle stolen across the 14 local government areas of the state.
The state has large forests that have become safe haven for criminals. The armed men use the forests straddling many states as cover, thus, making it possible for them to carry out their activities with ease. Forest such as Kuyambana, Burwaye and Ajja have become hiding places for the bandits.
The armed bandits have made Kuyambana forest their abode. They launch major attacks on hapless rural communities from there.
The deadly Kuyambana forest in Maru LGA extends to Birnin Gwari in Kaduna and Kebbi states.
Our correspondent reports that the bandits from the forest move to neighbouring villages on motorbikes with guns unchallenged.
A resident, Malam Sani Yar’galadima, said Kuyambana is the most dangerous forest after Sambisa.
“The reason why I told you this is that no one dares to inch towards his farm without him or her getting killed, kidnapped or at least have his or her money or property robbed. It has happened to many of us here,” he said.
Another deadly forest in Zamfara is Burwaye forest in Anka and Bukkuyum LGAs of the state.
The forest has also become a hiding place for armed men who have been terrorising residents of rural communities in the area for quite a long time.
“There is nothing mystical about these forests except they have been allowed to become lodges for criminals. Before these forests became what they are today, we used to go deep in to get logs for wood and clear lands for farming, but now all these are practically impossible,” said a resident, Aliyu Kawaye.
In Birnin Magaji and Zurmi LGAs of the state also lies an expansive dangerous Ajja forest. It extends to Batsari and Safana LGAs of Katsina State.
Then another forest called Sububu lies between Shinkafi and Maradun LGAs of Zamfara State and Isa and Sabon Birnin LGAs of Sokoto State.
Armed bandits had carried out several deadly attacks on herding and farming communities of the local governments using the forest as an operation camp.
Sambisa, Alagarno as BH enclave
The notorious Sambisa Forest used to be a game reserve where wild animals such as elephants strayed in from other countries, but constant hunting and other human activities drove most of the wild animals away.
The forest is located at the northeastern tip of the west Sudanian Savanna and the southern boundary of the Sahel Acacia Savanna, about 60 km south east of Maiduguri. It occupies parts of Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi, Jigawa, and some parts of Kano state farther north.
The name of the forest comes from the village of Sambisa which is on the border with Gwoza in the East. The Gwoza hills in the East have peaks of 1,300 meters above sea level and form part of the Mandara Mountains range along the Cameroon-Nigeria border
Considering its size and convenience, the Boko Haram insurgents, driven out of major towns by both the military and civil defence forces, have sought refuge in Sambisa and the nearby Mandara Mountains from where they sneak out to launch attacks on their targets.
The military had traced some of the insurgents’ camps to the forest on different occasions and dislodged them; yet, the terrorists move deep into the forest to evade arrest.
A military source said there were villages located in Sambisa before the advent of insurgency with people living peacefully. In the middle of Sambisa National Park was a village called Njimia.
“The insurgents have mixed up with locals and succeeded in persuading them into sympathising with their ideology. The inhabitants were used in obtaining and transporting essential commodities from other towns to the insurgents hiding around them; locals who failed to join them either leave the communities or risk being killed,” he said.
He said herders who moved their cattle and other types of domestic animals were made to pay taxes on their animals to the insurgents.
Alagarno forest, on the other hand, covered parts of Borno and Yobe states and is also a hiding place for insurgents.
Sources said Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has over the years been shuttling between Sambisa and Alagarno forests, launching attacks on communities in Yobe and Borno states.
My take on Sambisa – IBB
Responding to a question in an interview with this paper on the forest last year, former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd), said he took the national guards to the Sambisa forest to secure the place and the country.
He said he was not happy that a positive idea was misconstrued because some people thought his plans for the Sambisa Forest and the people that would be trained there was to perpetuate himself in power.
“We looked at the country generally to get an area where they could be trained (national guards) and one of our brightest young officers who was a governor in Borno at that time told us that there was a place (Sambisa) where they could be trained.
“I feel bad that it has been taken over, if there is anything like that; but I also feel vindicated. If the guards were there doing their training, it wouldn’t have been possible to take over the forest,” he said.
Good news from Falgore forest
In Kano, the Falgore Forest is located about 150 kilometres from the city and cuts across three local governments of Tudun Wada, Doguwa and Sumaila.
Falgore Game Reserve started as Kogin Kano forest reserve which was developed during the British colonial period in 1940s. The forest reserve was only upgraded into a game reserve in the 1960s and subsequently called Falgore Game Reserve.
Kano State is one of the few states in northern Nigeria not seriously affected by terror attacks although it shares boundaries with Katsina and Kaduna states both heavily affected by banditry.
However, some remote villages in the state have recorded cases of kidnapping and other crimes in recent times.
The forest was becoming a den of criminals but the collaboration between the Nigerian Army and the Kano State government halted it. It has been converted to a military training ground to forestall criminal activities.
Recently, about 500 million was set aside for the construction of the first phase of the military training facility at the forest.
Dajin Rugu gradually becoming bandits’s den
Dajin Rugu is a thick forest that stretches from Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State, through parts of Katsina State and ending in Zamfara State.
Twenty years ago, the famous Dajin Rugu was home to wild animals such as lions, elephants, hyenas, gorillas and zebras, among other wild animals. The forest was also famous for its rivers, dams and rocks which make the forest a beautiful tourist site.
However, a recent visit to Rugu forest by our reporter shows that this famous tourist attraction is diminishing, due to neglect by the government. There are no access roads to the forest, not to talk of the roads leading to tourist attraction sites within the forest.
The only road leading to Rugu forest from Tambari village is also dilapidated, causing major difficulties to motorists and visitors into the forest.
It was observed that aside from being a haven for wild animals, Dajin Rugu has turned into a camp for Fulani cattle herders, thieves and armed robbers. Even the Fulani, Daily Trust Saturday observed, are currently migrating from Rugu with their herds because of lack of water and grass for the animals.
“During the dry season, it is difficult to find food and water for our cows, or for us to drink and cook our food,” said Malam Adamu Dantsoho, a herdsman who was born in the forest.
Dantsoho told Daily Trust Saturday that, “I was born in the forest and I am still living there with my family and animals. But I have resolved to migrate from the forest to Tiga Area in Kano State, because I learnt there is water and grass over there.
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the only surviving dam in Rugu as of now is Kirya dam. On a daily basis, about 3,000 animals go to quench their thirst at the dam. Adamu Dantsoho said, “As they drink, we also drink too. I mean we drink from the same pond with our animals including dogs, snakes and monkeys.”
Like Yankari and Falgore Game Reserves in Bauchi and Kano states, respectively, Dajin Rugu is a potential tourist site, which, if utilized, can attract tourists, not only from within Nigeria, but from all over the world.
The forest is blessed with dams and rocks as well. Kurgyel, Mai-Magurzai, Kangurtsa, Yi-Naka, Tsamre Kirya and Zobe, were among the popular rivers and dams in Rugu forest, while Kauni, Rugu and Dagwarwa are the famous rocks that beautify Dajin Rugu. This is in addition to various hills and smaller rocks, situated at different locations within the forest.
Recover territory to end insecurity – Ex-DSS director
A former Assistant Director of the Department of State Services (DSS), Dennis Amachree, urged the Federal Government to comb the forests and remove criminal elements from there.
In an interview, he also called on the villagers not to confront the bandits and other criminal elements occupying the ungoverned spaces but ensure they provide necessary information to the government and military.
He insisted that negotiating with criminals living in the forests or paying them ransom would only compound Nigeria’s woes.
He said: “Those places are called ungoverned places and what we need to do is for the government to comb those places. The military is already involved in internal security, so, the military should go there and rout them out.
“There is no need to negotiate with them; there is no need to pay them ransom. We know where they are, then, we should remove them immediately. We hear that they are not even Nigerians. That is better. They should throw all the military men there and remove them by force. That is the only way out.
“Honestly, our country will be safer if these guys are routed out of the forests,” he said.
Speaking on the implications of criminals’ presence in those forests, the former DSS official noted that allowing those criminals in the forests would accommodate more foreign criminals who might at the end destabilise the country.
According to him, “The implication of bandits’ presence is that these ungoverned spaces have been occupied by foreigners who are giving us problems. This led to a spike in kidnapping, rape and other criminalities. The government should just go there and remove them.
“What locals can do is to always give information to government. They are not going to fight them. Any available information they have, they should try to give government.”
However, troops have gained access into the Alagarno forest which was hitherto infested by insurgents, a soldier said, adding that “a super camp which served as an operational base was built by the army there.”
He further said the troops have also gained access into the Sambisa National Park and driven away insurgents from various locations and apprehended many.