By Misbahu Bashir
The Emir of Birnin Gwari, in Kaduna State, Malam Zubair Jibril Mai Gwari, is a first-class traditional ruler whose domain has been troubled in recent times. In this interview with Weekly Trust he talks about the menace of livestock rustling, abduction of girls and the rising incidence of armed robbery in various parts of the Emirate Council. Excerpts:
The people of Birnin Gwari are predominantly farmers. Recently, cattle-rustling has been on the rise. What is the situation now?
What you said is true. Rustling has been going on since around 2004, when it started mildly. It continued growing till the climax of the whole thing in November 2004 when the rustlers, because of different actions taken by communities, decided to attack a town called Dogon Dawa and killed over 20 people over the killing of some of their members. This became a national issue because even the state governor and the General Officer Commanding 1 Division came to condole us.
From what we know, the rustlers are a mixture of ethnicities, including Fulani. This has continued and even as I speak, we don’t know how many thousands of cattle have been stolen so far. We are trying to write a report but I cannot give you any figures now. At one time in 2010, I told the governor that over 7,000 heads of cattle were taken away and during the past few weeks, hundreds were stolen from farmers. The issue is that everywhere you go in the Emirate, you will find a casualty; someone’s cattle were stolen, his wife or children raped and others even killed.
The rustlers don’t just take cattle; they barricade roads and rob. Because of that, Birnin Gwari Market, which is one of the biggest around here, is diminishing in terms of trading activities. And as you could remember, sometime in 2011 or so, they came into Birnin Gwari, robbed two banks and carted away millions of naira and because of that, the banks have not started working. People have lost millions of naira in robberies and our lives are in danger. We don’t even know whether we are Nigerians.
Are the rustlers so organised that they can overpower the security forces or local vigilante initiatives?
There is no effort being made by any authority. The only effort that I know of is when the incident at Dogon Dawa took place, soldiers were brought to mount roadblocks along the roads to Dogon Dawa and Birnin Gwari. Later, they brought some policemen and that was all. The rustlers are in the forest, not in Birnin Gwari town and they’re armed.
The local vigilante group tried to fight rustlers and they fought back, causing the Miyetti Allah Association to say that some people are going to kill the Fulani. Rustling is a terrible thing; both farmers and pastoralist Fulani are hard-working people you can find all over my kingdom.
The only option now is to decide on how to protect. For the past two years, because we have complained and nothing has happened, we resolved to pray to Allah, as only He can protect us. Those we think can help us have done nothing. The only thing they have done and we are grateful, was that they mounted roadblocks which are often negative, counter-productive and they do not help anybody. As I told you in the beginning, we don’t know whether we are Nigerians.
The rustlers are organised and about two years ago I reported to the governor that some villages and towns are under the control of robbers. They have camps which are fully organised. The military and the police are all aware because they have tracking equipment to know where they are. They are in control of one village called Jan Birni. You can’t go there now if you are not a thief. If they don’t know you, they may kill you. I reported to the government that our people have sighted, many times, helicopters landing and taking off, delivering weapons to these people. My people have ventured to scout around and see that these people are highly organized. They have weapons.
There was a time when the robbers heard that some people were going to attack them and they rang the Divisional Police Officer, warning him that they were waiting for the squad he was going to send. I can remember there was a time when the military were involved in an exercise to fight them and they attacked the soldiers from their camps and killed some of them. It was terrible and sad.
Some of the people in your Emirate have started migrating as result of rising crime…
Not only are they migrating, but all good and peace-loving Fulani pastoralists have left my Emirate. There was no way you could persuade them, because how do you convince somebody to stay and be killed or to have his wife or children raped? There is no way. I feel bad, but as I told you, we have resolved to pray to God.
Some are saying if the pastoralists or the commercial farmers can brand their cattle, it will be easier to identify those that are stolen…
These rustlers don’t care whether you put fire on your cattle, they will whisk them away. I have seen one video clip that is being circulated where one of the rustlers was on a motorcycle with an assault rifle saying they have weapons, as well as people in the military, police force and government, adding that they will not stop rustling until the authorities stop killing their people. Back to branding of cattle, the rustlers are so clever. If your cattle are branded, they will slaughter them, cut them up and sell them in pieces.
Does daytime robbery occur along the roads of your Emirate?
I was coming back from Jigawa recently with my people and I saw a police vehicle in front of us. We decided to follow them and see where they were going to and as we moved to the next village along Birnin Gwari-Kaduna road, people thought that the police were escorting me because no vehicle was moving; all vehicles along the road had parked. The moment you are moving along the road, and you spend one minute without seeing a vehicle, you should stop and park; robbers are probably in operation. And people know it.
Robbers operate sometimes about three to four times in a day at different places. So, the policemen saw us, and they became more confident and before we reached the robbery scene, the spot where the robbers barricaded the road, they had run away. Their informants had told them that the Emir was coming with police. I want to assure you that three quarters of these robbers have no weapons. They only carry machetes and toy guns or at worst they carry a dane gun. They put fear into the minds of people; the moment you come in contact with them, they will ask you for money or your telephone. Others are highly mechanized, with weapons and they kill, sometimes at the slightest provocation.
We’re organised and all the communities are organised to deal with any form of crime. I told each town to organise and protect themselves and in most cases they have succeeded in retrieving their cattle from rustlers. But what I am telling you is that the Miyetti Allah people are complaining to government because they talk more. Maybe they don’t know because the heaviest casualties in terms of rustling are Fulani.
We’ve even reached out to some of the robbers. In some cases we have succeeded in converting those who are die-hard to be working for the community and they are fighting their own people now. There is a large, dense forest in Birnin Gwari which they use as hideout. They have threatened that if anybody dares go there, they will kill him. The threat includes the military that have so far not been able to go there. Only one time did we get one brave, young lieutenant who was able to move into the forest with the vigilante group, but that was about two years ago. The effect has gone.
When the government said they have appointed a committee on security challenges, I told them that you are talking about Boko Haram while we are talking about robbers and rustlers. We don’t have Boko Haram in our place but our people are living in danger because of cattle rustlers and robbers who come with rocket-launchers and attack banks.
Earlier, you mentioned helicopters landing and taking off in areas where camps of the robbers were located…
I don’t know what to make of it. My people have seen the helicopters and reported to us and we reported to the government. Only God knows who owns the helicopters. More....