In this two-part report, SOLOMON ODENIYI writes on the ordeals of some communities in the Kachia Local Government Area of Kaduna. He finds out that the communities are without telecommunication coverage and bandits have capitalised on this to unleash mayhem on the residents at will
It has been 22 years since the telecommunication sector was deregulated in Nigeria, making mobile phones available to everyone. Yet, over 25 communities in the Kachia Local Government Area of Kaduna State have no network coverage.
These communities include Awon, the headquarters of Kuturmi; Kigwali; Katambi; Akwaya Daji; Kurmin Tsohuwa; Impi Kuturmi; Impi Kadara; Ankuro, Kurmin Taba; Ariko; Ungwan Maikasuwa; Ungwan Luka; Apale; Saminaka Kuturmi; Igoh 1 and 2; Akama; Atara; Iriyo; Ungwan Waziri; Ungwan Toka; Ungwan Ali and Asewe.
The narratives from some of the indigenes reveal that the absence of network coverage has placed them under the yoke of daredevil bandits who freely kill, maim and kidnap their victims. Unknown to our correspondent, the bandits attacked the Awon community on April 3, 2023, a day before he visited.
There was still tension and apprehension on the faces of the residents. Some of them gathered in clusters to bemoan the latest attack. Although such an attack was not new to residents, it was the first time schoolchildren were targeted.
No fewer than eight female students were whisked away, while about five students were said to have escaped from the bloodthirsty criminals.
Our correspondent spoke with two students of Awon Government Day School who escaped from the bandits.
One of them is Ishaku, a Senior Secondary School III student. He and some colleagues had gone to the next community to place a phone call when the assailants struck.
On their return, they sighted the gun-wielding bandits disembarking from their motorcycles on the school premises. Ishaku and his friends ran inside the bush but were chased by the bandits.
He said, “There is no network in this area, so we were coming from where we went to make a call to one of our uncles. When we came back to the school, we saw them coming down from their motorcycles with their guns. There were about seven motorcycles. As soon as we sighted them we ran inside the bush, and they chased after us on two motorcycles. “
Ishaku was caught and a bandit hit him with the butt of his rifle, which made him bleed. He escaped when the bandits left him to nab two female students.
He said, “I was caught at Akwando village. They were angry and told me they were not joking with me. They asked me to lie down and demanded my phone. I didn’t release it and they hit my neck with the butt of a gun. I saw blood in my mouth. They saw two girls running, so they went for them and caught them. It was then I escaped. “
An SS2 student who gave her name as Alima, said, “It happened at about 10 in the morning. Some of them came on motorcycles and asked us to run. As we did, we saw another set trying to catch students. They shouted at us to cross to the other side of the road, some of us refused and they started shooting. Those that crossed to the other side of the road were chased inside the bush. Despite the threat, I did not cross, I kept running till they left me alone. The school did not open that day. “
Posts published on the communities’ Facebook accounts also detailed the plight of the victims.
On April 9, 2020, one of the sons of the community head was reportedly kidnapped. In June, there was an attack where at least two persons were kidnapped and one was shot during an attempt to rescue the victims.
On February 15, 2021, in Akwando, the hoodlums killed one and kidnapped four. On March 16, 2022, at Gora, they killed one person and kidnapped five women.
On April 13, 2022, at Akwando, they killed one, injured one, and kidnapped five persons. On April 20, 2022, at Ungwan Rumada, five persons were similarly kidnapped while one person was killed. A family of five was abducted in Anturu on April 30, 2022.
On May 18, 2022, seven victims were abducted in Awon, while the community suffered a fresh attack in February 2023.
A traumatised widow, Martha Francis, said she would have been dead by now had she gone to the farm with her husband the day he was killed.
She narrated,” We were supposed to go together to the farm. but he went ahead of me. I was on my way to the farm when people came to meet me and told me that my husband had been shot by bandits while working on the farm. He did not die on the spot; he died at the hospital in Kachia as a result of blood loss. That is how I became a widow. “
Also, Ishaku Emmanuel told our correspondent that his younger brother was kidnapped and a ransom of N1m was requested.
He added that he was still held captive after taking the ransom to the bandits. Emmanuel said the sum of N400,000 was paid for his freedom.
Emmanuel said, “Sometimes in 2020 when my brother came back from Abuja, he went to Apele to see his friend; he was not aware the bandits were operating there. He was stopped and taken away. I wasn’t in Awon, so he gave them my number and the negotiations started. They told me the least they could take is N1m. They also said I should be the one to deliver the money.
“The area I was told to drop the money was after Sabon Gaya. I have forgotten the name of that village but I can tell you they had chased away all the residents there. I saw buildings without occupants. That community is a very big one. They collected the money from there. They said they would detain me for delivering the money a little behind schedule.
“My brother was not released. It was his seventh day in captivity. I spent 14 days with them. They kept us in an open place. When it rains, it pours on us, the same thing with the sun. At night they tie our hands and legs. They demand N200,000 ransom for me. I begged them that we obtained a loan for the ransom of my brother and showed them the evidence. They released us alongside two other people in our community that we never knew were kidnapped.
“We walked from 9 am till 2 pm before we could get to the main road and from there, a motorcycle took us to our community. I discovered many of the bandits would leave the area for another community and come back drunk. They were always leaving a few armed ones to monitor us.”
Investigation shows that the absence of telecommunication networks in these communities was partly responsible for the low media coverage of the killings and abductions in the beleaguered areas. Whenever an incident is reported, it is usually by the state government through press statements, which at times, did not capture the true picture of the incidents.
An instance was the April 3 abduction. The government claimed that the abduction of eight students never happened on the school premises. This was contrary to the narratives of the residents as well as two students who escaped from the bandits’ den.
Following the attacks, many residents have abandoned their communities to seek refuge with relatives at the local government headquarters and the state capital.
Residents travel 28 kilometres to alert the police A retired military officer and a community leader, Jonathan Abayi, said they usually travel 28 kilometres to make calls to the police anytime the community was under attack.
He said the bandits would have accomplished their mission before the arrival of security personnel.
Abayi believed that the attacks would have stopped if they had network coverage.
He said, “Because of the absence of a network, insecurity has been on the rise in our community. At all times, we are caught unaware because there is nobody to tip us about impending attacks.
“Also, when attacks are happening, there is no means to communicate with the security agencies. Sometimes, we send people to where they would get the network to inform the police that an attack has happened. From this community to Kachia, the area with a network is 28 kilometres.
“There is nothing we can do. I am very sure if we and other communities have network coverage, we would alert ourselves and the police of their movements and they would be repelled. These people (bandits) pass through some of our areas and we helplessly watch. There was a time when people at Mai Ido said they saw the bandits coming our way but there was no way to contact the police or members of this community ahead of the attack.”
He called on the government to fix the network to enable residents to go about their normal activities without fear.
“The government should pity us and ensure there is service here. This is the headquarters of Kuturmi. We have over 25 communities. Here, we are farmers, we are known for planting ginger, yam, and soya beans. But we can’t do these anymore,” Abayi added.
Businesses, farming gasping for breath
Insecurity is not the only problem residents of these communities are grappling with. The lack of telecommunication services also has ripple effects on small businesses, farming, and other aspects of their economy. It has also denied the residents financial inclusion, which according to the World Bank is one of the ways to reduce extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity.
Sambo Loveth is one of the largest producers in the community. She had over 15 people in her employ before the recurring attacks on the community forced her employees to flee. She has been struggling to remain in business for the last few years.
“Initially, when I started about five years ago, there was peace but no (telecoms) network. I had more than 15 people working with me. But the number has reduced to about four,” she said.
Loveth said she takes her product with her to Kachia where she makes calls to inform her customers about the availability of products.
She lamented the process was often slow and sometimes she needed an element of luck to record sales despite having one of the best garri in the community.
Loveth said, “My customers are basically people outside these communities. After finishing making the garri, there is no (network) service to communicate with my customers. And most of them are always afraid to come to my place to buy. What happens is that we go to Kachia to make calls to them that we have garri and we use the opportunity to take it to the doorsteps of our customers. It is not every time we do that that we are lucky.
“There was a period when out of 10 customers we took the garri to, only two bought; others had found alternatives because they could not get in touch with us when they needed the product. There are a lot of delays. As it is, we can’t make another one until we finish selling our stock.
“Sometimes, it takes more than a month to sell one bag. It is affecting us badly. I have lost customers who prefer to buy from people they can easily contact. These are people that have commended my garri for being better than anyone else’s but what can we do?”
She is not the only one feeling the brunt of the infrastructure deficit in the area. Benard Anthony sells ginger seedlings and lamented that the absence of a telecommunication network in Kigwali, a town close to Awon, had affected his profit margin.
He said, “The travel has reduced my profit. Only a phone call in the comfort of my house was what I needed to take orders. But that is not possible, I have to travel and stay in the closest area so I can quickly supply goods to my customers. We really need this network.”
Unlike others who have remained in the communities, Alhaji Magaji, one of the large-scale farmers in Awon community has abandoned his house and farmland due to the incessant attacks by the bandits and the absence of a telecommunication network.
His daughter, Doris said before he left, he had stopped going to the farm, adding that he lost a lot of money because he couldn’t sell his crops in time.
Doris said,” My father no longer farms and has left the community, leaving behind his house and an expanse of farmland. Before deciding to leave, he no longer cultivated ginger, which he does on a large scale. He did not go to the farm anymore, as there was no one to work with him on his farm.
“The last harvest he had was not a pleasant experience because the buyers were avoiding the area; they were scared of being robbed or kidnapped. A buyer wanted to communicate with my dad and he tried his number but it did not go through. My dad was later informed by someone who came to the community but who had already patronised a farmer in Kachia.
“I remember a large amount of the ginger got spoiled and the rest was sold for a low price. Ginger can’t resist heat for long. With the money he realised, he rented an apartment and relocated to the local government centre.’’
Doris said residents of these communities were living in fear and were running out of food due to the insecurity.
According to Wikipedia, Kachia is one of the largest towns in Southern Kaduna state where various small and medium-scale businesses contribute to the economy of the state. Eighty-year-old Iya Tunde was very bitter when our correspondent approached her for a comment. Reason: Her granddaughter was among those abducted from a school in Awon.
Iya Tunde told our correspondent that the genesis of her ordeal began when the gangs harvested the soya beans her son cultivated last year.
She said while others were scared to go to their farms, his son risked his life so the family would not starve, adding that his inability to harvest had plunged her family into starvation.
Iya Tunde said, “We don’t have money, we don’t have food to eat; bandits didn’t allow my son to harvest what he planted. He planted when others could not go to the farms. My son and his friend have been to the bush in search of his (abducted) daughter but to no avail. I have cried. I pray they release them.’’
Youths lament the loss of opportunities
Victor Ahmadu has been without a job since graduating from the Kaduna State University three years ago and has since abandoned his farm due to insecurity.
He would have loved to continue with the Point of Sales business with which he supported himself in school but the lack of telecommunication networks prevented him from engaging in the venture.
Ahmadu said, “I am currently doing nothing. We can’t go to the farm because of the security situation. Last year, we struggled to farm but the bandits harvested everything.
“There is no business you can do because there is no network. I am not a lazy man; I was running a PoS business in school, which I would have loved to continue as I can’t find a job and cannot farm but there is no network to enable that. I would have made money because, in all these communities, there is no single bank.”
Enoch Elisha is still rueing missing an appointment for a job interview as a result of the absence of a phone network in his community. Like others who have had similar experiences, Elisha is planning to leave the community.
He said, “We have graduates here, and we have missed a lot of opportunities. We do not get to know when applications are opened, also if we manage to know, we have to travel to Kachia before we can apply. I and other graduates have on several occasions missed job interviews. I missed one last year and it was very painful.
“My friend recently applied to a private firm. He was sent an email for the screening, but he could not attend because of the absence of a network here. The situation is making some of our educated youths move out of the community. I can’t stay for long if the situation persists.”
Residents denied financial inclusion
One of the ways to guarantee financial inclusion is the availability of digital networks. Financial inclusion, according to the World Bank, means that individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs – transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance – delivered in a responsible and sustainable way.
The absence of telecommunication coverage has left the communities without the presence of either a conventional or microfinance bank. Also, no PoS operator was sighted in the communities when our correspondent visited.
Sixty-year-old Isaac Samuel said he does not have a bank account because of the absence of financial institutions in Awon.
Samuel pointed out that many within his age bracket in the community do not operate a bank account.
He said, “Many of the residents in my age bracket do not operate a bank account because there is no bank here. I know it is because of the network issue. The few people who have bank accounts are mostly the youth. They travel to Kachia to deposit and withdraw money. It was not a nice experience for many of us during the naira redesign policy and the cash scarcity that followed. Those with accounts had to travel to Kachia daily. At a point, they started sleeping at the bank for cash.”
Financial inclusion has been identified as an enabler for seven of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and the World Bank Group also considered it a key enabler to reduce extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. There is, however, a lot to worry about with the financial exclusion of residents of these communities due to a lack of telecommunication coverage.