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Muido (17) holds his gun as he sits with his sister. Photo Credit: Daniel Ojukwu/FIJ

13.06.2024 Featured Chronicles of Kidnap Survivors (II): Kaduna Teenager Learned to Shoot at 14 Because ‘Kidnappings Happen Everyday’

Published 13th Jun, 2024

By Daniel Ojukwu

In March 2024, when the attention of Nigerians was drawn to the abduction and eventual release of 137 schoolchildren in Kuriga, Kaduna State, DANIEL OJUKWU toured several parts of the state bedevilled with daily abductions. What he found were children combating terror. Their parents had lost faith in the country’s security architecture, and this is their story.


In Dicko Sangare’s (not real name) household, almost everyone knows the art of assembling and shooting a gun. Like clockwork, they can each couple a local or foreign shotgun, feed it gunpowder and bullets and return unfriendly fire.

Two women bore children for the man, and when he sat with this reporter, other than his irritation for insecurity in his community, he spoke of nothing more passionately than his wives. “If I am not around, how do I protect them?” He asked.

Dicko was approaching 60. The better part of his years were spent keeping bees and farming for honey, but he now gathers intelligence and contributes to physically fending off terrorists in the Giwa LGA of Kaduna State. Things were not always like this, he remembered. In his earlier years, he would concern himself with tending to cattle and profiting from the ignorance of childhood. Now, he cannot afford such a luxury for his children.

Under the fortified roof of the man, FIJ spent hours examining his guns, discussing terrorism and absorbing what had become their new normal when Muido (not real name), holding a bag and chattering away with his elder sister, strolled casually into the living room. The pair of them had been out all morning.

“This is my son,” Dicko told FIJ as he jerked to the edge of his seat with piqued interest.

He has several sons, but Muido is the eldest. At 17, the teenager could drive a vehicle, set up a perimeter defence system and shoot to repel attackers. These things Dicko never learned until he was much older, Muido learned them at 14.

The living room had four chairs in it. Dicko sat adjacent to this reporter, while the two grown children joined and sat opposite their father. Every now and again, a toddler would stroll in and out with no care in the world. She couldn’t yet hear the chaos her father spoke so figuratively about. There were gunshots, abductions and death outside, but this child had no idea.

Muido (17) holds his gun as he sits with his sister. Photo Credit: Daniel Ojukwu/FIJ

Muido (17) holds his gun as he sits with his sister. Photo Credit: Daniel Ojukwu/FIJ

Meanwhile, Dicko punctuated the conversation on occasion with details of how he used to shield his first son from matters of insecurity until it became impossible. He likened his choice of arming the boy to Hobson’s choice.

Hobson’s Choice: A situation in which it seems that you can choose between different things or actions, but there is really only one thing that you can take or do.

Cambridge Dictionary

“You can talk about keeping children away from the fight against terrorism because it is the global standard, but who talks about human rights when the terrorists come and point guns in their faces?” Dicko asked. “I don’t want my son to cry or run scared when terrorists show up. He should be able to fight back.”

What about the police? FIJ quizzed. It was the first time Dicko laughed. His face soon readjusted to the stern posture it took earlier. There were no police.

THE GUNS NEVER SLEEP, AND NEITHER DO PEOPLE

Two local guns in Sangare's house
Photo Credit: Daniel Ojukwu/FIJ
Two local guns in Sangare’s house
Photo Credit: Daniel Ojukwu/FIJ

Kidnappings happen every day.

Whenever FIJ visits conflict hotspots in Nigeria, residents usually say the same thing: kidnappings happen every day. And despite the media’s best efforts to report some cases, several others go unreported.

READ MORE: Chronicles of Kidnap Survivors (I): In Captivity, Terrorists Ordered Pastor to Hit Fellow Captive to Death

Before visiting Giwa, this reporter had been to Kuriga, Damishi and Kajuru areas in Kaduna. There, residents put up a resilience made of fit men who stay up at night to guard women, children and other vulnerable men amongst them. The same happens here.

In Nigeria, two types of kidnappings occur: singular abductions and mass ones. When more than five people get taken, it becomes a mass abduction. According to an SBM Intelligence report, Nigeria suffered 277 mass abductions in 2023 alone, during which several terror groups kidnapped at least 4,427 people. From January 2019 to March 2024, Kaduna State suffered the most mass abductions, with 132 cases. During this time, 3,969 Kaduna residents were victims. Zamfara State was a close second, with 624 fewer victims.

Data on victims of mass abductions in Nigeria by state (2019-Q1 2024)
Source: SBM Intelligence
Data on victims of mass abductions in Nigeria by state (2019-Q1 2024)
Source: SBM Intelligence

With an average of 12.1 victims per day, for every two hours FIJ spent with Dicko, terrorists were taking at least one person in a mass abduction.

After the beekeeper traded the humour in his face for his relaxed straightness, he began detailing several instances when the police had failed to show up when attacks occurred. What many residents relied on was the Kaduna Vigilante Service (KADVIS).

The state-run service boasts official and unofficial members who complement the military’s efforts in volatile parts of Kaduna, but Dicko was not a member. He and others like him were independent vigilantes, regularly writing to the government for support and finding new ways to make bullets for their guns.

“We break tiles into small pieces to use as bullets,” Muido volunteered after joining the conversation. “Sometimes, small stones work as pellets too.” The intention, they explained, was not to kill but to injure or scare off their attackers.

Several women and children in the region have learned to shoot to defend themselves, and this, they said, has kept them safer than they used to be.

Sometimes they succeed, but when they fail, they usually lose relatives to these terrorists and then have to part with large sums of money as ransom.

Dicko said he never wanted to be in a position to lose a loved one and be at the mercy of a ransom demand. “We want to survive our own abduction attempt here before they take us,” he told FIJ.

THIS WOMAN ESCAPED CAPTIVITY TO FREE HER FAMILY

When non-state actors succeed in capturing people, what usually follows are ransom demands and death to whomever is unable to fetch acceptable sums. Farmers sell year-long harvests, pastors go begging, and savings boxes get the hammer. Once a family member falls victim, it almost takes everything from the ones left behind.

READ ALSO: SPECIAL REPORT: Kaduna Gov’t Had 5 Years to Prevent Abduction of 137 Kuriga Schoolchildren but Failed

Aisha (not real name) knows all too well about this. On March 25, 2024, barely 24 hours before FIJ was in Giwa, this reporter visited her house in Damishi. “Those guys [terrorists] came here last week, fired shots and abducted the entire family,” sources in the area told FIJ.

If what the beekeeper and Muido put together in Giwa had been there in Damishi a week earlier, would the terrorists have been successful? Retaliating during an attack is not always successful. When the criminals first struck, they went for a house beside Aisha’s. Its lone occupant was a woman whose husband, a policeman, was out on night duty.

On seeing the terrorists, the woman made unfamiliar noises, prompting a neighbour to probe it. The day after, Aisha spoke with this neighbour’s wife. She had become a widow.

The terrorists killed him and shot the other woman in the foot. This pair were collateral damage, Aisha told FIJ. Some informant had sent them to the Ehi household to abduct everyone and demand ransom. After the bloodshed, they eventually breached the perimeters of their primary target and succeeded.

FIJ asked how Aisha was home and not in captivity with her family, and she said, “They took all eight of us on that night: my two biological children, four other children who stay with us, my husband and me. All of us – with the wounded wife of the policeman – were marched into a lonely forest.

“While there, I began surveying the area. It was dark and quiet, so I wriggled away under the cover of darkness and found my way out. Afterwards, I found my way back home and have been communicating with them since.”

On seeing the terrorists, the woman made unfamiliar noises, prompting a neighbour to probe it. The day after, Aisha spoke with this neighbour’s wife. She had become a widow.

Her captors took her phone and other valuables, but they called a neighbour two days after the incident. When they called, she went to her house, called back and waited for negotiations to occur. The demand was N25 million.

“I’ve never seen that kind of money in my life,” Aisha told FIJ.

The house was big. Its chairs had been disturbed by the presence of several occupants, but now they had grown cold. Outside, we met the mother of two, seated with two elderly relatives, all sharing long faces.

“I am looking for a buyer for my car,” she revealed during an interview with this reporter. “The terrorists said they would collect N2 million because someone told them I had money. I said I would try, but they had to produce whomever claimed I had that kind of money.”

But they did not want only money. They needed to capitalise on her desperation to help get some items they could no longer get easily from markets.

“Apart from the money, they wanted cartons of tramadol, marijuana, malt and rice. They said I should bring these too. I don’t know what tramadol is,” she told FIJ.

At some point during the interview, Aisha broke down in tears. Four of the children in captivity are not hers. She had taken them in to aid their families who could not afford to raise them.

“Nobody bothers to call or check up on me,” she said. “My family members and these children’s families abandoned me. I am all alone.”

Aisha said that despite a policeman’s wife being among the captives, there was not enough support from the police. In April, FIJ later learned, the terrorists released all nine captives.

When FIJ left her house on March 25, the day was nearly retiring, as it was 4 pm. On average, at least nine people had fallen victim to a mass abduction in the country that day alone, according to statistics.

THE FULANI DILEMMA

Many terrorist activities are considered to be ethnically motivated, and the Fulani tribe are often fingered as the primary suspect when these things occur.

Aishatu Dukku, a member of the House of Representatives who represented the Dukku/Nafada Constituency in Gombe State in 2018, described the tribesmen as victims of creation who value their cows more than humans.

She said, “I don’t know why Nigerians have become so edgy now. Maybe because of the food we eat; we eat so much of Maggi [a type of seasoning]. We have become so impatient that we don’t want to listen to each other. We don’t want to proffer solutions that will be workable to our country.

“ Mr. Speaker [Yakubu Dogara], I sit here and my colleague is saying the herdsman values his cows more than the lives he is killing, but it’s not true. You can’t sit down here and just make conclusions.

READ ALSO: INVESTIGATION: Unpaid Vigilantes, Cheap Guns for Women, Children… Inside Kaduna’s ‘Unregulated War’

“Yes, the herdsman values even the life of the cow more than his own life. That is how God has created him.”

Primarily nomads, the Fulanis are found in several parts of the country and are blamed for several attacks.

This is a problem for Dicko, though. He lives in a vulnerable community where he has to protect himself from the aggressors, whom many believe to be Fulani, but he is Fulani, too.

“I am a Fulani man, and my children are Fulani, but we are fighting for our lives,” he told FIJ. “Bullets cost over N50,000 for a pack now, and we spend our own money buying them. I live here, raise my family and do my thing with no support from the government, but I am not a terrorist.

“Criminals are the ones ruining the country, not Fulanis.”

In the first part of this series, FIJ documented classism in terror camps and explored how some Fulanis get preferential treatment in captivity, but here, the beekeeper says his ethnic origins are a burden to him. In April 2022, FIJ also interviewed a terrorist who claimed attacks on Fulanis forced him to take up arms.

Later that year, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), claimed that across Nigeria, “over 10,000 [Fulani] cattle farmers were killed and more than two million others displaced due to activities of rustling, kidnapping and general insecurity in eight years.”

Dicko is convinced Nigeria’s southern and northern parts view the country differently. He says the average southern resident views terrorism as an occasional activity but the northerners see it as a regular occurrence with multifaceted layers of causes and sustenance, whose key actors are bound by ideologies and not tribes.

EXPERTS SPEAK

Murtalla Abdullahi and Nnamdi Obasi are both conflict and security experts with experience in matters relating to insecurity in the Lake Chad region.

They both share the opinion that the proliferation of weapons and their use amongst children pose long-term concerns for conflict on both sides.

Murtalla says it “follows the pattern of communities setting up self-defence entities to protect themselves from armed groups. This trend is due to several factors, including perceived state failure or the inability of security forces to provide protection.”

Nnamdi was yet to see children man these weapons firsthand, but he was convinced they should be shielded from conventional warfare as international codes recommend.

However, he also thinks the vulnerable communities are between rocks and hard places. “When the aggressors make no distinction between adults and children during raids, then the defence is pushed to arm children with necessary survival skills,” he told FIJ.

These experts do not think the failure of security agencies is in the minds of the communities alone. They highlighted instances when Nigerian governors called for residents to take up arms in self-defence.

In 2021, Aminu Masari, Katsina State Governor, called for residents to take up guns in defence. Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State did the same in 2022, and several other governors and lawmakers continue to make the call.

Earlier, when FIJ called Major General Onyema Nwachukwu, spokesman for the Nigerian Army, he decried the police’s slow attempts at consolidating the military’s efforts in volatile areas. Nwachukwu said the army expects the police to take over security after it has captured a previously overrun area, but the police are not doing this.

When FIJ called Mansir Hassan, the Kaduna State Police spokesman, he promised to get back to this reporter, but he declined subsequent calls.

Hassan has, on several occasions, refused to comment on the police’s efforts in combating terrorism in the state.

Dicko used to complain to the police, but now he believes there is no police. In Kufana community, Kajuru LGA, Collins (not real name) told FIJ he had written to the police on several occasions but no one had come to save them.

“We have about 86 of our residents in the kidnappers’ den,” Stephen said. “Before that abduction, Iri, Maro, Kutura, Angwaku, Libere, Ungwan Gamao, Aguba, Doka and Kallah communities faced heavy terrorist assault, and their residents are now displaced.”

The 86 were taken on March 17, 2024, but on February 18, terrorists hit Gindin Dutse in Kufana, killed 12, injured seven and razed 17 houses. These February and March attacks did not receive as much attention as the Kuriga abduction, and the communities moved on. Pictures of the aftermath showed at least three children burned beyond recognition.

********

It was getting late now. Muido’s sister had another errand to run. The lady made a joke about not knowing how to drive, and her teenage brother mocked her over it while putting up the faintest of protests about having to drive her.

The boy would soon go to school. He smiled more than his father, and one could see the excitement in his face when he talked about it briefly. Muido would be leaving his gun behind soon. Muido was glad.

This is the second part of a two-part series. You can find part 1 here.

This story was produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

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Published 13th Jun, 2024

By Daniel Ojukwu

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