On the 15th of December 2020 when the abduction of over 300 students from a government science secondary school in Kankara in Katsina state happened, the crew and I set out to school- it was a risky adventure!
Before we left Katsina, the fixer had briefed me not to speak to anyone should they stop us. He will do all the talking in spite of the fact that I understand the local language-Hausa. Having that language turned out to be a blessing. When locals got agitated and want to become violent, they take a step back once I start to communicate with them in Hausa and explain we are journalists and basically representing their interest. But I must say that there were sadly occasions where things became volatile in spite of having the language. Yes, one of the hurdles.
We had travelled quite far into the village leading to Kankara when these quite angry looking vigilantes stopped us and of course ordered us out of the car. The fixer quickly intervened. After much interrogation and “intimidation “ with their guns, they ended up granting me an interview with them.
It was both scary and fulfilling for me. For a moment, I thought we would be killed especially when they started shooting sporadically. I literally sad my “last prayers”- story for another day.
What were their grievances?
During my interview with these local vigilantes and hunters, they admitted that they know the paths where enemies attack from (bandits/ terrorists/abductors) because they are indigenes. However, they feel neglected by most state government who do not recognize their huge sacrifices nor even allocate resources such as monthly stipend, motor bikes or functional vehicle to operate.
Amaka here pictured with vigilantes and local hunters, Kankara, December 2020
They keep watch on a daily. Provide weapons- guns, bullets, matchetes, and even uniforms for themselves. No interventions from the government.
On several occasions they have repelled bandits’ attack and the credit goes only to other state security apparatus.
On this day, they clearly told us that, if supported by state government, they would rid most forests of the enemies. The strength and determination I saw in their eyes in such that I can’t vividly describe. They were old men, middle-aged men and youths- the youngest being about 14 of age.
And speaking later to villagers in Kankara, they confirmed that the vigilantes and local hunters have always saved the day. And that even the bandits hate to know that the vigilantes and local hunters are after them.
In my analysis, a collaboration is strongly needed. While of course state security details are needed, most of the time, the vigilantes are more familiar with the inner routes, forest paths and vulnerable and target spots.
I haven’t seen so much of this collaboration but it is happening albeit slowly. Should the government take this even more seriously?