A notorious banditry kingpin in Katsina State, Usman Idris, aka ‘Ruga Kachallah’, is asking for compensation for his burnt house and grains and the arrest of his wives as the condition for ending his criminal activities in the state.
But the police have responded that they are not interested in negotiating with Mr Kachallah because he had publicly renounced banditry on four previous occasions but had gone back to his old ways each time.
Mr Kachallah is believed to be leading criminal activities in Safana Local Government Area (LGA) of Katsina State, according to PREMIUM TIMES’ findings.
Locals and security sources in the state told this newspaper that a large army of bandits under him routinely kidnap people for ransom and rustle cattle without restraint.
However, the banditry kingpin is also involved in ‘lawful business’ that has endeared him to the local populace. He has many commercial vehicles on the road, which generate daily income for him and create employment for grateful locals.
In Tulumbusawa, ‘Yartsaku, Makera, Gimi and Chirena in Safana LGA, locals obey his orders and seek his permission to cultivate their farmlands.
In the northern fringe of Runka town, the second largest community in Safana LGA, farmers have also submitted to the reign of the banditry kingpin.
However, Mr Kachallah is not hiding in the forest like most other bandits. He lives in Gimi with his family. Recently, the residents of the town resisted an attempt by security agents to arrest one of his lieutenants, identified only as Gulbi.
Mr Gulbi is said to handle the sale of rustled cows for Mr Kachallah.
The police area commander in Safana, Dutsin-Ma, Danmusa, Kurfi and Batsari LGAs, Aminu Umar-Daye, withdrew his personnel in the face of resistance by the locals when he tried to take Mr Gulbi into custody.
The residents said the security agents would not be there to protect them from the fury of Mr Kachallah who they were sure would blame his aide’s arrest on informants from the community.
But later on May 25, the security agents raided Mr Kachallah’s house. Although he was absent, they got hold of two of his wives before setting fire to his house.
But residents mobilised to put out the fire. After allegedly being told that people from neighbouring Rumka helped the police in the operation, Mr Kachallah allegedly vowed to deal with the community.
Immediately after the incident, Mr Kachallah kidnapped Lawan Garba, a primary school teacher from Rumka working in Gimi. He held the teacher hostage and demanded the unconditional release of his wives.
On May 29, he also allegedly abducted one Murtala Umaru, a grain grinder in Gimi, who also hailed from Rumka.
On June 8, one Bishir Lola and his son, Mubarak, were kidnapped while working on the farm. The kidnappers received N300,000 and N20,000 recharge cards as ransom for their release. However, days later, the decomposed corpses of the two were found abandoned in the bush.
Residents blamed the crime on Mr Kachallah, saying it was to scare farmers away from their farms.
Mr Kachallah intensified his kidnap for ransom business. He vowed to continue until the security agents released his wives, which they eventually did in exchange for the release of the primary school teacher, Mr Garba, on July 11. Aside from having his wives back, a ransom of N300,000 was also reportedly paid to Mr Kachallah. He said the money was for the services of lawyers he hired for the release of his wives.
In 2016, Mr Kachallah, also known as ‘Ruga Kachallah’, had joined other banditry kingpins, including Abdullahi Karki, in renouncing banditry at a ceremony attended by the Secretary to the Government of Katsina State, Mustapha Inuwa, in Illela town of Safana LGA.
But soon after the ceremony, Mr Kachallah continued his reign of terror. His foot soldiers roam the communities looking out for strange faces and security movements as well as kidnap prospects and residents who deserve permits to cultivate their farmlands.
On June 12, one of his lieutenants, Idi Dolo, of Hausa ethnic group, was arrested by security agents in Gimi. Unconfirmed reports said Mr Kachallah sent money and lawyers to the police area command headquarters in Dutsin-Ma to press for his release.
However, the police commissioner in Katsina, Sunusi Buba, quickly ordered the transfer of the suspect to the command’s headquarters in Katsina to scupper any deal.
Under police clampdown, another of Mr Kachallah’s foot soldiers, Jummah Tambai, fled Katsina with his family to Nasarawa State from where reportedly fled to a mining site in Osun State.
Mr Kachallah’s father, Idris Maza, who hailed from Sullubawa in Safana LGA, also relocated to Banki in Anchau Local Government Area of Kaduna State. The father reportedly said he relocated because he could not stop his son from banditry.
Sani Na-Ammee, a former accomplice of Mr Kachallah who has renounced banditry, told PREMIUM TIMES that he tried to persuade Mr Kachallah to stop criminality.
“It is very difficult for people who are used to counting millions as ransom to come back to normal living. For me now, I am even planning to sell off my motorcycle to raise some money to cultivate my farms,” Mr Na-Ammee said.
“I told Alhaji Kachallah on different occasions to allow people to cultivate their farms but things deteriorated after security agents arrested his wives and burnt down his house. He started ignoring my calls because he knows my mission is peace.”
However, Mr Na-Ammee said he was able to convince Mr Kachallah to stop abducting local farmers in parts of Rumka. He said stopping people from going to farms can only further raise the already high cost of grains and make life difficult for the people of the area where he was born.
Why I am in banditry – Kachallah
PREMIUM TIMES was able to get Mr Kachallah into a conversation on the telephone during which he acknowledged the crimes attributed to him.
“All what you heard about me is true and I am doing that for a reason. The security agents arrested four of my boys and my wives and burnt 100 bags of my grains.”
Mr Kachallah also gave his conditions for peace. He said the security agents should release all his boys and pay for the destruction of his grains, which he said is now sold at N30,000 per bag.
“I initially harvested 160 bags of grains but after I gave out zakat during Ramadan, I had 100 bags left. But the police area commander came and burnt them and went away with my wives.
“I called the area commander but he refused to pick my calls because he knew what he did. Also, I called the district head of Safana and the local government chairperson to help seek justice for me and release my wives but all to no avail,” Mr Kachallah told PREMIUM TIMES.
“After all efforts were exhausted, I decided to take as hostage the primary school teacher, Mr Garba, until my wives were eventually released. But I am still demanding payment of compensation for the burning of my house and grains,” Mr Kachallah said.
He named his arrested lieutenants as Lawalli Wamzam; Abdullahi Idris; Sule Yellow; and Idi Dolo. He said they are ‘ordinary labourers’ working on his farm plantations.
“I was among the first people that accepted the peace dialogue in Katsina. But I was poorly treated and given only a rickety motorcycle while the other repentant bandits were given preferential treatment. That is why I returned to the forest,” Mr Kachallah said.
Mr Kachallah said after the initial peace dialogue, the state government was misled by the leaders of Miyetti Allah to ignore him and instead appease other bandits considered to possess more weapons than him.
“I went on my own round the forest and convinced bandits operating in my domain and beyond to accept the peace dialogue. Despite all these efforts, the Miyetti Allah leaders betrayed me and eventually blocked my little incentives coming from the government,” Mr Kachallah said.
No condition for repentant bandit – Police
The police in Katsina, however, said they will not succumb to Mr Kachallah’s tricks or accept conditions from any bandit willing to repent.
The police spokesperson, Gambo Isah, said Mr Kachallah had renounced banditry about four times only to backtrack after each occasion. He said the police would not fall to his deceit anymore.
However, the police said they would welcome any bandit who voluntarily repents and renounces banditry unconditionally.
“The federal government has stated clearly that there is no negotiation between the bandits and the government and that is the stand of the police in Katsina State,” the police spokesperson told PREMIUM TIMES.
There was peace after talks with bandits – Government
The Katsina State Government insisted that its 2016 peace dialogue with bandits resulted in peace between farmers and herders in the state.
The chief press secretary to the governor, Aliyu Abdullahi, told PREMIUM TIMES that the dialogue needs to be adopted by governments in adjoining North-west and North-central states where bandits operate, to succeed.
The official said Mr Kachallah was among the initial bandits’ leaders who earlier embraced dialogue, at a ceremony at Ilela town in Safana LGA, where many of his accomplices accepted the peace dialogue. However, he later returned to the forest to terrorise residents, he said.
Mr Abdullahi said the state government sincerely initiated the Dialogue/Amnesty Committee headed by the Secretary to the Katsina State Government, Mustapha Inuwa. However, the situation got worse due to the unorganised nature of the bandits operating in the forest transversing Katsina and Zamfara states.
On January 15, 2017, the committee facilitated the surrender of over 340 small arms from the bandits in Kankara LGA where the bandits’ designated president, Buharin Daji (now killed); the state governor, Aminu Masari, and security heads serving in the state attended the event, Mr Abdullahi said.
Following the event, the surrendered arms were destroyed under the supervision of the United Nations’ delegation and the federal government. Communities in Katsina were living in peace following the peace dialogue, he said.
The state government built at least ten schools and dispensaries across the herders’ communities as requested during the dialogue. He said the bandits refrained from attacking communities in 2017, 2018 and 2019; adding that there was peace in Katsina following the sincere peace dialogue with the bandits.
“Things started deteriorating in 2020 when the neighbouring Zamfara State announced its peace dialogue and amnesty for bandits in which many of the bandits didn’t surrender their arms but relocated to Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states and started unleashing mayhem on residents,” Mr Abdullahi said.
“The renewed attacks in Katsina communities thwarted the ongoing construction of schools and dispensaries earlier reached in the agreement with the bandits in Katsina. The strange bandits made many areas dangerous for construction workers, which eventually truncated the peace process because the bandits are unorganized in the forest.
“The adjoining North-west states need a holistic approach for either stick and carrots to address the menace of banditry. Katsina State Government is supportive of the security agencies in the state in whatever form in tackling the bandits. However, we would not dialogue with the bandits, anymore,” the government spokesperson said.
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