This is the story of a bustling community in Kaduna State which has become a very desolate place. Gangs of armed marauders believed to be hiding in the thick Doka Forest are said to be looting and robbing farming communities around the forest. They have moved dozens of herds of cattle, stolen goods worth millions of Naira and raped several women and girls. Most of the raids were carried out at night, but many others took place during the day time.

Auwal Sani, lives in Chikwale with his family. He said Chikwale was a prosperous farming community founded about forty years ago and was located about 18KM in western Akilibu and close to Luku, Gidan Kyambo and River Yani in Kachia Local Government Area, Kaduna State. People there produced food and cash crops including maize, cowpea, yam, ginger and millet in commercial quantities.

Sani said Chikwale and neighboring communities have fertile soils that provide the essential nutrients needed by plants without adding fertilizers or organic manures.  He said people continued to move and settle  in the village to practice agriculture until 2014 when the residents began to live in perpetual danger from robbers and kidnappers. He said gangs of robbers disturbed the peace of the town and theft and robberies became frequent. “The robbers started barricading roads around 2014 during which they collected monies, motorcycles and other valuables from the victims. The attacked us one afternoon on our way from Akilibu and seized my new motorcycle,” he said.

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He said the bandits later intensified their attacks and  activities through house-to-house raids  either in day time or at night. “They moved in large numbers and were heavily armed with assault rifles, knives and sticks. They invaded houses and turned everything upside down looking for money. One night, they cordoned-off the village around 10pm and moved from one home to the other, and left in the morning around 5am. They asked for money before searching the houses and beat-up or shot dead any family member that resisted their instruction.”

When the attacks continued almost day in day out, the villagers reported  the matter to local and state authorities, but the modus operandi on how to deal with attackers became intricate, he said. “This is because anytime a report is made; officers will carry out patrols and possibly pick up suspects. But no sooner had the police left, than fresh attacks are launched.  And most of the perceived reprisals by the thieves turned out to be bloody; in one incident, the ward head of the village was stabbed in the back.”

He said the villagers were fed up with the situation in 2015 and could no longer stand it because families and individuals started fleeing for safety. At one time, the town was deserted and was left with numerous, empty houses, he said.

Adamu said most of those who sought refuge in other villages wanted to return to Chikwale any day  the security situation improved.

Godiya David (real name withheld), now lives in Akilibu after running away from Chikwale, where she lived with her husband and five children. She said the bandits had frequented the town mostly shooting and making people to scamper for safety. She said her family had to leave the town unprepared because the raids became unbearable after she was raped by two robbers. “A gang of thieves came to our house at night and carted away huge sums of money. They all carried guns but I don’t know their number. Two of them forcefully grabbed and raped me; I didn’t see  their faces,” she said.

She said she hoped to return to the village if the security situation improved.

A source said David was rushed to the hospital after the attack  where she was treated for lacerations and abrasions, as well as post traumatic stress disorder.

Malam Ali was a religious leader in Chikwale but migrated to Akilibu with his wife and children following relentless attacks by thieves and kidnappers. He said the village was made up of diverse groups  and people tolerated the views of their neighbors. “There were four mosques and three churches in the village, with each having its own pretty huge congregation. We live in peace as a community, but thieves hiding in the thick forest continuously harass us.”

Ali said he relocated to Akilibu because several people were shot dead by armed thieves who continuously unleashed terror on the village. “Armed thieves stormed the village in one incident at night and searched each household looking for money.  I was in bed trying to get a good sleep, when I heard gunshot sounds and I had to sneak out by the back exit and hid under the plants in one farm, until 5am after the thieves had left. They carted away the money in my room and from that fateful incident, I resolved not to stay there again,” he said.

He said people still have a yearning  to return to their houses as soon as peace was restored to the area. He called on the Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufa’i to provide security to the area to enable the people to continue farming and  engage in other economic activities. “So many bumper crops are grown in the area,” he said.

A man who would not want to be named said soldiers were at one time deployed to the area when robberies became ‘unimaginable’ and “they combed through the forest looking for the bandits. They arrested some suspects but few days after the soldiers left, bandits resumed attacks and even killed  those they perceived to be informants.”

A visit to the village by this reporter in July this year showed some tangible remains of settlements that were completely deserted. Most of the building were made of clay soil and a number of them have collapsed due  to lack of repairs and previous spell of rains.

Samson Danjuma, 19, said his family fled Chikwale and moved into a rented house in Gidan Busa along the Kaduna-Abuja highway following harassment by thieves. He said his father still cultivates his farms in Chikwale but goes there every other day during the rainy season. “I accompanied my father and brother to work on the farm one day on, one day off.  The thieves still attack farmers on their farms and collect their phones and monies.”

He said farmers who could not endure to go there daily, sleep in their empty houses at night but remain on their guard.

Timothy Adamu, 18, said thieves from the forest strike homes and attack farmers on every occasion, because of the absence of security personnel in the area. He said villagers resorted to fleeing the areas en masse when the attacks increased day after day and left behind their houses and other valuable items. He said the thieves scavenged the abandoned homes and took away anything thing they found useful to them. “We evacuated our houses and sought refuge in Gidan Busa but even then, we return to our farms located near the village to cultivate crops during the rainy season. The armed thieves move around looking for whom to attack on the farms and collect their monies, mobile phones and motorcycles.

“Around July this year, while we were working on the farm, they came to us and when they noticed that we were terrified, one of them instructed us to go on with what we were doing. He said they were not looking for us, but herdsmen.”

Apart from Chikwale, other villages including Gidan Oga, Rishi and recently in 2017, Gidan Sani, were also sacked by the bandits at different times.

Victor Sani, lived in Gidan Sani village, before he transferred his family to Gidan Busa, few kilometers away in march 2017. He said gangs of armed lawbreakers hiding in the thick forest were responsible for the killing of several ‘industrious’ farmers and mass departure of people from their residences  in Chikwale, Rishi and Gidan Oga between 2014 and 2015. “There after, in late 2016, the attackers gradually reached our village. They confront  us in our farms and houses, and demand for money and foodstuff. They are well armed and kill any person that refuses  to obey their order.”

He said the raids by the armed thieves became greater than before around March 2017 ,and people started running away with their families to the extent that by April, the village was deserted.

He said people living in the area were mainly farmers and produced a variety of rain fed crops. “In 2016 I harvested close to 700 tubers of yam in my farms, apart from bags of maize and cowpea. I sold more than half of the yam,” he said.

Johanna Tigida said he migrated to Gidan Sani in 2013 from his village in Kauru local government area , with the sole purpose of farming.  He said he grew maize, ginger and yams in commercial quantity, before he was forced to relocate to Gidan Busa by robbers. “I will like to return to the village to continue crop production because I get lots  of money after selling farm produce.  Last year, I produced a lot of ginger and maize. I made N200,000 from ginger.”

Tigida said Gidan Sani village became empty after the residents fled, but many people would return if the security situation improves.

Police Force Public Relations Officer, Chief Superintendent Moshood Jimoh said special forces were deployed to the area recently and one gang of thieves believed to be hiding in a forest in Kachia area were arrested. “We recovered over 800 locally made guns from them.”

He said the security situation had improved in several areas of Southern Kaduna “and people have started returning to their houses.”

He said police presence in the area would be increased and sustained.