Kidnappers on the run ■ How Taraba community chased out bandits
GongoMaliki, a farming community, some 13 kilometers, North of Jalingo, Taraba State capital, has enjoyed peace and stability at a time other communities are bedeviled by heart- rendering crimes.
The people of the community attend to their farms with uncommon ease, laugh hilariously at the market square and at the end of the day, relax to their delightful beds with their eyes closed.
But what is their secret, if one may ask? Determination, commitment and wisdom, echoed a number of personalities in the community who spoke to Daily Sun.
To understand their excitement, one only needs to look back a little at what had transpired in their abode. It was gathered that their treasured peace was broken by a series of unfortunate incidents, which left them at the edge where they were threatened by kidnappers, armed robbers and cattle rustlers.
According to the district head of Gongo Maliki, Adamu Jagwa, the activities of these criminals started with the kidnap of a pastor, who was a teacher in one of the schools in this community:
“He is also a missionary.When he was kidnapped, the whole community came out, I came out myself, we pursued the kidnappers, but because they were carrying arms, we could not rescue the pastor.They kept him until the ransom was paid.
“As we were still wondering why this has had to happened, my village head, Usman Makon of Gogon Gbata, was killed. That night, they also killed one Christopher Makon. They killed him outside, but they pulled his body into his house and set the house ablaze.
“There was another victim, Ezekiel. They went for him; they did not meet him at home, but they set his grinding engine ablaze.
“We were so shocked at what was happening. We could not have imagined that somebody would be so mean as to kill and then set the corpse ablaze. Even during the Boko Haram days, such incidents were not common.”
It was in the light of this that they mobilised themselves. They took their fate in their hands, employing the services of people from outside their community to unravel the identities of the perpetrators of the crime, a situation which led to some arrests.
The district head said: “We were so worried by this situation that we summoned a meeting, at the level of prominent leaders in this community, including Fulani leaders of the Miyetti Allah group, Nomadic Fulanis, Mumuye leaders, Christians and Muslims.
“We also included the wards and village heads. In the meeting, we asked ourselves what we should do to stop the pervading insecurity in our community. We then resolved that we should set up a vigilance group. We also agreed to inform the leaders in the state so that they will know what we want to do.
“Consequently, we wrote to all the heads of the security agencies in the state, including Commissioner of Police, Director of DSS, DPO and chairman of the local government and SSG and informed them of our intention.
“After receiving the approval of these leaders, we constituted a vigilance group that will fish out the criminal elements that are tormenting the community. In this direction, a lot of progress has been made.
“Many of these criminals have been arrested and handed over to the police for the law. So far, we have arrested and handed over 16 of these criminals to the police.
“You are aware that in every society, and among every class of people, you can always find some with outstanding skills. To strengthen the capacity of our local vigilance group, we engaged the services of some experienced hands. They are working together with a resolve that no matter how tough and rigorous the terrain is; they will keep moving to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book.
“Upon their arrival, they got information that these people were camping in Ardo-Kola, so they ran after them, but unfortunately, before they arrived the scene, the kidnappers destroyed their tents and left. They only found dead bodies that were burnt beyond recognition.
“One of the first challenges that the community was faced with was the sourcing of finance to prosecute the war. Without a key political appointee or anyone in government that could help us to secure funding from government, the community again resorted to self-help.
“We decided to tax ourselves, N50,000 by each of the following groups, Mumuye, Nomadic Fulani, Fulani leaders, Muslim and Christian community. It is this money that we are feeding and motivating members of this vigilance group to enable them perform their work effectively. By our estimation, they are doing their best.
“I have also lamented and will always lament about our bad road. The distance from Jalingo town to this place is about 13 kilometers. We have laid complaints time without number. But we are waiting at the appointed time when our prayers will be heard.
“Besides the bad road, the community is surrounded by mountains that provide shelter and easy escape routes for persons determined to wreak havoc on the people. It makes tracking the bandits very difficult.”
A resident, Mrs. Shavon Micah told our correspondent: “We now go to bed and sleep with both eyes closed because we know that we have security. These men are really working and even the criminals now know that they dare not come close to this place again, so long as our security men are still on ground.”
But the bandits are not going down without a fight. Whatever their interest in Gongo Maliki is will probably remain a mystery. But they are bent on pursuing their interests with even greater vigor and strength.
“We have received several threats from some of them. One of them is on the run, we learnt that he is taking refuge somewhere in Adamawa State. We kept hearing rumours that he is planning to come and attack leaders of this community that are supporting the vigilance initiative.
“But we are not scared by his intimidation. Our confidence is in God and the Government. We will continue with our work and there is no level of intimation that can discourage us,” said a member of the vigilance group.
While corroborating the story of the community, the state police spokesman DSP David Misal disclosed that the efforts of the community, in close collaboration and support from the police, “have yielded great results and urged other communities to step up vigilance and collaboration with the police to fight insecurity in the state”.