Ansaru, an Al-Qaeda affiliate group in northwestern Nigeria, is exploiting the absence of the State and security flaws in the Birnin Gwari Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State, where the group protects against violent attacks from terror groups notorious for storming communities in the region. This situation has created valuable opportunities for recruitment and winning the hearts and minds of the local population.
Recently, as part of activities commemorating the Eid festival, the group, formally known as Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimin Fi Biladis Sudan (Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa) reportedly preached against democracy and formal education, and made other anti-government rhetorics in the villages of Damari, Unguwar Gajere, Kakini, Kuyello, and Kwasa Kwasa. The group was said to have offered the locals protection.
Communities in the Northwest and neighbouring Niger State are frequently invaded by terror groups affiliated with the herder community. The groups kill and abduct villagers and commuters intercepted at checkpoints. The violence is part of complex insecurity with several elements, including communal clashes, criminality, revenge attacks, and failure of governance.
In July, Ansaru distributed leaflets in the native Hausa language urging people in the areas under its sphere of influence to join them. “The only way we can bring about change is through armed Jihad, but we have abandoned the divine way and followed the satanic and Jewish way,” the leaflet concludes, after mentioning the region’s security issues.
The Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressives’ Union (BEPU) has also lamented that the group engages in conducting marriage ceremonies and has stopped political activities in certain communities. “We don’t know how the coming elections will take place in those areas because of the presence of Ansaru. Even during the last local government election, elections did not hold in these areas due to the escalating insecurity,” BEPU said in a statement.
“They portray themselves as religious people,” a local journalist, Sarki Dan Hausa, told HumAngle. According to him, the group could be distinguished from other terror groups in the area by how they dress and speak. “Their leader is Mallam Abba, and they have been radicalising youths to join them by approaching people they see as potentially like-minded,” he explained.
The group split from Shekau’s Boko Haram in 2012 after disagreements on operations and ideological issues. In 2013, it was designated as a Foreign Terrorist organisation. Ansaru would gradually enter a hibernation period before the recent resurgence and increased activities, including an attack on the Emir of the convoy with the Emir of Potiskum along Zaria – Kaduna road and the release of occasional messages.
According to Dan Hausa, authorities have warned people to be cautious of their activities and for parents to keep an eye on their children. “The fear is that some young people can be easily wooed with money or sweet talk,” he said. Others, he added, “fear who they associate with because of former threats.”
However, Ansaru has continued to recruit members and even led some communities in prayer. One of the residents of Dugun Mu’azu in Birnin Gwari says the group has penetrated deep into the area, even recruiting a close friend who he knew had extremist tendencies since he was a Hisbah official in Katsina.
“For about four months, people stopped seeing him. We then saw him riding a motorcycle with the Ansaru flag on it,” he told HumAngle after he asked for anonymity. He added that the group has not begun punishing people using their interpretation of Shari’ah law, but that whenever they arrest or kidnap someone, they radicalise him, and he becomes a member of their organisation upon returning.
He explained that communities with no security presence now rely on the Ansaru for protection and fending off attacks, stating that they make a home there, and people prefer them to even the army because they feel safer with them after the government abandoned them.
“It appears that the Ansaru Jihadists have more sophisticated weapons or are better trained than the local terrorists,” he said. Experts believe that Ansaru has received training and weaponry support from AQIM since its official merger, as the group attempts to expand operations in Nigeria through the Ansaru.
In Damari village, the Jihadists clashed with the local terror group and were able to expel them after hours of fighting, and that made the residents feel safer with them. This is viewed as a strategy that could win the hearts of the residents, who will feel safer with them.
According to a source in Dungun Mu’azu, an area close to where Ansaru camped in Birnin Gwari, the terrorists have been handing out money and food to locals to entice them. “They distribute food and money, and they also help people perform religious rituals.” An example is during naming ceremonies. “If they have no money to buy rams, they give them for free,” he said.
All these are happening as the residents of the areas continue to complain that the government has abandoned them. “They are preaching freely for hours in some locations as if we have no government,” another resident who pleaded anonymity told HumAngle.
The activities of the Ansaru in Birnin Gwari could exacerbate the security crisis as the group continues to exploit the security vacuum and governance deficit to propagate its ideology and operations.
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