How we joined group — Varsity students
By Wole Mosadomi, Minna
It was early morning invasion of the forest by a combined team of security personnel which included the army, the airforce, the navy, the police, the State Security Service (SSS) and the civil defence corps.
The mission was not for animal hunting but for human dislodgement. As early as 4 a.m on Wednesday, the security personnel, led by Lt. Col. Adamu Yakubu, stormed the forest in Cheche village, in Lapai local government area of Niger State to flush out over 240 members of an Islamic sect.
The sect, said to have been in existence for about eight years in Lapai town, moved to the forest, its new camp, only last year, and is allegedly headed by the son of a wealthy Lapai indigene.
It has followership mostly of youths including students of the state owned university, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University (IBBU), Lapai, (named after former General Ibrahim Babangida); College of Education, Minna and even men and women from within and outside the state.
Security reports showed that members of the sect may have been indoctrinated in line with the teachings of their leader and therefore became a security threat. Sunday Vanguard learnt that the sect moved to the camp after the leader had applied to the state government for the approval of a vast land in Lapai town for the purpose of building a school.
Since it is the policy of the Niger State government to assist prospective investors, the state government jumped at the demand. A vast land of about 208.88 hectres was approved for the leader and a certificate of occupancy also handed over to him in record time.
Sooner than later, reports showed that the site had been turned into the headquarters of a sect.
Not only that, the members were said to be fomenting trouble and attacking members of the public who did not share their views. They were also accused of forcefully dissolving marriages and also conducting marriages after dissolving legal weddings.
Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, after receiving reports from security agencies and residents of the area immediately set up a task force to investigate the allegations. The outcome of the report led to the invasion of the forest by security personnel during which the members were rounded up.
Members of the sect did not seem to have premonition of the invasion. In the forest were tents built of straw and covered with leaves that served as the sect members’ residence.
While preparing for the early morning prayers (Asuba) on the day, the security personnel invaded the forest and surrounded the parcel of land the sect members were occupying. They were captured, interrogated and taken in three luxurious buses to their respective local government areas.
A breakdown of the sect members indicated that 130 were from Lapai including students of the university in the town while others are from other local government areas of Niger State and very few from outside the state.
The exercise was carried out without maximum force and, therefore, no life was lost.
The forest used as camp by the sect is very close to IBBU. This invariably gave room for easy recruitment of their students.
It was gathered that one of the kiosks in the campus was being used as recruitment centre by the owner who attracted students with money and lured them to the camp.
One of the sect members, Khadijat Idris, a 300 level physics student from Kwara State, in an interview, said she joined the group about six months ago through a male friend, Umar Mohammed, who later became her ‘husband’.
“Mohammed invited me to one of the programmes of the sect and I became fascinated by the preaching of the leader. For the past six months, I have been in the camp and going for lectures from there,” she explained.
On why she decided to vacate the school for the camp, Khadijat said,” I don’t want to miss any of the preachings. Infact, I want to be with my leader and teacher always.”
She added, “All the allegations against my leader are not true. I have no regret following him as my Islamic leader and I want to tell you that my parents are even aware that I am with him. When I newly joined the sect, I met some students of the university here and we are still together and I can assure you that more would still be coming to join us because of the quality teaching of my leader.”
Another student of IBBU, Abdullahi Mohammed, who is also a member of the sect and a micro-biology student, told our correspondent that he had been with the sect leader since childhood.
He said,” I believe strongly in our leader because he believes in Allah and can never lead us astray. We are here to learn Qur’an and nothing else. We are peaceful people because we don’t kill or preach violence. We are not known for adultery and fornication as being rumoured and above all, we have nothing to do with Boko Haram.”
In the meantime, the Emir of Lapai, Alhaji Umar Bago Tafida, told members of the task force who visited him in his palace that Governor Aliyu should be commended for his pro-active steps in tackling security matters in the state.
“If not for the step taken, this town would have been a breeding camp for future religious sect which would have consumed not only this town or state but the country as a whole.
It is very unfortunate and a shock to me and people of this town that we have found ourselves in this position. I cannot understand what has come up with our youths now that they are refusing to obey simple instructions. I am afraid of today’s youth because their future is shaky. Greed has taken over our people especially the youth.
They are being tempted with money.
The leader of the group has indoctrinated our youth against the tenets of Islam and they believe that there is nothing wrong in what they are doing. I have stopped them severally from public preachings and my being against them has made me to be their number one target,” the royal father said.
Bago further disclosed that the sect members engaged in things which attract the youth to their camp.
Spokesman for the group, however, debunked the allegations that its members were hostile and were trying to cause mayhem in Lapai or Niger State, adding that they were purely propagating Islam with the Qur’an being their guide.
“We are not an extension of Boko Harm sect. We don’t have any link with Boko Haram. Infact, we don’t share any belief with them or have anything common with them. Boko Haram’s agenda is to unleash terror on innocent people but we are not only peaceful Islamic scholars but also farmers,” he explained.
Speaking impeccable English, he continued “Most of us were in the mosque when the security men came this morning and we did not attack them and, when they searched our rooms, they did not find anything incriminating on us neither did they find any ammunition with us. Infact, one of the clear instructions from our leader is to preach peace and maintain peace which we follow,” the spokesman stated.
Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Idris Ndako, said, after the exercise, that the land was earlier given and C-of-O approved for the sect leader out of the belief that the vast land would be used for the building of a school.