By Umar Yusuf, Yola
ADAMAWA State in the North East geopolitical zone has had its unwelcome share of the Boko Haram insurgency which also ravages two other states of the region, Borno and Yobe. Though the insurgents are active in many parts of the state, the entire Northern Senatorial Zone is worst hit as it continues to suffer more attacks and devastation.
Reasons for this are not far to seek. The entire senatorial zone shares common border with Borno State which remains the epicentre of Boko Haram attacks. Apart from that, seven local governments in the zone equally share borders with the Sambisa Forest, the dreaded abode of the terrorists. But the relief occasioned by the decimation of Boko Haram insurgents in the affected states seem to have been short-lived in the case of Adamawa as another dreaded group called the Shilla Boys has actively been on the prowl in the state. The group, as the name implies, is made up of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 years. In some cases, kids of under 10 years are co-opted into the group.
Formation of the group
The Shilla Boys emerged from thugs formed by certain politicians during the administration of Governor Mohammed Jibrilla Bindow. While the government held sway, the Shilla Boys soon attained notoriety in thuggery, particularly during clashes with rival groups of thugs belonging to opposition political parties and their supporters. Initially not violent-prone, except for being notorious for abusing of illicit drugs, these thugs were often hired by politicians to settle scores with their opponents.
Their operations from ‘small Sambisa forest’
After the APC-led government of former Governor Muhammed Jibrilla Bindow was defeated in the February 2019 general election, the Shilla Boys temporarily disappeard from the scene as their sponsors could no longer cater for their needs. Soon the once non-violent Shilla boys began to terrorise people. Not quite long after they relocated to a forest close to the bridge linking Jimeta and Girei local governments on the Yola-Mubi-Borno Federal highways. And before security agents knew what was happening, these criminal elements had established themselves firmly in what later came to be known as “Small Sambisa Forest”.
The forest is thick and dark as it is covered by mango trees. In fact, residents who know much about the forest say it is so dark that one needs a torchlight to venture in there even in daytime. It was alleged that some security operatives who attempted to enter the forest to dislodge the occupants never returned to their base. Over time the group continued to grow from strength to strength, especially as more criminal elements joined them, strengthening their ranks.
Today, the Shilla Boys have assumed the status of a full-fledged terrorist group in Adamawa State, especially the state capital and its environs. They are now usually armed with clubs, daggers, knives, axes and other dangerous weapons as they move about to dispossess citizens of their valuables. The boys operate in tricycles popularly called Keke Napep. They operate in twos or more in their Keke Napep and usually pick their unsuspecting passengers only to rob them at any given opportunity even in the daytime.
Initially, their victims were working class ladies with expensive handsets, cash and other valuables; but now anybody can be their victim as they have widened the scope and technique of their operations. It is said that the Shilla Boys now have their agents in banks monitoring those withdrawing huge amounts of cash. And where they fail to rob anyone they have monitored and trailed from the bank to the highway, they make attempt to locate his residence so as to launch an attack in the night.
Though the Shilla Boys have been operating as a law on to themselves, the police and other law-enforcement agencies have equally been monitoring their criminal activities. They have repeatedly cracked down on the dreaded boys. Hundreds of them have lately been arrested. Unfortunately, the more they were arrested, the more they are multiplying, perpetrating more atrocious crimes.
Many security agents lament that as hundreds of them are being arrested and charged to courts, they somehow succeed in escaping justice and finding their way back to the streets. They argue that the courts should be in position to give reasons why suspected Shilla Boys arraigned before them always find their way back within days or weeks. But while the buck-passing between security agents and the courts continue, the citizens who are on the receiving end of the Shilla Boys attacks and atrocious brutality have no choice but to devise ways of defending themselves through available means. For them, the only option remains jungle justice.
It is on record that within the last one month, no fewer that 60 suspected Shilla Boys arrested in different parts of the State capital were killed and burnt beyond recognition with their tricycles. Angry residents say they are fed up with seeing Shilla Boys arrested by the police returning weeks later to unleash terror on them. But following the increasing incidents of residents meting out jungle justice on suspected Shilla Boys, the Adamawa State Police Command has constituted a task force to handle the issue of the terror gang in the State.
It is believed that the current measures against the Shilla Boys will curb their menace, if not completely eradicate them. Meantime, the Police has cautioned citizens not to take the law into their hand, but to hand over apprehended Shilla Boys to law enforcement agents. But it will appear the caution has fallen on deaf ears as no single day passes without five or more suspected Shilla boys being arrested, killed and burnt into ashes in various parts of Adamawa State.