•Residents flee their ancestral homes •Farming disrupted; prices of foodstuffs soar
•Displaced residents flood IDPs’ camps
By Wole Mosadomi
Niger state has been under siege from bandits for the past seven years. Out of the 25 local government areas in the state, 18 have been attacked by these bandits and local government areas which are constantly invaded and almost completely overrun are Shiroro, Munyan, Rafi, Mashegu and of recent Paiko.
These bandits now strike mostly in the day time and operate without any challenge from the security agents.
Their mode of operation remains the same; riding on motorcycles with not less than two to three of them on each motorcycle and fully armed. Sounds of gun shots rent the air to herald their arrival and scare the villagers and anybody that comes across them, men, women, old and young are felled by their bullets. They would then move from house to house in search of money, foodstuffs, other handy valuables and also rustle cows and other domestic animals. In some cases, the houses of the residents are completely burnt down thereby rendering them homeless. Besides, many have been maimed while the women, both old and young ended up being raped.
History of bandits attacks What started as mere cattle rustling in 2015 has now turned into a full blown war against the defenceless people with no end in sight. Shiroro local government had witnessed the highest number of attacks since the first incident which occurred in some communities in March 2015 when 30 heavily armed bandits suspected to be cattle rustlers invaded them leaving 20 people killed.
64-year-old Dauda Ibrahim, from Kokoki village lost two of his children who were secondary school students in the midnight attack. According to him, “that was my first time of seeing such a thing happening because for over 100 years of the existence of this village, we had never witnessed such dastardly act before”. He said since then, there has never been peace in the area till now.
Between March and December, 2015, forty communities came under severe attacks from these bandits.
No fewer than 38 people were killed while many others fled from their homes. 2,000 cattle and 300 sheep were stolen from the people by the bandits. Also 15 people were kidnapped and ransom of about N11million paid by their relations.
The then Governor of the state, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu immediately convened a meeting of stakeholders comprising all the local government chairmen, emirs, districts heads, village heads and the representative of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Niger state to check the trend. Security reports made available to the government then revealed that those behind the gruesome killings were not the familiar herdsmen but the report was said to have been swept under the carpet.
Subsequently, in 2016, 36 bloody attacks were carried out in about 70 communities across the three local government areas. Communities like Kaure, Kukoki, Ajata and Kwaki, all in Shiroro Local Government Area became theatres of war. Pandogeri, Allawa and Madaka in Rafi Local Government Area were not spared by the bandits. Over 50 people were killed, 12 others were kidnapped and N5million was paid by relations as ransom to secure the release of the victims while 2,600 cattle were rustled.
Disturbed by these incessant killings, former Senator for the affected Zone, David Umaru took his displeasure to the security agencies in Abuja for their intervention. The move yielded result as the then Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who is also from Niger state ordered the then Commissioner of police in the state, Muazu Zubaru to flush out these criminals. Acting on this directive, the police led other sister security agencies to launch an all out attack against the bandits in an operation, code named “Puff Adder” and this brought some respite to these communities.
However on January 15, 2017, the bandits struck again, killing nine people, with 6,000 others rendered homeless. Five people were abducted and N3million ransom was later paid to secure their release. Between April and June 2017, 11 people were killed, about N30million was paid as ransom by the residents to secure their release with about 1,000 cattle and 150 sheep stolen.
Between September and December in 2017, 20 villages within Zagzaga community in Munya local government with about 250,000 inhabitants became a safe abode for these armed men.
The bandits, within six months in the area carried out another attack killing six people and abducted 19 people including an SS11 female student of Day Secondary School, Zagzaga who served as cook for abducted persons for two weeks before ransom was paid on her behalf and she was eventually released. The communities it was gathered paid N11 million to secure the release of all those kidnapped after selling almost all their farm produce. This situation forced 90 percent of the 250,000 inhabitants to relocate to nearby Communities.
In 2018, thirteen All Progressives Congress (APC) Chieftains were abducted from Munya local government on their way to party stakeholders meeting at Sarkin Pawa, the Council headquarters. The kidnappers demanded N30 million as ransom for their release but later settled for N13 million before they were able to regain their freedom. Also a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) attached to Sarkin Pawa division was abducted and unconfirmed reports had it that the state government paid N4million for his release. Between January and March 2018, 20 people were kidnapped and N19 million ransom was said to be paid while four people lost their lives.
However on 12th of September, 2019, another coordinated attacks were launched by the bandits across the three local government areas of Shiroro, Rafi and Munya during which 80 people were killed, 100 others wounded and about 1,000 people fled from their homes. Between September and December, the blood letting continued unabated and about 100 people were killed with 70 killed in one attack in Kwaki, Barden, Dawaki, Ajayin, Ajatai, Bataro, Bwailo and Giji communities leaving 3,500 people displaced.
After that bloody attacks, the state government deployed a joint security patrol to the affected communities to restore normalcy but the difficult terrain almost frustrated their efforts though some level of normalcy was achieved.
The attacks attracted serious reactions and condemnation from some political leaders in the areas, including the current Senator representing the zone, Senator Sani Musa who called for military action against the bandits, saying that it was not acceptable that some criminal elements would hold the people to ransom.
This development forced the government to enter into a “Peace Deals” during which the amnesty was offered to the bandits and 13 of them earlier arrested by security agents in parts of the state were released. No fewer than 40 of them were said to have surrendered their arms to the government as part of the peace deal.
However, less than a month after the so-called peace deals, another set of bandits attacked some communities in Rafi local government, leaving four people killed, 20 people injured and six abducted.
However last year, the attacks assumed a different dimension. Apart from Chanchaga, Bosso, Suleja, Tafa and Gawu Babangida, the remaining local government areas in Zone B Senatorial District have been taken over by the bandits.
Worried by this development, political leaders from the areas, including Senator Sani protested to the senate which attracted the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari who ordered air strike on the bandits’ location in the state. This, the residents said has not yielded any results as they accused the Air Force of always bombing wrong targets while the bandits had fled the area.
In addition to the air strike ordered by the President, the state governor empowered local vigilantes with vehicles and motorcycles to help compliment the efforts of the security agents.
However, the mother of all attacks was the killing of 11 soldiers and 17 mobile policemen on March 26 2020 in Erena in circumstances which have remained unclear with different accounts of the incident. The killing of the security personnel came barely two months after an army captain and four other soldiers were ambushed and killed by the bandits in Munya local government when they went to respond to a distress call from a community under attack. This again was followed by the invasion of some communities in Shiroro in April where no fewer than 15 people were killed, eight abducted and about 2,000 rendered homeless.
Between January and April 2000, 58 people including the 32 security personnel (15 soldiers and 17 mobile policemen) and seven local vigilantes paid the supreme price. In addition, 70 people were kidnapped and N40million paid to secure their freedom. The number of displaced had also tripled across the three local government areas.
Farmers unable to embark on full scale farming
For the past few years, most of the farmers in the state have been totally displaced and can no longer embark on full scale farming and this has had negative impact on food production and prices. Some of the crops which were harvested between 2019 and 2020 were stolen by these bandits and the remaining set on fire. Invariably, these developments have pushed up prices of all foodstuffs not only in Niger state but nationwide.
The banditry which started gradually through cattle rustling in Shiroro local government area in 2015 has now gone beyond control as it has spread to other local government areas forcing many to abandon their ancestral homes to take refuge in different Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps located in six different places across the three local government areas of the state.
Displaced residents flood IDPs’ camps
According to statistics provided in 2020, no fewer than 3,600 residents, including men, women and children have been forced to relocate from their homes to camps at primary schools in Kuta and Zumba in Shiroro local government, Bosso in Bosso local government and Kagara in Kagara local government.
The Camp in Kuta, the headquarters of Shiroro local government is said to be having the highest number of the IDPs, with over 3,000. As the attack continues, no doubt, the number in the camp will continue to increase too. The Bosso primary school camp is also said to be accommodating over 2,500.
The other IDPs camps in Zumba, Kagara and Erena towns accommodate not less than 2,000 people each.
These IDP Camps are over congested and the people exposed to various health challenges due to lack of potable water and other basic amenities like toilets to cater for the upsurge of those in the camps.
For instance, there are only two toilets at the Kuta camp which is accommodating over 3,000 people and this development has forced everybody, especially the Children to defecate openly. It was gathered that about 80 women and children shared one classroom, making it difficult to observe any social distancing in line with COVID–19 protocol.