*Everybody knows where bandits are — WAMAKKO
*Lament losses; say 77,400 housing units initiative in limbo
*Niger communities wail over fleeing Zamfara bandits invading their villages in search of food
*One villager shot, two women abducted by bandits
*Reverse networks shutdown in Zamfara, Katsina now, SERAP tells Buhari
By Wole Mosadomi, Olasunkanmi Akoni & Chris Ochayi
Stakeholders in the real estate sector of the economy have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to extend the shutdown of telecommunications networks currently operational in Zamfara State to adjoining troubled states in the North-West zone.
However, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, differed, and urged President Buhari to order the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, and the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, to immediately reverse the suspension of internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara State and 13 local government areas of Katsina State.
The real estate stakeholders’ call came as communities in Niger State yesterday raised alarm over invasion of their areas by bandits fleeing military onslaught in Zamfara.
According to residents of the communities, the bandits came in search of food, shot a villager and abducted two women.
President of Real Estate Development Association of Nigeria, REDAN, Dr. Aliyu Wamakko, who made the call in an interview with Vanguard in Abuja weekend, particularly pleaded with President Muhammadu Buhari to replicate the Zamfara networks shutdown in Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna and Kebbi states to boost the ongoing military offensive against bandits.
He insisted that government must take more drastic measures to bring banditry in the areas to an end.
‘Everybody knows where bandits are’
He said: “We call on the Federal Government to extend this gesture to Sokoto, Kaduna Katsina and Kebbi states because we believe it will yield result.
“Let us chase them to where their den is, we should not allow them to strike before we follow them. The issue of people waiting until the bandits come into town before you take on them is unacceptable. They are in Nigeria. In fact, let me tell you, the plain truth is that everybody in Zamfara State knows where these bandits are. Even the military, the police, the DSS, everybody knows where they are.
“So the issue is to go and swoop on them. It is not an issue that you will say you are waiting for somebody, an enemy to come and meet you and strike before you retaliate.”
On why the government had kept quiet this long, he said: “I don’t know. You can ask the security agencies because they know this is not a hidden case, everybody knows.
“Even the villagers know, everybody knows, including our security intelligence system. What are they doing?
“The truth is we better chase these people before it is too late for us. These are illiterate people.
“How do you imagine an AK-47, AK-49, rocket launchers being held by these illiterates and still our military cannot do anything?
On source of the sophisticated weapons used by the bandits, he said: “The proliferation of arms from Libya is what is destroying the whole of West African countries.
“It is not a hidden case, everybody knows where these arms come from, and that is why the arms are very cheap. With N700,000, you can get an AK 47.
Wamakko noted that the worsening insecurity in the country is adversely affecting the practice of their trade and threatening the means of livelihood of actors in the sector.
He warned that except urgent measures are taken to curtail the Boko Haram terrorists in the North-East, banditry in North-West and some parts of North-Central, the quest to attract foreign investors into the country, especially in the real estate sector, will amount to efforts in futility.
‘Impact of insecurity on real estate enormous’
Describing the impact of insecurity on real estate as enormous, he said: “One, I want you to understand that there is no way we work in a hazardous environment, we need a quiet environment for us to showcase our talent and produce what we think is going to be habitable to Nigerian people.
“Because of issue of insurgency and banditry, it has restricted us from going into other parts of the country and be able to develop what is supposed to be the right thing for us to do under that environment.
“Let me give you an example. We have a programme called Rural Urban Housing Initiative, where we intended to build 100 housing units in all the 774 local government areas of the country, but it is only doable where there is security.”
Niger state communities wail over influx of Zamfara bandits
Similarly, communities in Niger State have cried out over fleeing bandits from Zamfara State who invaded their villages in search of food; shooting one villager and kidnapping two women.
Our correspondent reliably gathered that no fewer than 20 of the armed bandits yesterday invaded Iburo Community in Shiroro Local Government Area during which they shot a man and abducted two women.
It was gathered that the bandits were desperately in search of food after their hideouts were raided by the military in both Katsina and Zamfara states.
A source said the bandits stormed the village around 1:00 pm in about 10 motorcycles yesterday, fully armed.
On arrival at the village, they were said to have shot sporadically to register their presence and scare the villagers. They were then said to have moved from house to house demanding for foodstuffs, money and other valuables to keep their souls alive.
The source said the villagers were told not to be afraid, as they (bandits) were not in their communities to kill but to collect foodstuffs and other valuables but with a warning that they were ready to kill anybody who failed to cooperate with them.
According to the source, a middle aged man who dared them was eventually shot.
“They told us that we should just give them foodstuffs and anything they demanded and that they were not here to kill us but warned that anybody who refused to cooperate will be killed.
“The man who was eventually shot only explained to them that he had no foodstuffs at home and the angered bandits shot him but we thank God he did not die.
“The bandits eventually went away with all kinds of foodstuffs and other handy valuables packed into sacks they brought along and abducted two women.
The man shot, it was gathered, was rushed to the hospital where he is currently receiving treatment.
Task force arrests 2 informants
Meanwhile, the Joint Security Task Force in Niger State yesterday arrested two suspected informants of bandits.
The two suspects, Audu na Mallam and Dan Buga, have been on the watch list of the villagers in the past few weeks. They were accused of leaking vital information to bandits who had been attacking communities in the state.
Efforts to get the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, of the state command, DSP Wasiu Abiodun, proved abortive as he could not be reached to confirm and give more information on the development.
SERAP seeks reversal of telecoms shutdown
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has urged President Buhari to order Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, and the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC to immediately reverse the suspension of internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara State, and 13 local government areas of Katsina State.
The NCC recently ordered telecom operators to suspend all telecommunications networks in Zamfara State, and at least 13 local government areas of Katsina State purportedly to check “banditry”/terrorism.
But SERAP in an open letter, dated September 11, 2021, signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, stated that the suspension without any legal justification, was inconsistent with the principles of necessity and proportionality, describing it as ‘a form of collective punishment of Nigerians resident in these states.”
The organization threatened that failure to reverse it within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of the letter, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions in the public interest.
According to SERAP: “The suspension is particularly egregious, and suggests a disturbing trend, especially given the growing restriction of civic space in Nigeria. Shutdowns should never become an entrenched practice in the country.
“While the authorities have a legal responsibility to protect, ensure and secure the rights to life and property, any such responsibility ought to be discharged in conformity with constitutional and international human rights standards.”
The letter read: “Large-scale shutdowns of communication networks are a form of collective punishment. Shutdowns exert significant chilling effects, with direct implications on participatory democracy, whose existence depends upon an active and informed citizenry capable of engaging with a range of ideas.
“Shutdowns generate a wide variety of harms to human rights, economic activity, public safety and emergency services that outweigh the purported benefits. The suspension has the potential to affect millions of internet and telecommunication users in these states, and those on the margins of society are most impacted by it.
“The suspension of internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara and Katsina states fails to meet the requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality.
“The requirement of necessity also implies an assessment of the proportionality of restrictions such as the telecoms blackout in these states, with the aim of ensuring that restrictions target a specific objective and do not unduly intrude upon human rights.
“While checking the activities of bandits/terrorists in these states could conceivably be viewed as justification for exceptional measures necessary to protect public order or national security, the authorities have so far failed to show how shutting down internet and telecommunication networks is necessary to achieve the stated purposes in those states.”
SERAP maintained that there was no convincing justification that the stated objectives of checking the activities of bandits/terrorists could not be achieved through measures with a lesser impact on the rights to freedom of expression and information than the wholesale blocking of internet and telecommunication networks in those states.
The organisation, however, urged Buhari to sponsor an executive bill to explicitly recognize the right to access and use the internet as a constitutional and legal right, and as an essential condition for the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and information.
It continued: The imposition of any restrictions should be guided by the objective of facilitating the right, rather than seeking unnecessary and disproportionate limitations on it. Restrictions must not be discriminatory, impair the essence of the right, or be aimed at causing a chilling effect. Internet and telecommunication shutdowns fail to meet all of these conditions.
“Internet and telecommunication shutdowns amount to inherently disproportionate interference with the rights to freedom of expression and information. Necessity requires showing that shutdowns would achieve their stated purpose, which in fact they often jeopardize.
“We would be grateful if the suspension of internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara and Katsina states is reversed within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions in the public interest.
“The rights to freedom of expression and access to information are protected by Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 [as amended], Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
“These rights must be protected online as they are protected offline. Access to the Internet is a fundamental right. Access to the internet is also a necessary precondition for the exercise and enjoyment of human rights online and offline.
“Your government therefore has a legal obligation to enable access to the Internet for all, as access to the Internet is inextricably linked to the exercise of freedom of expression and information.
“Further, any measures to address security challenges must make use of the least restrictive means to achieve that legitimate aim.”