John Adams, Minna
Shock waves ran through Niger State last month as armed bandits overran five local government areas of the state with sustained attacks, leaving the people with tales of woos over the havoc wreaked on lives and property.
Hell was let loose as the hitherto peaceful farming communities in these five local government areas watched helplessly as armed bandits operated with impunity with no help coming from anywhere.
The District Head of one of the affected communities summarized the situation in his domain thus: “We are at the mercy of these bandits. The situation here is that of everybody to himself and God for us all”.
Sound of guns has become a normal local music to the people as the bandits always shut sporadically into the air to announce their arrival in every place they go to.
The January “month of madness” saw women being raped with reckless abandon and turned widows, men are turned widowers and children orphans.
Ancestral homes have been abandoned as the numbers in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) camps across the affected local government areas have continued to swell everyday with the prospect of looming epidemics.
As at last attack in Kudodo, Galapai, Dnakpala Makera and Dnalgwa communities, all in Shiroro Local Government Area on January 25, about 50 people, including four soldiers and a district head have been killed, 37 people, including women kidnapped, 100 communities sacked and 150,000 people displaced.
According reports from these communities, over 1,000 cattle may have also been stolen by the bandits which the terrain in these communities aided their operations.
The rampaging bandits began their onslaught on January 5, when about 30 of them invaded some communities in Munya Local Government Area and killed four soldiers and injured three others in an ambush attack.
The four soldiers were a captain who led the soldiers in the operation, a staff sergeant and two corporals. Some civilians were also said to have been killed in the attack.
The soldiers were said to have responded to a distress call from Gwar community in the area that armed bandits had invaded the community and are carrying out raid from house to house, shooting sporadically into the air.
The soldiers, on receiving the distress call, quickly mobilized from their base in Zazzaga community and headed to Gwar community accompanied by some armed policemen in their armoured vehicle.
However, before their arrival in the community the bandits were said to have taken to their heals, but the soldiers decided to trail them unknowing to them that the bandits had laid ambush.
On sighting the soldiers, the bandits opened fire and killed the captain on the spot while the remaining soldiers engaged them in a gun battle, which lasted for hours.
The soldiers were over-powered by the bandits who a source closed to the community said numbered about 30 and invaded the community in about 10 motorcycles.
However, few days later, precisely on January 8, the bandits again attacked another community, Beni, in the same Munya Local Government and abducted the Chief Iman of Beni central mosque, Mallam Umar Mohammed.
The bandits, the people said numbering over 50 invaded the community and moved from house to house unchallenged, and dispossessing the people of their property, including cattle.
According to the people, the bandits had a field day in Beni where they looted shops and houses and kidnapped the Chief Iman on his way to a naming ceremony.
Twenty other members of the community were also said to have been kidnapped in the process.
It was also gathered that no fewer than four people were killed while several others were in critical condition following injuries sustained from gunshots.
The District Head of Beni, Alhaji Jafaru Umar Sarki who narrated to our correspondent in a telephone interview how the attack occurred, said that the invasion of the community by the bandits was the second in three days.
“They came three days ago and stole over 200 cows from Fulani men, and this morning (Wednesday, January 8) they came again in their numbers. As I speak to you now they are busy looting shops and moving from house to house and collecting people’s property.
“So far, four people have been killed, they shot another boy in the head and we don’t know if he will survive. They are so many in number, I can’t count them and they are all with gun.
“The unfortunate thing is that we informed the security agents about it after the first attack, but up till now nobody came to our rescue.
“What is the essence of security if people’s lives and property are not save. This community is under siege at the moment and we are helpless”, he lamented.
The district head disclosed that in July last year, two of his daughters were kidnapped on the eve of their marriage, but only regained their freedom after the payment of ransom.
He said that the bandits are demanding N49 million for the release of their latest victims
However, while the people of Beni communities leak their wounds from the attack, the bandits again struck as unspecified number of gunmen in the early hours of Friday January 17, invaded Rumache Community in Kukoki Ward of Shiroro Local Government killing the village head, Mallam Ahmad Yakubu Rumache and kidnapped his 23-year-old son.
The bandits, which the Chairman of Shiroro Local Government, Mallam Suleman Chukuba said invaded the community in the early hours of 2:00a.m, also kidnapped 16 villagers.
The bandits, according to the people, dispossessed them of their property, including cash, and setting their houses ablaze before abducting their victims.
According to the council chairman, who confirmed the attack to our correspondent, the incident came two days after similar attacks were carried out by some heavily armed bandits on four communities of Magami, Gungu, Zongoro and Masuku, all in Shiroro Local Government Area where six people were abducted, but one released half way into the journey.
It was gathered that several others sustained various degrees of injuries from gunshots and other dangerous weapons during the attacks.
The chairman said that the villagers were taken unawares and it was difficult to ascertain the number of bandits who invaded the village since the attack occurred in the night.
“The attack happened at midnight around 1:00 to 2:00a.m. They were many and they took the villagers unawares. No one could ascertain their numbers because it was night.
“As for casualties, only the village ahead of Rumache was killed while his son was kidnapped. However, a day before this attack, the bandits invaded four communities and kidnapped 17 people in Magami, Gungu, Zongoro and Masuku communities.”
The latest attack by the bandits was on Saturday January 25, when about five communities in the same Shiroro were overrun in an early morning raid which left 11 people dead and about 300 cattle rustled.
The bandits who invaded the communities at about 6:00a.m ransacked the entire communities as they moved from one house to another without any resistance for hours.
One of the victims of the attacks identified as Saidu had his two wives raped by four of the bandits in his presence before shooting him at close range.
Communities that were affected in this attack were Kudodo, Galapai, Dnakpala Makera and Dnalgwa.
A source close to one of the communities told our correspondent on telephone that 16 people sustained serious bullet wounds and have been taken to the general hospital in Kuta, headquarters of Shiroro Local Government.
The attack also came 24 hours after another set of bandits invaded four communities of Kusherki, Dakolo, Amale and Ishaw in Paikoro Local Government Area where a postgraduate student of Bayero University Kano and four women were kidnapped while six others were declared missing.
The state governor and other political leaders from the areas have continued to react over what they called declaration of war against the people by bandits.
The governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello in statement through his Chief Press Secretary, Mrs Mary Noel Berje said that the government was in pain over the continued lose of lives and property as a result of bandits attacks.
The government called on the Federal Government to as a matter of urgency come to the rescue of the state by deploying military to the affected communities.
Also in his reaction, the Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, Alhaji Sani Musa, whose constituency is under siege, pointed out that the people have lost everything they have to the bandits, saying that the situation was getting out of hand.
The Senator who recently paid a visit to the Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) camp in Kuta where over 100,000 people are being camped, described the recent onslaught by the bandits as noting but “a declaration of war against the people”.
He appealed to the President Mohammadu Buhari and all security services “to come to our aid without further delay”.
The Chairman of Shiroro Local Government Area, Mallam Suleiman Chukuba in his reaction, raised an alarm over the plight and the living condition of the 110,000 people at the temporary IDP Camp at the Central Primary School in Kuta, headquarters of the local government.
The IDP, the majority of whom are women and children, he disclosed were forced out of their villages as a result of sustained attacks by armed bandits on the area.
The over 110,000 people are currently being camped at the Central Primary School in Kuta under the harsh harmattan wind.
Mallam Chukuba, however, confirmed that the state Emergency Management Agency (NSEMA) has extended some relief materials to the displaced people, saying that the condition of the people could better be imagined than experienced, stressing that “food and water are the immediate challenge facing the people at the moment”.
Chukuba disclosed that two pregnant women have put to bed of two baby boys at the IDP camp, and have been moved to the primary health care centre in the area.
He also disclosed that the council has spent a lot of money to give medical treatment to those who sustained bullet wounds from the attacks, including a 25-year-old girl who was machete on the head for resisting being raped by the bandits.
“In fact, the lingering insecurity in my local government, occasioned by the constant armed bandits attacks in some remote communities of the council is already taking its toll on my very young administration.
“The situation has almost prevented us from embarking on developmental efforts and programmes that can impact positively on the lives of our people at the grassroots”, he said
Worried by this development, President Buhari last week authorized air strike on bandits who have made lives meaningless to the people in recent time.
This directive by the president has brought a sigh of relief to the people who believed that the military intervention is the only respite.
Both the governor and Senator Sani Musa have hailed President Buhari’s directive authorizing air strike on bandits terrorizing communities in the state.
In their separate statements in Minna last Monday, they described President Buhari’s swift response and order of the deployment of air power against renewed banditry in some parts of the state as a great relief to the people.