John Adams, Minna
Life is gradually returning to communities in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State the invasion and massacre of about 70 people within three days by armed bandits suspected to be cattle rustlers. The deployment of troops and men of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) in the affected communities brought the blood letting under control as the people can now heave a sigh of relief.
Sunday, June 9, 2019, could be described as the darkest day in the lives of the people of the eight communities of Kwaki, Barden dawaki, Ajatawyi, Gwassa, Ajayin, Bataro, Bwailo, Baton and Giji as they were woken up by the sound of gun from armed bandits who invaded the communities.
About 100 heavily armed men in 52 motorcycles stormed these communities in a commando manner in the wee hours of the day. After about three hours, 12 people were gunned down and 20 others seriously injured in Kwaki during the first attack. While the people were trying to recover the bodies of those killed on Sunday night and take the injured to the hospital, the gunmen came calling again, this time in a broad daylight, and all dressed in black with some of them masked.
A member of Kwaki community said they suspected that those in mask were conspirators, “because they were moving from house to house and asking people to bring their money. They would collect your money and any other valuable before killing you. There is nothing they did not take from the people, including motorcycles.”
“They came with 52 motorcycles and left with about 60. If they saw new motorcycle, they would set fire on their older motorcycle and collected the new one”, another eyewitness said. Seven communities were overrun by the bandits. To make matter worst, the closest police outpost is in Erena, about 20 kilometers from the affected communities.
When the gunfire died down at about 6:00pm in an operation that started around 2;00pm, the communities were reduced to ghost towns. The people; men and women, children and the aged took to their heels, abandoning the dead.
However, after the census of the dead and the injured were taken, Daily Sun gathered that 58 people were killed living about 100 others critically injured. The breakdown of the death figures shows that 19 people died in Kwaki, 14 in Barden Dawaki, while eight died in Ajatawyi.
Other casualties included seven dead in Gwassa, five in Ajayin Bataro, four in Bwailo, three in Baton and two in Giji. Over 800 heads of cattle were also rustled during the attacks.
A resident of Kwaki, Mallam Buhari, narrated: “The people came with about 52 motorcycles and they were wearing black cloths and some of them with mask. They said they would kill anybody without money to give them.
“In fact, after given them your money they would still kill you. They moved from house to house and took any valuable thing they saw, including food items.
“They came in about 52 motorcycles but when they were leaving, they went with about 60 motorcycles. When they saw a new motorcycle, they would burn their own old one and carried the new one. They had a field day doing what they wanted.”
However, the deployment of soldiers in six Hilux vehicles and 30 motorcycles, and a detachment of Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), in the areas restored normalcy but the people are yet to return to their homes.
The Niger State Emergency Management Agency (NSEMA), said more than 2,583 people are currently taking refuge in six Internally Displaced People’s camps in Erena and other communities. Sources said government was yet to make arrangements for relief materials for the IDPs. They have been surviving on the goodwill of people in the neighboring communities.
Meanwhile, the state government and the senator representing Niger East, the affected area, David Umaru, were engaged in a war of wards over the actually casualty figures from the massacre. Umaru insisted 58 people were killed by the bandits. This in addition to the 12 killed on Sunday in he attack.
He disclosed that other people were killed after the initial attack on Sunday, bringing the figure to 70. In addition, he claimed over 800 heads of cattle were rustled.
But government, which non of its official had visited any of the affected communities, faulted the claim: “The figure is not only grossly exaggerated, but the reports in the media credited to Senator Umoru is spurious and unfortunate an attempt to make Niger State unsafe in the eyes of the world.”
A statement by Alhaji Isah Aliyu Ekan, Permanent Secretary, Cabinet and Security, stated: “The Senator’s claim is, to say the least, fictitious and also a mischievous attempt to generate ill-will between the people of the affected areas and the state government.
“First, the death toll before the swift intervention of the military joint taskforce was 12 with 22 wounded and not 70 as purportedly claimed by David Umar.”
Both government officials and the senator are yet to physically visited the affected communities after the attack, which rendered over 1,000 people homeless.