From John Adams, Minna
The surge in kidnapping banditry in Niger State has become a source of deep concern. Not a week passes without one or two incidents of crimes by faceless marauders operating from forests and sometimes from neighboring forests in Kaduna State.
Their mission is always the same- abduction, ransom, harmful attacks or death while their victims are the same rural folks residing in settlements and communities far way from the city-capital.
A diary of their activities in the last few weeks, says so much about how they have become unstoppable by the prevailing security arrangement in the state. The abduction of 28 students of the Government Science College, Kagara, three members of staff and six family members, as well as the kidnap of 42 passengers on board of the state transport authority in a spate of one week, all but tell the sordid story of a state under siege.
The truth, sad as it is, is that the bandits are everywhere in the state. They rob in broad daylight without fear and flee with the peace and quietness of the state, leaving the people in fear and grief.
From their initial presence in Shiroro, Rafi, Munya and Paikoro local government areas, the bandits have extended their influence to Mariga, Bosso, Gawu Babangida and Katcha LGAs, with their eyes set on over running more areas.
A latest statistics of their nefarious activities in the state estimated that over 12,000 villagers, including women and children have been forced to relocate from their homes to make shift camps in primary schools and similar places.
The displaced persons, whose condition are better left unspoken about, could be found in Kuta and Zumba, Shiroro LG; Bosso, Bosso LG and Kagara, Kagara LG. The number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) has also jumped at the six different camps in the affected local government areas. Those lucky to have escaped vowed never to return home. To them, the fear of the bandits is the beginning of wisdom.
There is fear of possible food crisis in a state that once prided itself as the nation’s food basket. All because of bandits! Investigations by Daily Sun revealed that many farmers stayed away from their farms for too long to expect any harvest this year.
But that is not all. The state is awash with the blood of innocent citizens. Like Sicilian Mafia, the bandits have become lords unto themselves. They meet with communities, issue conditions and collect huge sums as ransom for peace. These communities must pay or face the consequences!
This was the experience in Shiroro LG where three different gangs of bandits were said to have met with about 15 communities and demanded N5million as a ransom for peace.
A source in one of the communities told Daily Sun that the communities pleaded with the bandits and settled for N3million: “We have to negotiate with the bandits because we know that help can never come from anywhere.”
Despite the sustained onslaughts on these local communities, security agencies in the state have been doing their best, although they appeared utterly overwhelmed and over- powered.
Early last year, security agencies led by the Commissioner of Police, Adamu Usman, toured the hideouts of the bandits at Sarki Pawa Forest in Munya LG. Others were Brigade Commander, 31 Artillery Brigade, Minna; Commander, Nigeria Air Force Base, Minna; Director, Department of State Services (DSS) and Commandant, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
The CP declared: “The bandits do not have operational camps in Niger State, they rush in from Kaduna area of the forest to attack our boarder communities, mostly hamlet settlements in Niger State and run back before our men could get to them.
“We have discovered that the bandits converge in Gidani village in Kaduna area of the forest, located about 30 kilometers away from Niger State from where they launch attacks on these border communities. We are mapping out new strategies to smoke and flush out the bandits. but we will not disclose these strategies for security reasons.”
Despite his assurances, it has been business as usual as many communities are still under siege or suffer from periodic attacks. In fact, the killing of 11 soldiers and 17 policemen in Erena, Shiroro LG in a mysterious circumstance erased any hope that the “blockage” would bear any fruit.
The killing occurred barely two months after an army captain and four other soldiers were ambushed and killed by bandits in Munya LG, after they responded to a distress call from a community.
Between January and April 2020, 58 people, including the 32 security personnel (15 soldiers and 17 Mobile policemen) and seven members of the local vigilance group were killed by bandits.
Besides the huge death toll, the apparent superior power of the bandits in a number of these showdowns instilled fear in security officers in the state. Their morale is undoubtedly low and they are not in any haste to engage the bandits.
A senior security officer in the state told Daily Sun in confidence that due to superior weapons used by the bandits, it would be difficult to confront them: “The only way our men can go after these people is when the government provide us with armored personnel carriers from where we can attack them. The bandits are more equipped than us and that is the truth.”
This situation was collaborated by Governor Abubakar Sani-Bello. He observed that the security agents were not only ill- equipped but overstretched:
“We have been making efforts to see that it is being curtailed, but it has been extremely difficult, mostly because of manpower shortage and lack of equipment.
“The strength of the entire police in Niger State is just about 4,000. It used to be 14,000. The police are overstretched and I believe even the military is the same.
“The state government is overwhelmed because the number of attacks is increasing. If nothing is done, things will go out of control.
“People are reluctant to go back to their communities, so again, the number of IDPs is increasing. We have never experienced this before, even though we used to have some pockets of security challenges but not in this magnitude.”