John Adams, Minna
For sometimes now, bandits have been ravaging parts of Niger State. The state government has, therefore, stepped up its war against banditry. It established vigilance groups to compliment the effort of the military, police and other security agents.
Government followed it up with the presentation of patrol vehicles and motorcycles to the local vigilantes. No fewer than 120 motorcycles and 12 Hilux vans were inaugurated and distributed to 300 local vigilance groups in the five local government areas under siege of bandits.
This is coming barely a month after government presented three Hilux vans and 33 motorcycles to the Nigerian Army to assist in the battle against banditry and kidnap.
Governor Abubakar Sani Bello said at the presentation: “The vigilance members with good knowledge of the local communities will greatly assist the other security agents to lunch onslaught against the bandits. There are informants who are providing information to the bandits the war against all forms of banditry must be won.
“It has become absolutely necessary for us to put an end to these attacks. We have noticed that there is a wide gap between the government and the general public especially the affected communities. I am not inclined to say everything here so that it is not counterproductive, because reports from various security outfits in the state have it that apart from four local government areas, other parts of the state are calm.
“Incidents of attacks have caused major upsets in the state. But that the Government is providing logistics to ensure the activities of these forces are dismissed. We have supported security agencies but we are still faced with challenges that is why we are restructuring the local vigilante.
“The bandits are very sophisticated such that they have informants among us even in this room (Government House). They move with the assistance of some people who give them information about security strategies.
“Nobody is happy, about what is happening, it is time for us all to come together. These bandits have ears everywhere. After President Muhammadu Buhari sent us the best of equipment, but we cannot catch them again because they have been informed by some persons who don’t mean well for the people.
“We are trying to use the vigilance groups to assist us. We will re-strategise because the social media has exposed efforts by the government and security agencies. All the codes and efforts in place will be changed now.”
The governor while presenting the keys of the vehicles to chairmen of the most affected local government areas, told members of the vigilance groups: “I know you don’t have AK47 or sophisticated weapons, but I know you are all well prepared.” He directed security agents to arrest anyone riding motorcycle without number plate: “Such person will be regarded as a kidnapper.”
The decision to engage the local vigilantes was informed by the sustained onslaughts by the bandits in Shiroro, Munya, Rafi, Paikoro and Mariga local government areas. January 2020 could easily be described as “Black January” as armed bandits overran these five local government areas leaving the people with tales of woes.
Hell was let loose as the hitherto peaceful farming communities watched with disbelief as armed bandits operated with reckless abandone. The district head of one of the affected communities told Daily Sun: “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 shoot sporadically into the air to announce their arrival in places they go. January saw women being rapped in the presence of their children and husbands, and later turned widows, men became widowers and children turned orphans.
Ancestral homes abandoned as the figures in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) camps in the affected local government areas continued to swell everyday with facilities being overstretched, and lives become meaningless.
As at last attack in Kudodo, Galapai, Dnakpala Makera and Dnalgwa communities, all in Shiroro LG on January 25, 2020, about 50 people including four soldiers and a district head were killed, 37 people including women kidnapped, 100 communities sacked and 150,000 people displaced. Over 1,000 cattle may have also been stolen by the bandits which the terrain in these communities have aided their operations.
The rampaging bandits began their onslaught on January 5, when about 30 of them invaded some communities in Munya LG and killed four soldiers, injuring three others in an ambush attack. The soldiers were a captain who led 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 air.
The soldiers, on receiving the distress call, mobilised from their base in Zazzaga community and headed to Gwar 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.
Ever since then, the sounds of guns have refused to ease in these communities. This informed the recent decision by the Buhari to order airstrike on locations in the affected communities.
Chairman, Shiroro LG, one of the affected local governments, Alhaji Sulieman Chukuba, said: “My people can no longer go to the farm for fear of being killed or kidnapped. My people have lost everything to these bandits, the situation is very terrible. Since I assumed office I cannot embark on any developmental programme because everyday it is one security challenge or the other.”