By Wole Mosadomi
Of the 25 Local Government Areas, LGAs, in Niger State, eight are under the siege of bandits. They invade communities at will, killing, maiming, burning down houses, and dispossessing residents of their valuables.
The affected LGAs are Shiroro, Rafi, Munya, Tafa, Lapai,Borgu, Marisa and Paikoro.
The criminal acts had started years back with little or no action by concerned authorities.
Before now, the perpetrators had concentrated on cattle rustling.
However, in the past few months, the situation has taken a new dimension as bandits now kill residents of communities they attack.
Also, maiming and raping of women, children and the aged are now the order of the day.
The guts with which they operate leaves everyone surprised and worried.
In large numbers, they storm villages in broad daylight in a convoy of motorcycles with no fewer than two people on each.
They wield dangerous weapons including sophisticated guns, bows, and arrows among others.
They unleash terror on anybody found on their way as they move from house to house.
The terrain leading to most of the communities are not motorable, hence the use of motorcycles by the bandits.
Though federal, state and local governments had jointly intervened by beefing up security in affected areas, the gesture is yet to yield any good results as the killings continue unabated.
Some residents, who are predominantly farmers and fishermen have fled their ancestral homes to safer areas.
This has affected socio-economic activities in the villages. At the same time, children no longer go to school owing to insecurity.
Some live in Internally Displaced Camps but they told Sunday Vanguard they were no longer comfortable staying in the camps due to the current harsh climatic condition.
There is an acute shortage of basic items such as drugs, clothes, and foodstuffs among others.
Chairman of Shiroro LGA which is mostly affected, Mallam Suleiman Chukuba, recently raised the alarm over the living condition of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs at Central Primary School, Kuta, headquarters of the LGA.
According to him, those at the Camp are over 100,000, with women and children in the majority.
They have been forced out of no fewer than 18 communities Some of the areas include Zongoro, Mozaga, Mazuka, Magami, Mazuku, Mazanga, Rumache and Chukuba.
During the invasion, the District Head was killed while 16 others, including the son of the deceased village head, were kidnapped.
The Chairman said:” Over 110,000 people displaced are currently being camped at the Central Primary School in Kuta under harsh harmattan wind. The Council is overwhelmed by the demand for basic needs by the people because we can no longer meet up with their demands.’’
Chukuba, who raised the alarm when the state Emergency Management Agency (NSEMA), led by the Director-General, Alhaji Ahmed Inga, visited the camp recently, pointed out that the condition of the people could better be imagined than experienced.
“Food and water are the immediate challenges facing the people at the moment in the Camp. Besides, two pregnant women, Jemina Buhari and Zarau Bashiru both from Mazuku village had two baby boys at the IDP Camp but have been moved to the Primary Health Care Centre in the area,” he explained.
However, Inga presented some relief materials which included 60 bags of rice, 25 bags of maize, 15 bags of millet,25 gallons of five litres of groundnut oil and palm oil each, seven bags of salt and seven cartons of bathing and washing soaps on behalf of the state government.
Others include 70 buckets, 39 dozens of tablespoons, 15 cartons of maggie cubes and 230 plastic plates.
The Council Chairman while thanking the state government said there is an urgent need to ensure that adequate security is provided in the area, adding that “no amount of relief materials can meet the need of the people”.
He also disclosed that the Council has spent a lot of money to provide medical treatment to those who sustained bullet wounds during the attacks, including a 25- year old girl who was macheted in the head for resisting being raped by bandits.
“The situation has almost prevented us from embarking on development efforts and programmes that can impact positively on the lives of our people at the grassroots,” he lamented.
Some of the displaced persons decried the incessant attacks on their communities by bandits.
One of the victims, Abubakar Muhammad Kuta, said by now, government is supposed to have identified the den of the bandits and flush them out.
“This problem has been lingering for some years and government cannot tell us that they don’t know where these bandits are.
“The state, federal and local governments should come together and flush out these bandits from wherever they are operating from. Maybe government wants to tell us that the bandits are more powerful than them,” he declared.
Peace, not relief materials
Another woman, who simply identified herself as Hajiya Amina said what they need is peace, not relief materials.
She said: “We are tired of these frequent invasions by bandits and the subsequent relief materials that follow. They cannot serve any purpose to us. We have bags of grains, tubers of yams and other foodstuffs in our homes for export and personal consumption.
“What we need from government is adequate security of our lives and property and not relief materials. Our lives are more sacred and more important than the relief materials, ‘’
Also speaking to Sunday Vanguard, the lawmaker representing Niger East Senatorial District in the Senate, Sen Sani Musa, lamented the regular attacks on his constituents.
“The situation is becoming more worrisome because, despite several appeals, government seems not to be tackling the activities of bandits as the situation has remained unabated.
“The havoc wreaked by bandits in the past few months is immeasurable and I hereby call on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene and take decisive steps. “
Senator Musa explained further that some of his people had to hurriedly sell off their belongings to use proceeds to pay ransom.
He said: “My people have sold everything they had including to pay ransom for the release of their loved ones. There are hunger and starvation in my area.
“For many months, bandits have been giving us sleepless nights. Many lives have been cut short, women have been raped. Some were even raped in the presence of their spouses. Children have become orphans and many have been abducted with huge ransoms being demanded.’’
Sunday Vanguard recalls that no fewer than 20 people including four security men and a village head were gruesomely murdered in different attacks across 30 communities in four LGAs.
Also, no fewer than 47 people, including the son of the District of Beni in Munya LGA were kidnapped and are still being held by bandits who are demanding N71.5 million for the captives to regain freedom.
The Bandits that kidnapped 32 people, including the son of the District Head of Beni, are also demanding N49 million ransom while the abductors of 15 people in Kukoki in Shiroro LGA are demanding N22.500million ransom.
It was learned that most of these bandits are not familiar with the areas and could easily be apprehended if there was prompt response from security agents.
For instance, after a recent attack on Munya LGA, the bandits were said to have been unable to find their way out of the area owning to poor knowledge of the environment.
After the operation had been carried out, the bandits started moving from one location to the other, looking for a safe exit.