Insecurity in the northern parts of the country appears to be taking a turn for the worse as banditry assumes a more worrisome dimension. Besides their penchant for killing for no justifiable reasons, bandits have added kidnapping for ransom to their ungodly trade. Worse still, they are killing their victims after receiving ransoms for them, INNOCENT DURU reports.
If the battle against banditry is ever won, one woman whose memory will retain the menace of the hoodlums is Ramatu Abdullahi, an indigene of Zungeru, Niger State.
She recently had one of her sons brutally murdered by bandits in her presence.
The incident, she said, has left an indelible scar in her heart which even time cannot heal.
“Tears freely roll down my eyes each time I remember how my son was bestially murdered by bandits. They move from house to house attacking and killing people. Besides my son, I have lost an in-law and several others,” she said.
Ramatu and other survivors are presently taking refuge in a camp without any amenities.
Some of the people who narrowly escaped being killed by the bandits were said to have died of snakebites while escaping through the bush.
Ilyasu Musa, another native of Zungeru village, would also not forget in a hurry the terror unleashed on his family by the bandits. He recalled that they started attacking his village about five years ago and it has been a frequent occurrence since then.
Musa said: “I have lost my blood brother, an in-law and many relatives to the attacks.
“I am a farmer and virtually all of us are farmers, but it has been long we went to farm because bandits are occupying our farmlands.
“Before now, the government used to provide food for us in the various camps. But as I am talking to you, they have not given us any food in the past two weeks.”
Recalling how he survived bandits’ attacks, Musa said: “I escaped being killed in the attacks because I know the terrain more than the bandits. Because of my knowledge of the terrain, I always knew where to hide each time they struck. I took the same advantage to shield my family members from the assailants.
Musa, who said he was not happy about his continued stay in the camp, added: “Unfortunately, there is no definite time for us to go home, because the problem is not abating.
Once the security situation improves, we will go back home. But going back home now would mean putting our lives on the line.”
Musa’s kinsman, Isiaku Wakai, is also saddened by the loss of his family members to banditry. His predicament is worsened by the conditions in the camp he said is unfit for human habitation. “I am living a very miserable life here,” he said. “We don’t have sufficient food and basic amenities are also lacking.
“The IDP camp was not prepared for human habitation. We are taking refuge in a primary school where we sleep on bare floor most times. The whole place is hot and unhygienic. It is disgustingly untidy; a breeding ground for all manner of sicknesses,” the father of 10 said.
Bandits kidnap for ransom
The Co-convener of Concerned Shiroro Youths, Sani Abubakar Kokki, told of how he had to pay a ransom to secure the release of his brother who was kidnapped by the bandits.
He said: “I have paid ransom to secure the release of some of my brothers. On a number of occasions, I have lost my brothers and had our valuables destroyed.
“Yes, we pay ransom to the criminals. My biological brother once took the ransom to them around the Zamfara axis to secure the release of one of our brothers. The fact that I have not been personally kidnapped does not mean I have not been directly affected.”
He continued: “I have lost quite a number of people. Some months ago, there was attack on our village during which some of my kinsmen volunteered to go and confront the bandits. In the process, some of them lost their lives.
“They have also abducted a number of my kinsmen. People no longer sleep in their houses and are consequently exposed to myriads of dangers in the bush where they are taking refuge. They are exposed to excruciating weather conditions.
“Some months back, they attacked our village and burnt down some of our houses. As I speak to you most of the people have deserted their homes.
“Recently when there was an attack in a neighbouring village, people from Grumana decided to run for their lives by crossing to the other side of the river. In the process, the canoe they boarded capsized and five people drowned. Up until this moment, their bodies have not been found.”
Kokki said the menace started like a child’s play before it snowballed into the monster it is now. “It started like pockets of attacks here and there before it escalated. It is over a year and the attacks have got worse. IDPs are scattered everywhere.
“The bandits attack at any time of the day. There is no slightest resistance from government, so they attack us at will.”
Also furious about the intractable state of banditry is Kokki’s colleague, Jibrin, who said he had lost a lot of relations to banditry.
He said: “Recently, my brother was caught and taken to the camp by the bandits, who later found that he is an Imam in one of the mosques. They decided to set him free but he refused, insisting that they should also free two others kidnapped with him.
“They said the only condition they would free him was if he would go and bring N100,000 ransom for each of them. He gave them the money and had the two others released.
“Many of the survivors suffered snakebites trying to escape through the bush. Many of them are rushed to the clinic after being bitten by snakes. Some of them die on the road.
“Our people also lose their children in the forest while fleeing into safety. It has also been a horrible experience for pregnant women. I remember when Kokochi was attacked, a pregnant woman seized by fear gave birth prematurely. The baby died thereafter.
Genesis of menace
Going down memory lane, Jibrin said: “As far as banditry in Niger State is concerned, I will tell you it almost started from my village, Allawa. As far back as the ending of 2014, some villagers close to ours came to say they were seeing strange faces of herders carrying AK 47.
“Then, some herders were even living with the locals. They could buy something worth of N50 and give you N1,000. They used to go to Binin Gawara /Kaduna Road for their operations and come back to those villages.
“One day, a herder came to Allawa to charge his phone. One of the villagers checked through his phone (because people were already suspecting them at that time) and saw there was a video of the man and his people gathering around the money they had made. And like Boko Haram members would always do, they started shooting into the air, celebrating that they had successfully operated on Binin Gwari Road.
“One of the locals rushed to the police station to inform them about it. The police arrested the herder. The OC then was a two-star policeman. He decided to take the herder to the main division in Kagara. Before the officer returned, he discovered that the herder had been released. The released herder was asking him, ‘Oga, are you back?”
Jibrin added: “In October 2015, some military men came and told the district head of Allawa that they learnt there were armed robbers camped in one village. The district head said he had heard something like that but had not seen it.
“When I went to see him, he said he knew that I must have been informed that military men came and he said no to them because of the way and manner he heard that those bandits were equipped. He said if we should allow the military men to confront them, they might come back to destroy the community. The man later died and was succeeded by another.
“The successor subsequently had his brother visited by the bandits. They robbed him and he went to report to his brother, the village head then. The village head got someone to lead a team of military men to the camp of the bandits. The military underrated the bandits but on getting there, they ran for their lives. That was how we lost the man that escorted them to the camp.
“When the bandits caught up with him, they realised that he was from Allawa community. They said okay, Allawa people have started conniving with military. They attacked Allawa community and killed the village head, the police officer I mentioned earlier, and two other people. They operated for five good hours.”
Jibrin described the atmosphere in the affected areas as very bad at the moment, adding: “Our people are predominantly farmers but they can’t go to their farms now. Because of the military onslaught against them along Katsina and Zamfara axis, the bandits are back to the Niger forest.
“There is this games reserve in Allawa that the government just reserved without a patrol route or van. This is the forest that is housing the bandits.”
Killing, kidnapping galore in Katsina, Kaduna
One of the states that are most affected by bandits’ activities is Katsina. One of the people speaking against the menace in the state, Abubakar Kankia, said: “Just last night (Tuesday), they killed my friend, a customs officer, and took his wife away. They will demand for ransom before releasing her as they always do.
“About 16 days ago, they attacked the house of the dean, student affairs of a federal university here and went away with his 11 years old daughter. Up till now, they have not released her. Two days earlier, they kidnapped a former local government chairman and have demanded N10 million ransom. It is very difficult for a night to pass without this issue coming up. That is the truth, but the government is not ready to do what they are supposed to do.
“Here in Katsina, banditry is getting worse. People in some frontline local governments bordering Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi and others linking Niger have left the areas. In Paskari, I have a friend who has moved away with his family to Funtua. Many in the IDP camps here in Katsina have lost their wives, their children or their husbands.” Kankia, who hails from Kancha Local Government Area, added: “There was a business man they kidnapped his mother and started demanding for ransom. People don’t sleep with their two eyes closed here.
“The worst thing is that after paying ransom, they kill the victim and give you the corpse. On some occasions, when somebody takes ransom to them to free a victim, they will hold the person too.
“In a village under my local government, one person took ransom to the bandits and they held him too. One special adviser to the governor who is a former lecturer in Katsina State Polytechnic, had one of his colleagues kidnapped. When he went to pay the ransom, they released the victim and held him back. He became a victim of circumstances.”
The bandits, Kankia said, often attack from 10pm.
“In the case of the dean of student affairs, the bandits came to the town around 9 pm. The bandits always come very confident, wielding sophisticated weapons.”
He regretted that in a whole local government, “you may not find more than 50 policemen working there. Many have less than 50 policemen. Sometimes, it is local vigilantes that confront the bandits.
“Many of the IDPs are living in classrooms since schools are not in session because of the pandemic. It is always a pitiable sight when they are collecting food.”
In Kaduna, where mindless killings have become the order, the president of the Kukum Community nationwide, Yanshen Sunday Titus, recalled how 21 members of the area comprising youths were killed in one attack.
“The killers struck between 10 pm and 11 pm. The death toll, as we speak, was 21. The assailants killed mainly youths from 22 years downward.
“The attacks occurred after a marriage ceremony. My first son was injured in the attack while two of my nieces and a nephew were killed, making three people that were murdered in my family. We are one hundred per cent farmers here.
“While taking the victims to the hospital, I also learnt of an attack on a neighbouring community where they also killed some people. The attack on our community didn’t last more than five minutes. Two of the victims died on the way to the hospital, two others died in the hospital, remaining 17.
“Now they have discharged five, leaving 12 in the hospital. Unfortunately, nobody has come to ask us how far about the medical bills. We have been paying them on our own. We contributed money to pay the bills.”
Fearing that the blood thirsty criminals might strike again, he said: “The women and the children have been moved out of the community, leaving only the men.”
Asked if they are still going to farm in the face of the attacks, Yashen replied: “How? In the face of all this trauma and tension? Feeding has become a problem.
“The security operatives only came after the attack. They came, shooting sporadically and further scaring people. The already traumatised people started running helter-skelter, putting themselves in more danger.”
The embattled man believes that the attackers were not bandits. “They are herdsmen. We have story to write. There are things we cannot disclose, but we have stories to write because the survivors will tell us what they heard during the attack and what they passed through.
“The people attacking us here are not bandits; they are herdsmen. They only attack the village to kill people. They don’t ask for ransom but come only to kill.
“We don’t know which village is next. The victims were dancing at the wedding party and we suddenly heard gunshots. One of the victims was calling the name of one of the herders who attacked them.”
Asked if there was nothing they could do to stop the attacks, Yashen replied: “There is nothing we can do to stop the attacks. We are just farmers. We don’t know what we have done to the herdsmen. I don’t know there mission and equally don’t know why they are attacking us.
“We have no information that they have a camp anywhere. There was a time we heard that story and mobilised to the place to confirm it but we didn’t see anything.”