Niger is one of the states in Northern Nigeria much hit by the scourge of mass kidnapping and abduction for ransom by bandits.
Early this year, bandits invaded some schools in the State and abducted hundreds of pupils, students and their teachers as well as routinely block highways to kidnap travellers, their favourite target being commercial vehicles from which they captured scores of passengers to unknown destinations.
Also, there is the combined forces of Boko-Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) openly operating in Borgu and Shiroro Local Government Areas.
Some notable and recent activities of the bandits include the kidnap of 27 students and their teachers of the Government Science College, Kagara as well as 18 passengers of the State Transport Authority (NSTA) abducted in Kundu village near Zungeru in Yakila District of Rafi Local Government Area of the state all in February,2021
Again, there was the abduction of 136 pupils of the Salihu Tanko Islamiyya Tegina, Rafi local government on 30th May. They were held captive for almost three months before they regained their freedom on 27th of August.
In August, the State witnessed the abduction of the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mohammed Idris by gunmen at Baban Tunga village of Tarfa Local Government Area of the state who was later released after five days without the payment of ransom.
In September, Alh. Mahmud Aliyu, the district head of Wawa in Borgu Local Government Area of the state was whisked away from his palace in the night by heavily armed gunmen and was released after 47 days in the grip of his abductors.
In October, there was the abduction of about 30 passengers in three separate vehicles along the Zungeru-Garin-Gabas highway. In the attacks unleashed by gunmen suspected to be bandits on Addogun-Mallm, Maza-kuka, Tunga Ba’ari communities in Mashegu LG led to the killing of scores of worshippers in the mosques and many were equally abducted. This was in November.
The Bandits also invaded communities in parts of the state such as Shiroro, Munya, Rafi, Mariga, Mashegu, Lapai, Wushishi, Borgu, councils, among others where many were abducted and ramsons paid. Many were killed, others injured, while houses, farm produce were set ablaze. This development forced thousands to flee their ancestral homes and now taking refuge in IDPs camps set up in various councils.
Over 151, 380 people, mostly peasant farmers, have been displaced due to the activities of bandits in the last two years, according to state Emergency Agency as disclosed by Secretary to the State Government, Ahmed Matane, during a press conference in Minna last month.
Amid these challenges in April, 2021, the state Governor, Alh Abubakar Sani Bello raised the alarm regarding the presence of Boko Haram elements in Shiroro Local Government where they have already hoisted their flag.
However, two months ago, the council chairman of Shiroro raised another alarm that the sect had taken over 500 communities in eight wards of the LG. Chikuba named the affected wards as Manta, Gurmana, Bassa-Kokki, Allawa, Kurebe, Kushaka, Kwati, Chukumba, adding that the Boko Haram elements were already recruiting villagers and equipping them to fight against the government.
Before the dust could settle, the Secretary to the State Government,bSSG Alh Ahmed Ibrahim Matane during a press conference in November raised another alarm of the presence of the members of the Islamic ISWAP in parts of Borgu Local Government Area of the state who preached to residents that they were sent by God to guide the people into true religion.
Checks also revealed that as a persuasion strategy, the ISWAP sect members tell residents of the area that they were neither bandits nor kidnappers.
Apparently worried by the series of unfolding events, the Governor, on Friday when his principal staff joined by some close associates came to present a birthday gift to mark his 54th birthday, lamented that all he desires now is for peace to return to all parts of Niger State and Nigeria as a whole.
“All I can think of now is for peace to reign in Niger State and Nigeria at large. I just wish we can overcome the security challenges and continue on the path of progress.
I decided to have a quiet celebration so as to reflect on my life and how best to serve the people to bring about the desired objective before the expiration of my tenure. All our efforts in giving the desired leadership is consumed by the heights of insecurity, but I know we will overcome very soon ‘insha Allah,” he stated.
It would be recalled that Governor Bello and his team, last week Monday visited Tunga Ba’ari, Maza-Kuka and Addogun-Mallam communities in Mashegu council for an on-the-spot assessment of the killing of worshippers while observing their prayers in mosques by bandits.
While addressing residents of the communities, he decried the latest attack on worshippers in Tunga Ba’ari community, insisting that the act was unacceptable and condemnable.
He urged them to work out modalities on how to live peacefully and fish out the bad eggs among them so as to assist the security agents in curtailing the situation, adding that government is working tirelessly to curtail the activities of bandits in the state.
When contacted on the security situation bedeviling the State, the state Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy Affairs and Internal Security, Hon. Emmanuel Bagna Umar told DAILY POST that the State Government is concerned about the security challenges facing the state and not resting on its oars to bringing them to an end.
He explained that the government was working on strengthening both conventional security that include the Police, the Army and others as well as the unconventional ones such as the vigilante in policing various communities in order to tackle the issue.
The state LG boss explained that the government is looking at both kinetic and non-kinetic approach as well as building the resilience of residents of communities to stand their grounds in the face of attacks.
The commissioner hinged the increasing activities of bandits being witnessed in the state on their dislodgement from Katsina, Zamfara and Kaduna states.
“The challenge we have is that the state is so vast. Niger State shares boundaries with about seven states- Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina, Kogi, Kwara, Kebbi, and the FCT and it also has an international boarder which is Benin Republic from Borgu Local Government Area of the state. And when these criminals are dislodged, they easily run into Niger State. But, holistically, government is doing its best to mitigate all these security challenges. The media too has a role to play in this. We must stand together to resist this menace, this wickedness. These criminals really want to change our way of life and we must resist it. This war is for us all and unless we collaborate to fight it, we all will be consumed,”Umar explained.
On the proximity of Niger State to the FCT, he stated, ” if we allow bandits and other criminals to have a place in Niger, it may likely spill over to the FCT, thereby, the need to collaborate with the state governor who had earlier warned the Federal Government to act fast, saying that the fight was beyond Niger State, but for the entire country.
According to the governor, “with the development, the Boko Haram elements are trying to use this area as their home just as they did in Sambisa. Sambisa is several kilometers from Abuja but Kaure is just two hours drive to Abuja so nobody is safe anymore not even those in Abuja.”
However, a source close to security agencies in the state who would not want the name mentioned urged the state government to borrow a leaf from Governor Zulum of Borno State, if it is ready to succeed in tackling and defeating bandits, kidnappers and other criminalities in the state.
The source urged the state government to provide Amoured Personnel Carriers, APC, to the police, Army personnel, Civil Defense among others, Aerial bombardment,
Aerial Drones for air surveillance to locate the hideouts of bandits.
He noted, ” it is not about running to the federal government. Once all these things are made available the police, the soldiers and others, tactical men will be ready to move into the camps of the bandits to tackle the situation. Without providing these things, security personnel will be demoralized and will not be ready to risk their lives. Because, you can’t face the bandits on Hilux vehicles. The state government can engage the Air force to do air surveillance with Aerial Drones to identify their camps and then move in and bombard them. Without doing that, nothing can be achieved.They (state government) will just be scratching the problem at the surface without getting to the root of it”.
In his reaction, the state People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Chairman Bar Tanko Beji called on the state Government to redesign the security architecture and come up with new ways of tackling the situation..
According to him, ” the situation is very bad. Everybody is living under intense tension. Nowhere is safe, Niger state is virtually taken over. You cannot sleep with your two eyes closed.This is not a partisan thing, it’s a national calamity. Everybody is worried because no body is safe again. It is a very serious problem”.
The Etsu Nupe and Chairman of the Niger state Council of Traditional rulers, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar after a security meeting called on the federal and state governments to address the issue of insecurity squarely.
He explained, “Governments at all level must protect the people and make security the topmost priority. We (royal fathers) are ready to support the Government”.
Sheikh Alhassan Wasagi, the Chief Iman Jumat Mosque Minna, lamenting the increasing activities of bandits, called on the state government to be more proactive in tackling the issue.
He said, “we are calling on the government to be more serious on this issue. We gathered that some persons within the government are supporting these bandits. Such persons should be exposed and if possible be dealt with. It will serve as deterrent to others. The Police and the DSS should fish them out. Secondly, the government should engage the youth not empowering them or just outrightly giving them money, but giving them jobs that will keep their mind busy. This way, they will not be engaged in criminal activities”.
Recall that about six months ago, the state Governor alleged that some politicians in government were aiding and abetting criminals engaged in kidnapping and banditry by providing information to them.
The state Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Rev. Matthias Echioda also called on the state government not to give up but put more efforts in curtailing the challenges facing the state, while urging the people to also pray for God’s intervention.
Furthermore, the co-Convener of the Shiroro Youths Association, Yusuf Abubakar Kokki in a press statement called for urgent and concerted efforts by the government and individuals to address insecurity.