At the mercy of ruthless bandits

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  • Gunmen leave trail of death, rape, penury

As is the case with most parts of Northern Nigeria and some places down South, insecurity, especially armed banditry and kidnapping, seem to have put everybody’s back against the wall. Gboyega Alaka, who attempts to beam searchlight on this, using two states of Niger and Kaduna, reports.

The situation is terrible. The activities of these hydra-headed bandit terrorists are grossly under-reported. That may be the reason the government, federal government especially, has not beamed its searchlight on Niger State. Most of the criminal activities of these criminals have not been reported. Niger State has 25 local governments and no local government has been spared. Quote me anywhere. The intensity may vary but they’ve all had a taste of the terror of these bandits. Bosso and Chanchaga local governments are both township local governments within Minna, the state capital, but they’ve been attacked. Bosso is less than two kilometres from Minna. What that tells you is that even Minna is not spared.”

Those were the opening words of Sanni Abubakar Yusuf Kokki, a native of Kokki community in Shiroro Local Government of Niger State.

But Kokki, who is co-convener Concerned Shiroro Youths, an organisation, which he said was founded to advance the cause of his Shiroro people, especially in the area of insecurity, was not done.

“They always come on bikes, armed with sophisticated guns. There is no kind of gun you won’t find with them, AK47, AK49, general machine guns. They are on multitude bikes, three on a bike, the front man riding, while the other two are ready with their weapons, prepared for action. Hardly will they attack a community without leaving death on their trail. People lose their lives, especially when they put up any resistance; and on most occasions, they go away with humans as spoils, upon whom they would demand millions as ransom.

“And make no mistake about it, the effects of this banditry is more than imagined. Shiroro Local Government, where I am domiciled is divided into two. We have Shiroro Kuta axis, which houses the headquarters of the local government; and we have the Lakpma axis. As we speak, virtually all the people in Lakpma have been sacked and the villages are now ghosts of their former selves. Nobody would risk their lives to live or sleep there anymore. People are now taking refuge in Internally Displaced Persons’ camps in strange lands, in open places and huts that are not ordinarily habitable for normal human beings.

“Just the day before yesterday, there was an attack on Bassa community. They attacked not less than 50 people. Two days after, a Tuesday, the other adjoining villages were also attacked. They killed some and dispossessed people of their belongings including motorcycles and what have you. Even last week, they attacked my own village, Kokki. They also attacked Magani, a nearby village in broad daylight.”

According to Kokki, he has taken the time to give such graphic description to underline how terrible the situation has become and how desperately the people need help.

Unfortunately, help does not seems to be anywhere in sight. According to him, the first sign of help would be the presence of security personnel, but they are nowhere to be found.

In Kaduna, the story is pretty much the same.

According to Shehu Sarki, who is domiciled in Kaduna but described himself as ‘son of the soil in Demba Kasaya’, banditry invasion and attacks on communities have become and almost every day affair, especially in the hinterlands and hard-to-reach areas.

“Encounter with bandits is now a daily affair, so long as you ply the Demba Kasaya road to Buruku. By some dint of benevolence, they have never attacked Kasaya community itself, but so long as you leave Demba Kasaya through to Buruku, you are at your own risk. Believe me, there is no free day. All the communities around Demba Kasaya have all been attacked. Even last week, they attackedBarindi, a community close to under Kona Warin, Chikum Local Government, killing one man and his son. In fact, a lady was missing and found dead the following day. That made it three. Another community, Uba Kasaya, has been practically under siege, as its people have not been able to leave the village for Demba Kasaya. Any attempt leaves them liable to attack because the bandits have literally created an invisible road block in between, where they hide, and once they cite any villager coming, they come and attack or kidnap them. As we speak, some people that they kidnapped two weeks ago are still in their den. You don’t want to imagine what they are going through, especially if they are women.”

Expatiating on how it seems like the people have been entrapped, Sarki said the bandits have literally surrounded Demba Community and it is as if the people are now at the centre.

Unfortunately, he said there is not a single security post in the area, making them totally helpless.

“We have pushed for military outposts, because that is what they regard a little – not that they still won’t operate;  but up till now, we have not been given any. An outpost in that Demba Kasaya, would give the communities around that axis some feeling of security because the bandits would have a rethink before attacking them.”

Asked if the people have made an official request for a miitary outpost, Sarki said, “Yes, we have even put it in writing. You can call the local government chairman to confirm. He assured us that he would discuss it with the Commissioner for Home and Internal Security. We have reached out to even the chief security officer of Chikum Local Government.”

To underline how dominant the bandits have become, Sarki told a little story of how a military personnel on invitation, came on a fact-finding mission became entrapped.

“He came to Demba Kasaya based on information. Would you believe that while he freely rode his bike from  Buruku to Demba Kasaya, he could not dare to ride back because there was an attack along the way and he had to rush back to the community. The community had to provide him with a golf car, which ferried both him and his bike to Buruku. He even had to take off his uniform to avoid being singled out.”

“On another occasion last October when some Kaduna State Vigilante Service (KAVIS) and soldiers went to confront them, do you know that they wounded an army captain who went to confront them? He had to be rescued by the JTF.” Sarki said.

Recalling a bit of the recent casualties, Sarki said, “I cannot ascertain that as we speak, but on the 24th of April last year, five people were killed. On the 24th of August, same last year, one guy was killed and sometime in October, another guy was killed. On November 18, three people were killed again. Before then, in September, four people were shot dead on their way back from Buruku to their village in Kabala Kasaya. All these people were ambushed and killed.”

The situation, he says, is so bad that he has not visited his home town and that accounts for why he has not personally encountered the bandits. “As we speak, I am based in Goningora, a bigger town also in Chikum Local Government. Goningora is by the Kaduna-Abuja  bypass.”

Like in Niger State, there is no place pace the criminals cannot attack or operate inn Kaduna State.

“There is a place called Ngwandize Lamigi very close to Goningora; the bandits have attacked it twice and kidnapped people; even the pastor and his wife. They are gradually coming into the town. I can’t see much distance between Ngwandize Lamigi and Goningora. Even if they want to attack Goningora in broad daylight, I tell you, they can do so because there is nobody to confront them. How would you even dare? They usually come in very large numbers on bikes with weapons such as sniper, GMD and machine guns. When they come to the community, they would set the machine guns on a hanger and begin to shoot. It’s not funny at all.”

Asked if the bandits could be splinter breakaways of the dreaded Boko Haram insurgency group, Sarki said he wouldn’t know.

No time is sacred

Sarki also said the bandits can attack any time -whether morning, broad daylight, evening or deep in the night.

“The last time they came to Demba, it was around four, five o’clock in the evening. There was a time, they came in the morning around 8. Practically, they can come at anytime. There is a spot between Demba and Dande, if you are crossing over to Buruku; I don’t know whether they have a deal with that community, but that is where they ambush and attack people. Even when you’re passing, you will see them sitting under the trees, and they may pick up their bikes and come after you, depending on their instinct. Some of our people that have been killed around that zone. That was where they ambushed and killed the four people I said they killed in one day, and another three in November last year.”

Kokki corroborates Sarki here. He said even in Niger State,  the bandits attack at any time, with the people usually fleeing scampering for safety.  Rukayat Ibrahim, a victim of kidnap in Masuku village, now temporarily resident in an IDP camp in Kuta, said her village was attacked in broad daylight and she and other people were abducted.”

Mallam Saleh Yusuf Kokki said they also attacked Kokki, once, when it was raining. Their target was to catch the villagers unawares, he said.

Both Kokki and his uncle Mallam Saleh, who once took a ransom to the kidnappers to free his people say Kokki village has been worse hit, having been attacked over seven times. The younger Kokki however explained that the reason for this may not be unconnected with the location of Kokki village along the road.

” So, even if they are passing by to other targets, they usually branch or when they are coming back from an operation. Because of the lack of resistance from the people, they have found it so easy to attack at will. But again, resistance is suicidal, as no one has anything close to the kind of weapons they carry. When they attacked my village two weeks ago, they kidnapped not less than ten people. It was just yesterday (last week) that one of my brothers returned from their den after a ransom was paid.”

Explaining why he thinks the incidences of banditry in Niger State are under-reported, Kokki said, the atrocities are happening mostly in hard-to-reach areas, where there are no basic amenities such as roads. “Besides, no journalist, no matter how serious he is, would his life going to such hinterlands. even I cannot go to those places, what I am telling you are based on information I gather from direct victims. I cannot risk my life going there, knowing that they can attack at anytime and I could be caught up in their attack.”

Non-responsive security personnel

While Sarki says there is no iota of security presence in areas where the attacks are predomiat in Kaduna, Kokki admits to a bit of military presence in a few places, like Bassa, though with virtually no effect.

“There was military presence in Bassa, yet they kidnapped people there. The funny thing is that all the attack took place without intervention from them. They said it was after the bandits had left that they now came out, making out that they were going after them. Of course no arrests were made. Sometimes there is an attack on a village or community and the military would not go there on the excuse that they were not sent there. Most times, they are waiting for the criminals to come and attack them, otherwise they hardly interfere.”

On what the Niger State governor is doing to protect his people, Kokki said, “I cannot categorically say he is not doing anything, but to the best of my knowledge, nothing, because we are not seeing any effect. Whatever action he may be putting in place has not arrested anything, so it is as good as no action has been put in place.”

Kokki admitted that there are information that the governor has petitioned the president over the insecurity situation in the state, but insists that it is result that matters.”

Big money business

Because they’ve come to see that the people are helpless and defenceless, the bandits have also turned the daily attacks into big money spinning ventures. As a matter of fact, it is so lucrative that even when residents of a community get wind of their coming and flee into the bush, they still manage to get hold of some of the slowest among them, usually the female, nursing mothers, aged men and children, upon whom they later demand ransoms.

As Sarki noted, even fleeing is no tea party, as in most cases, “bullets are coming from behind you and flying in your front of you in a life and death struggle. As a result, you only consider yourself safe, when you are able to get to a secure place, with the bandits left far behind.”

And for those who are abducted, it is another round of hell, as Sarki says, they demand crazy amounts. “Sometimes, they demand amounts you have never heard before, let alone see or own. N20milion, N30million, 100million, different amounts of millions… (laughs). I don’t know whether they just mention whatever amount that comes to their mouth.”

Kokki’s uncle would later tell this reporter how he took N2million and a carton of engine  and break oil to free three men.

In another instance, they took six hundred thousand naira each to free three kidnap victims. When this reporter pointed out that meeting the ransom demands might be an indirect encouragement to the dastard trade, Kokki agreed but said “It is not easy to ignore one’s family member or loved one in the den of the heartless bandits.” Aside torture and severe beating, he did not rule out rape, which he said could be a natural consequence on women who stay long in their den. Although he expressed doubts that the women would want to admit this openly due to fear of stigmatisation, two women from Masuku village later confirmed this.

Asked if the bandits have any known hideouts akin to Boko Haram’s Sambisa Forest in Borno, where they keep their victims, Kokki said he is not aware of any but said Abubakar Shekau’s declaration that they now have an enclave in Niger State, where they even prayed the last Eid prayer, may lay credence to that. He fingered Madata, Makoritin, Nacira, Kushin dogo, Luga to Kagara in Raci Local Government as possible hideouts of the bandits.

Sarki, on his part, said he is yet to hear of any of their kidnapped women being raped in the custody of the bandits. “Usually, what they do is search and search the houses of people and shop and take away the food items phones, money and other valuables; and if by mistake they catch any human, they kidnap them and demand huge ransoms.”

Accusing fingers

Notably, accusing fingers are being pointed at some Fulani miscreants.

Galadima Masuku, who says he has interacted with the bandits when he took ransoms to them, said:  “90 per cent of the bandits are Fulani and they are mostly foreigners. I know this because I have had to interact with them when I took ransoms to them. Even from their accent, you would know that they are not of this clime. I however suspect some conspiracy with the locals. Besides, there are some amongst them, who know the terrain because they have at one time or the other lived in our area. Besides, there is also the issue of informants.”

When asked why a people that have been hitherto peaceful now have so many criminals among them, tainting their name, Galadima Masuku said, “From my experience, that is how they have been since time immemorial. Unfortunately, I think they are deriving their boldness from the support of their socio-cultural organisation, Miyetti Allah.”

Responding to the same question, Shehu Sarki said, “They are Fulani, pure and simple.”

When reminded of the government’s declaration that these criminals may not be Fulani of Nigerian descent, Sarki said, “That’s up to the government. If they are not indigenous Fulani, they should know what to do to them as foreigners. If I may ask, what is the essence of the border closure if foreigners can just stroll in to attack and kill our people?”

Victims share horror experiences of rape

Rukayat Ibrahim, 35, a housewife and mother of six  was kidnapped in her village in Masuku.

Recounting her experience with the bandits, Rukayat said “It was in broad daylight that they attacked our village. In the process, I was kidnapped because I was not able to run fast like the men and young people and escape on time.

After they abducted us, we trekked a whole week in the forest before we got to their camp. It was so bad my legs were swollen. I spent four weeks in their den because my people could not raise my ransom money in time. After some time, they came and raped me at night. I was helpless and could not put up any resistance.”

Asked if they also beat her and other female captive, Rukayat said, “They gave us food but not enough. We women were not beaten but raped repeatedly. I was asked to tell my people to raise a ransom of N1.5million; but in the end, they collected the N1milion that my people were able to raise.

Asked how many women were there while she was captive, Rukayat said, several, but noted that only four of them, whose people could not quickly raise the ransom that were raped.

“Even my biological father, who was also kidnapped, was released ahead of me.”

Asked how her husband has taken the whole experience, the mother of six said he has taken it in good fate, knowing that it is the will God.

She also said she has gone through medical examination and certified free of any sexually transmitted disease.

She also said it was an experience she would not wish on her worst enemy.

On the condition in the Kuta Internally Displaced Persons’ camp, located in Dr idris Central Primary School, Shiroro LGA, where they are taking refuge, Rukayat said the government only feeds them once a day, at night. The other meals they struggle to provide themselves by begging and other side hustles. “We are in a strange land and there is no way we can farm or do any serious work.”

Sabura Muhammed, 25, also hails from Masuku. She is a mother of three and was kidnapped alongside Rukayat.

She said she was nursing a baby at the time and as such could not run fast enough. She was kidnapped along with her baby.

She was one of the women whose people couldn’t quickly raise her ransom, and as such had to go through the ignominy of rape by the miscreants.

A consequence of that experience is the fact that her sick baby is yet to recover.

“He has not been responding to treatment; he is really sick and rejecting all food,” she said.

Unfortunately, she said the baby is also not getting the required treatment because there are not enough drugs in the camp’s clinic.

The Nation also spoke to two men, who claimed he took ransoms to the kidnappers to buy their people’s freedom.

One of them is Zakari Galadima Masuku, an elder in Masuku Village, said he was in the village when the bandits attacked the last time. “They came in a convoy of motorcycles. Three were on a bike; one, driving while the other two were with guns. The day came, the men were able to run away, but the female because they could not leave their children behind, could not make it to safety. So they took the female, knowing that the men would look for money to ransom their women. I took a ransom of N2million to buy the freedom of Rukayat and Sabura.”

Asked how they were able to raise such huge amounts, Galadima Masuku said, “We had to summon a meeting of all our relatives to raise the money.  It took us six whole weeks.”

Asked what security measures they are putting in place to ensure that such attacks do not happen again, Galadima Masuku said, “Nothing. No action is being taken and that is why the situation is escalating. The criminals are able to have a field day because there is no military intervention anywhere around. As we speak, hardly would you find anybody in Masuku. Virtually everybody in the towns along that axis has been sacked. You can quote me on this. All the communities in Lakpma axis of Shiroro LG have been sacked and they have taken refuge in IDP camps. This camp, where we are in Kuta, is safest because of River Kaduna, which separates it from the Lakpma axis. The river also prevents the bandits from attacking the camp, as they cannot easily access it with their bikes.”

Mallam Saleh Yusuf Kokki is an uncle to the activist, Sanni Abubakar Yusuf Kokki. The 41-year-old farmer corroborates Kokki’s earlier statement that their village has been attacked countless time.

“They have attacked Kokki not less than seven times. There was a time they even set some houses on fire.” This was aside the day they came while it was raining, hoping to catch the villagers unawares and take them captives.

On number of casualties, Yusuf Kokki said, “Not less than five altogether, if my memory serves me right. Last year, a man, one of those who confronted the bandits, was killed.”

He disclosed that he took N2million to the bandits to rescue three of their men. “We also took a carton of Amasco oil for cars and break oil, on demand, for their motorcycles.”

Asked what kind of stories the men came back with, Yusuf Kokki said, “They were beaten and tortured, especially when their ransom was not raised early. The more they stayed in their den, the more they were tortured.”

Appeal to government

Kokki said, “As we speak, the whole communities are at the mercy of kidnappers and there is no hope at all; because by our observation, the government is not taking any measure to assuage our trouble.

Sarki on his part made a long appeal: “Anytime you’re filing this story, please help us emphasise on security outposts.  These bandits have surrounded us and we are living by the grace of God. There is another place called Paka Kadi, also under chikum LG, where they have commandeered a secondary school and it has become like their barracks. As we speak, the bandits are there and no one dares go anywhere near. They know everybody in the community and if you, a stranger strays there, they will stop and interrogate you. So help us make a demand for a security post; that is what will salvage the area.

The Nation

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