Minna, the Niger State capital may be contending with a new group of criminals, in addition to banditry, which has claimed hundreds of lives and left thousands of people homeless in the state.
Youths who have nicknamed themselves Yan Sara-Suka, are threatening to take over communities as they now go about attacking residents and breaking into shops and homes.
In February this year, security agencies were deployed to restore normalcy when a police officer was killed as a result of the activities of the gang. And such activities have continued unabated.
Apart from communities now recruiting their youths into vigilantes to protect them from the thugs, the Emir of Minna, Alhaji Umar Faruk Bahago, recently constituted the Minna Metro Security Watch to complement the efforts of conventional security agencies, yet the activities of these hoodlums have prevailed.
While some residents attribute the emergence of this group to the activities of politicians who recruit and use them to fight their political interests, the police have also been blamed for not properly prosecuting arrested offenders.
The recent rift between the state police command and the commander of the Niger State Vigilantes Corps over what the police described as illegal arrests and detentions by the vigilantes further complicated issues around the menace.
Some residents, however, argued that the restiveness was a result of the failure of parents to inculcate moral values in their children.
Police records show that over 200 members of this gang, between the ages of 14 and 25, have been arrested from 13 areas in Minna between January and June alone, but the unrest has continued unabated.
The Commissioner for Information in the state, Emmanuel Musa Umar, said government did not want to use kinetic measures to tame exuberances among the youth, adding that committees have been set up to look at the remote and immediate causes of the unrest.
Unguwan-Daji and Limawa communities, the oldest in the city, have been regarded as the hotspots of the restiveness, but in recent years, the membership of the groups had grown to other communities, including Kpakungu, Bosso, Fadukpe, Dutsen-Kura-Hausa, Dutsen-Kura-Gwari, Unguwan Sarki, Abayi-Close, Kwangila, Unguwan-Biri, Unguwan-Kaje, New Market, Maitumbi, Tudun-Fulani, Rafin-Yashi, Gbeganu, Soje-A and Tunga.
One of the residents told Daily Trust on Sunday that “Unguwan-Daji and Limawa have a greater number of youths that nobody controls. And most of them don’t go to school, they don’t work, they don’t go to learn any skill for livelihood; they are just redundant, and nobody has been saying anything about the situation.”
The public relations officer of the Minna Metro Security Watch, Musa Adamu Maikudi Achaza, the Hadimi Minna (a traditional title of the minister of special duties to the Emir of Minna), said, “Development comes with a lot of negative things. This issue of youth restiveness is part of the negative aspects of development. Minna was not like this in terms of population. Today, we have twice the number of people we had 10 years ago. We knew one another.”
He said rural-urban migration due to poverty was also responsible for the present situation. He blamed various communities for their failure to identify strangers coming to settle among them.
“Before now, nobody came into any area without identification by community leaders, who would report to the emir. Sincerely, things have gone bad. Most of the people coming from other states have influence in how we go about our things here.”
He also blamed security agencies, especially the police, for their failure to go after the hoodlums, alleging that they know where they are.
“The police would not go to arrest them and curtail or prevent the unrest. These boys go about stabbing and robbing people of their belongings. The police only arrest them to get money. Whenever they want to take them on bail, it is money. The police know them, but most of the arrests are not genuinely done to deal with the situation. That is what we are facing in Minna. The emir set up the Security Watch to complement the efforts of security agencies in dealing with the unrest.
“We work with the police and make arrests, but because the constitution does not give us the right to prosecute, we hand the suspects over to the police. When we make arrests and hand over to the police, most of the times, before we would come back, the police would have granted them bail. That is what we have been suffering.
“The emir talked about social rehabilitation so that when we make arrests, we can take them for rehabilitation, not necessarily with the help of the police. We are liaising with the Industrial Training Fund to see that we get them trained and make them meaningful citizens in the society,” he said.
Also speaking on the issue, the immediate past state chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mohammed El-Surur Abubakar, attributed the cause of the unrest and hooliganism to drug abuse and exploitation of the youth by the political elites in Minna, adding that it has become a hard nut to crack.
He alleged that some government officials and key politicians in the state paid for the release of the suspected criminals each time they were arrested.
He also said, “The Emir of Minna set up a committee to investigate and find a lasting solution to the youth unrest in Minna. I am not part of the committee but they turned me into a consultant of sorts.
“We met several times and it was agreed that there were some known boys. A list was made to get their leaders arrested. And there was a widespread of arrests. We locked some of them up. Between the time that they were locked up and when they were released (about four months), not a single unrest happened. We heard from the grapevine that they were released on the order of some key government officials in the state.”
He said the boys strongly believed they were invincible, so they go about attacking residents with knives, cutlasses and other dangerous weapons, as well as raping innocent girls.
“If we don’t do something about these boys, the situation is getting out of hand. They have started entering people’s houses to rob them. They stop tricycles on the road and collect people’s phones. If they see a girl, they go after her, and if she refuses, they stab her. We must not sit and allow the future of our society to derail,” he warned.
Also, the public relations officer of the Minna New Prison Community Development Association, Umaru Abdullahi, told Daily Trust on Sunday that the rising incidents of thuggery and youth unrest had disrupted socio-economic activities in the city.
“It has been a serious matter for quite some time now. They invaded our community recently with machetes. The issue is becoming very alarming. Few days ago, no legitimate business could be carried out as all the shops were closed. Should we take some of our members for blood pressure test you would see that all our blood pressures are high because of the incidents of attack.
“We are in a serious problem, so we want the authorities to take necessary measures so that we will live peacefully and go about our normal business.
“We recruited some vigilantes to enhance community policing because the security issue is everybody’s business; all of us are stakeholders. We organised interested youths in the community to provide security, but you know there are limitations to what they can do.
“We taxed ourselves and each house pays a certain amount of money on a monthly basis to support those people who are doing the work for us. We have barricaded our community and the level of crime has reduced,” he said.
Findings by Daily Trust on Sunday revealed that similar efforts were being made in other areas in the city to complement the efforts of the conventional security agencies.
The public relations officer of the Niger State police command, DSP Wasiu Abiodun, denied the allegation that arrested suspected criminals were released on the order of some government officials, saying, “Arrested suspects are being arraigned in court for prosecution. And the command shall continue to do so in partnership with the judiciary, in accordance to the administration of criminal justice system.”
Abiodun said that in January this year, when the challenge of youth restiveness was at its peak in the city, over 180 suspects were arrested by joint security operatives, comprising the police, vigilantes, and other local security outfits. He added that dangerous weapons, including axes, saw blades, daggers, knives, arrows, fry wheel, swords, and numerous illicit drugs, were recovered from the arrested suspects.
“The suspects were later arraigned in court in three batches. Those in the first batch, about 53 suspects, were remanded in New-Bussa Correctional Centre while the remaining two batches were remanded in Minna Correctional Centre. These efforts sanitised the metropolis to a large extent.
“However, there were applications for bail for some of the suspects by their parents and guardians, as well as activists, through their counsels, and petitions of illegal arrests, detention and violation of human rights, which is part of the criminal justice system
“As a result of these, some of the suspects were granted bail by the court and released after the fulfillment of the conditions as some of the crimes were bailable,” he further explained.