Married for almost three years in Kabula village, Zarzaga ward in Munya Local Government Area of Niger State, Fatima Garba is ready to sacrifice her marriage to protect herself and children.
The 43-year-old Fatima has decided to move to her father’s village in Kuchi, where she grew up. It is believed to be safer than her husband’s village for now.
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She was among the women who ran to take cover at the palace of the Emir of Minna before they were moved to the IBB Primary School as their temporary abode.
Fatimah, who was at the camp with her seven children, seems to have lost the hope of reuniting with her husband if the spate of attacks in his village continued unabated.
Speaking to Daily Trust Saturday amidst tears, she said, “The last three years have been hell on earth for the people of the local government as the bandits have continued killing and pursuing us. We no longer have peace and rest of mind. We can’t sleep properly. We kept paying for what we don’t understand.
“I came here on Friday as I managed to escape when the bandits were pursuing us in the bush. We were lucky because people from other villages close to us that were attacked called and told us to run away because the bandits were heading towards our village. We trekked in the bush for hours before we got a vehicle that conveyed us here. We saw the bandits on our way, but they switched off the light on their bikes so that we would not recognise them, which is their usual way,’’ she recounted.
Fatima said she would not go back to her husband’s house if the government would not guarantee their safety.
“I am not feeling well at all with the whole thing. I am about to lose my home. I have lost most of the things I worked for to the bandits because I am not going back to my husband’s house. From here, I will go back to my father’s house in Kuchi, which is a bit safe. Enough of the tension! My family had coughed out N1.5million to secure the release of four people who were kidnapped,’’ she said.
Born in 1969 at Kuchijinna village in Munya Local Government, Tanko Zariya had his own bitter experiences with the bandits. Many members of his family lost their lives to the attack, some of them in his presence.
Zariya, who entered the IBB Primary School camp on Sunday, came with few of his family members left.
According him, “My family members were killed on different occasions. We have continued to battle these attacks for three years without help.
“Although the local vigilante men have been helping us, their effort is not enough. Many of them also died in the attacks. Before we left the village, I heard gunshots and later saw them advancing towards our community. I am here with my wife and kids,’’ he said.
The 52-year-old Zariya said he would stay in Minna until government sends the bandits away.
“The future of my community has been dashed. Most able youths and men have been killed by the terrorists. Those of us who are left are hapless, hopeless and handicapped,’’ he said.
At the displaced persons’ camp, Sunday Barde, who hails from Dandaodu in Munya Local Government Area, also shared his experience.
He said, “We have been rendered homeless by the bandits. That’s why we came to the Emir of Minna, who showed us the school to stay until our area is safe.
“The attacks have been on for over two years, but it became worse. When Governor Abubakar Sani Bello visited us, he said we should be patient, that he would do something about it. We have been calm and patient. Government should, as a matter of urgency, secure our communities so that we can go back.
“The governor said we should go back so that he would see what he could do for us. Our local government chairman came here and told us that he would bring vehicles to convey us back to Sarkin Pawa Primary School, where they used as camp, but the place is not safe. We learnt that the bandits are pursuing people there and a lot of them are in the bush.
“We are not ready to go back. We have lost count of how many people died in the hands of the bandits. If you don’t have money they will kill you.
The federal government should know that we need security, without which we can’t go back. Our effort to protect our people is not enough. These people operate with sophisticated weapons.’’
An indigene of one of the affected communities also said, “Something dramatic happened on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. Terrorists invaded my in-laws’ community about 12pm. In an unusual twist, they asked the few people left in the community not to run and instead requested for pounded yam.
“While the yam was on fire, they sent my brother-in-law to get them recharge cards in the neighbouring community. As he left, they mocked my in-laws and the Gbagyi as being cowards.
“They ate the pounded yam and even had a good siesta. When they woke up, they appreciated the pounded yam they ate and zoomed off without any form of criminality. They left the community at 5:45pm. How do we describe this?’’
It is believed that most of the bandits operating in Niger State are Fulani, but a lot of Fulani women and children were among those who ran to Minna for protection.
It is double danger for the affected Fulani as they said they were scared to stay in displaced persons’ camps with other people, for fear of being stigmatised.
For Bulus Esu, running to Minna was their last option as other options seemed not to yield positive results.
Esu, who hails from Kuchiku, said that for a month now, their village had been under daily attacks, which result in kidnapping, maiming and killing. According to him, the bandits demand exorbitant amounts for the release of those in their captivity.
He said, “As I speak to you, there is nobody in Kuchiku, not even a bird. It shows you that the situation is very bad. Some of our people are still hiding in the bush. Majority can’t come here because there is no means for them.
“Some of our people were abducted for over a month now, and we don’t know if they are still alive. The community is helpless as we could not raise between N50million and N100million they are demanding. How can a farmer who hasn’t raised up to N1million before get such amount?’’
On their demand from the government, Esu said, “We are not asking for too much; the government should give us security and let us return to our village because there is nowhere in Minna here for us to farm. We want to go back to our community and continue farming because without it we can’t survive. ‘’
He, however, disclosed that Gini and Dandaodu villages were not affected, but said they should be conscious because if Chiri could be affected, they are not safe.
Communities in Shiroro Local Government Area were said to have negotiated with the terrorists for a ceasefire so that they would have peace.
Meanwhile, a police source who did not want to be mentioned said they had the information that the terrorists asked villagers to pay tax to them.
A co-convener of the Concerned Shiroro Youths, Sani Abubakar Yusuf Kokki, who also confirmed the development, said all the communities in Gurmana and Manta districts of the local government negotiated with the bandits.
“Some communities in Bassa/Kukoki ward followed suit by agreeing to pay certain amount of money while the terrorists suspend their nefarious activities,’’ he added.
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that, depending on the terrorists’ request, some villages paid as much as N2million, in addition to other demands.
Some residents of the area said they preferred paying taxes to the bandits rather than the government if they would let them have peace. They lamented that government did not care about their security and welfare.
It was, however, learnt that the Niger State Government had tried everything within its power to secure the affected areas, but it seems to be overwhelmed.
When the Kagara school children were abducted, Governor Bello announced that he was going to empower the local vigilante with pump action and AK47 guns to fight the bandits. But the attack took a new dimension as he disclosed that Boko Haram terrorists had hoisted their flag in Kaure village, Shiroro Local Government Area.
He also announced that Boko Haram fighters had forcefully taken over wives of some of the villagers.
He made the disclosure in Minna on Monday when he visited the displaced persons’ camp at the IBB Primary School, near the palace of the Emir of Minna.
The primary school was hurriedly turned to a camp following the displacement of nearly 5,000 villagers from their ancestral homes in Shiroro and Munya local government areas by bandits.
Bello had said, “I am confirming that there are Boko Haram elements around Kaure in Shiroro Local Government of Niger State. They have taken over the territory, they have installed their flag. I am confirming to you now that they have taken over the wives of people by force,’’
He warned that Boko Haram terrorists were trying to make Kaure their home and headquarters as they did in Sambisa forest. He added that while Sambisa is many kilometres away from Abuja, Kaure is only a two-hour drive to the country’s seat of power.
He said his administration had been engaging the federal government to come to the aid of the state because of the spate of insecurity, but such efforts had not yielded the desired results; hence the terrorists are occupying some areas in the state.
“I have been engaging the federal government, but unfortunately, it has gotten to this stage. And if care is not taken, even Abuja is not safe. We have been saying this for long and all efforts have been in vain,” he lamented.
Addressing the issue of a large number of displaced persons in the camp, Bello said some of them had started returning home, adding, however, that majority of them would remain in the camp because their villages and towns had been taken over by bandits.
It was learnt that as at the time of the governor’s visit, there were 1,447 children, 119 pregnant women and 447 other women at the camp.
Speaking to the governor at the camp, a youth leader, Bulus Esu, said his people in Kuchi, one of the most populated towns in Munya Local Government, had been chased away by the terrorists for the past three weeks.
“For three weeks now, there has not been any person in Kuchi town, and there is no food for the fleeing villagers. The bandits have entered very deep into the area and have overrun many villages. They have occupied Kuchi, where they now take as their home,” he said.
Esu said that two weeks ago, the bandits demanded N5million ransom from the people of Kampana to avoid being kidnapped. “The people did as they were instructed. When they went back, they asked the women to cook food for them, after which they raped them,’’ he added.
Daily Trust Saturday learnt that some of the displaced persons have been returned to Sarki Pawa Primary School camp for proper care. It was, however, gathered that the place was almost attacked by bandits on Thursday, but the military and vigilantes repelled them.
Some of the displaced persons are scattered around Minna. While some of them are at the IBB Primary School, others are in private residences and uncompleted buildings. Those who have money secured accommodation and vowed not to return to their villages.
The story of the IDPs at Central Model Primary School Gwada is not different from others in other camps, but unique in the sense that majority of them have been in the camp for almost two years and their communities have been completely overrun by bandits.
Yahaya Dogo has been at the Gwada IDP camp for one and half years and he has seen a lot of people joining them in the camp as their new abode.
Rah Moses who left Kaure a year ago with her husband lamented the poor state of living in the camp saying “food is not enough, the room is not enough, no school, no hospital or medicine. We want government provide security so that we can go back to our homes to live a better life.”
It was gathered that Niger state now has a lot of IDP camps with Shiroro local government alone having 25 camps as all primary and secondary schools have been turned into camps.