Suspected Boko Haram terrorists have infiltrated many communities in some local government areas of Niger State, Daily Trust reports.
They have reportedly directed residents to remove their children from formal schools, residents said and expressed fears that the onslaught would escalate in the coming days if nothing was done.
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The terrorists had also directed the residents, both Muslims and Christians, to marry off their daughters at the age of 12 or face consequences, it was learnt.
The recent developments climaxed the arson by gunmen in Niger State, who were being described as “bandits” for a very long time. The terrorists had killed hundreds of people in Niger and contiguous states of Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and Kebbi.
Governor Abubakar Sani-Bello on Sunday alerted of the presence of Boko Haram insurgents in Niger, citing recent security breaches in the state.
“We have every reason to believe that we are not dealing with bandits. From the latest operation, the way they coordinated and planned the attack has also confirmed to us that they must have had some kind of training,” the governor said.
Several bomb mines, allegedly planted by Boko Haram were uncovered in Shiroro Local Government Area of the state.
The governor had severally described the bandits as Boko Haram fighters.
For instance, after series of attacks on villages in Shiroro and Munya LGAs on Sunday, April 25, and Monday, April 26, the governor told newsmen that, “The attackers included not only bandits but also Boko Haram members and their next target would be Abuja, a mere two hours away by road.”
The governor claimed that in Kaure, a village in Shiroro LGA, the attackers had hoisted a Boko Haram flag and were in control of the area.
Daily Trust recalled that members of the Ansarul-Islam and Darul-Salam were dislodged from parts of Niger State a few years ago.
Shiroro, Munya, Rafi communities under siege
The alarm raised by Governor Bello on Sunday was re-echoed by the Chairman of Shiroro LGA, Suleiman Chukuba, on Monday.
Daily Trust reports that in the last few weeks, communities in Shiroro, Munya and Rafi local government areas had witnessed renewed attacks by suspected Boko Haram fighters leading to the loss of several lives.
Chukuba said, “On the issue of influx of Boko Haram in Shiroro, four wards have been affected.”
He said the residents were made to believe that the invaders were Boko Haram insurgents because of their mode of preaching.
“They told villagers that they have money to help them and that they also have guns to give them to fight the government. And that is the same doctrine we know Boko Haram elements promote,” he said.
He said information coming from the affected areas indicated that the Boko Haram elements were coercing communities to marry off their daughters at the age of 12 years.
The Director-General, Niger State Emergency Management Agency (NSEMA), Ahmed Ibrahim Inga, while confirming the recent surge in attacks, said the incidents had increased the number of people in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps.
He said major camps in Gwada and Kuta towns in Shiroro LGA had witnessed a mass influx of victims.
Witnesses and victims told our correspondent that the modes of recent attacks were different from those by bandits, saying that the attackers were members of the Boko Haram sect.
They also lamented that the invaders had directed them not to recognise any constituted authority.
A resident of the area and co-convener of Concerned Shiroro Youths, Bello Ibrahim, told our correspondent that the terrorists had invaded many communities.
“At a time, they were in Kawure, the village of former senator representing Niger East, David Umaru. But there was an operation by the joint military task force which dislodged them.
“They were sacked during the operation but after a while, since there is no military base in the area, they reconvened. For now, they are not only in Kawure. They have also extended their tentacles to other communities like Kuregbe, Awulo and others.”
He said the terrorists were carrying out nefarious activities.
“In Awulo and Kuregbe communities, they assembled the locals, both Muslims and Christians and gave them matching order that any girl that is 12 years old should be married off.”
Another resident who spoke in confidence said the criminals were operating freely.
“They are mingling with the villagers. They have become the constituted authority in those villages. They coerce locals to obey them as their leaders.
“In the entire Chukuba and Kuregbe ward, it is Boko Haram elements that are operating there not bandits that we know,” he said.
Abubakar Sani Yusuf Kokki, a resident of Shiroro, said the appearance of the attackers in some communities recently confirmed that they were members of the Boko Haram sect.
“During the recent attack on Magami village in Shiroro LGA, they first entered the mosque and started reciting the Quran… So, their approach is different from that of bandits.”
Daily Trust also learnt of the presence of the terrorists in Audu Fari Forest in the Borgu LGA of the state.
A resident who spoke in confidence said the sect members had been in the forest for a very long time.
Also, an audio message addressed to the Emir of Audu Fari, further confirmed the presence of the terrorists.
The man in the audio said in Hausa, “We are in this forest because of the authority that you (emir) service which is the government of Nigeria, which is not worthy of service. We are calling people to the path of Allah. White men have imposed their culture on you. Anybody supporting government is seen by us as an infidel and an unbeliever even if you call yourself a Muslim,” the man said.
He said any citizen found aligning with security agencies would not be spared including vigilantes. When contacted, Niger State Police Command declined comments.
A security source said the attackers are loyal to the late leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, who killed himself at his enclave in Sambisa forest in May 2021.
The source said since then, many of Shekau’s foot soldiers had moved down to parts of North Central and North West and operating in smaller groups while others had infiltrated sundry bandits and continued with their nefarious activities of raiding communities, killing people and abducting others for ransom.
Many security experts and some political leaders had called for the designation of bandits terrorising the North West and North Central as terrorists.
The latest call was by the National Assembly which called on President Muhammadu Buhari to call them terrorists and use all instruments of coercion to decimate them.
When contacted by one of our correspondents last night, the acting director, Defence Media Operations, Brig.-Gen. Bernard Onyeuko did not answer several calls put across to his mobile phone.
He was yet to respond to the text message sent to him seeking whether the military was aware of recent developments in Niger.
But a source close to the military said, “For now, we don’t have the manpower and equipment to confront these theatres and we are not proactive enough. Also, the intelligence units haven’t done thorough profiling of these criminals and have a common database accessible to the core enforcement agencies to act upon. Until this is done, I doubt we can solve the problems.
“All our borders are still porous for small arms and light weapons to flow into the country. It is a big business selling weapons now and thousands are making a fortune from it,” he said.
Another source said, “The truth is that since 2014, we did write to DIA, that the then Shekau’s terrorist group had splinters running away from Sambisa into Kano, Kaduna, Birnin Gwari, Niger and Nasarawa States and the need to fish them out. But typical of our attitudes to serious national issues, no action was taken. Now, the same scenario is playing out…”
Intelligence gathering, usage only solution – Experts, CSO
A Minna based civil society organisation, the Blue Resolution Initiative, attributed the influx of Boko Haram insurgents in the state to the lack of utilisation of intelligence from affected communities by the security agencies.
The president of the Initiative, Mohammed Danjuma Abubakar, said, “Our security agencies don’t utilise the reports by the locals. And also, there is no proper synergy between the local government and the state and security agencies.
“And these criminals are taking advantage of those lapses and penetrating. Therefore, all these media reports and reports from communities should be well utilised by security agencies. It would help deal with the situation,” he said.
A retired Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abubakar A. Yahaya, said, “Security agencies are doing their best but there is room for serious improvement. Intelligence reports from villagers shouldn’t be ignored.”