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Banditry: Military operation falters as gunmen choke from lack of fuel, others

the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) last weekend announced a two-week cut...

Non-military measures put in place to strangulate activities of bandits in Zamfara and neighbouring states are paying off as the menacing gunmen scamper for fuel and other logistics, Daily Trust can report.

States worst hit by rural banditry—Zamfara, Katsina, Niger and Kaduna—had last week proclaimed executive orders banning the sale of fuel in jerry cans, suspension of cattle trade and, in some places, weekly markets, among other measures.

The measures, according to the state governments, were designed to cut down the lifeline of the bandits who transact in cattle and use a large number of motorcycles to move within the forested areas of the states to carry out criminal activities.

In addition to these measures, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) last weekend announced a two-week cut in the telecommunications network in Zamfara State, following a request by the state government.

The cut in telecommunications, fuel supply and source of food and other logistics to the bandits is said to be taking a toll on them, sources with knowledge of the situation told this newspaper.

The disruption of the telecom network in Zamfara, according to authorities, was to support a major security operation to “crush” the bandits.

In addition to Zamfara State, local governments neighbouring the state in Katsina and Sokoto are also affected by the telecoms shut down.

But while the gunmen are being asphyxiated by the non-kinetic measures, there are concerns that there was no “serious military operation” to decimate the ranks of the bandits, as expected.

Multiple sources who spoke to Daily Trust confirmed that nothing much was being done by the military in the forests of Zamfara to rout out the bandits.

“The impact we expected has not been recorded. The reported successes are being exaggerated. In fact, this is making our jobs difficult because when false victory is recorded it makes the government relax when the problem is not yet addressed,” a source with knowledge of the situation told our reporter during the week.

But in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, the Director Defence Information, Maj.-Gen. Benjamin Sawyerr, said troops should be allowed to finish the operations before commenting.

“Let me tell you, we don’t discuss operation when it is going on. What I mean is that we don’t discuss operation in the middle of an operation. As you can see, the military is recording successes,’’ he said.

The senior military officer said that talking about operations while it was ongoing could jeopardise the successes being recorded which was not ideal for the country.

Mass movements of bandits

Some of the bandits at Dansadau forest were said to have abandoned their motorcycles after they ran out of fuel.

A source in Zamfara, Yusuf Mohammed, told Daily Trust that some of the bandits around Tsafe had set free captives in their custody as they could not feed them, nor be able to communicate with their relatives.

“I spoke to someone who said he went to pick up a girl which was among those set free by the bandits,” he said.

Katsina State Commissioner of Police, Sanusi Buba, said security agents in the state were vigilant in identifying any possible infiltration of bandits from Zamfara into the state.

‘Soldiers not on ground’

Multiple sources spoken to by our reporter expressed disappointment at the failure to have an all-out military operation while the siege was on.

A security source confided in Daily Trust that the Zamfara operation was not well coordinated at the top, which explained the lack of sustained and strategic action.

He said the jamming of the telecommunication network was not approved by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), which ought to analyse the import of the action and vet the action plan.

The army and other organs of the military were yet to make any formal briefing on the new anti-banditry push, aside from unofficial claims and rumours.

But a source told Daily Trust that some stray bandits were killed at the outskirts of Dumburum forest of Zurmi Local Government on Monday. A fleeing company of bandits also had an encounter with troops on Thursday though no details of the clash were obtained.

During the week there were pictures and videos circulated on social media platforms suggesting that a notorious bandits’ leader, Turji, was captured while scores of other bandits were killed.

But checks conducted by Daily Trust showed that the video and the pictures in circulation were old ones from previous military operations.

Three different sources also confirmed nothing has happened to Turji.

“Turji is hale. Nothing has happened to him,” Halilu Sububu, Turji’s ex-boss turned rival, told our reporter on Wednesday.

Two other sources who spoke to Daily Trust, Friday, but craved anonymity, said Turji was alive and with his gang.

“He has been wandering in the bush,” one of the sources said.

Like Turji, many other bandits, including Halilu, are said to be roaming around villages along Zamfara’s boundaries with Sokoto, Kaduna, Kebbi, Niger and Katsina states.

On Friday, Daily Trust reported attacks on communities in Tureta Local Government of Sokoto State by marauding bandits who abducted several persons after killing six and maiming many.

A source attributed the attack to Halilu Sububu’s gang which, like Turji’s has reportedly moved into Sokoto State.

Our reporter who was in Jibia, Katsina State, reports that soldiers manning the blocked Jibia – Gurbin Baure road were making extra checks on motorcyclists to ensure they were not filling up their tanks in Jibia to supply bandits lurking around the road linking Katsina with Zamfara State.

Hours before our reporter’s visit on Wednesday, a woman was killed on the bandits-infested road, after the gunmen intercepted travellers along the road. Katsina State Government had banned the movement of motorists along the road.

Speaking in a chat with Daily Trust Friday, Katsina State governor, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari, said the new measures against banditry proclaimed by the states were intended to starve the bandits economically and deny them the opportunity to get arms and other items they needed.

“They won’t have opportunity to buy drugs and intoxicants, that will put pressure on the bandits’ leaders so that the boys they recruited from neighbouring villages will have to find their way of coming back,” he said.

The governor also confirmed a story published by Daily Trust on the telecommunications shutdown in 13 local governments of the state.

“As I am talking to you, 13 out of the 19 local government are completely in the dark and we intend to make sure that in the 19 local governments where we have cases of kidnapping and some forest areas being used by bandits are completely blocked; then that gives the military, the police and our vigilante the opportunity to move without danger of informants.”

He blamed bandits’ informants for setbacks by security agents in tackling the bandits, saying the informants give  “information to bandits either to flee or lay ambush”. He said the cutting off of network “will drastically reduce this infiltration”.

Asked if he was satisfied by the ongoing military operation in the area, Masari said the military was facing problems of lack of adequate equipment and sufficient manpower.

“The military are in every state now; almost every state of the federation has one challenge or the other, so the military is being spread too thin to be more effective.”

Masari said the federal government, National Assembly and state governors must come together to empower the country’s security forces with modern equipment to be more responsive to current challenges.

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