For many rural communities in Niger State, the last few weeks have been traumatic, especially for those to rear livestock as bandits invade their homes to rustle cows, sheep and goats.
Daily Trust investigation showed that in the last few weeks, hundreds of cattle, rams and goats belonging to farmers in Mariga, Kontagora and Rafi local government areas were rustled by terrorists.
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Our correspondent reliably gathered that among those whose cattle were rustled is the father of the Niger State governor, Colonel Sani Bello (rtd). Multiple sources said no fewer than 400 cattle belonging to him were among those taken away within the last one month.
However, neither the police nor the state government confirmed the incidents. While the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mary Noel-Berje, said she was not aware of the incident, the Niger State Police Command’s Public Relations Officer, Wasiu Abiodun, did not respond to messages sent him by our correspondents to enquire about the incident.
But sources told our correspondent that terrorists in their numbers invaded the farm at Rijiyan-Daji village, a few kilometres away from Kontagora Town in the evening of June 15 when the cattle were returned from grazing, carting away all of them while two of the workers in the farm were also kidnapped.
One of the sources said: “We’ve not heard of the release of the two workers that were kidnapped alongside. There were about 400 cattle. And over a month after, the whereabouts of the cattle and the abducted workers were still unknown. The cattle were abducted when they came back from grazing. And they have not been recovered. The bandits came in large numbers, well-armed.”
Sources dismissed the insinuation that the farm belongs to Governor Abubakar Sani Bello. One of the sources said, “The farm is of his father. I don’t think it is a joint venture.”
Daily Trust gathered that residents of Rijiyan-Daji had fled their homes during the invasion. An unspecified number of villagers were also reportedly kidnapped, and hundreds of their cattle and sheep also rustled.
“Normalcy has returned; we are back home. But the day the attack was carried out, we all fled our homes. We cannot tell you the exact number of those bandits but they were over hundred with guns,” another source said.
Daily Trust also gathered that a week before Eid-el Kabir, hundreds of cattle and rams were rustled at Kampanin-Bobi, a few kilometres from Mariga, the headquarters of Mariga Local Government Area.
One of the victims, Abubakar Agaji told our correspondent that, “They ransacked our home a week before Sallah, and took away 150 rams belonging to my elder brother; they took 30 of my rams and 46 cows in a single invasion. They also went away with my 13-year-old son and another little boy. When they got to a village called Munguro, around Bangi, the headquarters of Magama Local Government Area, the boys were released and were given transport fare to take a bike and return home. The boys said the bandits told them that since they had succeeded in rustling their father’s animals, there was no need taking them along. And since they were little boys, they didn’t know the way back home. Luckily, the Village Head of Mungoro took them and put them in a commercial vehicle and the boys were brought back home”.
Another source said the attacks and cattle rustling were still incessant, lamenting that, “Even as I speak with you, we can’t go to our farms because they move anytime into our farms. Sometimes when you are working on your farm, you just see them on motorcycles in their numbers.
“Their route is known because they have a regular route that they follow from Zamfara State. Most of the cattle that were rustled here were taken to a forest in Zamfara.’’
Daily Trust gathered that the regular movement of bandits around communities in Mariga LGA had forced farmers to abandon their farms, reducing the scale of farming this season drastically.
A farmer said: “We have scaled down the size of the land we used to cultivate before the escalation of banditry in this area. Before now, I used to harvest over 200 bags of rice, maize and beans every year. But I swear, this year, the farmland that I have been able to cultivate this year would only give me like 20 bags of maize. Poverty and hunger are biting harder; this banditry has drawn us backward.”
Another villager appealed to the government to deploy more security personnel to the area. “If the government will listen to us, I will suggest that security personnel should be stationed at Mahundu, Konan-Dutse, while another batch of security operatives should be stationed at Ukuru village, all in Mariga LGA. If this is done, we shall all be able to return home and engage in farming. As I speak with you, hundreds of villages on the Mariga axis have been deserted and the residents have fled because of incessant attacks,” he said.
The villager said even some farmers who had returned home from IDP camps at the beginning of the rainy season had fled their villages again as attackers move around the area on a regular basis, adding that no one could travel from Kampanin-Bobi through a Tashan-Iche to the Northern Kontagora “even if one is offered millions of naira.”
Daily Trust also gathered that over 20 Friday mosques in communities in Mariga Local Government Area have been forced to shut down due to attacks and threats from the bandits.
Abubakar Agaji told our correspondent that: “Many Jumaat mosques have been shut down completely and everybody had fled. Over 20 Jumaat mosques have been shut in Mariga Local Government Area alone. In Mahundu community, there are two Jumaat mosques, Woraga community also has two, Ukuru community also has two, Makici also has two, among several other communities. All of them have been shut because of threats and attacks.”
He said their communities would not go into any form of negotiation with the bandits, arguing that, “Anybody that accepts peace deals with these bandits, I will say, doesn’t know what he is doing because they will never honour any agreement. They just use the peace deal initiative to know more about communities and their secrets for fresh attacks.”