In the last eight years or more, Niger State has had to deal with armed bandits and terrorists who have turned almost all the villages in about 14 local government areas of the state into ghost towns.
Residents of over 70 communities in Niger State have deserted their ancestral homes to take refuge in more secured towns and communities where the majority of them stay in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps.
It would be recalled that armed bandits’ attacks started from a particular ward of Alawa in Shiroro Local Government Area of the state eight years ago in which several people were killed, maimed, rendered homeless and helpless.
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Eight years down the line, the attacks have spread to 14 local government areas of the state.
The insecurity has led to serious humanitarian crisis where government must at all cost provide for the needs of those taking refuge in the IDP camps across the state.
Majority of schools in the sate have been turned to IDP camps. Most school compounds have been divided into two – one section for school activities and the other housing the IDPs.
Aside the IDP camps recognized by the government, there are other individuals who are accommodating some the IDPs, especially those who hail from their own communities.
Pathetically, more than 50 percent of the IDPs are children and women, while youths also form a larger percentage of the remaining percentage.
Some of the IDPs who narrated their experiences in the hands of the attackers insisted that the only thing they are asking from the government is to provide adequate security in their communities so that they can return and live their normal lives without any fear.
Majority of the IDPs in some of the camps according to findings have stayed for more than two years without any hope of when they are going back home.
Hunger, lack of proper medical care, unkempt environment, lack of care, unresponsive leaders among others are some of the complaints from the IDPs.
Sometime in 2020, some of the IDPs had cried out over the lack of food in the camp and the fear of disease outbreak with the influx of more people from villages that were being attacked.
Shiroro Local Government Area where the bandits’ attack started eight years ago now has about 25 IDP camps where those displaced from their homes are now living.
The Ag. Chairman of Shiroro Local Government council, Honourable Isiaku Bawa, lamented that the situation in Shiroro is getting worse because out of the 15 wards in the council, might have been affected.
“As we speak, Gurmana Ward is under attack. We need the government’s intervention just like they promised so that our people can go back to their villages. We need more military presence now because the rainy season will soon start.”
For Munya local government, 11 wards are affected while over 1,500 residents have been displaced.
Chairman of Munya Local Government Area, Honorable Garba Muhammed, who was at Gwada to receive federal government relief items, said despite the challenges in the last few weeks, the security situation has improved.
“The recent attacks on Sarkin Pawa, the headquarters of Munya Local Government Area was repelled by men of vigilantes, Mopol and soldiers. They faced the bandits and sent them back to the bush. The people in the town have not experienced such again,” Muhammed said.
According to one of the IDPs at the Central Model Primary School Gwada, Usman Yaro, who has been at the Gwada IDP camp for one and a half years, people keep joining them in the camp every now and then.
Rah Moses left Kaure over a year ago with her husband to an unknown destination before they eventually found themselves at the camp.
She lamented the poor state of living in the camp saying “food is not enough, the rooms are not enough, there’s no school, no medical lab. We want the government to bring police and soldiers so that we can go back to our homes to continue with how we were living before.”
A youth leader who led some IDPs to the IBB Primary School camp said they were overwhelmed with the security situation in Munya Local Government Area of the state, which was why they left their villages and headed to Minna for safety.
Some of them who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday insisted on staying on at the camp until a final solution is provided for their security.
Fatimah Garba said she would not go back to the village where she was chased from but to another safer place.
“I moving back to my father’s house from this camp until my husband’s village is peaceful. I’m tired of the tension the bandits are giving us. We have paid several ransoms to secure the release of our people but we are still being tortured, maimed and killed on daily basis by the armed men.
“The last ransom we paid was N1.5million before we could secure the release of four people who were abducted. We were lucky this time around because a neighbouring village that was attacked earlier informed us and we ran away before they got to the village, but we saw them on our way out of the village.
“Government should rise up to its responsibility and provide security for us, we are tired of this kind of life,” she said.
Another IDP at the camp, Tanko Zariya, insisted that he won’t move an inch from the camp until he is sure his village is safe and there are standby and maximum security for their protection.
Some of them also lamented the destruction of their properties and farmlands by the bandits as they alleged that the bandits usually destroy their houses and farmland whenever they enter a community and there are no people to kidnap.
Since the increase in the number of IDPs in the state, a lot of groups, NGOs, and philanthropists have been visiting and sending food items and other relief materials to the camps.
Also, the federal government through the ministry of humanitarian affairs recently flagged off donation of relief materials to the IDPs in the state.
The donation was flagged off at the Central Primary School Gwada in early May and continued up to the first week of June as the relief materials were said to be distributed to all the IDP camps in the 14 local councils affected by bandits.
The items, according to the federal government, include foodstuff, clothing and cosmetics to support the state government in catering for the IDPs.
Speaking during the delivery of the items, the minister of humanitarian affairs, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, said they were in the state to empathise with the state government, the good and resilient people of the state as they have been unfortunately displaced from their homes.
Items donated include 600 bags of 25kg rice, 200 kegs of palm oil, 50 bales of used cloths, 10 sacks of rubber slippers and 20 cartons of body cream.
The minister, who was represented by the Acting Director, Humanitarian Department, Dr Abubakar Sulaiman, said the gesture was part of the federal government’s efforts at reaching out to the vulnerable to alleviate their sufferings.
“The situation is pathetic in that people who have been living comfortably in their abode were abruptly displaced as a result of this callous attack. They left all means of livelihood and support to come and experience the mystery of living in this condition. Their condition is pathetic but as I said, we are here to assess their situation which we have seen and we would report back to the minister and we hope the situation will be over soon so that they can go back to their various homes,” he said.
Speaking at the Gwada IDP camp where the items were delivered, Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Ahmed Matane, said the state cannot express its joy over the support that came from the federal government.
“We appreciate President Muhammadu Buhari and the minister of humanitarian affairs. We believe many more will come because of our relationship with the ministry. The state government has done its best. We have brought mattress here about three times and I want to say that the plight of the IDPs is improving in terms of welfare,” Matane said.
Director-General, Niger State emergency management Agency (NSEMA), Alhaji Ibrahim Inga, promised that the agency will ensure equity since they have a template which they have been using and it has been given them result as they keep remodelling the sharing formula.
He lamented that sometimes, some hoodlums came to cart away some of the items, adding that the agency has identified community leaders who are part of the sharing members as they now share based on communities while the IDPs also cook according to communities.
Recently, after meeting with security chiefs, the state governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, disclosed that normalcy is gradually returning to some of the communities attacked by bandits as those displaced from there are returning to their various villages.
The governor, who noted that though the state is still confronted with security challenges, said the security forces are working tirelessly to address it, especially in communities that recently suffered attacks by Boko Haram and bandits.
According to him, “I have monitored the movement of IDPs to their villages today and everything has been going smoothly; there is no cause for alarm. We have gotten additional security personnel from Abuja to help secure our people.”
The governor also commended the federal government and expressed confidence in its ability and that of the security agencies in acting swiftly to the security challenges bedevilling the state.
Bello gave the commendation during the visit of the new GOC 1 Mechanized Division, Nigeria Army, Major General Danjuma Hamisu Ali-Keffi.
“We are impressed with the new development and the response of the federal government in addressing the security challenges in Niger State. It is a joint effort; the state government will do its part and the federal government will do its part also.
“The new GOC and I have met and discussed. He has assured that they will do whatever they can to put the situation under control,” he said.
He however reiterated that the local security outfits, especially the vigilantes, were overstretched. “We are aware of their challenges; they are overwhelmed and overstretched. I also discussed their issue with the GOC.”
The governor noted that even though the GOC just assumed office, he has a better understanding of the situation and in no distant time, the problems will be put under control.
The GOC, Major General Danjuma Hamisu Ali-Keffi, while speaking to journalists, assured that the military will do what is required to put the situation under control.