For a long time, the spate of insecurity has increased in Niger State. Many people have been killed and property destroyed. The most recent is the abduction of students and some members of staff of Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, as well as 52 passengers. Daily Trust writes on how banditry started in the state, experiences of farmers, what the state government is doing to tackle the situation, and other issues.
No fewer than 2,000 children have been rendered orphans as a result of the lingering insecurity situation in Kagara, headquarters of Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State, an investigation by Daily Trust has shown.
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The situation in the area degenerated recently with the abduction of 52 passengers travelling in mass transit buses.
The travellers regained freedom last week, followed by the abduction of students of Government Science Secondary School, Kagaraand some staff of the school.
Over 2,000 children orphaned
Data exclusively obtained by Daily Trust from the districts under the Kagara Emirate Council indicate that the children were rendered orphans during incessant attacks by armed bandits over the past nine years.
While some of the orphans are currently taking refuge at internally displaced persons camps (IDPs) in Kagara, Pandogari and other towns, some are in orphanage homes, while others are living with their relatives in different parts of the affected local government area, our reporter gathered.
It was also gathered that as at November last year, the number of people killed due to kidnappings and other forms of insecurity in the area was about 190. Also, 141 others were hospitalized, while about 18,323 animals were rustled.
In addition, no fewer than five traditional rulers were kidnapped, including one district head and two village heads who were killed. The whereabouts of one district head has remained unknown since he was kidnapped in December last year, according to sources at the Kagara Emirate Council.
Problem started in 2012
Checks by Daily Trust also indicate that the problem started between late 2012 to early 2013 with cattle rustling, followed by kidnapping in 2014. The situation was said to have worsened from 2016, culminating in killings, arson, burgling of shops and seizures of motorcycles and other personal belongings.
“As at November last year, we estimated a colossal loss of over N2 billion from this crisis,” Abdulkadir Kagara, the secretary of Kagara Emirate Council said.
Consequently, schools and health facilities have been closed for a very long time, particularly in Ringa, Uregi and Majanjan districts.
“The number of internally displaced persons in Kagara, Pandogari and other towns within the emirate poses another security threat,” Abdulkadir, who also holds the title of Ubandoman Kagara said.
‘We have abandoned our farms’
A cross section of residents of Kagara community who spoke with our reporter decried the lingering security situation in the area, saying it has greatly impacted on their socio-economic activities, particularly farming.
Malam Salmanu, a Kagara resident, whose daughter, Maimuna, is among the relatives of staff of Government Science College taken away alongside students, recounted his ordeal. “It was early morning on that fateful Wednesday. When we finished our prayers we received a message through a phone call that the bandits had invaded Government Science College, Kagara.
“We heard they started from the staff quarters and were heading to the hostel. And knowing that we have a daughter there who is married to a staff member, we quickly moved there.
Unfortunately, it was the house of our daughter that was first invaded. We realised that apart from our daughter, the children of the daughter of the house, numbering five, were also taken away,” Salmanu said.
According to him, the people of Kagara have been living in fear over the years due to these incessant attacks, which are not restricted to the town but occur even more in the villages.
“This is the fourth time they are attacking Kagara. As a result of these attacks, our general hospital is no longer working fully. We were having three resident doctors but now, the nurses and doctors only come and work for a few hours.
“Secondly, we don’t have banks now. The only bank here (First Bank) was attacked and now they ceased to operate. Our educational sector has been affected. Even in the villages several schools have been closed for more than two years,” he said.
On how the situation has affected farming in the area, Salmanu said, “Personally, as a farmer, I now go to my farm with fear. I have even planted beans, which I have not harvested. The same goes for many small and large-scale farmers in this community, who are facing the same problem. Sometimes the bandits go and set fire on the farms and destroy the crops.
“So the economic situation of this area in terms of farming has been seriously affected and there may be food crisis. But following the recent abduction, we now have enough security personnel here, unlike before.”
Another Kagara resident, Sharhabilu Ibrahim (a graduate turned tailor) said the frequent attacks by bandits have impacted negatively on farming and other socio-economic activities in this community to the point that farmers are being chased from their farms.
“We have so many cases where farmers failed to harvest what they had planted. Two months ago, some farmers went to harvest their produce and were chased away by the bandits. The same bandits set ablaze so many farms to the extent that they even kidnapped some farmers. So if care is not taken, this very place, Kagara, may experience famine because of food shortage,” he said.
Apart from farming, Ibrahim said other economic activities had also been affected in the area. “As you can see, so many of my colleagues (tailors) have lost their clients; they no longer come to patronise us because of the security situation. What they are bothered with now is the food to eat and where to sleep.
“If you go round this village now you discover that 10 to 15 people are now sleeping in a single room, and they are mostly farmers. These are farmers that were millionaires before bandits destroyed their economic fortunes.
“Our parents are even complaining about allowing their children to attend day school because if it can happen in a boarding school, it can also happen in a day school. So the probability of having out-of-school children will rise as parents will no longer risk sending their children to school again. People will be denied the opportunity to go to school,” Ibrahim said.
Also speaking, the Emir of Kagara, Alhaji Salihu Tanko, said banditry activities had impacted quite negatively in the area.
The emir, who spoke through the secretary of the Emirate Council, Abdulkadir Bala Kagara, said, “Over the years, our farmers could not access their farms; even if they cultivated, they could not harvest the produce. For instance, during the last harvest season, most of the farmers could not harvest their produce.
“Farm produce such as guinea corn, maize, beans and others were burnt by the bandits. Those who planted yam had the tubers harvested by the bandits. We are even afraid of the next farming season. Insecurity has indeed impacted negatively on us. Prices of foodstuff have risen and we may be facing food crisis.
He appealed to the federal government to come to the aid of the state and local governments “because they have exhausted their resources and energy towards this problem that has been disturbing us for over nine years – cattle rustling, kidnapping and other forms of banditry.”
How we are tackling the situation – Niger govt
The Niger State Government said it had done everything possible to make sure that the problem of insecurity in Kagara and other parts of the state is tackled, to the barest minimum.
Alhaji Ibrahim Balarabe Kagara, the chief of staff to the governor, who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday, said, “Let me make it a point of emphasis that what is going on today is a trend that cuts across the sub-Sahara, from Libya to Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Every country is having its share in banditry.
“Coming to Nigeria; it is not only Niger State. Before Niger, it was Kaduna, where the problem had been going on for the past 10 years. Our neighbouring Birnin-Gwari has never had peace in the last 10 years. Now, it is Niger that we have some local governments that are worst affected, including Rafi.
According to him, the state government’s intervention on security started from Rafi Local Government Area.
“Remember that on a single blow he donated six Hilux pick-up vans and 20 motorbikes to address these challenges.
“So we are doing our best, but our best will not be enough until this situation is finally addressed. I assure the people of Kagara and Niger State that the governor is doing everything possible to make sure that this issue is addressed,” he said.
On how the crisis has affected the socio-economic lives of the people of Kagara, he said the state government was putting a lot of palliatives and interventions in place to address the issue.
“We are assuring them that we are not sleeping. We are giving them hope that there would be light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.