The upsurge in kidnapping, killings, attacks and other violent crimes across communities in Nasarawa State by gunmen suspected to be members of a terrorist group, Darus- Salam, has become a source of worry for many residents and the state government, Daily Trust reports.
Nasarawa State, which shares boundaries with the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Benue and Kogi states, has been under siege by gunmen who kidnap victims on the highway, farms, their homes and worship places.
While the lucky ones secure their release after paying millions of naira as ransoms, many, not so lucky, got killed in the process.
Governor Abdulahi Sule recently confirmed the presence of the Boko Haram terrorist group in the state, saying they were regrouping and causing more havoc, amid security challenges bedevilling the state.
He disclosed this while briefing State House correspondents after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to seek support over the growing insecurity in his state.
The governor, who said the group was part of the elements fueling the security challenges in the state, recalled that the terrorists had earlier been dislodged from their camp in Toto Local Government Area of the state before regrouping at the Nasarawa/Benue border, from where they now launch attacks on residents.
Sule said some of the Boko Haram elements active in the state belonged to the Darus – Salam group that had been dislodged from Niger State.
The Nigerian Army had, on August 25, 2020, launched a clearance operation at Uttu in Toto, where a camp of members of Darus – Salam was destroyed while a number of them were arrested.
Over 700 hostages, mostly women and children, were rescued following the operations.
Army speaks on dislodgement of terrorists
The Army, in a statement by the coordinator, Defence Media Operations, Major- General John Enenche, said it recovered several improvised explosive devices- making materials at the location, including 2 scales, 6 rocket launcher bombs and a bag of fertiliser, among others.
“Following aggressive intensive kinetic operations at identified bandits’ enclaves, not less than 410 members of the Darus – Salam terrorist group, including women and children, surrendered to the troops of Operation Whirl Stroke and other security agencies deployed at Uttu in Toto Local Government Area of Nasarawa State.
“This development took place on August 25, 2020.
“While on a robust clearance patrol around Uttu on August 26, 2020, troops of Operation Whirl Stroke stormed a Darus – Salam terrorists’ bomb-making factory following actionable technical and human intelligence on their activities in the area.
The military high command commends the gallant troops of Operation Whirl Stroke for their professionalism and dexterity in achieving this notable feat and urges them to sustain the tempo in the push to decisively curtail the activities of armed bandits and other criminals operating in the North-Central zone,” Enenche stated.
Uneasy calm as attacks persist
Notwithstanding the dislodgement of the sect from the fringes of Toto Local Government Area, the group appears to have relocated to other parts of the state, from where they have been launching deadly attacks, as recently confirmed by the governor.
Some of the reported cases of kidnapping and attacks carried out by suspected gunmen in Nasarawa State between January 19, 2020, and January 18, 2021, indicate that a total of 156 people were kidnapped while 28 of the victims got killed in the process.
A breakdown of the data shows that 132 people were kidnapped in 2020, with 19 of them killed, while 24 people have so far been kidnapped in 2021, with 9 of them killed. Among those killed were seven soldiers.
According to the data, ransoms amounting to N109million were demanded from victims over the last one year, while N44.5million was paid to the abductors.
Most of the kidnappings and attacks occurred around Nasarawa Shabu; Lafia; Dari town; Shafa-Abakpa; Fulani settlement; Mararaba Udege/Loko road; Dadare town; Gwagwada-Sabo community; Agwada town; Gudi; Lafia; Kana town; Mararaba-Udege road; cutting across Toto, Nasarawa, Lafia and Kokona local government areas of the state.
On January 19, 2020, 46 passengers travelling through Nasarawa area of the state were kidnapped.
On April 7, 2020, the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Nasarawa State, Joseph Masin, was kidnapped around Bukan Sidi, Lafia.
Similarly, on June 29, 2020, 30 travellers were kidnapped along the Mararaba-Udege-Loko road.
In the same vein, an immigration officer, Salisu Usman and his wife were kidnapped on July 7, 2020, at the Gudi area of the state.
On September 13, 2020, 10 officers of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) were kidnapped along the Udege junction-Mararaba-Udege road and a ransom of N36 million reportedly paid to secure their release.
A former Commissioner for Higher Education in the state, Chief Clement Uhembe, was kidnapped on October 6, 2020, and a ransom of N30million demanded. However, the amount eventually paid before his release was not known.
On October 27, 2020, gunmen abducted 17 Muslim worshippers from a mosque at Gwagwada-Sabo community and demanded N17million as ransom.
Gunmen also struck at Kunwarke Clinic in the Lafia area of the state on October 31, 2020, and abducted five people. The kidnappers demanded N20million, but N8.5 million was paid for their release.
A policeman and three others were kidnapped at Ikari village in the Gudi area of the state on December 19, 2020.
The gunmen continued their activities in 2021 as they abducted two brothers – Usman and ThankGod Emmanuel on January 4, 2021, at Rubochi Sabo and demanded a N2million ransom, but N600,000 was eventually paid.
On January 16, 2021, one Isaac Emmanuel, who went to pay ransom to secure the release of his two brothers, was held back by the gunmen, who demanded another N1million ransom before releasing him.
In the same vein, Prof Johnson Fatogun, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Anchor University, Lagos, was kidnapped along the Keffi highway on January 18, 2021, and a N20million ransom demanded. However, the amount paid before he was released is unknown.
Meanwhile, residents have expressed worries over the rising cases of kidnapping and killing around communities in Nasarawa State.
A resident of Toto, who is a pensioner, Adamu Toto, told Daily Trust that he was afraid of travelling from Toto to Nasarawa and Keffi to see his relatives for fear of being kidnapped by suspected terrorists.
He said people of his community lived in fear since the area started witnessing an upsurge in the activities of gunmen suspected to be members of a terror group.
A driver, Ali Keffi, said they had lost some of their colleagues due to the activities of gunmen who usually laid siege along Keffi-Kachia, Keffi-Nasarawa, Toto-Abaji in Abuja and Oweto-Otukpo in Benue.
He said, “We have no alternative to earning a living than driving, but it is risky. We call on the government to improve security for travellers and motorists.”
Alhaji Tasiu Mammam, a trader in Lafia, said the activities of gunmen in the state were worrisome. He called for urgent action in flushing them out.
“As a trader, I used to leave home by 5 am each time I was embarking on a journey, but now, I wait until 8 am to avoid running into the hands of these bad people,” he said.
Speaking about the situation, Suleiman Ibrahim Eya said they had a rough experience in the hands of their abductors when they were kidnapped along Nasarawa road.
According to him, they trekked for three hours before they were allowed to rest near a hill. They continued trekking the following day before the kidnappers made calls demanding a ransom.
The traditional ruler of Loko in Nasarawa Local Government Area, Alhaji Abubakar Ahmad Sabo, appealed to the federal and state governments to come to their aid.
“I am calling on the federal and state governments to establish a military base in this place to enhance security on the now upgraded major highway that links the North to the Southeastern part of the country.
“The upgrade of the road from a rural road to a tarred interstate/region highway has changed the narrative,” he said.
The commissioner of police in the state, Bola Longe, while expressing the determination of the command to tackle security challenges in the state, called on the people to assist the police with relevant information in respect of breach of law and order in the state.
Restating that the security of the lives of citizens is the priority of his administration, Governor Sule said criminals must not be allowed to truncate peace and economic activities across communities in the state.
He expressed worry at the resurgence of insecurity in the area, which was peaceful months ago. He also admonished youths in the area to shun crime.
Governor Sule, however, expressed gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari and security agencies for their collective efforts at nipping the activities of terrorists in the bud.
He particularly thanked the president for taking prompt action when he deployed security agents to confront the bandits operating somewhere around the Tunga and Bakono axis. According to him, security agents are presently carrying out military operations to dislodge the bandits.
Nasarawa government, Lai Mohammed differ
The Nasarawa State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Comrade Dogo Shammah, has countered a statement credited to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, claiming that Governor Sule was misquoted in some sections of the media that Boko Haram members were regrouping in the state.
Mohammed, who was briefing the media last Monday in Abuja on the progress made by the Federal Government in the war against terrorism and banditry, said the governor claimed he was quoted out of context.
“I was also concerned over this and I called the governor and asked him. But he said it was a case of being quoted out of context,” Mohammed said.
But interacting with journalists in Lafia, the commissioner affirmed that the governor was quoted verbatim.
Shammah said, “The governor was quoted verbatim; this is what is happening in Nasarawa State.
“I am appealing for support from the federal might, and we stand by it.
“That was exactly what he said. But if for any reason the minister has anything contrary, we don’t know.
“But as a government, that was the position we took so that we can safeguard our lives and property.
“If there is a different meaning to it, we don’t know.”
By Itodo Daniel Sule, Haruna Ibrahim (Abuja) & Ibraheem Hamza Muhammad (Lafia)