Tales of horror and pain in Niger state communities where over 30 military personnel were killed

On August 14 2023, 36 military personnel were reported dead in a series of attacks in Kundu and Chukuba communities in Niger State. This generated public outrage; however, the reactions barely covered the plight of the residents of these communities. How did they fare? What happened, and what were the casualties? These are the questions answered by Mustapha Usman and Olayinka Fatunbi in this report.


If Talba Zainab had known that she would lose her three children to the cold hands of bandits, she would have clung to them tightly and run with them through the same route when the gun-wielding bandits, who often rustle cattle from all the surrounding communities, put Akere town into chaos. 

Akere residents were going on with their daily routines in August when terrorists on motorcycles stormed their town and quickly turned it into a war zone. 

A bullet caught one of Zainab’s sons and six other people. But she was able to join other people and ran for three days inside the forest of the community, situated in Kundu, Zungeru Local Government Area of Niger state.

As most fled through the bushes and the nearby river, some didn’t make it out. They drowned, including two of her other sons. 

Like Zainab, the villagers, running for safety, left their loved ones, who had been hit by a bullet behind.

“We live in the forest; just recently, we spent over four days in the forest, we didn’t drink or eat,” she said. Beyond that, they also lost hundreds of cows during the traumatic attack.

For three days, the terrorists were conducting a house-to-house search for those in hiding. 

It was not the first time bandits would be storming their town to rustle their cattle and inflict pain on them. In fact, this year alone, they have witnessed over 18 attacks. Every day, this community of herders went about their daily activities with one of their eyes opened due to the continuous attacks by bandits. 

Talba Zainab (at the front) mourns the devastating loss of three of her children in the recent attack by cattle rustlers in Akere. Weeks after the incident, the pain of their absence remains palpable. Photo credit: The ICIR

Over the course of three years, bandit attacks occurred approximately every two weeks. However, more recently, they have intensified, happening once a week, resulting in the theft of hundreds of cattle.

“We spend three years without peace, we don’t have enough food to eat, we don’t have shelter,” she continued as she fought hard to stop tears coming out from her eyes.

The community, which is roughly 15 kilometres away from the main town Kundu and would take about two hours on the bike, has been visibly deserted by residents, and the then community of over 5,000 people now battle with extinction.

Aftermath of one of the attacks by bandits in Akere. Most community members, including the owners of this compound were forced to desert their homes. Photo Credit: The ICIR

Zainab’s situation resonates with the sentiments of many other residents who shared their experiences with The ICIR. Forty-five-year-old Muhammed Maryam is one of those who lost their loved ones during one of such attacks. Much like Zainab, Maryam’s husband fell victim to the assault by cattle rustlers in Akere.

On that day, Maryam and her husband sought refuge in a bush and endured two days of sleeping in the rain while also battling hunger. It was when Maryam’s husband, Muhammed, returned to their village to gather food that he met his doom.

Maryam resolves to sell dry fish to take care of her children after the loss of her husband. Photo credit: The ICIR/September

“When we were in the forest, we were very hungry, and he said he would go back to the house and bring us food. On the way to the house, they killed him,” Maryam said while attempting to turn the dry fish over the fire.

Now, she has to fend for her family in spite of the challenges. “When my husband was alive, I did not do any business, but everything he left for us was stolen, including his money,” she stated. 

Cheji’s heartbreaking toll from insecurity 

Cheji is some metres away from Akere and has also witnessed a wave of insecurity attacks by bandits and cattle rustlers. In the past three years, the community, together with other neighbouring communities, have been besieged by continuous attacks from terrorists.

The consequences could be seen, with the community struggling not only with the loss of lives but also the rustling of their livelihood—cattle. Although locals who spoke to The ICIR could not give a specific number of lives lost, people missing and displaced, they all said it’s well over a thousand.

The attack on August 11, 2023, saw over a hundred people leave the community, and about 11 people died, while over a hundred cows were stolen, locals stated. 

The ICIR reports that the cattle rustlers, who carried out attacks in Cheji and neighbouring towns, made off with over 900 cows. Operating in groups during the three-day assault, the bandits moved from one community to another.

Some of the affected communities in that area are Akare Central, Cheji and Pakara.

Amidst the incident, the displaced residents fled for as far as ten kilometres, having to cross the river Kaduna that surrounded the village. This proved to be a tedious task, with many residents who couldn’t swim falling victim to heavy rainfall and drowning.

Ishu Mainmuna, 25, was fighting for her life and that of her child but was unaware that he had taken his last breath. She was beaten by the rain while taking refuge inside the bush. Photo Credit: The ICIR

In one of such attack, twenty-five-year-old Maimuna Ishu was among those forced to flee for their lives into the forest. With rain pouring down relentlessly, her son was not spared. He was beaten by the rain till his last breath.

Maimuna, engulfed by the situation, was unaware that her son had taken his last breath. It was only at dawn the next day, when she felt safe that the reality hit her. “when I was running for safety, my son died on my back, it was raining at that time, I didn’t even realise he died until the following day,” she said.

For three days, Maimuna endured the hardships in the bush and hoped that her remaining four children would be safe with their father. 

Others like Mallam Musa and Abubakar Mohammad lost millions of naira as their cows were taken away from them.  “They stole 14 of my cows,” Musa laments, his voice heavy with resignation. Before, when the news of bandits moving towards their community reached their ears, the community had an escape plan—crossing the surrounding River Kaduna with their cattle.

Mallam Musa lost 14 cows worth millions of naira to the bandits in a recent attack on Ceji village. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time he experienced such a loss to these armed terrorists. Photo credit: The ICIR/September

This strategy has proven effective in the past. However, the last encounter with the gun-blazing bandits took another turn. “Before we could even reach the river, they had us surrounded,” Musa said.

Ambushed by bandits, soldiers killed facing off with terrorists

Helmets struck by a bandit’s bullet in Anguwa Adidi, where Nigerian Military officers were ambushed. Photo Credit: The ICIR/September

The sight of the broken soldiers’ helmets and remnants of fallen bandits could still be seen at Anguwa Adidi of Kundu ward, Kagara local government area, where the cattle rustling bandits ambushed the Nigerian Army on Sunday, August 13.

The local security, Abdullahi Adamu, 35, who had led The ICIR crew to the scene, said he learnt about the presence of the cattle rustlers in Akere, Cheji and two other villages through an intelligence source.

Adamu was under his roof, as it was raining heavily on that day, with a few other men in his town, Kundu, Wushishi LGA, when the message came through. He communicated the information to the village head and promptly sought the intervention of the Nigerian Army-based Government Science College, Kadara, in Rafi Local Government. 

They had been informed that the bandits were heading towards Zungeru-Tegina road, where they could easily pass through a bridge with hundreds of cattle. 

Knowing that the soldiers were stationed around the area, the bandits couldn’t cross the road and were about a half kilometre away. 

Here is the battlefield between the soldiers and the bandits. According to local security personnel, the bandits were on the other side of the trees (in the picture), occupying strategic locations and shooting at the soldiers. Some of the military personnel were also able to take cover behind some trees and avoid the shots. Photo credit: The ICIR/September

“When the soldiers arrived, we chased after the bandits. That is how we got ambushed.” Describing how the gun duel went, he continued, “This thing you are seeing is the blood of our people that died; the bandits ambushed us in this forest.”

“We were walking in this forest with army personnel when we got under this tree. One Oga (boss) among the soldiers said we should stop, and we stopped, but we were unaware that the bandits were there already. Before we knew it, they opened fire on us.

The sheer number of bandits and their scattered positioning across the terrain made it a challenging confrontation. Some of the bandits sought refuge behind the cover of trees, as they shot indiscriminately, and rendered the situation even more precarious.

“When the fight got hot, we retreated because the bandits were many, and they lay scattered over the grasses, and some hid behind the trees,” he stated. 

The ICIR gathered that the gun duel lasted for 13 hours, starting around 5 p.m. till around 6 a.m., according to residents who live very close to the area.

A bullet captured at the site of the gunfight.

However, there were casualties, according to Adamu and other vigilantes who spoke to The ICIR. Adamu disclosed that, although they were safe, four out of ten vigilantes who helped in the fight against the cattle rustlers were severely injured.

Adamu was not spared either; he was hit by bullets in the shoulder at first, but the bullet did not pierce through his body until he was hit again in the back while trying to help a colleague. The bullet pierced through his back and got stuck inside a bone. This, he said, could have died if he had not been fortified.

By fortified Adamu is referring to ‘spiritual powers’.

Abdullahi Adamu, 35, was hit by a bullet in the back during a gunfight. Photo credit; The ICIR/September

According to Adamu, only one soldier died at the scene, and a few others who were struck by bullets were later pronounced dead at the Federal Medical Centre Zungeru. On Thursday, August 17, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ), confirmed that three officers and 22 soldiers were killed in the face-off with the bandits.

When asked if there were vigilante casualties, the Kundu village head, Ahmad Musa, confirmed to The ICIR that no vigilante died during the attack. 

“The soldiers actually tried because they killed those bandits. We have been seeing bandits’ corpses in the bush, inside farms, somewhere very close to the river. Everywhere,” he proffered. 

Over 2500 people died in Niger in the past three years

Between July 2020 and June 2023, at least 18 Local Government Areas in Niger State have been affected by insecurity, with more than 2,500 deaths, according to an analysis of reports by The ICIR.

Although there is no specific data to support cases of missing persons and numbers of internally displaced persons over the past four years, several reports suggest that no fewer than 5,000 persons have been displaced by banditry in the state.

Analysing data gathered from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a website that tracks violent incidents related to political, economic, and social grievances directed at the state or other affiliated groups, showed that over 2,500 people have been killed in 264 attacks across the state.

In 2023 alone, the state recorded 376 deaths, while 319 persons were kidnapped between January and June. In 2022, there were 1,176 reported deaths, and 725 persons were abducted by bandits.

The ICIR, however, gathered that the insecurity-related deaths and attacks in both Akere and Cheji only stood far above the reported figure. This discrepancy is attributed to the fact that everyday cases of murder and abductions of ordinary citizens within communities rarely gain significant attention in the country’s newspapers, except for ‘major’ cases.

An infographic showing the numbers of deaths and kidnapped persons from July 2020 to June 2023.


Chukuba: paying multimillion naira for freedom

A Chukuba resident, Usman*, recounts his ordeal with the Dogo Gide’s men.

“From time to time they ask us to raise money weekly or monthly for them if we don’t want them to disturb us, sometimes when they come to our place and rape our wives and children, seize all our cell phones and money,” These were the words of a forty-one-year-old Usman*, who lives in Chukuba, a town that has since been taken over by a terrorist group led by Abubakar Abdallah, popularly known as Dogo Gide.

Dogo Gide is a bandit kingpin known to be very ruthless, terrorising some northern parts of the country, particularly Kaduna and Niger states.

Residents from Chukubu, Kwaki, Kusasu, Kwaki, Gulana, Nakuna, Yanka, Kurebe, Zumba and some other communities in Shiroro LGA have been living under the notorious bandits, paying millions of naira as taxes to carry on with their daily activities.

 

Google earth imgae of Chukuba. The village’s primary healthcare centre, as disclosed by sources, has been transformed into a kidnapping den, thus preventing the provision of healthcare services in the area.

The tax imposed by the bandits is vaaries and is usually demanded whenever they face a shortage of resources, require food, or need to acquire new weapons. According to a few residents of Chukuba and Akere who shared their experiences with The ICIR, they are compelled to make payments to terrorists every month without fail.

“There was a time they asked us to pay them one million naira for us to get peace, sometimes two million naira; there was a time we raised eight million naira and paid them in order to get peace. When they kidnap our people, we sell everything we have in order to pay them ransom and secure the freedom of our brothers.”

While this carried on, the terrorists raped their wives and their daughters with no one to confront them. 

Similar to John’s experience, other individuals residing in the conflict-ridden Shiroro LGA find themselves subjected to forced labour under the control of armed groups.

Although the Nigerian constitution expressly forbids forced labour, with the exception of compulsory labour ordered by a court or imposed as sanctions by armed forces in the execution of their duties, this particular region has seen no impact of the law. Instead, it has been replaced by the harsh and oppressive rule of violent non-state actors.

However, the bandits often operate outside the agreed terms with the communities’ residents, launching attacks or ambushing residents without any ‘specific’ reason.

Luka Samari, a victim of the incessant bandits’ attack in Chukubu, Niger state.

 

Luka Samari was one of those who fell victim to such an attack. On that fateful night of October 29, 2023, around 9 p.m., he encountered Dogo Gide’s men near a river in the community when he was making his way home from a friend’s house.

The terrorists shot Samari in his right leg, resulting in a severe bone fracture and was subsequently moved to Shallon Hospital, Zumba, where he was later discharged to recover at his brother’s residence within Zumba town.

Community pays a heavy price for bandits’ attack on soldiers helicopter

Google Earth image of Kwaki town.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the clash between Dogo Gide’s men and the military, Kwaki, another town in Shiroro LGA, bore the brunt. Multiple houses were damaged, and at least six people were injured, with one woman said to have died in an alleged reprisal attack by the Nigerian Army.

Kwaki is a few metres away from Chukuba, where bandits gunned down the NAF helicopter on an evacuation mission. 

The helicopter, on Monday, August 14, was flying back from Zungeru LGA, where the cattle rustlers ambushed the Nigerian soldiers and killed 25 (including three officers), when Bandits’ affiliated Dogo Gide crashed the helicopter in Chukuba according to sources.  

Sources in the town explained that the bandits made a first attempt to take down the helicopter when it was on its way to Zungeru but could not because the helicopter was maintaining enough foot range to avoid attacks from guns.

In the crash were 14 of the previously killed in action personnel in that ambush, seven of the previously wounded in action personnel, two pilots of the helicopter and two crew members.

Although the community and a few nearby communities (including Kwaki) are hideouts of Dogo Gide and his men, there are hundreds of civilians who are still camped in the areas and can’t risk releasing information to the security forces.

Following the attack, the military allegedly dropped what seemed to be an explosive artillery shell, covering the atmosphere with smoke.

The attack led to the death of a woman, Aisha Yahuza, while an eleven-year-old boy, Gambo Jibril, was among the injured civilians.

Ibrahim Madaki.

A resident of the Kwaki/Chukuba ward, Ibrahim Madaki, listed some of the injured victims as Fati Shaba, Rabiatu Jibrin, Hajara Basiru and Alhaji Bala Garba.

Although the Shiroro Council Secretary could not confirm the incident that happened in Kwaki, he, however, explained that the Military led by the Air commander and Chief of Army staff visited the location of the helicopter crash on Tuesday, August 15, to retrieve the remains of the dead soldiers and also launched attacks on the bandits.

Efforts by The ICIR to get the NAF officials and Military authorities to speak on this proved abortive, as calls and SMS were not picked up or returned.

Insecurity in Niger state is long-standing

The Deputy Governor of Niger state Yakubu Garba. Photo The ICIR

The Deputy Governor of Niger state Yakubu Garba, while speaking to The ICIR on the state of insecurity in the state, explained that the issue of insecurity in Niger has been haunting people of the state for so long, adding that the current administration is demonstrating a commitment to significantly reduce the menace and pave the way for a return of normalcy.

 “The issue of insecurity in Niger state is something that has been bedevilling us for a long time, but with the coming of this present administration led by Muhammad Umaru Bago, we are doing everything humanly possible to see that we curtail to the barest minimum.”

Addressing the areas most affected by insecurity, the government bemoaned the situation, confirming that it has led to the abandonment of certain areas. 

The Council Chairman, Alkilu Isiaku Kuta, also explained that out of the 15 wards in Shiroro Local Government Area, eight have been particularly affected by insecurity.

He noted that a significant portion of the population in these troubled wards has been forced to flee their homes, seeking refuge in neighbouring regions such as Biligwari, Ribwa and Kaduna state.

‘As people all know, when we are talking about insecurity, it is not Shiroro as a whole. Shiroro has 15 wards, but the areas where they are facing insecurity are eight wards. And the eight wards are across the rivering side. 

Speaking on villagers paying dues to the bandits, Isiaku stressed that the council has unequivocally stated its stance against supporting payments to bandits, adding that efforts are being made at the local level to mitigate the situation.

Police react

The Niger State Police Command Public Relations Officer Wasiu

Reacting to some of The ICIR findings, the Niger State Police Command Public Relations Officer Wasiu Abiodun, said about four Local governments are constantly facing the menace of insecurity. 

“This challenge is being noticed in about 3-4 LGAs. I think Shiroro, Raffi, area and part of Munya LGA. We have adopted a synergy with other security agencies, the military, the DSS, Civil Defence and other Security agencies, the military, the DSS, Civil Defence and other security outfits in the state.”




    He noted the state mostly faces insecurity crises in locations bordering Zamfara and Kaduna state.

    When asked about why there are no police officers around Akere, Cheji, Chukuba and other insecurity-prone axis, he stated that most of the places aren’t motorable.

    “How do you tend to govern or police ungoverned spaces that are very wide and the forest nature is hilly, swampy nature, that even vehicles cannot penetrate into some of these areas because they are very swampy in nature. 

    He, therefore, noted that the state command has deployed officers to some strategic locations  “to serve as an assurance for members of the Public to know that wherever they are, the security men are with them to ensure that they are protected and they are safe.”

    Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

    Join the ICIR WhatsApp channel for in-depth reports on the economy, politics and governance, and investigative reports.

    Support the ICIR

    We invite you to support us to continue the work we do.

    Your support will strengthen journalism in Nigeria and help sustain our democracy.

    If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

    LEAVE A REPLY

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here


    Support the ICIR

    We need your support to produce excellent journalism at all times.

    - Advertisement

    Recent