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ASABE Mathew, a middle-aged woman, was in a pensive mood. She sat in front of a classroom at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp at Central Primary School, Sarkin Pawa, Munya Local Government Area, Niger State, gazing intensely at something that only her own eyes could see. She was brooding over the horror she had passed through since the bandits holding a significant part of Niger State to ransom abducted her daughter and son, forcing her to sell everything she owned to pay for their release.
“They have finished me, as I am now,” she said, as her eyes glistened with tears. “I have sold all my farm produce and I have loans to pay because I had to borrow money to pay the ransom for my children abducted by bandits. Now I have absolutely nothing left.”
Recalling how her two children were kidnapped by bandits and how she had to raise money as ransom to redeem them, she said: “My son was kidnapped when he was returning from school, and we were asked to pay N1 million to rescue him. What can I do? I had to pay because if I didn’t, they would kill him. I sold my farm produce, added my salary to the proceeds and also obtain a loan to raise the sum demanded as ransom.
“My daughter was also kidnapped. But that happened before they kidnapped my son. We also had to pay a ransom to rescue her. Right now, I don’t have anything left. It has not been easy for us in Munya.”
But Asabe was not alone in her plight. Mohammed Isah currently has two of his sons in the den of the bandits while he currently stays at the IDP camp at the Central Primary School, Sarkin Pawa. His two sons were taken in a recent attack on his Dangunu community in Munya Local Government Area.
He said: “Yesterday, before I ran to this camp, two of my sons were taken on motorcycles when the thieves came to our village. They have not been released because we do not have money to pay for their release. What they asked for is in millions. Where will I get it from? I cannot go back to the village to take my farm produce and sell because that will be equal to dying.”
The Vice-Chairman of Munya Local Government Council Luka Garba is not left out of the ordeal. Two months ago, he lost his younger brother to the bandits. According to him, his younger brother was a member of the local vigilantes in Kachu village and was killed during an ambush.
Rising spate of insecurity in Munya LG
Munya is a local government area on the border between Niger and Kaduna states. Because it shares border with Kaduna State, many inhabitants of the local government area believe that most of the bandits come from Kaduna to carry out their attacks.
Banditry attacks in Munya Local Government Area began about six years ago and have literally turned the area into a terror zone everyone avoids like leprosy. The bandits make sporadic attacks in villages, maiming, killing and abducting people with reckless abandon.
The situation has crippled socio-economic activities in the local government as the farmers can no longer go to their farms for fear of being attacked. Traders who used to go to the local government area to buy farm produce are no longer turning up, causing revenue generation in the local government to reduce drastically.
On April 21, bandits invaded a military camp in Zazzaga community in the local government area barely two weeks after they had attacked the military base in Allawa, Shiroro Local Government Area, killing five soldiers and a mobile policeman and burning down the base before they moved into the communities where they also killed seven people and abducted several others.
The majority of bandit attacks occurring in Munya Local Government Area go unreported because much of the focus is on Shiroro Local Government Area of the state probably because of the latter’s economic importance as the host of one of the country’s major power stations.
The attacks are usually carried out with the aid of motorcycles.
When the reporter visited Munya Local Government’s headquarters two days after the attack in the military camp in Zazzaga community, some women were seen running back from their farms. Asked what the matter was, they said some bandits had invaded their farms and they had to run for dear lives.
One of the women, who identified herself as Louis, said: “We were working on the farm when we saw them coming. We had no option but to run. We had harvested some of the crops, but we could not carry them because we had to run.”
Other Munya residents who spoke with the reporter said that was the way they lived now because they could no longer farm in peace in an area where the majority of the people were farmers.
A youth leader, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said that the invaders moved like breeze and usually carried out their attacks on new motorcycles.
He said: “They all ride on new motorcycles. That is why before you have the time to react to their invasion, they are by your side. They move like breeze.”
The Vice-Chairman of Munya Local Government Council, Hon. Luka Garba, said that the people in the communities were currently running away from their homes and they were either entering Sarkin Pawa, Gwada and Kuta or running to Minna, Niger State capital, for safety.
“At Kuchi two weeks ago, bandits killed three mobile policemen. They slaughtered one of them with a knife. That is why security has moved from Kuchi to Sarkin Pawa. Even yesterday, they killed one man called Jacob in Zazzagi, then they went to the military camp and burnt the army vehicles and properties,” Garba said.
‘Does government still care about us?’
One question that is constant on the lips of Munya Local Government residents is whether the government is unaware of what is happening to them or simply does not care since there has been no visible effort made by the government to safeguard their lives and properties.
Garba said government paid deaf ears whenever the chairman of the council took their complaints to it, adding that the council was overwhelmed with the spate of insecurity.
He asked: “What is the government waiting for? We don’t know what is happening. Does that mean that there is no government or what? As a local government, we are trying our best. As the vice-chairman, I sleep here with my people to know what they are facing. This is more than us. The governments at state and federal levels need to look into this issue.
“Another question we are asking is where are they getting the weapons they use from? Who is providing these guns for them? Is it that the government cannot retrieve these weapons and give them to the security people?”
Asabe Mathew noted that since the insecurity problems began in the council, the people had not felt the presence of government in any way, adding that the government seemed to have abandoned them to their fate.
She said: “Government should look into this security challenge for us. We are suffering and they are supposed to be there for us. Why can’t they help us? If the bandits kill us all, who will they govern? We are the ones who elected them, why are they treating us like this? Why have they abandoned us?
“People are no longer coming here to trade. Government is not helping us to solve this insecurity problem. Are we not human beings? Can’t the government do something to help us?”
Ransom payments have rendered us bankrupt, say residents
Many families in the Munya Local Government Area are currently bankrupt as they have had to sell their farm produce, lands and other forms of property and even obtain loans to pay the ransom for kidnapped loved ones.
Kidnapping incidents in the area have become so rampant that the people no longer ask when the next kidnapping will occur but whose family would be affected. It was learnt that the residents have now hit on the idea of contributing money for anyone whose family member is kidnapped.
The youth leader said: “If they kidnap anyone, we contribute money for those that are kidnapped to enable their families pay for their ransoms and secure the release. If I don’t do it, when it is my turn, no one will join hands to help me. I must help others so that when it is my turn, they will help me.
“You don’t usually hear about small amounts but large ones between N1 and N5 million naira. Just one family cannot pay it. A lot of people don’t have any farm produce anymore because they sold them to raise ransoms.”
Garba said that there were currently about 20 women with the bandits and they were asking for N20 million as ransom.
“Presently, we have about 20 women with the bandits and they are asking for N20 million for their release. We are trying our best to raise money for their release,” he said.
Youths to government: Give us the weapons, we’ll face them
The youths in the area expressed their readiness to battle the bandits if they were given weapons. Mathew John, one of the youth leaders, said that the youths do not have the weapon to face the bandits, but if given the weapons, they can defend the council.
He said: “Our youths can take action against these bandits, but they are afraid because we have no weapon to face them. However, if given the weapon, we are ready to defend ourselves. But we cannot go there with catapults. We can’t face them with sticks or cutlasses. This suffering is too much.”
Garba is in support of the idea that security agencies equip the youths in the council to help in securing it, saying: “I will support the youths if they want to defend the council because I am telling you that this suffering is too much. Anyone who is not here cannot feel what we are feeling.
“I can tell you sincerely that if we have weapons, we would face these criminals. But the security agencies always have a problem with us mentioning rifle or guns, and the moment you hold a rifles or gun in public, they will start challenging you.
“That is why they are killing us anyhow because we have no weapon to face them.”
Churches, mosques deserted
In the past four months, it was learnt that four churches in the local government area had been burnt while Christians and Muslims had become scared to gather for worship in the villages. According to Garba, the Christians suffered it more as the bandits attacked churches on Sundays, pursued and shot at worshippers.
He said: “At Dongulu, they burnt a church to ashes. They also burnt the Cherubim and Seraphim Movement Church in Kampana. They destroyed another church in Tantana. In all, they have burnt about three churches.
“Anytime these bandits see people worshipping on Sunday, they will come and surround the church, pursue the people and shoot at them. How can we worship God when there is no peace in Munya?
“In terms of religion, they are disturbing us because most of these people in the communities affected cannot worship God properly.”
Musa Luka, another youth leader, said that the churches burnt were up to five.
Munya is known to be one of the top producers of yam, corn and rice in Niger State and its markets had been highly patronised before the banditry attacks. However, this has changed as the markets are no longer full like before while the majority of the farmers no longer have farm produce to sell. Others have to take their produce to Minna, the state capital.
A female farmer, Martha Egbe, recalled that people used to come to their farms in the past to buy crops even before they were harvested, but it had become difficult to get a buyer as everyone cited insecurity as the reason they could not go to Munya.
Asabe, stating the difficulty in selling her crops, said: “I have to take my goods to Minna because people have refused to come because of insecurity. It has affected the sales of our goods. Sometimes, getting transportation to Minna is a problem because some of the vehicles will refuse to carry your goods or they will charge extravagant fees.
“People are no longer coming here. They are scared of being caught up in bandit attacks. But we that are here are human beings. We have goods to sell and need people to come. We cannot go anywhere because this is our fatherland.”
IDPs seek government’s help to return home
The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at the Central Primary School in Sarkin Pawa have cried out for hunger and are seeking government’s help to return home. They are also seeking help for their children and relatives who have been kidnapped by the bandits who are demanding ransoms they cannot afford.
Ladi Shehu, a farmer from Geshu, said that they left their village for Zazzaga, and after the Zazzaga attack, they had to move to Sarkin Pawa.
Shehu said: “The bandits chased us out of our homes and we cannot return home because going back is like inviting death. We are not happy to be here. We have no food here, and in our home where there is food, we cannot go there to get the food. Our children are not feeding well.”
Another IDP said the bandits kidnapped their children and killed their young men and husbands, adding that they did not know what to do since the government had refused to come to their aid.
He said: “If the government would come and end this problem, we will be okay. If these bandits are no more here, we will be able to stay in our communities and live normally.
“It is sad that we have not got anything from the government apart from this building we are given to stay in. The government has not done anything for us, and we want them to act.”
Isah Mohammed, a native of Dangunu community, said that all they needed was security as their community hasdbeen repeatedly attacked by bandits.
“We are managing here. We have food problem here whereas in our homes, we have no such problem. We are not enjoying ourselves here. We need security to return to our homes.”
Calls heighten for declaration of state of emergency
Various people across Niger State have called on the state government to declare a state of emergency in the Niger East Senatorial Zone which has been taken over by bandits. Top among the voices is the lawmaker representing Bosso Constituency in the state House of Assembly, Hon. Madaki Malik Boss.
Boss said the declaration of a state of emergency would enable the government to tackle the insecurity problem bedeviling the zone. Bosso, who visited the IDP camps, explained that insecurity in the zone was getting worse by the day and had spread to most of the local government areas in the zone.
He noted that all the schools in the zone had been turned into camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), lamenting that the people could no longer sleep with their eyes closed.
This story was part of the IBP-supported Smallholder Women Farmers’ Project funded by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (The ICIR).