Last week, as Hajiya Habiba Ahmed was making her usual rounds of providing food items and cash gifts to the less privilege during Ramadan, she came across Hadiza and her four children. She really couldn’t put her finger on why she was particularly drawn to this particular lady out of a crowd of less fortunate’s. Maybe it was because of her conspicuous sunken look or the way her somber children covered in rags clung to her as if tethered, she really couldn’t tell.
Hajiya Habiba subsequently engaged Hadiza in conversation; curious to know why she was looking the way she did. At first Hadiza didn’t want to talk to her. Hajiya Habiba sensed a story and suspected whatever it was; it was perhaps too painful for the lady to tell. Hajiya Habiba didn’t give-up continued to prod Hadiza. After making several attempts at making her comfortable, Hadiza’s tears freely rolled down her cheeks as she began a sad sordid tale.
She said that she was from Fuka, a village in Munya Local Government Area of Niger state. She narrated how her eldest child passed away in 2015 due to the Lassa fever outbreak that year that killed about 17 people. Her husband was a farmer like most people in the village, while she sold ‘pure water’ and soft drinks in the market. However all that changed last month when bandits attacked her village, killing her husband and many others.
She narrated how the bandits came in the evening of a Friday on motor bikes, over 50 of them shooting sporadically. They looted shops, houses and kidnapped an unspecified number of people. Her husband was shot dead right before herself and children. She was lucky to have fled with the children along with other villagers into nearby bushes. She also narrated how the bandits, after the mayhem they inflicted in Fuka, moved from village to village, killing and kidnapping people as well as rustling cows belonging to villagers.
When the coast was clear, Hadiza came out of hiding only to meet the devastation of their village. Dead bodies littered the ground all over the village. Screams were deafening as the injured cried out for help. Many homes around the village had been pillaged and burnt including hers. She stood over her husband’s corpse and stared at the devastation all around her, wondering what next. As soon as daylight came, many of the villagers had gathered few of their belongings and were relocating away from Fuka. She joined them along with her children, thus began her sojourn as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP).
Attacks by armed groups popularly referred to as Bandits have continued in the North-west and in Niger and Kaduna States despite repeated assurances by the government. Recently, reports had it that at least 10 soldiers had been killed and an unconfirmed number of others wounded after an attack by bandits on a military facility in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna state. It was reported that the bandits came on motorcycles with heavy weapons including rocket-propelled grenade and that the fight with the army lasted for about two hours.
This incident comes less than a week after the deadly attack on a passenger train in the same Kaduna state, leading to multiple deaths. At least 168 people are still missing from that attack. In the days before that, bandits had also attacked an airport in the state. It appears that the bandits have become emboldened in recent weeks due to the frequency of their attacks. The authorities seem to be overwhelmed by them and they are indeed having a field day. This has been the trend for armed groups particularly in the North, perpetuating all forms of violence.
According to ‘Jihad Analytics’, a consultancy company which processes data on global and cyber jihad, Nigeria now has the highest number of attacks by the Islamic State (IS). According the report, half of the attacks claimed by IS since the beginning of 2022 were in Africa, while the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), an affiliate of IS, is now more active in Nigeria. Data by Jihad Analytics showed that while Nigeria has recorded a total of 162 IS operations since January 2022, Iraq has recorded 120. Indeed these are appalling statistics for Nigeria and something needs to be done urgently.
Over the last decade, groups of armed bandits have kidnapped, tortured and killed hundreds of people across northwest and central Nigeria, demanding ransoms and looting citizens, rich and poor. Consequently, millions of people have been displaced. The armed groups have also targeted state installations and soldiers in recent weeks. Many residents within the region have consistently maintained that the bandits operate as if they are above the law. In some villages, they have even become the law, taxing locals on a regular basis.
The bandits apparently numbering in the tens of thousands but go around in dozens, sometimes more, often announce their presence by riding mostly motorcycles into towns and villages they invade, with a seemingly endless supply of ammunition. The country’s underfunded and under-equipped military is obviously stretched thin because of soldier deployments elsewhere in the country, particularly to quell activities of Boko Haram in the Northeast, separatist agitations in the Southeast and a pastoralist crisis in central Nigeria. Land and sea borders, ever so porous, remain conduit pipes for the small and light weapons being trafficked into the country for operations by the armed groups.
In January, the government proscribed the bandits as terrorists. But that designation has barely changed anything. Rather, the kidnappings, killings, maiming and pillaging have continued unabated. Days after the announcement, an estimated 200 people were killed and 10,000 displaced in attacks by gunmen in Zamfara following military air raids on their hideouts the previous week.
Who are the bandits terrorizing communities across the Northern parts of the country? Is there any end in sight to their nefarious activities? How come they have continued to evade capture all this while? Who are their sponsors? Why can’t they be tracked since they mostly move around on motorbikes? Why haven’t they been tracked utilizing the SIM-NIN registration? Aside from reactionary responses, what else are we doing to bring their reign of terror to an end? Questions begging for answers it seems.
For Hadiza and her children as well as many others that have been displaced by bandits, life will never be the same. Hajiya Habiba Ahmed asked Hadiza if she would like to return to her village someday. With a familiar sorrowful emptiness in her eyes, her response was in the affirmative. But not before pointing out the fact that she didn’t know what was she returning to.
She had become a widow with four children to fend for. She had lost her house and trade. She had become a beggar at the mercy of strangers. She had become an IDP despite being in her country. Indeed, what was she returning to? For surely in Nigeria at this present time it seems like… nothing remains!