Abubakar Bello, Governor of Niger State, North-central Nigeria, is as helpless as the people he governs, as terrorists tighten the noose on the state he superintends. Killings, displacement, looting, and arson have dotted communities in four Local Government Areas (LGAs); Shiroro, Rafi, Paikoro, and Munya. There seems to be no end in sight at the moment.
The governor’s helplessness manifested in some of his pronouncements following repeated attacks by the terrorists between January and early Feb. 2022.
“With these recent attacks, the terrorists are daring the capability and capacity of the military, hence we must demonstrate our military might through the approved coordinated air and ground assault to flush out the miscreants from our forests, their hideout,” Governor Bello had said in response to multiple attacks in those local governments.
When terrorists started attacking as early as the first week of Jan. 2022, the governor had said lack of access roads to the communities under attack was a factor aiding the activities of the terrorists. But the government at the time had withdrawn soldiers from the areas which it said “was tactical, in order to restrategise.”
Then, Governor Bello blamed villagers for not alerting security agents during a broad day raid by the terrorists and he would later call on the security operatives to intensify their assaults on the marauding terrorists.
Nothing could be further from being helpless and perhaps confused, because of the magnitude of the attacks and their dimensions.
Surrounded by terrorists
Terrorists, some being remnants of Boko Haram that fled the Northeast region and those known locally as bandits, were gaining ground and making Niger State their operational theatre while the government of Nigeria looked away in the beginning.
In Nov. 2021, Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, the secretary to the Niger State Government (SSG) alerted that the ISWAP members have already established their presence in Babana, a border town between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin in Borgu LGA.
When Matane said the terrorists were operating in some communities in Shiroro LGA, it was taken with a pinch of salt. His public outcry came months after the state governor at a public gathering hinted about the presence of some Boko Haram elements in the Shiroro LGA of the state.
But any serious commitment from the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to combat the marauding only came months after many had been killed and several displaced.
“The Federal Government is willing to strengthen support and cooperation with all the states. I believe that with the full cooperation of the citizens, we will surely overcome this problem,” said the President in a statement.
Garba Shehu, media aide to the President, said in the statement that Buhari has asked the military to respond “robustly” to the cases of killings and kidnappings in Niger State and to give effect to the strategic objectives through the use of force.
It follows the reluctant declaration of bandits as terrorists by the President many months after calls by Nigerians on the government to stamp its feet against the criminals.
Renewed killings and displacement
Despite orders by President Buhari on Jan. 16, 2022 to the Defence Headquarters to roll out massive military operations against terrorists in Niger State, the latter seem to have been embolden by the president’s order and have renewed assaults on communities in those local governments while the governor said the attack spread to Wurukuchi village.
Also, on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 13 persons were confirmed dead by the police after an attack in Shiroro Local Government. The victims were farmers who were harvesting crops on their farm in Nakundna village.
At least 11 security agents and over 30 villagers were killed in separate attacks between Friday and Saturday, Jan. 30 and 31 in Shiroro and Paikoro local government areas of the state.
The governor confirmed “the terrorists, numbering over 100 invaded the community in broad daylight, killing about 11 Joint Security Taskforce members, several villagers and leaving many injured.”
Yusuf Kokki, leader of the Concerned Shiroro Youth Groups, said the withdrawal of soldiers from Galadima Kogo base in Shiroro aided the attacks.
He said several communities in the area have been deserted.
“This decision taken by the Government, notwithstanding the accompanying reason, is reckless and insensitive in its entirety, especially to the plights of innocent and unarmed law-abiding citizens already ravaged by incessant insecurity,” Kokki was quoted as saying.
“Considering how porous, prone to insecurity and vulnerable to deadly attacks by the rampaging hydra-headed, venomous murderous and heartless terrorists, Galadima Kogo is, one can easily conclude that withdrawal of security personnel at this material time is a deliberate attempt to further jeopardise people’s lives and put them in the line.”
Many media reports say the terrorists operated unfettered from one community to another, looting shops, shooting, and abducting people and accounts by locals indicate that at least nine communities including Ammale, Dakalo, kuchiri, kurmin Giwa, Goto Reshidat, Yanki and Goto Sarki were attacked.
Other communities ransacked include Galape and Kudodo in Allawa.
On Thursday, Feb. 3, Allawa Secondary School in the Shiroro local government area of the state which serves as camp for the Joint Security Task Force (JTF) was attacked and razed by terrorists.
The terrorists also ransacked the armoury and took away the military patrol van during the attack that happened on Thursday night.
The recent waves of attacks and those on the JTF base prompted the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Faruk Yahaya on Saturday, Feb. 5 to embark on an operational visit to Army bases in the state.
Yahaya charged Operational Commander’s to rise up to the challenges and take bold steps to tackle the menace of terrorism, banditry and abduction.
The police spokesperson said a police tactical team led by the Area Commander in Shiroro had been drafted to the area. He said the incident was not immediately attended to due to the rough terrain and lack of communication network in the area.
Governor Bello, in a statement by his media aide, Mary Noel-Berje, described the attacks as insane and unacceptable. He added that the act was barbaric and inhumane.
In the last two years, terrorists have displaced at least 151,380 people, mostly peasant farmers in Niger State.
Nothing gives a clear indication of the precarious situation in Niger State than the statistics released by Governor Bello mid-January.
In the first two weeks of Jan. 2022, the Governor revealed that Niger State communities were attacked by terrorists at least 50 times, with over 300 persons killed and 200 kidnapped, including security personnel.
After a meeting with the Nigerian President in Abuja on Tuesday, Jan. 19, Bello said the low response time to the attacks was due to the lack of access roads to the affected communities.
“This afternoon, I came to visit Mr President to give him an update on the security situation in Niger State concerning banditry activities, kidnapping and cattle rustling, among others. We were able to review some of the invasions in the state. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you all,” he told State House Correspondents.
“In January this year alone, we suffered not less than 50 reported attacks and loss of lives between January 1 and 17. Within the same period, no fewer than 300 communities were invaded by bandits. The number of people kidnapped is 200, including three Chinese nationals.”
Distances between affected local governments and security posts
A GIS analysis of the location of the four local governments and security outposts would give a clearer picture of why the attacks have continued unabated. This also shows some intrinsic factors including intelligence gathering as well as ungoverned areas.
The ideal response time for local security forces to attend to arising issues relating to attacks in these locations is about 5 minutes. However, for reasons including the expanse of ungoverned spaces between these locations and their respective security jurisdictions, and road accessibility, these locations are vulnerable to attacks.
Across these four vulnerable locations, geospatial analysis shows that the Shiroro area is one of the most vulnerable albeit a relatively less than 20 minutes of response time from the nearest police station. Paikoro is next in terms of distance from state support as a 10 to 15 minute response time from multiple police installations, including the Paiko police stations and Minna Police Outposts still puts them outside of the standard time under normal conditions.
The geographic location of Rafi, which has two stations near it, (Kagara and Tagina police stations), both less than 10 minutes away, and that of Munya which is about 8 to 10 minutes away from the Powa police station, indicate the ineffectiveness of the local response team in times of crisis as both locations are within range of the global response time.
Geographic analysis shows that Niger state is losing about 60 km radius of landmass around the Rafi-Shiroro-Muya-Paikoro area to terrorism owing to these four trouble locations. This area is situated at the southeastern part of Niger State. This adds up to approximately 6,500 Sqm (9 per cent of Niger state’s ungoverned spaces) of land area owing to these four locations alone, is where local terrorist groups have been attacking in recent times; with Shiroro area centrally situated, Rafi is about 60km in the northwest of it, and on the opposite end, Muya is located about 30km eastwards, which is on the left side of the Shiroro lake and Paikoro is about 40km in the south and some 37km west of the heart of the state capital city of Minna.
Over this landscape, between each of these four localities, there are large expanses of ungoverned areas. These areas have no communities, at best there are patches of farming or hunting settlements sparsely situated over the regions. They have few or no road networks leading into them and mostly have the characteristics of large forested areas with thick plants or they are made up of terrains with complex ground configuration of hills and valleys covered up by moderately dense short plants growing all over the surfaces. These areas are mostly in their natural state with little to no signs of them having been developed to any level by any local population or nearby communities.
Some of these highly forested areas are found across the outskirts of the Shiroro area. Some of the spaces of ungovened areas where these terrorist groups camp, exist in dense forests near communities like those found between Rafi and Shiroro. A few also exist on the eastern extremes of Muya, close to the border with Kaduna state, these expanse of ungoverned areas covered the unoccupied areas between the fringes of various border communities.
Paikoro is located in the middle of inhibited forest areas. Situated south of this region of Niger state, it is cut off from most communities by large forest areas on either side.
According to Dr Uche Igwe, a Senior Political Economy Analyst and Visiting Fellow at the LSE Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa, ungoverned spaces are zones that lay beyond the reach of the government and pose a significant threat to security and stability.
“They are often seen as fertile grounds within which terrorists organisations incubate and thrive,” he said, adding that “containing these spaces falls within the strategic frontier of security priorities.”
Governor Bello also alluded to the fact that forests where the terrorists operate need to be combed. “If we must win this battle against the terrorists, which we will; we must increase and sustain military operations to comb the forests. This is expedient because our people are dying and the living is becoming more agitated and hopeless,” he said.
Additional reporting by Mansir Muhammed
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