Hundreds of villagers have issued a desperate appeal for help after being forced from their homes in two areas of Zamfara and Kebbi states, pushed out by the activities of armed terrorists, who themselves are escaping from a military crackdown.
The villagers are living in hastily made huts in woods and unoccupied plots on the outskirts of Daki Takwas, a town in Gummi local government area, northwest Nigeria.
They are packed into clusters of cane-thatched shacks, with their pestles and fire-blackened pots, on unclaimed land or in the grounds of half-completed properties.
Mostly farmers and blacksmiths, they came from small hamlets and villages across Bukuyum and Danko Wasagu local government areas, the scene of devastating terrorist activity over the past few years.
But the latest cat-and-mouse game between the military and the terror groups has been the last straw for many of the villagers.
“The condition in which we are living is pathetic and quite inhuman as if the government is not aware of our social existence as Nigerians,” said Malam Garba Hakimi, 62, Village Head of Kodi community in Zarumai and Kyaram wards.
He said at least 1,500 people from more than 53 villages had decamped to Gummi LGA. The true figure of those displaced could be in the thousands.
“We are congested in Daki Takwas town,” Hakimi added. “We are in dear need of food to eat and shelter to sleep.”
The military has recently destroyed a series of camps used by the terror groups. Troops from operation Hadarin Daji have forced them out into the bush where they are roaming in search of new safe havens, those who fled the region said.
Amadu Kwatto, 47, a Fulani herder originally from Dajin Ardo village in Bukuyum LGA said “The terrorist groups abandoned their camps in Gando, Kairu and Fasagora in Bukuyum.”
Many relocated to the Kawaye and Bagega terrorists’ camps in Anka LGA, he said and scores more are on the move to the forest areas of Kebbi State.
“Anytime the Nigerian Military left our areas,” Kwatto said, “then the armed groups would always launch frequent attacks on us. This is why we cannot return to our homes.”
But some do make the journey from their new makeshift huts back to their village locations to tend their fields, before running back home again before dark.
HumAngle met with a woman who addressed herself as Ladin Garba, aged 57, originally from Dogondaji village in Bukuyum LGA.
Ladi said, “I cannot live outside our village home. Although we do not sleep or pass our night there, we always leave our villages at 5pm. We also return to our village every day in the morning hours of the day.”
“We trek with our children about 7 kilometres everyday,” she said. “The armed gang came to us to attack mostly in the nighttime from 7pm up to 3am. This could be on a daily basis because they are of various groups.” Ladi explained.
The presence of different bands of roaming armed men was so frequent the villagers learned how to differentiate them by what they carried or how they behaved, one man told HumAngle.
Kabiru Isah, a farmer from Dargaje village of Bukuyum LGA, said: “For example, when the attackers invade our village by foot, moving with chicken cages, that we know must be Munjara’s terrorist group, not anyone else.”
If they try to abduct farmers, that suggests the men are from a group led by Dogo Gudale, he said.
Another man, Shehu Dargaje, added: “But if women are kidnapped or cattle are rustled the attack can be more associated with the Halilu’s armed group.”
The armed men were coming into villages they had promised the population they would leave alone, some said.
“We saw the armed terrorist’s today carrying deadly guns on their shoulders,” Muhammad Shirkai of Danko Wasagu LGA in Kebbi State said. “They are targeting our villages despite the imposed protection fee we paid to them.”
“They were on their motorcycles so we had to run away for our lives. It was not up to a week when the Military were here to protect us.”
Kill, abduct, rustle
People have had enough of the battle back and forth between the military and the terror groups. Lauwal Maihura, 39, a farmer from Kairu said: “I completely deserted our village.”
“If the Military gets there and kills some armed bandits, they leave the village areas after their operations and the armed groups will regroup and flashback on us to kill, abduct, rustle and displace people again and again.
“Despite this, we still have our innocent people remaining in the village.”
HumAngle visited the camp and found children looking malnourished with glaring dehydration visible in their eyes. They trek with their mothers every day covering about 15-20 kilometers from DakiTakwas to their villages.
Mairo Garba, aged 37, from Danzamau is a lactating mother to twins with her three other children between the ages of 5-13. She said “I trek from DakiTakwas to Danzamau nearly every two days. I sourced local food for my children such as vegetables like zogali, rama and yadiya to cook for them and eat for our survival.”
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