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19.12.2021 Social Justice EXCLUSIVE: How Nigerian Soldiers Killed Dozens of Bandits in Sokoto and Took Their Bodies Away

Published 19th Dec, 2021

By Ibrahim Adeyemi

On November 24, the Nigerian military helicopter hovered over Sokoto East. A group of army officers armed with revolvers, machine guns and other heavy artillery jumped down from their vehicles, combing the forests of Kusari, a village in the Sabon-Birni area of Sokoto.

Their mission was to bombard Bello Turji, a bandit kingpin terrorising Nigeria’s northwest, and his cohorts. The villagers of Kusari had been severely terrorised by bandits in the previous few weeks. They had had to pay millions as ransoms and levies to their new overlords. So, when they saw military men wielding heavy ammunition, they were worried. They ran helter-skelter, so they would not be victims of collateral damage.

READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: Names, Exact Figures… How Sokoto Villages Paid N67m in Taxes to Bandits in One Week

Soon, bandits poured out of the forests with guns and exchanged fire with the soldiers, turning the village into a war scene. An army officer was the first to fall, desperately gasping for his life after a bullet hit him. The military men retreated for a while and came back in full force, aiming at the notorious bandits as they trooped out from the forests.

The battle lasted for several hours, sources told FIJ.

THE WITNESSES OF WAR

Nafiu Garba, a fleeing resident of Kusari, was in his home when the battle between the army and the bandits began. He hid in a vantage point within the village, witnessing the gun duel. He told FIJ that the military offensive against the bandits was “massive and brutal”.

But, panic-stricken Garba fled Sokoto for a state in the northcentral after witnessing the cocktail of violence in his village. He was afraid of possible reprisals from the bandits and the bloody effects these could have on innocent citizens.

“I saw corpses of bandits that were being killed during the gunfire between the terrorists and the security agents,” Garba told FIJ. “The bandits shot one of the military personnel but I don’t know whether the person was dead or alive. But we have seen instances of armed bandits being killed and their motorcycles burnt.”

He also said: “When the army finished combing the forest, they took the bodies of the bandits away and their AK-47 rifles.”

READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: Names, Ranks… All 58 Policemen Indicted by Lagos Panel for Brutalising #EndSARS Protesters

Several locals in Sabon Birni, who asked not to be named for fear of becoming the next targets, corroborated Garba’s narrative. They noted that some of the bandits were shielded by villagers who were afraid that the terrorists might fight back later.

“As soon as the military descended on the bandits, some of them hid in people’s houses,” one of the locals told FIJ. “So, the soldiers did not attack those that were shielded; they only attacked those that were outside the houses.”

The bandits had told the village head to tell his people to calm down and promised to subsequently protect the villagers, said locals in the troubled area.

“Only one villager was killed, but we can’t say whether the bullet came from the military or the bandits,” another local old FIJ.

WHERE ARE THE BODIES OF THESE BANDITS?

Whenever reports emerge about the army’s offensives against the subversive elements terrorising the northwest, curious citizens of the region wonder why the military could not produce evidence of their success on the battlefield. Their argument is that if the bandits could flaunt pictures and videos of how they torture or kill innocent citizens, why can the the army not do the same to substantiate their victory?

READ ALSO: Bandit Arrested in Sokoto While Going to Buy Sex Enhancement Drugs

Yusuf Anka, a conflict and terrorism analyst based in the northwest, told FIJ that he could not ascertain why the army took the bodies of the bandits away. He said taking pictures of neutralised bandits could not have been the priority of terrorised villagers who witnessed how they were killed.

On November 25, Anka had announced on his Twitter page that the Nigerian soldiers were neutralising the bandits in the forests of Sabon Birni. But rather than rejoice, social media users asked him to provide pictures of the bodies of the “so-called neutralised bandits”.

“Many of the villagers don’t even have Android phones,” said Anka, a claim verified by FIJ and found to be true. “So, how would they have taken pictures and videos of such events?”

THE MILITARY’S RECORD OF SPREADING FAKE PICTURES 

Military apologists and propagandists have been criticised for sharing fake photos depicting the victory of the army against the terrorists. For example, Femi Fani-Kayode, a controversial politician, had shared a post alongside pictures on his social media platforms, claiming that the Nigerian Army had killed “blood-lusting murderous terrorists” in the northern part of the country. 

“In Zamfara state and all over the core north today, our brave fighters and gallant warriors are KICKING THE ARSE and beating the daylight out of the bloodthirsty killer bandits and blood-lusting murderous terrorists,” the post read.

“This is like music to my ears! I am proud to be a Nigerian again! Keep going boys and hit them with all you have got. Thanks for your courage and sacrifice! Al Hamdu! Praise the LORD! Glory, Hallelujah!”

READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: How Boko Haram Jihadist Snatched 25 Communities From Niger State Govt

But as TheCable would find, the pictures shared by the former aviation minister, were originally published by a North Korean news agency.

In April, the army also shared an old picture to depict a recent operation in Borno State. The military claimed it had killed Bukar Gana Fitchmeram,  a senior commander of the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), and scores of his fighters who were on a revenge mission in the Damasak area of the state.

“The terrorist and his fighters met their waterloo as they made a come-back following the neutralisation of 12 high-value ISWAP commanders in Mobbar Local Government Area of Borno State in a week-long air and ground operations by the Nigerian military,” Mohammed Yerima, former army spokesman, had said in a statement.

However, a report by HumAngle showed that at least three of the pictures date back to March 15, 22 days before the earliest operation mentioned in the army’s statement. The pictures were said to have been tweeted by Calibre Obscura, an anonymous arms researcher.

SOLDIERS WARNED AGAINST TAKING PHOTOS DURING OPERATIONS

A military source told FIJ that soldiers fighting terrorists have been warned against filming during of operational engagements.

In an internal memo dated October 21, Farouk Yahaya, the Chief of Army Staff, said the practice contravenes the army’s social media policy and portends dangers for the troops.

“It will be recalled that several directives have been given with regards to the aforementioned,” the classified memo read in part. “This continued act, therefore, suggests the need for continuous sensitization of troops at various theatres.

READ ALSO: FOCUS: Niger Communities Where Boko Haram Rules and Security Agents Watch

 “In view of the foregoing, I am directed to respectfully request you direct formations and units under your command to continually sensitize troops to desist from taking pictures or videos of operational engagement in their various AQRS. Please treat as important and acknowledge.”

BACK WITH VENGEANCE

On December 8, a few days after the military offensive against the bandits, a lorry heading south was waylaid by a contingent of terrorists loyal to Turji along the Garin Bawa area of Sabon Birni. Passengers in the lorry were set ablaze alive, and the terrorists watched the innocent commuters burn to death.

FIJ gathered that the rampaging terrorists were avenging the deaths of their cohorts lost to the military offensive. The massacre of over 20 passengers spurred anger of northern youths, who criticised President Muhammadu Buhari for attending a book lunch in Lagos, while innocent souls were being killed in Sokoto.

READ ALSO: DSS Silences Northern Youths Protesting Insecurity, Bad Governance

The bloody event pushed a contingent of youths to the streets, under the aegis of Concerned Northern Nigerian Groups, demanding an immediate end to the continuous loss of lives of innocent citizens to terrorism and banditry.

FIJ gathered that the protest was to call the attention of the authorities to the fact that the northern part of Nigeria was bleeding.

“We said we were tired of burying our women, children, and men,” Zainab Ahmad, one of the protesters in Kano, told FIJ. “We bury hundreds of people on a daily basis, yet there is no action, not even ‘sorry’ from our leaders.”

Published 19th Dec, 2021

By Ibrahim Adeyemi

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