For several months, citizens of Niger State signed a peace deal with Boko Haram militants: they could live together in the misgoverned territories, as long as they did not report the activities of the terrorists to security agencies.
The Islamist group and its offshoots have terrorised substantial parts of Shiroro and Munya Local Government Area of the state. Meanwhile, the overstretched police and army officers in the area have abandoned the rural communities for garrison towns.
For the residents, there are two options: pay millions in taxes to the terror group or die helplessly in their homes and farms. Parents fear that their children may be recruited by the extremists, who have introduced them to radical Islamic jurisprudence and way of life.
The rural people have found new meanings in the word ‘Islam’, as defined by the insurgents. Death is the only penalty for refusal to comply with their radical sermons, according to interviews with several residents.
‘NOBODY CARES ABOUT US’
Every day, residents of Kussasu, Chunkube and Angwa Ayaba villages in Shiroro wake up with an extreme fear of being killed or kidnapped. Sadly, as FIJ would establish, daily cases of murder and abductions of ordinary citizens in the communities hardly make headlines in newspapers in the country. Only major attacks, such as gross abductions, massacre or displacement of hundreds of residents are reported.
“We’ve been abandoned for too long by security agents,” a village elder in the Kussasu area of Shiroro said. “Nobody cares about us. The government keeps asking us to trust them, but they (the terrorists) kill us every now and then.”
In April, all officials of the Nigerian Army, police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), as well as the Civilian Joint Task Force and local vigilantes, retreated from the Lakpma axis of Shiroro, following the killing of five soldiers.
“There is commotion now in the community,” a village youth leader told FIJ. “People are leaving because there are no security officers around. Even the JTF men keeping the community together have withdrawn as a result of the incidents that happened.”
‘BRIBING TERRORISTS FOR SAFETY IS NO NEWS’
On Thursday, a group of Boko Haram terrorists stormed the Kurebe area of Rafi in the state, firing pellets at the armless villagers. Locals gave alternate accounts of what motivated the attack that lasted for several hours.
One said the aim of the terrorists was to rape innocent village girls or marry them forcefully, after warning their parents to stop them from schooling. Another said it was just a random raid for ransom. A resident said the invasion was a way of revenging the military’s attempt to raid their newly built camp in Shiroro.
Young and old people in villages controlled by Boko Haram in Shiroro and Rafi have suffered abuses and killing that amount to crimes against humanity, according to security analysts. As previously reported by FIJ, Mallam Sadiqu, leader of the extremist group in the state, has been spreading weird Islamic doctrines and recruiting young persons.
Sadly, bribing terrorists for safety has become the only accepted routine to maintain temporary peace in the terrorised communities.
“Bribing terrorists for safety is no longer news here,” a village elder in Shiroro told FIJ. “Farmers who fail to comply will be killed on their farmlands. And ordinary citizens who refuse to pay will either be killed or kidnapped for a huge ransom. So you see, it’s better to pay. We have accepted our fate here.”
NOBODY WANTS TO STAY IN ZAZZAGA ANYMORE
Zazzaga, a community in the Muniya Local Government Area of Niger, has been turned into a territory of ghosts. On Saturday, a contingent of Boko Haram terrorists raided Zazzaga and its neighbouring communities, killing scores and abducting dozens.
Surviving residents of the affected areas said they were no longer comfortable living in their own homes. They noted that about 30 persons were abducted in a coordinated attack on their communities a few days earlier.
“Truly, people don’t have any specific place to go. The affected communities are deserted right now. People are just going anywhere they feel is safer for them,” a resident told Daily Trust. “The insurgents operated freely here. As it stands now, nobody wants to stay anymore. In Zazzaga, residents have left; there is nobody in the community now. Even today (Saturday) some people were kidnapped in Zazzaga again. Those who were able to escape the attack have packed out of their villages.”
Our inside source revealed how security operatives watched the terrorist invaders helplessly.
“Lack of strong security presence is the reason we’re being terrorised here,” the source said, after begging that his name should not be mentioned because he was afraid of being targeted. “During the attack, we called on security agents to come to our aid. But they could do nothing because the terrorists were carrying more sophisticated arms.”
Unfortunately, several residents of Munya are now homeless; they have joined thousands of others displaced by terrorists in the state. On Tuesday, for example, over a thousand terrorised citizens joined the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Shiroro.
CAUGHT IN A DEADLY CATCH-22
Niger villagers are sadly caught between the rock and a hard place. If they report the activities of the terrorist to the military, they risk gruesome attacks by the insurgents, who are known for killing tens of thousands of people, especially in the northeast. And if they decide to live with the terrorists, they risk the wrath of the Nigerian military, who are capable of shooting several villagers dead for failing to report the terrorists.
In other parts of the state, local bandits co-exist with the Boko Haram terrorists and the citizens are at the receiving end. Villagers in such situations do not know whose orders to follow between the former and the latter: they are caught in a catch-22.
In April, Abubakar Bello, the governor of the state, warned that Boko Haram terrorists were trying to make the Kauri community their home and headquarters as they did to Sambisa Forest. He said while Sambisa Forest is several kilometres away from Abuja, Kauri is only two hours’ drive to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Bello said his administration had begged the federal government to come to the aid of the state in dealing with the insecurity. He said his efforts have not yielded desired results.
“I have been engaging the federal government and, unfortunately, it has got to this stage. And if care is not taken, even Abuja is not safe. We have been saying this for long and all efforts have been in vain.”
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