BY Maryam Abdullahi
With bandit attacks a regular occurrence in several LGAs in Niger state, there aren’t many refuge options for residents, hence, many communities have been forced to make a pact with their oppressors.
In Shiroro LGA where Boko Haram insurgents hoisted their flag in April 2021, sixty-five communities have signed a peace deal with bandits.
Why villages negotiated with bandits
When banditry became prevalent in Shiroro, residents became displaced(pictured) as they deserted their lands for safety. With nowhere to turn, they ran to the government seeking refuge. The government on several occasions promised to deploy security operatives and vowed to put an end to the suffering of the people but little was done to suppress their anguish.
At the time, the bandits would send letters to targeted communities to alert them of impending attacks, and without fail, they always struck as promised. Jibril Abdullahi, a youth leader in Shiroro LGA, said it got to a point when the residents, who are predominantly farmers, started to believe in the bandits more than they trust the promises of the government.
“It is true that a significant number of communities in Shiroro local government area of Niger state have negotiated and signed a peace deal with bandits. This action has turned those communities into banditry frequent zones now,” Jibril Abdullahi said.
“You see, on the side of the masses, what prompted the negotiation is the fact that the government will promise to provide security today and tomorrow we will see nothing. The bandits can write a letter to a community that they will come and attack tomorrow and the following day, they will attack.
“These people have been farming all their lives, they have never left their small communities for any reason and even their trading activities are done within the limits of their neighbouring villages. Now, their lives have been ruined by frequent attacks and destruction and some people (bandits) have promised to help them settle back in their lands without attacks. They are too vulnerable to understand the implication of negotiating with criminals.”
The brunt of negotiating with bandits
According to Mubarak Danladi, a resident of Galadima Kogo, most of the communities that have entered into a peace deal with bandits do not enjoy the presence of security operatives.
“All the communities are currently being controlled by bandits,” he said.
Despite the peace pact, Danladi explained that the bandits still terrorise the residents while they have informants among them who supply updates on the activities of security operatives.
“You will see them (bandits) roaming this village recklessly, they invade the towns, order the women in any household to cook for them, they take away any woman or girl they find attractive, and sometimes, they rape a wife in the presence of her husbands,” he added.
“Nobody likes to negotiate with bandits. Virtually all the communities that negotiated with the bandits have been abandoned by the government.”
Allawa, Erena and Galadima Kogo are among the few communities in Shiroro LGA that have refused to succumb to the peace agreement proposed by the bandits, which makes them susceptible to attacks. “Recently, we received a notice from neighbouring villages that they are planning to invade these areas soon,” says Abdullahi, the Shiroro youth leader.
Need for government intervention
Abdullahi said the government needs to win back the hearts and minds of the people so that they can work with them to frustrate the operation of the bandits.
“These people are suffering. Some of them have been on the run for many years. Since the peace agreement, their lives have been controlled and jeopardised. The bandits now live with them and had taken some of them into the bush to live with them,” the youth president said.
Abdullahi asked the government to deploy security operatives to the affected areas and make good on the promise of protection made to the communities.
Abubakar Bello, Niger governor, had on July 18 said security efforts are being intensified to ensure that the banditry crisis is resolved in the state.
The governor had said that no society is completely free of security challenges but assured that his administration will do its best to reduce the insecurity rate to a barest minimum.