In northwestern Nigeria, fleeing ‘bandits’ worry residents

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Abducted girls prepare to be reunited with their families in Jangebe, Zamfara state on March 3, 2021, after being kidnapped from a boarding school in northwest Nigeria on February 26, 2021.

The operation led by the army against banditry in northwestern Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, worries residents and authorities of neighboring regions, where armed men, members of these criminal groups, have recently fled in number.

These men, known locally as « bandits », loot villages, steal cattle and carry out kidnappings for ransom. This year, these gangs have targeted schools and universities, kidnapping more than 1,400 students, according to Unicef.

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In early September, hundreds of air force-backed soldiers launched an offensive in Zamfara State, where many of these gangs are based. To carry out this military operation, the authorities suspended mobile networks in Zamfara.

They also imposed a series of restrictions, ranging from banning the sale of gasoline cans to the suspension of cattle markets, one of the main sources of income for these gangs.

Food for the payment of ransoms

In reaction, the « bandits » have set up roadblocks on several major roads in Katsina, the border state with Zamfara. There, they seize the food transported by the trucks and siphon gasoline from the vehicles, according to the testimonies of residents collected by telephone by AFP. “In recent days, we have observed an increased presence of armed men on motorcycles in the area, explains Ashiru Bawa, who lives in Kankara County. Food and fuel shortages have seriously affected them. “

Local media report that criminals are deprived of food and are now demanding food, rather than money, from hostage families to pay ransoms. The authorities in Katsina have also cut off mobile networks in part of the territory. Just like the neighboring state of Sokoto on Sunday.

Read also Nigeria cuts mobile networks in Zamfara state plagued by gang violence

The suspension of telecommunications aims to prevent bandits from exchanging with each other, but also with their informants, and thus protect the movements of troops. But these cuts also affect residents who are now struggling to notify the authorities in case of attacks, says Bawa, who traveled 120 kilometers to reach the capital of Katsina state and make an important phone call.

In Katsina, the bandits did not harm motorists, according to residents who fear, however, that they will resume their attacks “After having regained strength”, worries Mr. Bawa. The various military campaigns launched since 2016 and the amnesty agreements concluded between local governors with the bandits have failed to end the violence.

No ideological motivation

In recent days, authorities in Kaduna have reported an increase in the number of attacks in several remote areas of this other neighboring state. The bandits invaded several communities in the districts of Igabi, Chikun, Giwa, Birnin Gwari and Sanga “Where several inhabitants lost their lives”Kaduna state security official Samuel Aruwan said.

Residents of Giwa district told AFP that armed men on motorcycles from Zamfara were currently circulating on their roads and occupying the villages of Saulawa and Damari.

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Elsewhere, in Birnin Gwari district, “The bandits arrived mostly on foot, looking hungry and dejected, and plunged into the forest”, describes a resident of Udawa village, Husseini Ibrahim. According to him, some of these men preach to the population, suggesting a possible link with Ansaru, an Al-Qaida-affiliated group present in the forests of Kaduna.

Criminal gangs are first of all motivated by greed and a priori have no ideological motivation. But links to jihadist groups operating hundreds of kilometers away in northeast Nigeria also exist.

“The bandits, who are driven out of Zamfara, arrive en masse at Birnin Gwari and the security forces do not pursue them, deplores Ahmed Isah, a resident. They should coordinate the operation with neighboring states to block the routes by which the bandits escape and run over them. Otherwise, Zamfara’s operation will only change their location. “

The World with AFP