Inside details of what happened the day bandits attacked a community in Niger state has emerged as AIDELOJE OJO gives insight into the sordid details.
At about 6.30pm on December 31, a resident of Tasakpan village three kilometres from Minna the Capital city of Niger state rushed to the palace of the village head, Alhaji Danladi Amadu, with reports of strange Fulani men lurking in the surrounding bush. The village head alerted other surrounding villages and vigilantes were put on red alert. By 8pm as darkness sets in, the villagers saw lights on Zhuko hills descending towards the village. The vigilantes marched out to a notorious spot where hoodlums used to snatch motorcycles and took cover watching the movement of the lights towards them. Blueprint learnt that it did not take long before the bandits appeared on the hot spot and were confronted by the vigilantes. An encounter ensued and the result was bloody as the bandits opened fire on the vigilantes, using sophisticated riffles. At the end of the encounter, Mubarak, son of the village head who participated in the operation was captured by the bandits and taken away. Blueprint learnt that he has been in the hands of the bandits since then. However, the village warriors flee the battle with their cutlasses and sticks for the superior fire power of the bandits. Although there was no death casualty, some of them escaped the scene with bullets lodge in parts of their bodies. One of such lucky survivals is Shagari Musa who got hit on the left arm by the elbow. In a chat with Blueprint, he said, “On that day at night we saw some lights coming down from the hill. The vigilantes decided to go and check what was happening. We took positions and hide around the main road close to the hill. The place we hid is the area the vigilantes normally stay because it is hot spot where our people are usually robbed of their motorcycles. “So the lights were coming towards us in that spot and as they were about crossing the road, one of us accosted them and asked them who they were. At that moment, some of us stood up from our cover. Before we knew it, one of them shouted in Fulani language that it’s ‘Yabanga’ meaning its vigilantes. They opened their jackets and brought out sophisticated guns and opened fire at us. We realised that they were many when they began to fire; so we ran for our lives. However, the bandits caught one of us, Mubarak in the encounter and took him away.”
How they escaped
According to Musa, when the bandits began to fire at close range without stopping, the vigilantes dashed into the bush crawling on push path into safety. “I ran zigzag but before I could dash into the bush from the main road, I was hit by a bullet. At first, I thought I was dead. That was what came to my mind. However, I was able to follow the bush path back to the village. That was how I was able to escape from the attack before I was rushed to hospital”. The experience of Alhassan Sule who also escaped death in a whisker is the same with that of Musa. The only difference is that Sule was hit on the foot at close range as a result of which his leg was almost shattered. He said, “Shagari has explained exactly what happened. We were together at the scene of the attack. I remember that when they started firing, I wanted to run but I was too close to the bandits; so a bullet got my foot. I saw them face to face but could not described the type of gun they were holding because it was at night. The vigilantes that went out that night were about 15 of us. All of us returned alive except Mubarak who was abducted by the kidnappers.”
No regrets confronting the banditsEven though Musa and Sule were apparently in pains from severe injuries sustained from the encounter with the bandits, their morale was high and were proud to have participated in defending their communities. When asked if they regretted going to fight heavily-armed bandits with sticks and cutlasses, Sule shook his head, stood up on one leg with the support of a stick that served as clutch and said on top of his voice, “I did not regret participating in the encounter to stop the bandits because this is my village and I have to defend it even with the last drop of my blood. I cannot regret going out that night to confront the bandits for obvious reasons. “First, they steal our yams in the area and secondly they frequently mount road blocks to steal motorcycles from our people in that particular spot.”
A traditional ruler speaks
“At first we saw hunters passing into the forest for hunting which is common to us. However after observing the second prayers that evening, we saw lights on top of the hill descending. The vigilantes mobilised to know who those people bearing lights were because we know that our yams are always stolen around the area.” “According to the reports that reached my palace, the touch bearers were Fulani men wearing jackets which they used to conceal their guns. On close contact, the Fulani men realised that our vigilantes have surrounded them and they began to fire their guns sporadically. The firing of guns was so intensive and bullet were flying everywhere around us. one bullet even landed on our mosque. Our women and children were afraid and in confusion, they started running to Maitumbi in panic. Moments later, one of the vigilantes appeared with his foot shattered by bullet. I was still in shock when a second vigilante came from the dark with his elbow shattered by bullet. By the time dust settled, one of our boys have been taken away by the bandits. Up till today, as I speak, the boy called Mubarak is still in the hands of the bandits.”
Women afraid to return
It was five days after the attack when Blueprint visited the Tasakpan village to know how the villagers were coping. The village traditional ruler, Alhaji Ahmadu looked distraught but warm. It was obvious that he was unhappy as the village was almost deserted. He stated that the village has been enveloped in fear and panic.
“Since that day, my people are not free. There is panic and fears in the village. Our women are yet to come to terms with the sound of gunshot they heard that day because it has never happened before. Up till today, after the attack, my subjects are still in trauma while many of our wives have packed out of the village to squat with relatives in towns. Some of the women that left with their children are yet to return to the village.”
Health of the injured
It was gathered that those injured in the encounter were first rushed to General Hospital Minna before they were referred to IBB Specialist Hospital around 12midnight that fateful day. The village head confirmed that they were later moved to a traditional bone setter in another village far away. “We rushed them to the General Hospital Minna from where they were referred to IBB Specialist Hospital. However, my people want the best treatment for them so we moved them to another place. They are recovering and getting better. “The one that was shot in the hand has a fraction on the bone, we thank God he is getting better”.
The area needs police outpost
Having to confront bandits with bare hands is not fun. With the number of bullets sprayed on the road, it was obvious that only trained security agencies could confront them and come out victorious. Again security presence in the area appeared to be next to nothing. This apparently signifies the reason for the fears and panic in the village and why the women along with children have relocated to nearby cities. It is against this backdrop that the village head made passionate appeal to the state government and the state commissioner of police, Adamu Usman to build police outpost in the area. According to him, “My appeal to the state commissioner of police is to ensure the presence of his men in this area in term of constant patrol. There is no police post close to the area and our vigilantes do not have guns except sticks and cutlasses. We need the assistance of security agencies to ward off the bandits. We would be stronger if the security agencies are around us. We would give them maximum cooperation. Our fear is that we do not know what would happen next and with the kind of weapons they used on us, we can no longer sleep with eyes closed.”