The Sun News

16 months after military invasion, fear still reigns in Niger communities

From John Adams, Minna

Sixteen months after the military invasion of some communities in Bosso Local Government Area of Niger State, the victims of the bloody clash are sad and angry.

They are also scared that military men might pay them another visit soon.

The people allege that they have been abandoned to their fate by the state government, even as they struggle to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

A visit to the communities tells a story of an abandoned people, as widowers, widows and orphans produced by the clash are struggling to cope with the reality of life, with no help coming from anywhere.

The hitherto peaceful farming communities have continued to live in fear after the military invasion. They are suspicious of every stranger. This was observed by our correspondent who visited the communities recently.

Men and women in the affected communities have reduced their farming hours, especially the youth. Unlike before, when they would be on the farm from 7am to 6pm, they now go to the farm by 7am, and before 1pm they are back home.

Most of the people now sleep with one eye open. They are yet to overcome the trauma of August 4, 2016, when hell visited the five villages in Kpaidna community.

At the end of the raid, which lasted from 1am to 5am, 16 members of the communities were killed and 26 others critically injured. Some of them still are receiving treatment till date.

The midnight operation also left 11 soldiers dead.

The debris of the property destroyed by the military, which included houses, vehicles and motorcycles, remains a common macabre monument in the communities.

According to the report of a committee, headed by the councillor representing Garatu ward, Mr. Aura Shaba, set up by Bosso Local Government to assess the level of damage to property during the clash, property worth N89.4 million was destroyed.

Among the items destroyed were 93 houses, 12 of which were razed, 329 people were displaced, 48 motorcycles were either destroyed or burnt and 15 cars, including four military Hilux trucks, were vandalised or burnt.

Most of the people displaced by the military invasion are yet to return to their ancestral homes, most of which were destroyed by the soldiers. Many of those who have gone back to their houses are lamenting that they have nothing left to call their own.

The villages affected in the attack included Kopa, Dama, Legbe, Dagba and other neighbouring communities.

The communities have no history of violence, that was the first time they were experiencing a crisis of any kind. The reporter gathered that the people have lived peacefully with their neighbours, with farming as their main occupation.

Despite the total absence of government presence in terms of amenities in the communities, the people have carried on with their daily farming business, until the unfortunate clash with the military.

Some of the victims of the attack, who spoke to our correspondent, said the incident would forever remain in their memory.

At Kopa community, one of the victims, Abdullahi Saidu Kopa, who said he lost his two brothers in the “night of horror,” told Daily Sun that life had been very difficult for the people since the crisis, even though they were beginning to pick up the pieces.

“We lost everything. And since then we have been living from hand to mouth. We are suffering because people are trying to recover from the shock.

“Our relations from neighbouring communities have been coming to our rescue in terms of food and clothing. The situation here is better imagined than experienced.

“I lost two of my brothers who had their hands tied behind them and shot in my presence. Right now, the wives of my two deceased brothers and their 18 children are staying with me. So you can imagine what I am going through,” he said.

Another victim in Kopa, 65-year-old Mohammed Wambai Kopa, who was tortured and his two legs broken, is still receiving treatment, with scars from the torture all over his body.

Mohammed can no longer go to the farm or do anything for himself. He now relies on his children and two wives for survival.

He told our correspondent that, after the military had collected his N5.5 million cash, his wrists were tied behind him and he was thrown into the military vehicle. He was taken to the barracks in the morning, where he was beaten and tortured, and his legs damaged.

“At gunpoint, they asked me where I kept my money, and I showed them. Then they went away with my N5.5 million. It was the money I wanted to use to buy a pick-up van. It was after that that they took me to the barracks with my two hands tied to the back.

“Now I cannot walk, and that is why I am using crutches. I can’t even do anything for myself,” he said.

At Tachikpa village, the story of 70-year-old Saidu Alheri, popularly known as Gagawu, was pathetic. His only son, 28-year-old Bala Saidu, was killed, leaving behind two wives and seven children for his father to take care of.

Saidu, who could not control his tears when he spoke to our correspondent, said life would never be the same for him again, having lost his only son. He described his late son as the backbone of the house, saying he no longer had the strength to farm.

He described the horrifying the manner in which his only son was marched to the bush behind his house and shot at close range after surrendering his personal N4 million and another N1.3 million, which a customer deposited with him to buy a Sharon vehicle.

“I don’t want to remember the incident,” the man sobbed. “They took my son to the back of my house and shot him in the head and, after that, they dragged the lifeless body to the frontage here.

“They stripped me naked and used my clothes to tie my hands. Then they sat me down near my son’s dead body.”

Saidu, who managed to escape into the dark when the soldiers went into the house to ransack the whole place, said he returned to the house after three days to remove the decomposing body of his son for burial.

At Dagba village, 55-year-old Sani Mohammed was initially reluctant to speak to our correspondent because, according to him, the victims had left everything in the hands of God. But he eventually opened up, vowing that none of his children or relations would ever join the Army because of what the military did to them.

Sani lost two of his brothers, Yakubu Mohammed and Musa Mohammed, leaving behind four wives and 17 children. He said he would have to take care of all the children and the wives of his murdered brothers.

He said, “Up till today, the dead body of one of my late brothers, Musa, has not been found. My brother was shot in his house at Kpakungu inside the town, not even here in the village, and his wives were beaten to a coma.

“The other one, Yakubu, was shot in front of his house here in the village. His two wives and nine children are with me and I am the one taking care of them.

“We lost all our property, our houses were destroyed and burnt, and we don’t even have clothes to wear.

“Up till now, nobody has told us why the soldiers decided to come and kill our people and destroy everything in the village. Life has been very difficult for all of us in the community.

“Some members of the village who ran away during the crisis are beginning to return, but they have nothing to fall back on. And, since the incident, we have not received any help from government.

“It was only the Emir of Bida, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, that donated about 12 bags of maize to all the villages affected by the crisis.”

Sani told Daily Sun that the governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, visited the entire communities after the military invasion and promised to assist them. He regretted that, till today, they have not heard further from him.

“It’s over one year now since the governor came here and promised to assist us, but we have not seen anything,” he said.

It was gathered that the governor, who was shocked by the extent of damage to the people and their property, immediately set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the cause of the incident and make recommendations to on the measures and steps to be taken to prevent a recurrence.

Governor Bello, while inaugurating the commission, assured the people that government would not interfere in the inquiry, adding that government would give the committee full support.

However, over a year after the commission of inquiry, headed by Justice Mohammed Mohammed, submitted its report, the Niger State government is yet to make it public.

This has continued to generate reactions from members of the affected communities and the general public. Many describe the decision of the government to sit on the report as unfortunate and unacceptable.

The lawmaker representing Niger East Senatorial District at the National Assembly, Umaru, while reacting to the development, said the decision of the government to keep sealed lips over the report of the inquiry was unfortunate.

The senator reminded the state government that the entire people of the state, not just the affected communities, were waiting for the outcome of the inquiry. He pointed out that the failure of government to implement the report showed insensitivity to the plight of the people in view of the magnitude of the destruction and lives that were lost.

He stated further that the delay by the state government in making the report public and issue a white paper on it did not only amount to injustice but was also very dangerous.

“People that are affected by the crisis, both the military and civilians, are waiting for the government. It is unacceptable that the government has undermined the plight of the people. It is sad for the government to have continued to brush aside such an important report while the widows and children of victims and the general public were kept in the dark over the situation.

“I am aware that the commission completed its sitting and submitted its report since December 2016. It is unfortunate that the government is sitting on the report, instead of implementing it to bring succour to the affected families.

“This is unacceptable because justice must be seen to have been done to the families of the affected victim of the unfortunate incident,” he said.

While calling on government to commence implementation of the report without further delay, the lawmaker said he had initiated a bill at the National Assembly to regulate the involvement of military in civil crises across the country.

However, when contacted on why the state government was yet to make the report of the inquiry public and issue a white paper, the governor’s coordinator of media, Jide Orintunsin, said the delay in releasing the report of the inquiry was not a deliberate attempt to deny the people justice.

Orintunsin said the release of the white paper on the inquiry must go through due process and it must not be rushed so that everyone would be seen to have been fairly treated.

“The government is very sensitive to the plight of the people and will do justice to all,” Orintunsin said.

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