Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
Jalingo, the Taraba State capital, is increasingly becoming a nightmare to residents as armed banditry is both taking a heavy toll on the city.
Violent clashes between various teenage groups is also becoming a regular occurrence while the cases of knife attacks, rape, burglary, car theft and petty crimes have made the once peaceful city look like one under siege by hoodlums.
The inability of security operatives to act promptly has given a new dimension to the nasty experience of the residents, who now feel like people living in lawless society ruled by outlaws.
Of great concern is the return of both “legalized” and other sets of armed thugs at public functions under various names with some even wearing T-shirts, often emblazoned with the name and crest of their groups, under the guise of loyalty to a particular politician or figure.
The growing menace prompted the Emir of Muri, Alhaji Abbas Ndjidda Tafida, to decry the rise in youth restiveness in the state, in his sallah message. He called on parents to be vigilant over their children’s activities and urged the youths not to allow themselves to be used as thugs by selfish politicians.
“It is worrisome how our youths are becoming violent and aggressive. We must watch our children closely to make sure they are not influenced wrongly. Our youths must work hard towards self-reliance rather than allowing themselves to be used as political thugs only to be dumped in destitution at the end of the day. Peace must remain our watch word always,” the monarch said.
In one pathetic case that happened on the night of June 3rd, a final year student of the College of Nursing and Midwifery, Jalingo, Miss Mercy Victor, was attacked by hoodlums and she died two days later as a result of the injuries inflicted on her in the attack.
The State Police Public Relations Officer, David Missal, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, who confirmed the incident said the matter was reported to the headquarters on Tuesday morning but was referred to the GRA Police Station in Jalingo for investigation.
Sunday Sun learnt from the president of National Union of Taraba State Students, Comrade Hope Vyonku, that Mercy ran fell into the hands of the evil gang on her way to the school on Sunday night while returning from a weekend visit.
“I was told that she was returning to the school from town on a tricycle she boarded when the incident happened close to the bridge after the State Specialist Hospital, Jalingo.
“She was reportedly raped and abandoned by the road side, before a passerby rushed her to the State Specialist Hospital, where she died.”
This attack attracted widespread condemnation from people and was seen as one too many. It was further learnt that people come under attack so often that must cases are simply not reported to the police.
Narrating her bitter experience with the hoodlums, Linda, a fortunate victim, who survived the attack said that she was just standing by the main raid waiting for a commercial motorcycle with her friend when a tricycle stopped and the attackers rushed at her with knives and stabbed her twice before taking off, right in the public glare.
“My sister and I were just waiting for bike in front of Exclusive (a public place) when he Keke stopped and they rushed at us and stabbed me twice. It was like a dream, but a very horrible one. It was the next day at the hospital that I came to terms with the fact that I was physically attacked and could have lost my life in the process, if it were not for God. I feel very unsafe right now because if these boys can do such a thing in a public place like Exclusive, when it was not even so late at night and get away with it, then no part of the town is safe anymore.”
And indeed, no part of the town seems safe. Residents of the popular FGGC road, Roadblock, Angwan Kasa, ATC bye pass, Mile-6 Bye-pass, Welcome to Jalingo Bye-pass, Mayo Goi, Sabon Gari, Angwan Sarki and several places have come under attack. In fact, most of the bye passes have become major flashpoints.
The PPRO said: “These boys operate mostly on lonely or quite roads at night. Pretending to be tricycle passengers, they attack unsuspecting victims and inflict injuries on them and sometimes, even steal from them.”
What is most worrisome is the fact that some of the attacks are only aimed at inflicting serious injuries on the victims without any attempt to steal from them. Historically, Jalingo has been a relatively peaceful town with pockets of violence only once in a while. But like most other states, the return to civil rule in 1999 created an avenue for struggle for power among diverse people. Then in the run-up to the 2003 general elections supporters of the then government formed a group of youths called “Bani Isra’ila”, which was used to terrorize political opponents. They unleashed all forms of violence, including ballot box snatching, intimidation, arson and killings.
However, in 2007 when Danbaba Suntai was elected governor, he banned political thuggery in the state (within Jalingo metropolis) and signed an Executive Order giving the police power to arrest anybody operating as a political thug.
However, after his unfortunate plane crash in 2010, the ensuing political war led to the resurgence of even more violent groups.
The violence that spread across the state from 2013 became the major preoccupation of the present administration in the state and little attention was given to Jalingo metropolis that was indeed a safe haven then. Unfortunately while much attention was given to restore order in the hinterlands, a deadlier monster was breeding right in the heart of the town.
Emmanuel Bassey, who has lived in Jalingo for over a decade, said the influx of very young persons from Michika and other Boko Haram ravaged areas in the region was the undoing of the town. His words: “No one really paid any serious attention to the kind of people that were coming into Jalingo at the peak of the crisis. The young boys coming from Boko Haram ravaged areas were already exposed to violence. They came in with very bitter minds. They quickly integrated and blended so well. Most of them are engaged in very profitable ventures but some are into drugs, cultism and other crimes.
“Since they have a ready population of idle young minds here who are also highly inclined to these tendencies, it was easy for them to recruit and that is why you see violence so much on the rise.” Mr Yahaya Yakubu blames the rise in violence within the metropolis on selfish politicians: “The problem we have are the politicians who are so desperate to cling to power that they can do anything including exposing these innocent young people to violence and making it look as if it is a normal way of life. They exploit the acute poverty in the town and the exuberance of these youths by giving them a false sense of belonging and turn them into monsters.”
One of the reasons for the rising incidence of violence is the forthcoming 2019 election, and the fact that politicians are desperate for thugs. The more organized the thugs, the better, hence the upsurge in the number of “organized thugs.”
He explained further: “There is a growing culture among the youths,of forming groups based on age, within areas/wards called ‘Yan Unguwa solidarity networks. Basically, their actions can be situated within territoriality, competition and securitization. They manifest juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, gangsterism, partying and clubbing, gambling, sexual harassment, pick pocketing and violence on the people usually during the evenings and at night, using the readily available tricycles for mobility. “And politicians are ever ready to fund their drugs addiction and co-opt them into their circle against perceived opposition elements.
And they come under various names such as Black Scorpions, Red Diamonds, Wicked Banana, Sugar Boy, Independent Marketers, and a host of others. While most of the boys who are mostly under 25, allegedly come from four major parts of the Jalingo metropolis: Mayo Gwoi, Sabon Gari, Sabon Layi and Bakin Kasuwan Jalingo, their violent activities have a clear mark on most parts of the city.
Worrisome is the growing proclivity of these young minds to violence. Most of them now move about with dangerous weapons even during the daytime and seem so thirst for violence.
A simple misunderstanding such as balance for a tricycle fare could precipitate violence and brandishing of knives and other weapons by ever violence ready riders who move about with these weapons.
But apart from these clandestine boys, there are even more groups that identify openly with people in power that may not be as openly violent but are equally a cause for worry. These groups now compete for space at the gymnasium where they are all working hard to build their bodies into that of professional wrestlers and one begins to wonder to what end.
Clearly, there are legitimate youth groups that are out to promote political ideologies or candidates of their choice but when members of such groups become more concerned with body building and wearing intimidating looks and taking over the roles of security operatives at public functions, with fundamentalist sense of fanaticism, it becomes a cause for worry, especially in a city where outlaws are quickly gaining strong grounds.
Drugs are sold in the open at areas around Roadblock and other places and the security operatives seem overwhelmed with the task of curbing these.
The image maker of the state police command, David Misal, told our correspondent that the command continues to raid hideouts of the criminals and their drugs havens. He said that several arrests and recoveries have been made but these efforts of the force seem like just a drop in the ocean as more and more young people join the league of drug peddlers and abusers every passing day. Prominent voices have risen in condemnation of this ugly development. The deputy governor of the state, Haruna Manu, during the sallah advised youths to shun violence and avoid been used by politicians as thugs. But this may not just be enough.
The security operatives especially the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, the Nigerian Police and others must step up surveillance around the major flashpoints while constant patrols of the roads where these hoodlums are having field day must become the norm to address the challenge. As preparations for the 2019 general elections gain momentum, the fear of the unknown seems to pervade the atmosphere as the tales of ugly encounters with rampaging youths resonate within the city. Stakeholders caution that the government must re-focus attention on the growing security challenge within the Jalingo metropolis and address it head on before the city is completely taken over by outlaws.
They further state politicians must shun the tendentious desperation to clinch power at all cost, while efforts should be made to check the illegal possession of weapons by tricycle riders, most of who are teenagers in their early teens, and who ordinarily should even be in school.