The state of insecurity in Nigeria has assumed a frightening dimension as over 40 local government areas in different parts of the country are firmly in the control of various non-state actors, including terrorists, bandits and so-called unknown gunmen.
The ungoverned territories are spread over local government areas in Kaduna, Zamfara, Niger, Katsina, Sokoto, Abia and Imo states.
The situation is threatening the conduct of the 2023 general elections, especially in those ungoverned territories as the security of electoral personnel and voters cannot be guaranteed.
Bandit-governed Kaduna LGs
For instance, some rural communities in Kaduna State are currently deserted as a result of the activities of bandits in the state.
Local government areas being governed by bandits in the state are Chikun, Kajuru, Kachia, Zangon Kataf, Kauru, Lere, Birnin Gwari and Giwa.
The bandits had in the past been kidnapping and killing residents on a daily basis but for the current onslaught on them by the troops of the Nigerian Army.
The spokesman for the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, Luka Binniyat, said the areas that had become ungovernable space in the state were the size of Abia State.
He told PUNCH that Governor Nasir El-Rufai had made a belated and unfortunate admission that terrorists had taken over the state and were forming parallel governments.
Binniyat stated, “This admission is a confirmation of the various alarms that were continuously raised by SOKAPU and the Southern Kaduna community development associations since 2019.
“In reaction to these alarms, the Kaduna State Government once challenged anybody to name any community that had been taken over and occupied by terrorists.”
A resident of Kajuru, simply identified as Mama Beauty, who currently resides at the Maraban Kajuru internally displaced persons’ camp while narrating her ordeal and that of others in some of the communities sacked by bandits, said they had to abandon their homes following the kidnap of the breadwinners by bandits who had taken over the villages.
Asked if the villagers could still participate in the general elections next year, she said it was not possible as the community had since been deserted.
A resident of Kuyello in the eastern part of the Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area, one of the worst hit in the state, Adamu Sanusi, said terrorists’ activities in the area had been taking place for many years.
He noted that terrorism in the area dated way back to some decades, adding that with the activities of terrorists, there was no way elections could hold in the entire local government area, adding that access to Birnin-Gwari was another problem.
He said the Ansaru terror group had banned elections in some parts of the area, adding that nobody was expecting election to hold there, especially in communities in the eastern part of Birnin-Gwari.
Adamu stated, “We, the people of Birnin-Gwari have suffered from attacks of the bandits for too long with the authorities not having any solution to the problem.
“In just one day, bandits killed over 70 residents and the killing spree has continued unabated. How can election take place when nobody can access the area? How will INEC officials come in to conduct elections in 2023? It’s practically not feasible.”
Adamu’s sibling, Ahmed, said apart from killings by the terrorists, residents were being kidnapped and made to serve them as slaves in their farmlands.
The Chairman of the Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressives Union, Ishaq Kasai, noted that the last local government election in the state could not hold in the area owing to insecurity, adding that the state government was forced to foist a sole administrator on the people.
Efforts to get the reaction of the Kaduna State Police Command over the ungoverned territories were unsuccessful as the Public Relations Officer, Mohammed Jalige, did not take his calls or respond to a text message sent to his mobile telephone.
El-Rufai had in a leaked memo to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), said terrorists were taking over the state and forming a parallel government.
Zamfara is one of the states in the country worst hit by banditry and terrorists are currently occupying almost all the local government areas of the state.
The local government areas worst hit by the menace are Maru, Tsafe, Bakura, Anka, Maradun, Gusau, Bukkuyum, Shinkafi and Bungudu.
Speaking to Saturday PUNCH on the telephone, a resident of Babbar Doka village in the Maru Local Government Area, Malam Ibrahim Abubakar, stated that it would be extremely difficult for the residents to participate in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
He said, “Unless security personnel are deployed in this area, I am telling you that many people will not go out to vote because of the fear of bandits.
“Many of us have completely abandoned farming, especially if the farm is far away from the village.”
A resident of Sansami village in the Tsafe Local Government Area, Musa Shehu, said many villages had been deserted by the inhabitants due to persistent attacks by bandits.
Shehu said over 10 villages had been deserted and the inhabitants had fled to other places, adding, “The issue of election does not arise.
“There’s no way INEC can conduct elections in those deserted places because the inhabitants cannot be found.”
In Akuso village in the Gusau Local Government Area, a resident, Aminu Shehu, said that most of the residents of the village had fled to other locations, adding, “As I am talking to you now, I have moved to Gusau town with my family.”
A community leader in Sansami village, Malam Ibrahim, said no fewer than 50 villagers had been killed, while several others were kidnapped.
Another community leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Saturday PUNCH that more than 300 persons had been killed by the bandits in his village in this year alone, adding, “There was a time when 97 persons were killed in one day during an attack by bandits.”
The Press Secretary to Governor Bello Mattawalle, Jamilu Iliyasu, said adequate measures had been put in place by the state government to ensure hitch-free elections next year.
Iliyasu, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH on the telephone said, the state government had come up with several measures to ensure that the general elections would be conducted without security problems.
He stated, “As part of the measures, Governor Bello Mattawalle recently introduced community protection guards, who were trained in how to effectively fight banditry.
“They were also equipped with 1,500 specially equipped motorcycles and 20 vans equipped with lawfully allowed weapons.
“We have also provided legitimate weapons to the community protection guards in each of the 19 emirate councils.”
The spokesman for the state police command, SP Mohammed Shehu, said the police in the state were ready to provide adequate security before, during and after the elections.
“As you are aware, the police have been at the vanguard as far as the security issue is concerned and we will continue to play our role,” he said.
Shehu stressed that the 2023 general elections would be conducted in Zamfara State in a secure environment, adding that the police would give maximum protection to voters, political parties, candidates as well as INEC officials.
Niger’s seven LGAs
In Niger State, seven local government areas have been under constant attack by bandits. They are Rafi, Munyan, Shiroro, Magama, Mashegu, Mariaga and Wushishi, while the Boko Haram sect recently hoisted its flag in Shiroro.
Some residents of the communities said they would be disenfranchised as a result of the insecurity, which had made them flee their homes.
A youth leader in one of the communities, Salis Sambo, said people in IDP camps might be able to vote, but others in the bandit controlled areas might not be able to do so.
He noted that there were many wards and units that INEC would not be able to deliver ballot boxes to.
A resident of Erena in the Shiroro Local Government Area said, “Majority of our people are in IDP camps and I don’t see how voting will be done there when these people are from different communities.”
He added that some of the men had gone back to their communities to farm, while the women and children were in the IDP camps.
Mohammed Mohammed, a leader in the Rafi Local Government Area, confirmed that some communities were paying taxes to bandits, adding that the case was pathetic.
“Yes, there are communities that pay levies to these bandits just to enable them to go to their farms without getting kidnapped, but unfortunately, after paying to one set, another set comes to say they were not part of the agreement,” he added.
He added that more than 2,000 lives had been lost to insecurity in the local government area.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, DSP Abiodun Wasiu, said the command was doing everything to secure the lives and property of members of the public, adding that the security situation in the state had improved.
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The Commissioner for Internal Security, Emmanuel Umar, could not be reached as of the time of filing this report.
Residents of Katsina State, especially those in local government areas that border Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna states as well as the Niger Republic currently live in fear following the surge in terrorists’ attacks in their communities despite efforts of security operatives and the state government to curb the incidents.
Officially, there is no local government area that is under the control of terrorists in the state although investigation showed that the terrorists operate in many communities in the council areas.
Indeed, the terrorists recently extended their attacks to the state capital, Katsina, as they operated in some satellite communities in the Shola Quarters in the town on two occasions within a month.
Investigation showed that majority of residents of the affected local government areas, who are mostly farmers, had abandoned their farms due to the activities of the terrorists, who not only take over their farms, but also kidnapped them and subject them to severe hardship and humiliation.
The residents are also apprehensive over the forthcoming general elections as they believe that the terrorists may not allow them to exercise their civic responsibility.
A resident of Kandawa, Batsari Local Government Area, Jafar Mutari, said his family had moved out of the village and relocated to the council headquarters, Batsari, because of terrorists.
Jamilu Gafai, who currently resides in Yantumaki, Safana Local Government Area, said terrorists made him to relocate from his village on the fringe of forests near Zamfara State.
The District Head of Batsari, Alhaji Muhammed Muazu, also told Saturday PUNCH that the district along with most of its villages had suffered human and material losses due to the activities of terrorists.
The state Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Salisu Majigiri, stated, “About 20 local government areas are not safe. So, if these local governments are not secured with the atmosphere that people can go freely and cast their votes, many people will be prevented from discharging their constitutional responsibility.”
Investigation showed that terrorists had extended their attacks beyond the eight frontline local government areas of Batsari, Jibia, Danmusa, Safana, Sabuwa, Kankara,, Dandume and Faskari and gone to other councils like Dutsinma, Kurfi, Batagarawa, Rimi, Danja, Kafur, Matazu, Kaita, Malumfashi and Katsina.
The spokesman for the state police command, SP Gambo Isah, said security operatives were up to the task, insisting that they had begun to take the fight to the enclaves of the terrorists.
“Security operatives are not relenting. On Tuesday, the Nigerian Air Force bombarded and killed no fewer than 20 terrorists in Safana and Batsari areas. Also, our DPO in Danja led another onslaught against terrorists in the area and killed one of them. Also, the Nigerian Army killed two terrorists in Safana area, while our operatives also recovered one AK-47 in the Safana area, where they also dislodged terrorists. We are now taking the fight to their enclaves,” he said.
Governor Aminu Masari’s Special Adviser on Security, Ahmad Katsina, told Saturday PUNCH that the state government was augmenting the efforts of security operatives in the state with 3,000 personnel, some of whom he said had begun training too.
No fewer than 11 out of the 23 local government areas of Sokoto State are currently affected by insecurity.
The affected local governments include Illela, Rabbah, Sabon-Birni, Isa, Wurno, Gada and Goronyo in the eastern senatorial district of the state.
Others are Tangaza, Gudu, Denge-shuni and Kebbe, while Shagari and Yabo have had flashes of insecurity.
Some residents, who spoke to one of our correspondents, expressed fear over the spread of insurgency, which they claim might affect the 2023 general elections.
A member of the state House of Assembly representing the Sabon-Birni 1 Constituency, Almustapha Boza, expressed fear over the conduct of the election in the eastern senatorial district.
He said the security situation in the eastern senatorial district might jeopardise the peaceful conduct of elections in the state.
A community leader in the Tangaza Local Government Area, Mallam Bello Tangaza, said the security situation might not guarantee peaceful conduct of elections in the area.
Bello said bandits were attacking villages in the local government area almost on a daily basis, killing and rustling animals belonging to their victims.
An aide to Governor Aminu Tambuwal, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said the state government was working with security agencies to restore peace in the state.
He said the government was working to restore peace not just because of elections, but for the benefits of the people living in the affected area.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, DSP Sanusi Abubakar, could not be reached as his number indicated that it was unreachable as of the time of sending this report.
The current wave of insecurity in the Isuikwuato and Umunneochi local government areas of Abia State will not stop the 2023 elections in the state if government at all levels provide the necessary security, according to a community leader in Isuochi, Umunneochi LGA, Chief Nnokwam Ogbonna.
He said, “I have no fear that the 2023 election will not hold as it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to make sure that there is security.
“So, whatever steps the Federal Government is taking should be nationwide.
“Until the cattle market at Umuchieze is closed, we are just beating around the bush around this area.
“A situation where the Divisional Crime Officer was being held hostage, I don’t know what the government is doing or waiting for.
“Let them close that cattle market. That is what I am saying.”
According to him, in the Okigwe-Uturu route, there is a security outfit manning the road now, so students who are resuming should not entertain any fear.
However, Mrs Happiness Okoro, a businesswoman in Uturu, Isuikwuato LGA, asked the Federal Government to do the needful in terms of security, “especially since no gunman has been caught since their siege in and around Isuikwuato and Umunneochi.”
The state Commissioner for Homeland Security, Sopuruchi Bekee, said, “The government has plans to flush out gunmen from the Umunneochi area.
“The major issue now is not even the elections; it is the security of the people of Umunneochi and those who use that road.
“Elections are coming next year, so are we going to shut the system and wait for elections to secure the people? No, what we should bother about now, which the government is doing, is to make sure that peace and security is restored to Umunneochi as quickly as possible.
“Three days ago, there was a Nigerian Air Force plane that went through that forest to do air surveillance.
“So, we are doing something very fast. The security that is involved is not owned by the state. They are all federal agencies.
“The Homeland Security Watch is a complementary agency that is coordinating the management of security in the state.
Efforts to get the police authorities to speak on the security situation were abortive.
The activities of terrorists in Orsu, Orlu, Oru East, Oru West and parts of the Njaba local government areas of Imo State are a source of concern to residents as the nation prepares for the 2023 general elections.
While many residents have fled their communities because of killings and burning of security and government facilities, there are doubts that INEC will conduct successful polls in the affected communities.
The fear is heightened by the decision of INEC to blacklist the affected LGAs during the just concluded voter registration.
Most people, who registered from the affected LGAs, came to Owerri and Mbaitoli LGAs for the collection of their voter cards.
Some people, who did their continuing voter registration outside their local government areas because of insecurity in their domains, told Saturday PUNCH that their determination to ensure that they vote in 2023 motivated them to register.
A journalist and an indigene of Orlu, Don Uba, told our correspondent that insecurity in the area was a source of concern to the residents.
Jeremiah Onuoha from Amadehi, Ubulu, Oru West LGA, said the rate of insecurity in the area was high.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr Oguwuike Nwachukwu, said INEC had different committees working on the elections in 2023 and it was the only body that was constitutionally empowered to conduct elections.
“We are not aware (of security threats) neither has INEC told anybody they will not conduct election in any part of the state for whatever reason,” Nwachukwu stated.
While commenting on the readiness of the state police command to restore calm in some of the restive local government areas in the state, the Police Public Relations Officer, Mike Abattam, said he should be given time to make a statement on the issue.
“For now, my dear journalist, I am very busy as I am attending to some other pressing issues in the office. Wait for the release that I will push in your box,” Abattam said.