Sokoto — Recent military operations in Sokoto has seen bandits regrouping away from their usual hideouts. In retaliation for aerial bombardments by the Nigerian Air Force, they have been attacking villages, displacing thousands of farmers. Our correspondent speaks to some of the people displaced by this latest twist in the bandits' crisis.
Recent military bombardments of bandits' hideout in Kagara Forest of Sokoto State has had a dire impact on the people of Isa Local Government as dislodged bandits had regrouped and attacked residents of the area, forcing hundreds to flee their homes.
Following the air assault, especially around Isa and Sabon Birni areas, the bandits fled into these communities and later regrouped to continue terrorising residents. Their attacks have been increasingly vicious since they regrouped, as witnesses said.
"We are retaliating what your government is doing to us," residents reported the bandits saying.
For some villagers, it was unsafe to remain in their homes and so they had to flee. One of them is Mallam Ali.
"We were thrown into a state of intense fear and fretfulness and had to flee," he told Daily Trust. "More than 10 villages were affected with virtually all inhabitants abandoning them."
The villages raided are Kamarawa, Bafarawa, Gebe, Arume, Surddudu , Satiru, Katanga, Tsullawa, Sabon Gari Lugu, Gwalama and Dan Adama villages, all in Isa Local Government Area.
Daily Trust learnt that the bandits killed six people, carted away an unquantified number of livestock and looted shops and businesses. Hundreds of villagers have fled to Isa and others went to neighbouring Shinkafi Local Government in Zamfara State to take refuge.
People of Magera village, who are taking refuge in Gatatwa, both in Isa, said they had to flee as they were afraid of reprisal attacks by bandits.
"We felt anything could happen when we saw a body and an injured person close to our community," one villager said.
Another affected villager who pleaded not to be named said one person was killed in each of Tsullawa and Suruddudu villages while three were killed in Gebe village.
He added that all the villages are now deserted as their people have fled to either Isa or Shinkafi towns in Zamfara State while others are staying with relatives in faraway places.
Another source revealed to our reporter that the air raid would have been more devastating if it had been coordinated with a ground assault to mop up fleeing bandits.
"There were no security operatives on the ground. The bandits escaped into nearby villages until the air bombardment was over. And we cannot do anything about it because they were well-armed," he said.
"When they were threatening to come back and retaliate what our government did to them, we thought it was just an empty threat, until around midnight on Tuesday when they came in their hundreds on motorcycles and started ransacking our villages," he said.
He added that the bandits killed six people, carted away livestock and looted any shop they saw. A reliable source told our reporter that the bandits also cordoned off the road and killed many motorists and passengers along Isa Road on Tuesday night.
"As I am talking to you, no vehicle is allowed to ply the road because it's cordoned off by soldiers," he said.
Mallam Buhari lost his brother in the bandits' attack. He told Daily Trust how it happened.
"My brother was on his way from Sokoto to Isa Local Government three days ago when they attacked them, killed three people and abducted some of them," he said. "I heard today that those abducted had been released."
The Counsellor representing Bafarawa Ward, Dahiru Yunusa Bafarawa, said that over 10,000 persons have been forced out of their homes in 23 communities in the local government area.
According to him, thousands of livestock were rustled while about 150 motorcycles were either snatched or stolen by the attackers.
"They are right now occupying our communities. There were some residents who went back to bring along beddings and other household items but were killed by the bandits," he said.
"Our people are dispossessed of their possessions, prevented from farming, which is their means of livelihood, and forced to stay in school buildings with, in some instances, 100 people crammed inside a classroom, with many of them suffering from various illnesses," he said.
He too suggested a coordinated operation between the air force and the army to tackle the bandits and prevent them from escaping from their hideouts into villages.
For the displaced persons, life is tough with little relief material or food to go round. Yakyandamo Arume, who fled with her 10 children to a camp, said hunger is their main challenge.
The Sole Administrator of Isa Local Government, Nasiru Muhammad Awaza, who is hosting the displaced persons, said some of them left their homes over fears they too could be affected by the bombardment.
In his opinion, this kind of war cannot be won easily because the problem has lingered for a while. He, however, said both the air force and the army are involved in the operations. As for the complaints of hunger, he said that could be from IDPs outside the camps.
"We have 300 bags of assorted grains untouched and just yesterday we bought another 180 bags from Shinkafi," he said.
Awaza noted that the council had deployed health workers to the camp with enough drugs to treat sick ones.
Meanwhile, Daily Trust gathered that one of the leaders of the bandits had contacted a senior government official, making overtures towards the possible reactivation of the peace accord, which was previously initiated by the state government.
For now, the hundreds displaced by the bandits are still languishing away from their farmlands and the lives they were used to.