Nigeria: Security Challenge in Niger State
Security agencies could do more to contain the bandits
The largest state in Nigeria by landmass, Niger shares boundaries with the most volatile northeastern states of Zamfara, Kaduna and Kebbi. While it may not be on the national radar like Kaduna, this vast expanse of land that should ordinarily be an advantage is gradually becoming home to bandits and terrorists. In August 2009, then Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu identified a sect known as Darul Islam (House of Islam) as a potential security threat. The government was propelled to crack down on the group, whose members had lived in strict seclusion in Mokwa, a southwestern axis of the state, since the 1990s and refused to integrate and fraternised with any community. That helped to an extent to douse initial fire. But the problem has since escalated with extensive ungoverned spaces within the state amidst growing inability to neutralise criminal infiltration.
As terrorists and bandits converge on the northern axis of Niger State, they now feel emboldened to embark on undertaking official functions, asking the communities raided or overpowered to pay taxes and levies. In Rumbun Giwa, for instance, the criminals now resort to writing letters to various villages, instructing farmers to pay certain levies before gaining access to their farms and harvests. That Shiroro, Paikoro, Mashegu and many other local government areas are terrorised incessantly underline the territorial compromise that has since become a tough battle for a state being held to ransom by ruthless criminals.
Meanwhile, it took the national outrage triggered by the February 2021 raid on Government Science College in Kagara to draw attention to the descent into anarchy, especially in the rural areas of Niger State, as local and international media rushed to report the abduction of 27 students and death of one. With images of RPG-wielding bandits emerging from the state, along with fierce scrutiny of the infrastructural decay, the world was no longer clueless about the mess that facilitated the tragedy. At the end, the bandits left with 136 pupils from Salihu Tanko Islamiyya School in Tegina, Rafi local government, and negotiations for their release took six tragic months, with six of the children reportedly dying from illnesses while in captivity.
Between the Kagara and Tegina abductions, Niger State seemed to have reached an epiphany; and this intensified the resort to deploying vigilantes to fight the bandits. In June last year, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello launched the Niger Special Vigilante Corps (NSVC). It was designed to resolve the inadequacy of the security operations, especially the gang violence that is now commonplace in the state capital. But the growing reliance on vigilantes in the state has stirred up some setbacks. In September 2021, communities in Shiroro and Rafi Local Government Areas, which had been previously compelled by bandits to pay levy and serially terrorised by the pseudo-government, found help from a vigilance group made up of local hunters. The group eliminated 47 bandits and was endorsed by the Police for their uncommon valour.
While the engagement of vigilantes is a silver lining, the question of how the bandits got to possess sophisticated weapons like the RPGs they were seen wielding in their propaganda photos making the rounds online remains a riddle. Unless a convincing answer is provided, the vigilantes remain potential sacrificial lambs in a system ill-prepared to protect them from the pushback of the wild gangs capitalising on Nigeria’s preventable security compromise.
In Niger State today, the increasing spate of attacks is not only stoking unease in many rural communities, but it is also denying people access to schools, farms, and other sources of legitimate livelihood. Sadly, that is also becoming the story of many other states, especially in the north.