The protracted violent crimes in Isa, a Local Government Area in Sokoto State, Northwest Nigeria, have destroyed family structures with a significant number of people losing their assets and earnings following demands for ransom by terrorists.
A large number of people have relocated entirely from the affected communities to several places where they may survive. But the government has so far not taken significant steps in tracking the displaced and catering for their general well-being.
Many homes, grain stores and properties were set on fire and reduced to piles of bricks in the Local Government Area, estimated to originally have over 200,000 residents.
Isa LGA is about 224 kilometres from the heart of Sokoto city. It is usually a lonely road, deserted due to fear of attacks from armed groups who operate at will any time of the day. A few vehicles, mostly pickups carrying firewood, could, however, been seen toeing the route.
Isa shares borders with Shinkafi in Zamfara State, Goronyo, Sabon Birni respectively towards the west and north in Sokoto, and then the Niger Republic. Its location at the border area with Niger and closeness to the Kagara forest, a notorious hideout for terrorist groups, are contributing factors to insecurity in the region.
Terrified And Abandoned
“The people no longer sleep with their eyes closed, the media are not reporting the stories from these communities because no one can risk his life to come to this terrain,” said a traditional leader too afraid to disclose his name for fear of reprisals.
He further lamented that, in some communities close to Shinkafi in Zamfara State, armed groups had become kings as a top government official allegedly said no one should touch them. But this has not stopped them from killing innocent people.
The recent aerial bombardments by the Nigerian Air Force which forced several terror groups to migrate from the western part of the forest resulted in frequent attacks in the name of retaliation, leading to the displacement of thousands of farmers.
Motorists deserted some of the roads completely. One local, who identified himself as Lawalli, said that “not all drivers can risk their lives to take you to that area,” adding that he was attacked the previous week along Yan Yashi axis.
The place is believed to be one of the strategic areas for the groups as they find it easy to mount roadblocks.
“You see that big mountain, behind it is their area. They have everything they need, like generators, satellite, viewing centre,” Lawalli revealed.
HumAngle’s reporter sighted security personnel on routine patrol in some of the communities.
“It seems there is a deal between them and the armed bandits in the areas; they don’t attack them at all. Sometimes they will pass them with their guns and terrorise local civilians,” said a local who asked for anonymity.
At Barafarawa village market, some bandits were sighted resting under the shade of one tree while others walked from one place to another unchallenged.
A resident, Halliru Bafarawa, said the security agents often did not bother to attack the terrorists.
“They can’t confront them at all. Do you know how many times people have reported the area to the security agencies but [there is] no sign of an effort to move to the area at all,” Bafarawa said.
According to him, the locals are helpless and hopeless and have had to repeatedly pay the bandits to continue to live.
“We do buy our relatives from their hands like animals. No security can help us when they kidnap our loved ones,” Bafarawa lamented.
The state government has several times insisted that it has provided enough security to protect the civilian populations in the area but the people are not seeing the impact of the government’s efforts.
Hamisu (last name not disclosed due to fear of retaliation), one of the youths into vigilante services in Kamara, said: “Government always lies to you journalists saying that they are on top of the issue. On the contrary, we are in a serious situation.”
“People can no longer go about their normal businesses in the area. Insecurity has gotten to the point that you will be in your house and somebody will just come and pick you up,” he continued.
The helpless nature of the situation has also made the residents lose hope. An injured villager sighted limping on crutches as a result of a gunshot wound he sustained during one of the attacks by the armed groups declined to be interviewed.
According to him, his stories will not change his condition or the situation in his community. “You too, mind your business like the security agencies there,” he angrily barked at this reporter.
Frustrated and Hopeless
The villagers feel frustrated and helpless, believing that they have been abandoned by the state government that ought to provide them with adequate security.
Mallam Musa, as he is addressed by others in the village, is one of those who have given up on the security situation in Isa.
“Life here is useless, nobody is coming here to hear our stories. The government abandoned us in the hand of these deadly armed groups,” said a distraught Mallam Musa.
“I wonder how you risked your life to our community because anything can happen at any moment here; life has no certainty at all,” Ayuba Ragu, another villager, quipped.
“Bandits can enter any house now without any challenge, rape our women and kidnap anybody, the security [agents] here cannot stop them,” Ragu added.
In July, HumAngle reported that over 5,000 civilians from some villages across Isa Local Government Area fled their homes as bandits allegedly ransacked their communities in retaliation against military onslaughts.
There is strong distrust in the communities due to the presence of informants who have been said to sell out plans to bandits.
Meanwhile, the presence of military troops and civilian vigilante groups at some sites has restored relative security.
HumAngle found that the villagers whose main occupation was farming were not allowed to access their farms. The current situation is also complicated by the activities of herders, whose cattle destroy farms, especially in Bafarawa and Kamarawa. Farmers in the communities accuse the Fulani of failing to control their cattle and deliberately destroying farmlands and damaging their crops.
More and more villagers are arming themselves in self-defence, having become tired of waiting for intervention from the government.