By Adebayo Obajemu
Ongoing war against terror and sundry criminality in the North has been a traumatic experience for the people of the region. There has been economic dislocation affecting livelihoods of millions living in the area, and social life has also been disrupted, in addition to general uncertainty.
For the people of the northwest, it has even been more concerning, more disruptive of the source of livelihoods, with social and economic life hitting the nadir, especially in the face of lockdown imposed by authorities as a strategy to fight Boko Haram and the bandits by cutting them off from communications.
Every day, people are kidnapped for ransom, and the bandits operate with such impunity that for the people, the fear of the marauders is the beginning of wisdom since little or no help comes from the government.
Lately, bandits have targeted high profile people for kidnapping, and in some cases, for outright killing.Only recently, June 15,2021, a former provost of the Nigerian Army, Hassan Ahmed, was killed by bandits
Mr. Ahmed, a major general, was said to be returning to Abuja from Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, when he was attacked around Abaji area council.As part of the bandits campaign against high profile institutions and individuals, it was a rude shock on August 24, 2021, when they attacked the elite military academy, the Nigeria Defence Academy, NDA.
In the daring assault on NDA, two officers, were kidnapped and later murdered by the bandits.The bandits had broken into the school around 1:25am on that fateful day, shot sporadically and made for the officers quarters to abduct the personnel.
A military source said: On August 24, 2021, at about 0125hrs, bandits in their large numbers attacked NDA, Afaka, and kidnapped one officer; Maj Datong, while Lt Cdr. Wulah and Flt Lt CM Okoronwo were shot dead. 2Lt Onah sustained gunshot injury and is currently receiving treatment at own hospital in NDA.
Reacting to the attack, Col. Samuel Agbede, retd, said such an attack had never happened in the history of the Nigerian military.
Agbede, a former President of the Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, said: This attack just signifies that the chicken is coming home to roost. All our calls and cries for proactive actions against insecurity have been confirmed by this worrisome invasion.
In his reaction, His Royal Majesty, Retired Air vice Marshall Lucky Ararile, the Ovie of Umiagwa Kingdom in Delta State, said: The brazen attack by bandits on NDA, killing of soldiers and abduction of a military personnel shows that nowhere is safe in Nigeria anymore. It shows that bandits are in total control.
We are not sure that even Aso Rock or any military unit is safe any longer. Government has to tackle these bandits or whatever they call themselves with the seriousness it deserves. These embarrassments are becoming too much.
Upping their game against politically exposed individuals, the bandits again on August 29 struck in Kaduna, killingthe first son of Senator Bala NaAllah, who represents Kebbi South senatorial district, at the National Assembly.
The senators son, Abdukkarim NaAllah, said to be a pilot, was said to have been killed on Sunday by gunmen at his residence at Malali GRA in Kaduna metropolis.
A senior staff member of The Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi, Abubakar Muhammad, an engineer was killed a fortnight ago by bandits at his home in Bauchi.
Early last week, Olajide Sowore, the younger brother of Sahara Reporters’ publisher and activist was killed around Okada, Edo state by bandits.The activist said his brother was killed by suspected herdsmen operating as kidnappers.
The deceased is said to be in his late 40s.According to him, the deceased was killed on his way from Igbinedion University in Edo State.
In response to the heightened brazen activity of bandits and the orgies of killing and kidnapping, the federal government imposed a communication lockdown on parts of the northwest, a development that has further put pressure on the traumatized people.
Armed men last Sunday kidnapped the former Senator representing Akwa Ibom South Senatorial district in the 8th National Assembly, Senator Nelson Effiong.
Effiong, a former Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, who hailed from the Oron Local Government Area, was abducted by three armed bandits who stormed his lounge, a popular sit-out along Oron Road, Uyo, the state capital, around 9pm on Sunday.
In another attack in Magami, Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State, the District Head of Wawa in the Borgu Emirate of the state, Alhaji Dr. Mahmud Ahmed Aliyu, was abducted by bandits.
It was learnt that the gunmen, less than six hours after the abduction, demanded N100 million ransom for the release of the most read traditional ruler in the state with a PhD from Malaysia.
Some parts of northwest have been on communications lockdown for the past week, a measure taken by the federal government to disrupt the communication channel of the bandits, making it easier for security forces to apprehend them.
Sokoto, Kebbi, three others have since witnessed service disruptions as Zamfaras 2.1 million phone users lose access. Katsina was added because of the effectiveness in other parts.
It was learnt that telcos have shutdown 248 base transceiver stations in Zamfara state.According to government, the exercise would last two weeks, but experts say the action will likely go beyond two weeks.
With mobile network operators (MNOs) having complied with Federal Governments (FG) order to shut down services in Zamfara State, some 2.1 million subscribers in the state have been cut off from the networks, and this action has affected businesses and social life.
Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that Zamfara has 2,177,431 active subscribers from 2,337,893 connected lines, while Internet users are around 1.59 million. By the FGs directive, it means that for the next two weeks, these sets of subscribers wont have access to any form of telephony services.
Further implications of the blackout, which saw the quartet of MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile shutting down their 248 base transceiver stations that service Zamfara communities, is that some parts of Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Niger and Kaduna have also been impacted greatly by the shutdown.
Industry experts explained that a service signal from a cell tower could reach up to 45 miles away, depending on the technology of the cellphone network.
They claimed that every base station communicates with each other. By so doing, the impact on Zamfara will affect adjourning cities and communities in Northwestern Nigeria.
The experts stressed that to achieve a total shutdown of service, the operators would also have to shut some of their sites in the neighbouring states as directed by the regulator.
Recall that the FG had on September 3, citing rising cases of insecurity in Zamfara and adjourning cities, ordered the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to direct all telecommunications providers operating in the region to shut down services in the state.
This was seen as the last move that may totally shutdown every economic activity in Zamfara as the governor, Bello Matawalle, had earlier last week announced the closure of all weekly markets in the state as part of measures to address the worsening security situation.
According to a letter addressed to Chief Executive Officers of the telecoms companies, the decision is to enable relevant security agencies to carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenges in the state.
The letter titled Re: Shutdown of All Telecom Sites in Zamfara State was signed by the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta.
Following the lockdown, sources told Business Hallmark that the security forces have been making numerous gains in the war against banditry.Many bandits leaders and their foot soldiers have been reported killed during raids in Zamfara State.
They were reportedly killed by ground troops and through aerial reconnaissance since the blockage of communication and restriction of movement in the state.
One of the sources, a military official confided in BH that they were recording successes in the ongoing massive onslaught against notorious bandits in Zamfara and its environs.
He also said locals were cooperating with them in the onslaught against the bandits and criminals who had abducted many people and waiting to collect a ransom.The source, who does not want to be named, said the operation was being carried out by the military and sister security agencies.
It is an all-around operation involving the army, the air force and DSS. We are happy that locals are supporting us with useful information, he said.
The NCC had last week mandated all telecommunication operators in the country to stop extending services to Zamfara and its environs, effective Friday, September 3, 2021.
This was barely six months after the federal government declared Zamfara State a no-fly zone in a renewed effort to fight banditry and other forms of insecurity in the state.
Recall that Governors Bello Mohammed Matawalle (Zamfara), Aminu Bello Masari (Katsina), Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna), and Abubakar Sani Bello (Niger) had in separate directives about the same time called for restrictions of movement and some economic activities in frontline areas in their states in order to disrupt bandits’ communication channel and thus make it easier for security operatives to gain advantage.
Business activities including farming were also crippled, making life difficult for people amid poverty and deprivation.
Though the federal government has not extended the communication ban to Katsina, Kaduna and Niger, a source close to the security and intelligence community told this medium that the operatives were directed to confront the bandits and speak less on what they were doing.
The military, police and DSS have been directed to refrain from issuing statements on their operation so as to checkmate informants from alerting the bandits on what is going on, he said.
Despite what some people are saying, there is no going back on the bombardment. The priority is to kill the bandits leaders.
Already feeling the heat of the action, it was learnt that some bandits were trying to brainwash locals to stage a protest against the decision taken by the Zamfara State government.
Multiple sources said the bandits have been boxed to a corner, they are not finding it easy.
Sources said they no longer have access to supplies but because they have control over some communities, they are asking them to stage a protest so that the governments at the state and national levels would lift the restrictions imposed on movements, sale of petrol, cattle and movements in some areas.