The Nigerian Army this month established a new battalion in President Muhammadu Buhari’s hometown of Daura, Katsina State, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
The 171 Battalion was created to check the movements of violent criminals in northern parts of Katsina State near the Nigerian border with Niger Republic, military sources told PREMIUM TIMES. The sources said it would complement the operations of 17 Infantry Brigade and 35 Battalion in Katsina, the state capital.
The new battalion, which would be led by a lieutenant-colonel, is separate from Fort Muhammadu Buhari, a forward operating base launched in Daura in May 2017 under the command of the 35 Battalion in Katsina town.
Both the 35 Battalion in Katsina and the new 171 Battalion in Daura will now be under the 17 Infantry Brigade Headquarters in Katsina town. All three military formations were established since 2016.
Mr Buhari became president in May 2015, and security situation in his home state and neighbouring states has worsened ever since.
An establishment order for the new 171 Battalion has already been issued, and military formations across the country have been asked to contribute a combined total of 350 personnel for the battalion’s take-off.
The creation followed the new order of battle adopted by the Nigerian Army in 2016.
The Nigerian Army 8 Division in Sokoto and the 6 Division in Port Harcourt were created in 2016 in line with the new order for additional grip on security operations in North-west and South-south, respectively.
The Daura battalion is the first to become active since the president approved the 2 Battalion Forward Operating Base in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna State, in May 2018.
Defence headquarters spokesperson, Onyema Nwachukwu, directed enquiries about the new battalion to his Army counterpart, Sagir Musa.
Mr Musa, a colonel, did not immediately respond to requests for comments Wednesday afternoon.
The battalions are being set up to enhance an aggressive new push to drive out gangs of armed bandits whose activities have morphed from targeted but infrequent heists in urban areas to regular mass slaughter of citizens in the rural enclaves of the northwestern region.
Military sources said security reports have continued to indicate unrestricted cross-border movements by armed bandits operating on both sides of the Nigeria-Niger border.
It was not immediately learnt when a formal opening ceremony for the new battalion will be held. The military has been discreet about the development, which surfaced barely a week after the Defence Headquarters admitted the conflict was more complicated than previously estimated.
In recent years, the bandits have mounted a daunting national security challenge in addition to Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria’s North-east and the herdsmen attacks in the central states.
Daura, an agrarian community about 140 kilometres north of Kano, and surrounding communities have become a regular target of bandits who have been on a deadly campaign to plunder and wreak economic havoc on the region.
The bandits, whose activities span the entire North-west to Zamfara, Kebbi, and Sokoto often target herders for their livestock, farmers for their produce and even kidnap persons for ransom.
A few weeks ago, the district head of Daura was abducted and held captive for two months in harsh conditions.
As of August 2018, authorities in Zamfara said an estimated 3,000 people had been killed and thousands of homes destroyed in the attacks linked to armed bandits in recent years. Thousands fleeing the bandit crisis have been settling in neighbouring states, triggering a humanitarian emergency.
Security forces also frequently come in deadly confrontation with the bandits. In December 2018, dozens of police officers were feared killed following an ambush in Zamfara, although the police only publicly admitted to 16 casualties.
The Nigerian Air Force has carried out regular aerial bombardments of the bandits’ positions throughout 2018.
Although the military response has been largely seen as crucial to impose normalcy in the troubled region, the civilian toll of some of the bombings has drawn sharp rebukes from rights groups, who warned against violation of citizen’s rights by both sides of the conflict.