The deadly attacks by bandits in Sabon Birni Local Government Area of Sokoto State in which dozens were killed were likely in retaliation for the killing of bandits by the police in the area, residents have said.
PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday reported how 50 persons were killed in separate attacks on Sunday and Wednesday. Residents said the death toll has reached 70.
The police spokesperson in Zone 10 Sokoto, Bashir Musa, told PREMIUM TIMES that the police were “on top of the situation” and were still assessing what happened, after which a definite statement would be released later.
He said the police have deployed more personnel in the affected communities to ascertain the exact number of casualties.
But locals said they believed they were targeted because of a previous incident.
“Obviously, they came to take revenge for the killing of two bandits at Garki community by the police in Sabon Birni, LGA on May 22,” said a resident who asked not to be named for security reasons.
“We were aware of their coming, (and) through phone calls we notified the security agents, however, no action was taken.”
The police had said in an earlier statement that their divisional patrol team on routine patrol along Sabon Birni – Garki village on May 22, sighted two motorcyclists suspected to be armed bandits.
“(They) were pursued and on reaching Garki village their motorcycle hit the pavement of the road and fell down. Suddenly, subjects opened fire on Patrol Team.
“The Police in conjunction with the vigilantes swiftly responded to the attack, as a result the two bandits lost their lives.
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“The following items were recovered from the bandits : One RPG with Breech No. M80 and one G3 Rifle with Breech No. 63660, corpses were evacuated to General Hospital Sabon Birni for autopsy. investigation has commenced in earnest,” the statement said.
Locals said the Garki community where the bandits were killed was the prime target of Wednesday’s attack. They said the bandits killed 25 people in that community and that all the other villages that were attacked are in the Garki ward.
The sources said aside from the 25 people the bandits killed in Garki, they also mowed down 13 at Dan-Aduwa, 25 at Kuzari, five at Masawa and six at Katuma.
“The bandits came from afar away,” said another source. “On their way to Sabon Birni, they passed through several villages, we received multiple phones calls from the villages that have mobile network, informing residents of Sabon Birni that hundreds of bandits were heading our way to avenge the killing of their brothers.
“We notified soldiers and the police about the development, however, nothing was done to prevent the attack on Wednesday.”
Victims appeal for help
Victims of the attacks, who are taking refuge at Sabon Birni council headquarters, have appealed for help. They said most of them are elderly people and children and have been sleeping outside in the cold without food.
“We’re in trouble. They have killed our husbands and our children and we don’t have any place to go,” a woman who identified herself only as Uwani told PREMIUM TIMES. “We are sleeping on the streets at Sabon Birni, none of us have eaten today as I speak to you now. We need help.”
Ilaya Garki, from Garki, the community worst hit in the attacks, said “We ran to Sabon Birni for safety, but since Wednesday we have been sleeping on the streets and under the trees. Nobody has come to our aid. We need help as most of us have no relatives in Sabon Birni town.
Group demands lasting solution to attacks
A group, Coalition of Concerned Sokoto Citizens, on Thursday at a press conference, called on the federal and Sokoto State governments to urgently act on the deteriorating security situation in the state.
The leader of the group, Nasiru Gatawa, said Sokoto was known for peace and hospitality but is falling into total anarchy as a result of the activities of bandits.
They said the attackers had been “regularly and persistently terrorising the state, particularly the eastern zone which comprises eight local governments areas.”
The group named the affected LGAs as Gada, Goronyo, Gwadabawa, Illela, Isa, Rabah, Sabon Birni and Wurno, saying each of this LGAs has parts under the control of bandits.
The activities of the bandits have crippled social and economic activities and has led to the loss of hundreds of lives and properties valued at billions of naira in the zone, Mr Gatawa said.
He said the most terrorised local government area in the zone is Sabon Birni, where he said the bandits operated freely in broad daylight for several hours with no check by the government.
“Within the first quarter of 2020 alone, over 20 attacks were carried out by bandits in the local government area alone. In these attacks, villages were freely raided by bandits where they killed children and their fathers, raped their mothers, abducted their brothers and later demanded ransom from the family or community.
“Each of the 11 wards in Sabon Birni Local Government has part(s) of it under the total control of bandits whose permission and consent the villagers need to conduct wedding or naming ceremonies or to even have a market day.
“The situation is getting so serious that even Sokoto metropolis cannot boast of being safe from the attacks of bandits because the activities of these bandits are gradually expanding to villages a few kilometers from Sokoto city,” the group said.
The group appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Aminu Tambuwal to urgently rise to the aid of the people of Sokoto state by mobilising the security apparatuses at their disposal.
“We appeal to President Buhari and Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal to listen to the cries of our orphans and widows and act with all seriousness in order to save the remaining lives in Sokoto eastern zone and state at large.
“We also appeal to the Federal Government of Nigeria and Sokoto State Government to direct NEMA and SEMA respectively to immediately provide support to the victims of these attacks as they are in dire need of assistance,” the group said at the press conference in Sokoto.