Anguish, pains, tears and frustration hallmark the current situation in Zazzaga community in Munya Local Government Area of Niger State where natives of over 20 villages have been forced to relocate from their ancestral home due to the activities of kidnappers that they have been making lives miserable for the populace in the past one month. Because of this, about 500 inhabitants of the villages have abandoned their homes and fled to neighboring communities.
Zazzaga is a peaceful farming community with over 50 villages and about 1,000 inhabitants who have settled in the area for close to 50 years. The entire villages in Zazzaga community have no history of violence and criminal activities as the people, regardless of their religious or ethnic differences, have co-existed peacefully all their lives.
A hopeless situation
Though the community is predominantly Gbagyi by tribe, other tribes like Hausa, Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba are among the inhabitants. However, the peaceful atmosphere that had hitherto been enjoyed by the people has given way to fear and anxiety as kidnappers said to have been dislodged from Kaduna State, have found their way into the community and have been making lives meaningless for the entire community.
So far, N11.5 million has been allegedly paid by relatives of those kidnapped to secure their release while five people have been killed by the kidnappers who invade the villages almost on a daily basis. Our correspondent who visited the community recently gathered that no fewer than six members of the community (four men and two women) are still in the custody of their captors who have demanded N1million each for their release.
The hopeless situation in which the community finds itself is further compounded by the near absence of security in the area. The only police out-post established in the area in 2015 before the general election, is manned by only two police personnel without a single firearm. The situation makes it easy for the kidnappers to always raid the community with impunity because, according to the District Head, Alhaji Garba Musa, and other villagers, the kidnappers sometimes demand for food from them and would even settle down to eat it before taking their victims away.
Worried by the development, the villagers constituted a local vigilante but they could not withstand the superior firepower of the kidnappers. The District Head explained that each time the kidnappers came calling, they usually leave their telephone numbers with the villagers to call for negotiations for the release of kidnapped victims. Apart from monetary demands, the kidnappers sometimes ask the people to bring items like recharge cards, liquid milk, malt drink, cigarette, bottled water and bread among other things.
Kidnapping women and male victims
Our correspondent gathered that the women are usually kidnapped to serve as cooks for the victims, and immediately any of them regains freedom after payment of ransom, another one is kidnapped as replacement. From one victim to another, those who regained their freedom after the payment of ransom narrated their ordeals while in captivity.
A 16-year-old JSS 2 female student of Junior Secondary School, Zazzaga, Khadijat Saleh whose father, Adamu Saleh was shot dead in her presence before she was taken away, told our correspondent that her duty throughout her 10 days in captivity was cooking for the victims in custody.
She said that the day she arrived at the den of the kidnappers after trekking all through the night from 1:30am to 2:00pm, two women were released after ransom was paid. She was then asked to take over their cooking responsibility.
“They did not touch me,” she insisted. “They only asked me to be cooking. The day that we arrived, some women who were there before were released after their people brought some money, and I was asked to start cooking. I cooked once in a day and the food would remain for victims to eat in the evening. Sometime I would cook rice, sometimes I would cook tuwo and sometimes yam. We were kept under the tree in the bush, not too far from the rail line (Abuja-Kaduna) because we could hear the sound of train passing.
“They have everything that someone can use to cook. I used to go to the bush to look for firewood but they would warn me that if I run, I would meet another group and that they would rape and kill me. In the night, they would give me blanket to cover myself but the men are left to sleep like that with their hands tied to their back.”
Narrow escape from death
Garba Danjuma, 65, who also regained his freedom on the day our correspondent visited the community after paying N1.5 million, described his 10 days in captivity as horrifying. He claimed that he slept with his two legs bound together and his hands tied together from behind.
When asked if those who kidnapped him are Fulani herdsmen as claimed by the 16-year-old girl, Danjuma pointed out that he could not recognize his captors because his eyes and those of other male victims were always covered with pieces of black cloths in the daytime.
“In the morning, they would tie our eyes with black cloth and then loose our hands, but when it is night, they would loose the cloth from our eyes and then tie our hands. But from the way they spoke, I know they are Fulani because sometimes when they are talking, they would speak Fulani. But when they are discussing with our people to bring money they would speak Hausa.”
Mallam Danjuma told our correspondent that he was almost killed after five days in captivity because his people could not raise on time the amount of money they demanded. “They told me that if my people didn’t bring the money on time they would take me near the village and kill me. They said they needed money urgently to pay for the guns they bought.”
A Senator and police’s view of the matter
Reacting to the continued invasion of the community by armed men, the Senator representing the zone, David Umoru, blamed the state government for their plight, insisting that it has failed in its responsibility to protect lives and property.
“It is not only in this case that the government in the state has continued to display high level of incompetence in the area of security “, he pointed out. “Lives are meaningless to this government. From cattle rustling to kidnapping, people are being slaughtered with reckless abandon and this government is not doing anything. They have turned governance into private business characterized by misplacement of priorities here and there. Money meant for the protection of lives and properties of people is being diverted into private pockets.”
Contacted on the steps being taking by the police to checkmate the situation, the police public relations officer, Niger State Police Command, Peter Sunday (ASP), said that the combined force of the Nigerian Police and the Army has been drafted to comb the area so as to rescue those kidnapped.
He added that the command is disturbed by the activities of the kidnappers in the area before assuring that the police and other security agents are on top of the situation. He promised that very soon peace would be restored in the community.
Source: SUN Newspaper