By; BALA B. BITRUS, Minna
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If the current veracity of siege on Munya Local Government Area of Niger State by dangerous criminal gang of kidnappers, armed robbers, cattle thieves and other thug elements persist into the year, the council area may be locked out and turn to a pariah place in no distant time.
Armed bandits who kidnap for ransom, armed robbers and armed cattle thieves have taken over the bushes and roads going in and out of the council area while citizens bite their sore lips over the development even as security agencies such as the Police are roundly beaten in their game by the dare devil criminal elements.
For over a year now, citizens living in the area have been suffering untold agonies from the hands of these criminal gangs whose merciless onslaughts have led to loss of lives, loss of properties including monies, livestock, and instilled mobid fear and apprehension in the minds of all, the big and the small.
Since early last year, hardly a week pass by without reports of a kidnap or robbery attacks, invasion by herds thieves and activities of armed road marauders.
The tempo of the attacks have become so frequent, the number of victims have been on the increase while the town, villages and communities are counting their loses even as the areas are being deserted by able bodied persons including farmers and local business men to cities and towns elsewhere outside the council area.
The serene and quietitude known of the council area has given way to a new but notoriously ugly identity as a den of kidnappers, armed robbers, bandits and a place where cattle thieves make frequent and recurring attacks at will.
The Police have since conceded to the superior power of the men of the underworld. They themselves were several times victims of the onslaught by the criminal gang.
The Divisional Police Officer in Sarkin Pawa was a captive of the kidnappers for days until handsome ramson was paid for his release late last year.
The DPO was kidnapped at Mangoro area of Zazzaga village, few kilometers to the council Headquarters where the Divisional Police Station is located.
This daring assault on the Police alone was enough to scare the whits out of every cop in the area. And if a Police chief could be so brazenly whisked away in front of his fortress, what powers do ordinary, defenceless, local villagers have to stand the invaders?
For over two years now, locals in Sarkin Pawa and all the villages and communities in and around the council area have abandoned the Sarkin Pawa – Kaduna road which has since been taken over by criminal elements who even operate in broad daylight.
Because the road is a shorter distance to Kaduna, villagers who must use the road now do so at their own risk even as they have to secure the services of armed military escort for a fee to lead convoys of vehicles through the 24 kilometres rough roads to the Abuja – Kaduna highway which is about 66 kilometres to Kaduna.
The irony is that whenever military escort are sought, the armed robbers and kidnappers vacate their occupation on the road and bushes. But any day a motorist or a road user dared to go on the road by himself, the story is better imagined.
Worried by this development, and following the glaring failure of the state and local government council to do anything to arrest the security challenge in and around Sarkin Pawa, the Senator representing Niger East senatorial district, Senator David Umaru had late last year secured the permission of the military high command to draft soldiers to Sarkin Pawa, the Headquarters of Munya to assist in checking the increasing threats to lives and properties of citizens in the area.
The state government has cluelessly capitulated and left the security of lives and properties of it’s citizens in the area to the whims and caprices of lords of the roads, the armed bandits, the kidnappers and cattle thieves who have made their safe havens within the territory of the council area from where they make recurring furrays into the villages and communities at will.
Varied accounts from different victims of kidnap and armed robbery in the local government area, attest that there are several cells and colonies belonging to different kidnap gangs.
In a span of three months, between October to December last year, no fewer than 38 kidnap incidences were recorded in parts of Munya local government area alone. The snag here is that no arrest was ever made in all the incidences.
Though victims were released, it is only after their relations and kinsmen had rallied round to raise money to offset the ransom charged for the release of their family member(s) .
Since the invasion of the communities in Munya local government area by dangerous criminal elements, the locals now work, toil and save money and keep for any eventualities when they or any of their own is kidnapped so that they could use their savings to pay for the release of the kidnapped family members. Such is now the sad story of the people of Munya.
The kidnappers’ camps, according to one of the victims who was kept for five days in one of the cells of the men of the underworld at Kabulla forest, he said there are plenty dens of kidnappers which are erected within the bushes, hills and mountains in and around the council area.
He said soon after he was taken captive, his abductors blindfolded him and moved him from one camp to another within the bushes in the five days he was kept hostage. The hood placed over his head was often removed any time his captors arrived a new camp.
He disclosed that those stationed at the camp often relocated and moved to another place leaving him with only one of those who brought him as others moved on ostensibly as a ploy to confuse their victims while he is held captive as negotiations continued for their priced ramson by the leader of the gang.
In Munya, kidnapping occur sometimes twice in a day especially in Kabulla forest, Zazzaga area, Sarkin Pawa, Dandaudu area and other places.
The incident of last Thursday where four local stalwarts of the All Progressive Congress, (APC) including the Secretary of the party in the council, Anthony and Ward Chairman of the party in Kaza were swept in one operation was not only laughably but shows how security had become so porous in the council area and how the place had deteriorated over time.
The Thursday incident was proceded by the kidnap of four persons including the two siblings of the Chairman of the council area.
A gang of armed kidnappers had struck at the home of council Chairman in Kuchi village in the early hours of Saturday morning flaunting their dangerous assault rifles after which they whisked away their victims.
These developments have indeed made the entire council area a huge lucrative place for kidnappers and armed bandits including cattle rustlers.
A source within the council told our correspondent that kidnapping was now a brisk business for criminal elements and their collaborators who have taken over the council area almost completely .
The locals are now helpless as they wake up each day with the fear of being the next victim as hardly a day pass without a sad news of kidnap incidence or banditry somewhere within the council area.
Such is the sad tale of Munya, a place not long ago known for it’s peace, serenity and ambience with it’s several gateway sleepy communities to Kaduna.
Now the whole area is awestruck. The state government appears not to have any idea on how to take the battle to the criminals and flush them out even as the criminal elements have comfortably taken refuge in the bushes bordering parts of Kaduna, Abuja highway from where they were chased out by the the joint security task force of the federal government.
The successes of the federal government’s empowered anti kidnapping squad of joint security task force is the pain and loss of the peace, sublimity and ambience of rural people of Munya, Sarkin Pawa, Kabulla, Zazzaga and all the other communities who have thrown into the throes of fear and death.
Just this last weekend, three members of an extended family in Gadani area, a rustic community on the flanks of Gwagwada in Kaduna state and some villages in Munya local were whisked away in a commando style by a four man band of armed kidnappers who stormed the village at dawn.
While the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris Kpotun and his men are clapping their hands in jubilation for ”success” in flushing out criminals from the Kaduna-Abuja highway, the bitter truth is that the vast majority of the criminal elements have only been chased into the bushlands, hills and mountains in the adjoining neighbouring council areas of Munya where they now freely operate with much ease on the hapless and helpless local populace.
The trouble in this sad development is that in no distant time, the city centres in Minna, the state capital would have mass influx of people from the troubled villages and communities of downtown areas.
Before Munya is turned to a pariah, it is time the federal government wakes up to it’s responsibilities to check the increasing wave of security challenges across the states of Niger, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Kogi where kidnapping is a thriving, brisk business.
Niger State government has tactlessly proved to be bereft of ideas to curb the menace. It is clueless, weak and unwilling to do anything to save the lives of the people of Munya just as it had done elsewhere to citizens who had come under spontaneous attacks by criminals herdsmen, armed robbers and bandits.