There used to be a time when mass murder was news in Nigeria. But it’s just another Saturday these days, which is a tragedy of its own.
Many parts of the country have become killing fields ruled by armed groups with no clear purpose. This week, Kebbi State was the witness of two different massacres that are already taking the backseat.
Here’s everything we know about these attacks.
Slaughter of vigilantes
When residents received reports that bandits were attacking villages in Sakaba Local Government Area of Kebbi on March 6th, 2022, vigilantes mobilised to confront the bandits. The vigilantes were members of Yan Sakai, an ethnic militia group that was established to fight crime in many parts of northern Nigeria. The group has been banned by governments in a few states over extra-judicial activities. But the Yan Sakai keeps operating because, apparently, Nigeria’s security forces are already spread too thin.
Unknown to the vigilantes responding to the March 6th attack, the bandits were luring them into the forest. According to traditional rulers who spoke to BBC Hausa thereafter, the bandits hid on top of trees, herded the vigilantes to a target spot and opened fire on them. 63 vigilantes were reported killed in the attack, but the death toll has been reported by residents to be higher.
Buhari’s strong words
President Muhammadu Buhari has made many failed promises to contain insecurity across Nigeria. He has even resorted to warning the criminal groups to stop. In reaction to the massacre of the vigilantes in Kebbi, he offered condolences and more strong words.
He said, “This egregious level of criminality is shocking and I want to assure Nigerians that I will do all it takes to tackle this monster decisively. My greatest preoccupation is the threat to life posed by these murderous gangs and remorseless outlaws who have no slightest regard for the sanctity of life.”
President Buhari also directed security forces to be more proactive and double their efforts to stop future attacks.
Slaughter of soldiers
Buhari’s strong words did not get across, as the bandits struck again on March 8th, 2022. This time, they attacked the convoy of the deputy governor of Kebbi State, Samaila Yombe, who was visiting Kanya community in Danko Wasagu LGA.
A unit of about 30 soldiers of the 223 Army Battalion were part of the convoy that was escorting a commanding officer who’d joined the deputy governor for the visit. The bandits — an estimated 150–200 men — attacked the deputy governor’s convoy, and killed 18 soldiers, including Yombe’s security aide. The deputy governor narrowly escaped death himself.
Yombe said, “The bandits mixed up with the inhabitants of Kanya in such a way that it was difficult to differentiate and fight them. The bandits were equipped with PSA AK-P rifles — much heavier calibre weapons than AK-47.”
What is the government doing?
The military has failed to officially confirm the number of solders that were killed, but more have been deployed to Kebbi State after the massacres. The spokesperson of Defence Headquaters, Major General Bernard Onyeuko, said at a media briefing on March 10th, 2022 that “severe action” will be taken to redeem the situation.
President Buhari has not delivered more strong words as he continues his medical leave in London. But the Kebbi State governor, Atiku Bagudu, urged residents to pray for those that were killed, and for more strength for Buhari to fight the bandits.
The wives of some of the soldiers killed in the March 8th attack also protested at the residence of the 223 Army Battalion Commander on March 10th, 2022. They chanted, “Whatever will happen, let it happen,” and burnt tires in front of the commanding officer’s residence.
The activities of armed groups in many states in northwestern Nigeria has disrupted thousands of lives with many dead and many more displaced from their communities. Bandits were officially designated as terrorists in January 2022. The designation was intended to intensify the war against the armed groups and contain their reign of terror. But, as Kebbi showed this week, not much has changed.