War against bandits goes spiritual in Niger

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Tired of the incessant attacks and raids on their communities by bandits, the people of Niger State have decided to forgo the option of looking up to the military, police and other security agencies for rescue.

Rather, the affected communities have resorted to bringing in spiritualists who they believe would succeed in sending the bandits on their heels.

In the past four months, communities in Shiroro, Munya and Rafi local government areas have suffered attacks from bandits who operated freely and without restraints almost on a daily basis. More than 200,000 people have been displaced with hundreds of others dead or abducted by the bandits.

Most of the people in the affected communities have had to flee their communities to other lands for safety, causing internally displaced persons (IDP) camps to spring up across the state.

There were lots of calls from the state government and legislators to the federal government for high-level military intervention, which resulted in President Muhammadu Buhari declaring emergencies in the affected communities. That, however, did not stop the operations of bandits.

The state government on several occasions ordered the deployment of land and air surveillance to fish and flush out the bandits terrorizing the communities. And when that did little to solve the problem, the governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, who admitted being helpless, called on the people to resort to prayers.

The foregoing led to the arrangement of prayer sessions in churches and mosques across the state praying for peace, stability and for the state to be free from these gun-wielding persons.

Rather than abate, the bandits became even more daring, moving into Borgu Local Government Area and attacking road users without mercy; a development that led to travelers being warned against plying the Ibbi-New Bussa route.

However, in the past three weeks, there seems to have been a respite and the communities seem to be heaving a sigh of relief for the first time in one year.

And the reason for this, apparently, is because of the involvement of some spiritualists who have been called upon to intervene in the situation and bring respite to the communities.

First came the naked Priestess who remains a mystery to a lot of people, including the government and security agencies in the state.

The 70-year-old spiritualist, whose identity remains hidden, is said to have come from a town in the border between Niger and Kwara states. She was said to have been invited to Zuguruma community in Mashegu Local Government Area of the state to help protect them from bandits.

The mystery woman, who was said to have had the antecedent of defending communities from external aggression with the involvement of local hunters, was said to have killed about 40 bandits in her first outing in the community.

The villagers who recounted the incident described it as mysterious, saying her encounter with the slain bandits lasted for just about 30 minutes.

The villagers also said that the commander of the bandits and three others, who were said to have gone to town to buy recharge cards and other basic needs for the group, were arrested and handed over to the police; a development the police in the state has denied knowledge of.

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The mode of operation of the female spiritualist is wrapped in mystery as everyone has chosen to keep mum on it, saying they do not want to be fingered as informants.

However, it was gathered that before leading a team of hunters for the operation, she made some weird demands, including a dog which was sacrificed and its blood sprinkled on all the hunters and their weapons before they embarked on the operation and she with two virgin boys led the way into the bandits’ hideout.

The priestess then led the team into the bush with the local hunters shooting to attract the bandits out of their hiding places. In no time, the bandits responded. But, according to the villagers, when the bandits came out shooting, they shot in the odd directions as if they were not seeing the hunters and the priestess.

The witnesses who spoke with our correspondent said that no single casualty was recorded on the side of the hunters while the bandits were killed and their leader was arrested.

This single feat seems to have driven the fear of the female spiritualist into the hearts of the bandits as news about her going to Rafi Local Government Area was said to have caused bandits to flee from the area.

The priestess, who reportedly arrived in Rafi combat-ready, was said to have been disappointed when she realised that all the bandits had fled from the vicinity.

Our correspondent learnt that the priestess told the villagers that the bandits had been pre-informed about her visit, which was why they fled. She then dared the bandits to return to the village to attack it.

It was also gathered that the Chairman of Rafi Local Government Council had brought in a private security outfit from Bauchi State named Aljan Security Network to further help in dealing with the bandits.

A Source told our correspondent that the security outfit had deployed their men numbering close to 100 with some vigilante members joining them to smoke out the bandits in the villages and forests.

The source said the security outfit uses spiritual powers to smoke out the criminals and bandits, “The Aljan Security Network uses spiritual powers in their operations; purely traditional, mystical powers which I cannot explain,” the source said.

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It was gathered at press time that the operation was still ongoing and a lot of arrests have been made, which has enabled the IDPs to return to their communities feeling confident in the powers

of the security outfit and the female spiritualist.

The Information Officer of Rafi Local Government area, Abubakar Umar, confirmed the deployment of the Aljan Security Network but said they have not heard about the 70-year-old spiritualist.

He, however, said that the Council will not hesitate to get her services if she can really bring the bandits to their knees and put an end to their operations in the area.

“The people have suffered a lot in the hands of these bandits. All we want is to be free. We will contact her if we hear about her because we want to be free, we want to live freely again,” Umar said.

In Shiroro Local Government Area, the people are doing a lot of consultations to contact the female spiritualist but they are at their wit’s end as they do not know her whereabouts or how to send the message across to her.

A youth leader, Aminu Kassim, said they were trying their best to contact her.

He said: “She has not got to our area and we are trying our best to get to her. We hope she will come to us when she hears of our plight. We are after results and anything that would bring relief to us and our people.

“If what we hear of how she was able to capture those bandits in Borgu is true, if she can perform such miracles and we also heard how the bandits ran away when she was going to Kagara, then we are confident that she can help us too.

“Because the bandits are afraid of her, she will be able to free us from their assault. We are begging anyone with information on her whereabouts to tell us or tell her about our plight. I am sure she will be sympathetic to come and help us.”

Also in Munya Local Government Area where there have been some attacks, the people said they have sent messages across to her to come to their aid and help them.

“We have not been able to see her face to face, but we heard she stays in a border town between Niger and Kwara. We hope to get her and send our message across to her. We need her help o! All other methods have failed. If she can perform that feat in Borgu, then we are confident that she will be able to solve our problem,” one of the villagers said.

Unconfirmed sources said the state government was trying to negotiate with the female spiritualist. But the government has not confirmed it as they claimed that they had not received a report of the woman’s activities in the state.

However, the state governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, said in Zuru, Kebbi State that the state was adopting new strategies against the bandits.

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He said that local militia, community vigilantes and hunters would collaborate with security agencies in a renewed strategy to engage and completely chase away kidnappers, cattle rustlers, and armed bandits.

He said that a radical approach towards the bandits had become necessary in order not to allow miscreants to continue to unleash terror on the people and subject the communities to their whims and caprices.

The Niger State Police Command, however, said that they were not aware of any incident where a woman led hunters to arrest and kill bandits.

The Public Relations Officer of the state’s police command, ASP Wasiu Abiodun, said the command was not aware of it because the divisional office where the incident was said to have taken place had not sent any report to that effect.

Speaking to The Nation, Abiodun said: “The divisional office is not aware of any of such incident. No report has been reported to the divisional office. We are not aware of it.”

However, Niger indigenes have continued to beckon to the female spiritualist to come to their aid and flush out the bandits. But the question on everyone’s lips is: where is the woman? Who really is she? What are her antecedents? What could have prompted her to help communities in distress?

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