The battle against rampaging bandits in Nigeria has been rough, with over 83 civilians, mostly women and children, being killed as the military fought the outlaws. The women and children were being used as human shields by the bandits.
The surge in banditry and the associated carnage has forced the military to deploy sophisticated weapons and fighter jets to tackle the menace in the 12 states in North Central and North West Nigeria.
Tuesday, December 20, 2022, was the most horrible day ever experienced by the people of Mutunji in Maru Local Government Area of North West Zamfara state when Nigerian Air Force (NAF) jets dropped bombs that killed 215 people, including 83 civilians, while the military lost 13 officers.
“Bandits who were fleeing from NAF airstrikes ran into a small village called Mutunji to take refuge but were hit by bombs,” said Mr Hafiz Ngala, the programme manager of Peace for Nigeria, an NGO that is providing relief materials to displaced people in the area.
“We recovered at least 215 bodies of the bandits, their collaborators and civilians in what the military called “collateral damage”,” he added.
Mr Zailani Bappa, the media and communications adviser to Zamfara Governor Bello Matawalle, delivered condolences to the families of victims caught up in military’s fight against the bandits.
He said Matawalle was saddened to hear of the development where the Nigerian Air Force’s airstrike targeting a marauding group of bandits hit a number of civilians.
“This unfortunate incident has come at a time when both the state government and the Nigeria military are poised to effectively end the menace of the bandits, especially by taking the fight to their enclaves.”
One of the survivors of the “collateral damage”, 54-year-old Adamu Hamisu, who is currently in hospital, said he has “never witnessed jet fighters dropping bombs before”.
"The bandits ran towards us and the next thing was explosions and within minutes [the place] was littered with dead people. I managed to crawl out of rubble as the remaining bandits scampered and took to their heels,” he said.
While speaking to The EastAfrican on Tuesday, security expert Agboola Olayinka said the incident, one of the worst so far, is an indication that the military is becoming more desperate in its offensive against bandits that have been legally declared terrorists.
The legal classification of the bandits as terrorists cleared the way for the deployment of more sophisticated weapons without drawing the ire of the international community, especially the US, which recently supplied Nigeria with Super Tucano fighter jets.
Kidnappings for ransom
The deployment of ground troops and air component, according to authorities, is to quickly free the two regions from the torment of the hoodlums who have carried out more than 13,200 kidnappings for ransom, killed over 5,800 persons and crippled farming and herding for two years.
Bandits have also seized some remote communities in the 12 states of the north west and north central Nigeria, imposed illegal levies and taxes on people as well as destroyed social infrastructure especially schools, telecom and electricity facilities.
Kwata, a small farming settlement in Zurmi local government area of Zamfara state, and Shirroro in Niger state, are some of the several farming communities where bandits have struck with impunity, forcing peasant farmers to abandoned their homes and farmlands.
The merciless bandits kill, maim, kidnap and rape women in the troubled states of Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Kaduna, Niger, Kaduna, Kogi, Benue, Jigawa, Plateau and part of FCT.
The banditry, which started as a fight between farmers and herders in 2011, has grown into full-blown terrorism, displacing over 2.1 million people.