Niger: Haro on bandits on the Nigerian border
Messaouda is not even thirty years old, but he can already attest to what life has to offer at its most horrific. Last year she was kidnapped and raped by bandits for nineteen days in a forest between Niger and Nigeria.
She was kidnapped in the Maradi region in southern Niger, “early in the evening when a rain tornado fell,” she told the AFP news agency in Madarounfa in early November.
Messaouda was taken to neighboring Nigeria by her kidnappers, along with her two wives and young children. The prison guards “climbed on top of us” if they wanted to, she says. They were released for two million CFA francs (around 3,000 euros).
His story is reminiscent of thousands in Nigeria, where gunmen known as bandits rule the terror in the northern bushes.
In southern Niger, the situation remains contained but is deteriorating and worrisome.
Since 2019, around 94,000 Nigerians have fled to Maradi and 19,000 Nigerians have fled their homes there. Kidnappings and assaults are increasing, weapons are becoming more sophisticated: three more police officers were killed in Madarounfa at the beginning of November.
This is becoming “really worrying,” says Governor Chaibou Aboubacar.
Caught between Lake Chad in the grip of Boko Haram’s Hydra and the central Sahel, which has been mired in jihadist unrest for a decade, southern Niger draws less attention.
However, all the signs are red there, all AFP interlocutors warn:
A galloping demographic, a twin food and climate crisis, a poor and very young population in need of work, a fringe trying to arm itself in response to the bandits.
The situation in Maradi has been largely minimized, lamented the teacher at the local Nouhou University, Salifou Jangorzo, due to the twin fact of a more troubled neighborhood and the seniority of the Bantides in the region.
In the 19th century it was the scene of fighting between Fulani preacher Ousmane Dan Fodio’s foot soldiers, who wanted to establish his caliphate there, and the natives, mainly Hausa.
Maradi fought back. The English settler ended the caliphate, but the porous border he created in a culturally homogeneous region linked northern Nigeria and southern Niger forever.
– 51 million francs in 2021 –
In his small office, Mahaman Kaougé, editor-in-chief of the local newspaper Souffle de Maradi, writes down every attack, every kidnapping, every ransom.
In 2021, he counted 91 abductees — one every four days — and 51 million CFA francs ($100,000) in ransoms paid. The number of kidnappings for 2022 has not yet been determined.
Hamissou, fifty years old, is one of them. He spent 17 days in the Nigerian forest in March after being abducted by six “Fula-speaking” young gunmen.
His family, two wives and 11 children, raised the ransom by selling their three acres of land. Kind souls helped out and he finally made it through. But he doesn’t move: something has to be done about these bandits, otherwise “we’ll soon be out of money”.
A vigilance committee of ten young people was set up in the village. The guns are homemade and the ammo… motorcycle spark plugs. Hamissou is likely to join them, he said.
Some say anonymously that self-defense is state-supported. Gov. Chaibou denies this, but says he neglects “no suggestion by all or part of the population” that could help.
– hedgehog hunt –
The main pillar of government policy, he explains, remains military action. Soldiers trained by the Belgians were deployed along the border. A military operation, Faraoutar Bushiya – hedgehog hunting in Hausa – was launched.
Reconnaissance caravans are also organized. “Maintaining social cohesion is the biggest challenge,” explains Hassan Baka of the Association for the Revitalization of Livestock in Niger (Aren), one of the main groups of breeders.
With locally elected officials, settled people and breeders, Hassan Baka organizes debates in the villages so that “all communities understand that we share the same destiny”.
Including those of neighboring Nigeria. Hassan Baka, who was there, said meetings with the authorities in the states of Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina were frequent, the last one in early October.
A cooperation framework was established between Maradi and Katsina in 2017, which will soon be extended to all regions in southern Niger – Zinder, Dosso, Tahoua, Maradi – and the northern states of Nigeria.
Remains for the time being, ie concert MM. Baka and Jangorzo, cooperation is losing ground.
The great risk, the teacher fears, is that this fertile ground will benefit the establishment of jihadist groups: “The day this banditry becomes terrorism, it will be the great catastrophe.”
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