Two Nigerian soldiers and two ‘members of the vigilante’ were killed during an offensive against ‘bandits’ that saw 58 killed, the army said.
As part of Operation Sharan Daji, Nigerian troops “commenced clearance operations into bandits enclaves” in Zamfara and Katsina states, Major Clement K. Abiade said in a statement published on Facebook on Tuesday, January 22.
On January 20, “troops came into contact with a large gang of bandits armed with sophisticated firearms and Rocket Propelled grenades at Dumburum and Gando forests leading to fierce gun battles which lasted several hours,” Abiade said, adding that the bandits were “forced to abandon their camps due to superior firepower.”
Two soldiers and two “members of the vigilante” were killed, and eight soldiers and six vigilantes were wounded during the encounters.
Abiade said 58 bandits were “neutralized,” and one was captured alive. Troops destroyed 18 camps and rescued 75 people who had been kidnapped. Items recovered included five FN rifles, four AK-type assault rifles, 10 locally made rifles and 40 motorcycles.
The military, working in “collaboration with all security agencies and local vigilante” began the operation on January 19 and it is scheduled to continue until June, Abiade said, adding that the offensive is “designed to identify and destroy bandits’ camps/enclaves in the area of operation.
Launched in early 2016, “Operation Sharan Daji was “established to fight against cattle rustling and banditry activities within the North West which include; Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and Kebbi states,” according to the military.
Zamfara state violence
For years, farming and cattle herding communities in Zamfara have been targeted by gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers who raid villages, steal cows and abduct locals for ransom.
In the last two years, kidnapping for ransom has reached unprecedented levels in the region, where entire villages have been deserted for fear of raids and kidnapping by criminal gangs.
Those abducted are often released within days if the ransom is paid but residents say they can be killed if no money is forthcoming, and their bodies dumped in the bush.
The region has been hit by violent crime over the past year, with Amnesty International warning in July that people living in the impoverished state were “at the mercy” of armed bandits who take hostages and raid villages.
As a hideout, the gangs use the Ruggu forest which straddles Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states.
The attacks have prompted villagers to form militia groups for protection but they, too, have been accused of taking the law into their own hands and killing suspected bandits.
Those killings attract reprisals from motorcycle-riding criminal gangs, who carry out indiscriminate killings and arson in retaliation.
On November 30, Nigerian police said that more than 100 “bandits” had been killed in a crackdown targeting crime in Zamfara, following a surge in kidnappings for ransom and cattle rustling.
Nine days earlier, the army said that troops deployed in the northwest as part of Sharan Daji had killed 20 bandits and arrested a further 21, Daily Post reported.
In July, Nigerian police said they found the bodies of 41 men with their throats cut in Zamfara state. Police believed the victims were gang members who had been involved in cattle rustling and kidnapping in area notorious as a hideout for criminal gangs, and that they were killed by members of a widely-feared local vigilante group “who decided to carry out the extra-judicial killings.”
The problem has sparked the concern of neighboring Niger.
In August, Niger’s government announced it was sending security reinforcements to the Maradi area on the southern-central part of the border, which abuts Zamfara.
In late December, five Nigerien and five Nigerian troops were killed in a joint operation by the two countries against armed “bandits” in the Maradi region of Niger.
At least ‘bandits’ were killed on the troubled frontier between Niger and Nigeria after a three-week a joint military crackdown between the two countries in October, Niger’s interior minister Bazoum Mohamed said, adding that 12 bases in Nigeria were dismantled and the authorities were “fully in control” of the region.