They dine and wine with the people. They are sons of the soil, yet they sell out their own people to Boko Haram terrorists and marauding bandits. When they are caught, they are called ‘informants’ but they are really collaborators and accomplices of the armed groups.
Gambo Garba was on the phone with a terrorist in Chiri, a village in the Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State. He was telling the terrorist the appropriate time to strike the village. But unknown to him, a man was listening to his secret call.
When he ended the call, the man apprehended him and raised the the alarm. Garba was handed over to the police.
LIVING WITH THE ENEMIES WITHIN
For donkey’s years, villagers lived with Garba without knowing he was a silent killer. A day before he was caught red-handed, some terrorist group had attacked Chiri, abducting over 35 villagers.
Following the attack, security was beefed up in the entire village to foil future raids. Garba was informing a member of the armed group to avoid coming to the area due to the presence of security agents, and he was nabbed in the process.
Before he was handed over to the police, he confessed that he was not alone in the conspiracy. He said one Kabiru Nakuta was indeed the kingpin of Boko Haram and bandit conspirators in Shiroro.
Local vigilantes busted Nakuta’s home in Chiri and found firearms in it. Nakuta, a respected farmer in the community, was the least anyone would suspect to be one of the conspirators working with terrorists. He was a respected man in the community, several residents said, but he was a snake in the grass.
Ironically, Nakuta was one of the community leaders many villagers would run to whenever they had security challenges, some of the vigilantes who nabbed him told FIJ.
“Who would have thought Nakuta would be one of the terrorist collaborators?” one of them wondered. “He’s a betrayal; he doesn’t fear Allah.”
SIX OTHERS NABBED, BUT WHERE ARE THEY?
Garba and Nakuta confessed that working as informants for bandits and terrorists was their survival means. They traded the lives and peace of their people for money and material gains.
But they are not alone in this business, according to local vigilantes and eyewitnesses who mentioned the names of six other persons playing different roles in aiding the activities of terrorists in the axis.
Adamu Musa, a resident of Chiri, was another serpent informant selling off his own people to bandits for tokens of naira notes. Also, Ahmad Bahago, a roadside fuel seller, was nabbed for supplying fuel to the bandits in their dens to ease their movement raiding communities.
Nyale, Marthy, Achinji and Sambe – all Fulani men – were the local strategists. They used their sufficient knowledge of the geography of different places in Shiroro to guide bandits on how to strike, according to vigilantes in the terrorised axis and interviews with locals in the communities.
However, victimised residents of Shiroro are worried about the whereabouts of these informants after arrest. They are alleging that cases of bandit collaborators are usually swept under the carpet by authorities, despite the state government’s much-vaunted commitment to prosecuting bandits and their informants.
Following reports on the proliferation of those aiding terrorists in the state, a bill prescribing death by hanging for kidnappers, cattle rustlers and their informants was signed into law.
The new law, an amendment of the state’s Kidnapping and Cattle Rustling Special Provisions Law of 2016, was aimed at curbing bandit attacks that left many dead in the state within the first half of this year.
While signing the bill at the government house in Minna, Governor Sanni Bello said the law had become necessary in light of the security challenges that threatened peaceful coexistence in the state.
“Whoever instigates any person to kidnap a person or rustle cattle, or intentionally aids, abets or facilitates by any acts of omission or commission the offence of kidnapping and or cattle rustling is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to death by hanging in public,” he said.
Bello noted that the activities of informants had limited the success of security agents in effectively tackling kidnappers and cattle rustlers.
The law was signed alongside other new laws, including the Niger State Vigilante Corps (Amendment) Law, 2021 and the Niger State House of Assembly Service Commission Law, 2020.
CAUGHT BETWEEN THE TERRORISTS AND THEIR INFORMANTS
Villagers in Shiroro and other rural areas in the state are caught in the deadly puzzle of harbouring terrorists like Garba as neighbours. There are enemies living in the state, working in cahoots with terrorists and bandits to kill and kidnap for ransom.
About 42 communities in the state have fallen under Boko Haram’s control, according to Mohammed Sani Musa, the senator representing Niger East in the National Assembly.
“I can authoritatively confirm that the Boko Haram terrorists have mounted their flags in many of the villages they have captured, such as Kaure, Alawa and Magami,” he said on the floor of the Senate after moving a motion on the killings in Shiroro.
“Inhabitants of these war-torn parts of the state have been abandoned and left to their fate, thereby compelling them to wallow in perpetual agony and abject misery.”
FIJ had exclusively reported how more than 200 communities in the Lakpma axis and some other parts of Shiroro were taken over by armed groups. This happened after all security operatives withdrew from the axis following the killing of five soldiers.
Abubakar Bello, the governor of the state, admitted that Boko Haram hoisted its flag after taking over many communities.
Although Muhammad Yerima, a former army spokesman, said he was unaware of Boko Haram’s incursion into Niger State, Wasiu Abiodun, the police spokesperson in the state, said he could not dispute Governor Bello’s claim about the influx of the terrorist group into the state.
“The executive governor is the chief security officer of the state. Are you expecting the police to dispute or go against the pronouncement of the executive governor?” Abiodun asked a CNN reporter.
Amid ravaging death, destruction and displacements of tens of thousands by armed bandits and terrorists, informants and Boko Haram collaborators are foiling efforts made by security operatives to end terrorism and banditry in the state.
FOUR MONTHS AFTER, POLICE NOT AWARE INFORMANTS WERE NABBED
Wasiu Abiodun, the police spokesperson in Niger State, said he was yet to confirm the arrest and possible prosecution of Nakuta and other informants nabbed since April in Shiroro.
Abiodun had earlier pledged to get back to FIJ when contacted in April, but he would not respond to follow-up calls and messages sent to him.
On November 4, FIJ contacted him with a different phone number. He answered the call this time and wondered why the reporter was referring him to an issue that happened some months earlier. He refused to comment on this matter, promising to get back to FIJ again.
An activist in Shiroro blamed youth leaders of the communities for not following up cases of informants arrested so far. He feared the cases might have been swept under the carpet by mischievous individuals.
“Actually, on the side of the youth, we have not been following up on whether the informants are being prosecuted or not,” he said. “So, definitely, if the government has a problem, I think we also have a problem because we’ve not been following up.”
Meanwhile, a member of the Concerned Shiroro Youth, who asked not to be named in this story, said: “Many times, when they say they have arrested bandit informants, we usually don’t know the outcome of their investigation.
“Most times, we would see those they claim have been arrested roaming the streets weeks after they are taken away. Sometimes we don’t even know their whereabouts, as in where they are being detained or prosecuted.”
WORKING AS AN INFORMANT IS A LUCRATIVE BUSINESS
Several terrorised indigenes of Niger State have found a new meaning in the word ‘informant’, used to depict collaborators of Boko Haram terrorist groups in the state and local criminal gangs referred to as bandits.
According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), informants used in organised crime such as banditry and terrorism are of four types. An informant could be a member of the public, a victim of a crime, a member of an organised criminal group, or police officers.
Security experts and analysts have described informants as not only those who provide criminal gangs with information but also other essential commodities like motorbikes, fuel, foodstuff, recharge cards, and many others.
It is easy for these persons to undermine the fight against terrorism because they are difficult to deal with, experts said. FIJ gathered that most informants reside in communities where atrocities are committed to provide bandits and terrorists with strategic intelligence before they launch attacks.
Hard to believe though, working as informants for bandits is a lucrative job, experts and locals said, noting that the beneficiaries of terrorism have nothing to lose.
Meanwhile, in communities like Bassa and Kukoki axis of Shiroro, helpless residents are forced to swallow the rulings of bandits and terrorists, thereby becoming their informants by proxy.
Youth leaders and activists say these residents are informants by circumstances because the government has failed to protect them. Many of them have had to live with the criminal gangs for so long that they become their allies.
“Those ones cannot entirely be blamed,” said Yusuf Allawa, a youth leader in Shiroro. “Some of them are just informants by circumstances in the sense that they expect much from the government of the day. And sometimes, for them to live peacefully, they must play to the tune of the bandits.”
Allawa noted that some informants are working with terrorists for their mischievous benefits, adding that “such persons are criminals that the government should go after”.
“Working as an informant for bandits is actually a very lucrative side hustle in this state,” said Muhammad Yusuf, a resident of Shiroro. This claim was corroborated by several locals interviewed by this reporter.
“Most times, it is poverty that pushed people to become allies of bandits. And the truth is that these bandits woo their informants with huge amounts of money.
“For instance, if you give a poor farmer who hardly even feeds himself some money to feed you with certain information on how to attack his community, he won’t resist if he doesn’t have the fear of God.”
THERE ARE MOLES EVEN IN GOVERNMENT
Abubakar Bello, the Niger State Governor, said some moles in the state were divulging government classified information on security issues, resulting in attacks on communities.
The governor disclosed this at a press conference organised on the recent directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to the Nigerian Air Force to burst bandits’ hideouts in the state.
He said the president’s order was supposed to be confidential, but some people leaked the information to the bandits ahead of the operation.
“The bandits have informants everywhere, even in this room we are gathered. This is a fact that we must accept; although disturbing, we must accept it,” Bello said.
CRACKING THE HARD NUT
Although experts and security analysts admit that fighting banditry begins with apprehending their collaborators, they insist that informants are difficult to identify because of their intimate integration into society.
Routing informants of bandits, according to experts, starts with the government building the lost trust in ordinary citizens.
“Many of these informants really have no choice because they have been abandoned by the government of the day and they need help,” said Allawa. “The government needs to show that it can secure the lives of the citizens it is ruling. This way, no informants will be useful to bandits.”
Allawa also stressed that poverty eradication is a key solution to the menace of bandits and their collaborators. He argued that poverty pushed many to what they have become today.
Produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) with support from Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO)
Be the first to receive special investigative reports and features in your inbox.