Nigeria’s military campaign against criminal gangs in the northwest is pushing them into neighbouring regions as a result of a telecom shutdown and a squeeze on fuel and food supplies, local residents and officials said.
Hundreds of troops backed by fighter jets began the offensive in early September in Zamfara State against gunmen responsible for a surge in mass abductions and attacks in the northwest.
The offensive and official telecoms blackout in Zamfara is the largest recent operation against the gangs, known locally as bandits, who for years have looted villages and kidnapped for ransom.
Zamfara and other states also imposed a raft of restrictions including a ban on sales of petrol in jerry cans and limits on cattle movement and on the opening hours of local markets as a way to curtail supplies to bandits.
But as pressure builds in Zamfara, residents of villages in neighbouring Katsina and Kaduna states reported an influx of gunmen fleeing Zamfara into their communities, raising fears of attacks.
Fleeing bandits have set up illegal checkpoints along highways in Katsina State near the border with Zamfara, robbing haulage trucks of food and siphoning fuel from vehicles, according to locals.
“In the last few days we have witnessed the increased presence of armed bandits on motorcycles in our area,” said Ashiru Bawa, a resident in Kankara district.
“The food and fuel cut is seriously affecting them.”
Local newspapers reported Zamfara bandits have been running out of food supplies and even asking for food as ransom from families of hostages instead of the cash they usually demand.
Authorities in Katsina have also cut telecom signals in about half of its 34 districts on the border with Zamfara. Sokoto State followed on Sunday, cutting mobile service in some areas.
The telecoms blackout is aimed at disrupting communications between bandits and their informants to help keep army movements secret.
But the shutdown also makes it difficult for residents to alert security personnel, said Bawa, who travelled to the state capital Katsina, 120 kilometres (75 miles) away, to make calls.The bandits have not harmed motorists but fear is mounting that they could start attacks once they “regain their strength”, Bawa said. (Guardian)