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BREAKING: Frequently raided by armed robbers, abandoned by police, Nigerian community resorts to self protection

In January, Ikharebha Ehis, a father of two, was shot dead by armed robbers who invaded Dagbana, a border community between Abuja and Nasarawa State.

It was not the first time the community was attacked by robbers but the killing was a new twist to the frequent attacks since 2018.

“We lost one of our people here in this last raid. The man has two kids and a very young wife. We heard the gunshot that night and it was terrific. We all gathered the next morning to mourn and console his wife.

“They use local guns. But they come in their numbers, sometimes 40s, 30s. It’s not something vigilantes can handle,” Abah Fransisco, chairman of White View Estate in Dagbana, told PREMIUM TIMES.

It was gathered that the robbers shot Mr Ehis for refusing to release his car key to them during the raid.

Shedding more light on the travails of the community, Mr Francisco said the robbers operate from house to house around the estate almost every day.

“They rob almost every day. Sometimes we will be out, we will pursue them into the bush, and you will see them back again.

“It was every month before. They come this Wednesday and come the next Wednesday. It’s like a tradition for them. So they somehow look at it as a daily pay for them. So once they come, they go around different compounds, and they will go back and come back again.

Inside Dagbana community in Nasarawa

“They used to operate for four to five hours. When they come like that, they strike different places at the same time. They usually go with accessories and gadgets like phones, laptops and money. But recently, they tried to steal the deceased (Ehis) car,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.

Police disappointment

Worried by the incessant attacks, the Dagbana residents approached the police for protection.

They approached the nearest police stations in Nasarawa State and another one in Jikwoyi, Abuja. But they were disappointed.

Mr Francisco said they reported their predicament to the police in Jikwoyi but were told that Dangbana does not fall under their jurisdiction.

Consequently, they went to the Abacha Road Police Division in Nasarawa.

Sadly, the division wanted to help but complained of a lack of operational vehicles and resources to fuel their vehicles even if they were available.

According to him, the residents agreed to offer them N50,000.

Mr Francisco said that the police officer who was deployed in the community spent a week and left.

“We understand that even the police station (Jikwoyi) here has only one vehicle. So when there is a problem getting to them, you will be hearing all sorts of complaints like ‘we don’t have our vehicle.’ It’s becoming too annoying.

“And the distance from the one in Nasarawa is another thing. Before they get here, maybe two to three hours later.

“We paid them N50,000 for the transport and all that. And if you actually look at it, they used to complain about no fuel and vehicles and all sorts.

“Because we paid N50,000 for that, they came just for one week. They spent just a week here. They will come every day around 12 ‘o’clock. They will stay till 4 a.m.

“Even when they come, they will only be outside when we are with them, but once we enter our house, they also go,” Mr Francisco said.

Another resident, Apollo Pleasant, lamented the response of the police.

The pathway the robbers used to flee after the operation, as shown by the community. [Photo by Ademola Popoola]

“They said we should contact the Nasarawa Police Command which is very far from us,” he said. “We will need to go back to the city and then go there. And do you think it makes sense for the police in Nasarawa to now be coming into Abuja, then get to us to save us from this?

“They told us at Jikwoyi Police Station that our community is not in their jurisdiction, but they are the closest to us and they have raided here before.”

Emmanuel Samuel recalled a night when the robbers were operating in the area, the residents called the police at Jikwoyi but they refused to respond, claiming that they had no money to fuel their vehicles.

“There was a time they were also operating, we called the police at Jikwoyi but they asked us if we would pay for the fuel,” Mr Samuel said.

Self-policing, vigilantes

The residents of Dangbana have now resorted to self-policing and hiring vigilantes.

They stay awake from midnight till about 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. every night, alongside members of a neighbouring community, to secure their area.

According to Mr Francisco, the residents also hired four vigilantes.

“We used to pay them (vigilantes) N5,000 monthly and we also come out in numbers, knocking on every door in the neighbourhood to check on them and also call them to come out so we can be going around together,” the chairman explained.

The residents, however, said they know the limitations of their efforts.

“You know why we are engaging with the police?” Mr Francisco asked rhetorically. “Vigilantes have a limit. Whatever bullet they are going to use is not going to be more than a few rounds. Those guys come in their 30s.”

“And nothing has been done apart from the one we engaged to come and stay around. Nobody has come to us to ask how far, how is it going, what is happening. We are just here finding a solution ourselves,” Mr Francisco said.

Although it is risky, as many of the youth do not have security experience, the measure has helped as the attacks have reduced.

Taking a toll

Mr Pleasant said because he joins in securing the community at night, he has not had normal sleep for a long time and this is affecting his regular work.

“I go to work in the morning and I work at home in the evening, and at night. I still have to wake up every day with others. If we don’t do it, who will help us?”

“It’s not only me, everyone in the community has to wake up every night now to ensure everybody is secure. For the past two weeks now, the majority of the male, especially, youth, in all households in the community have been awake every night making sure that they prevent another attack.”

Build police station

Mr Francisco said the Dangbana community has resolved to build a police station in the estate and then plead with the government to send some officers to the station.

“We are even willing to construct a police station here. All we are asking for is the police to give us some of their officers. Let them give us at least four or five armed people in that place.

“We are not asking the government to construct the police station, we will do that for them. All we want is four or five police with guns to protect us.”

Police speak

When contacted, the Public Relations Officer of the Nasarawa State Police Command, Ramhan Nansel, said he did not know the community let alone their predicament.

He, however, promised to get in touch with the police division the community approached.

“I have not heard of this or the name before, but if there is such, we will surely help.

“Please get me the name of the police division so that I can confirm and know what they are doing on the case,” he said.

On the plan by the community to build a police post, Mr Nansel also asked the community leaders to come forward with their request to the police headquarters in Nasarawa State to meet the police commissioner.

“If there is such a community that could do that, we will help. Tell them to come to the headquarters here. They will meet with the commissioner and I am sure we will provide them with officers in the community,” he said.