The recent onslaught on members of the Daru Salam sect by security agents in the forest of Nasarawa State has brought relief to residents of the North-Central region of the country as their criminal activities had become a threat to national security, GBENGA ODOGUN writes
Following intelligent reports that members of a religious sect, the Daru Salam, had been living and operating in the Uttu Forest in the Toto Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, the Defence Headquarters, two weeks ago, launched what it codenamed Operation Whirl Stroke, which was meant to flush out members of the sect. The sect, according to the authorities, had become a ‘security nuisance’ in the North-Central states of Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Benue and the Federal Capital Territory. The sect had been linked to all forms of criminalities on the Lokoja-Abuja Expressway as well as the Nasarawa-Keffi Expressway in Nasarawa State. Members of the sect have been accused of kidnapping and killing road users with reckless abandon, thereby causing untold hardship to the people of the affected areas.
They were said to have been operating in the forest in the last five years after the former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, ordered them out of the state and they relocated to the Uttu Forest in Nasarawa State.
Between January and now, no fewer than 50 persons have either been kidnapped or killed on the Okene/Lokoja/Abuja highway.
The alleged nefarious activities of the sect members came to a head in June when a popular Lokoja businessman, Nicholas Ofodile, aka Chunks, was gruesomely murdered on his way from Abuja.
Even security agents are not spared from the reign of terror of the bandits masquerading as religious sect members.
In July, two naval officers, a male and a female, were shot dead in a botched kidnapping operation.
Six days later, a Captain of the Nigerian Army, G. S. M. Abubakar, was shot dead at Osara on the Okene/Lokoja highway.
The killings became almost a daily occurrence, while residents of towns and villages along the only highway connecting the South with the North watch helplessly as blood flows freely due to criminal activities.
In the operation to flush out the sect members, more than 400 women and children were rescued. Some of the women claimed to have been kidnapped after their husbands had been killed and they were forced to become wives of kidnappers.
After the offensive, men from the Nigerian Army Records, Lokoja, were drafted to mop up the remaining bandits from the forest.
A 30-year-old widow, Safiya Yusuf, one of the family members of the sect, who was rescued by a joint military operation comprising the 4 Special Forces Command, Doma; Operation Whirl Stroke; Nigeria Navy Ship Lugard; the Nigerian Air Force; and Command Army Records in the Ugya area of the Toto Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, explained how the terrorists kidnapped and impregnated her after she was divorced by her previous husband.
Narrating her ordeal in an exclusive interview with BUSTANEWS in Lafia, on Monday , Safiya said her ex-husband, whom she got married to over 12 years ago and had two children with, took her from Niger State to Uttu and abandoned her and the children there for several years.
She said she never knew that he had a hidden agenda of introducing her to an Islamic sect in Uttu.
She added that members of the sect hiding in the Uttu Forest, took advantage of her situation, kidnapped and impregnated her after killing her ex-husband.
“The first husband, who I had two children for and was from Niger State, took me to the Uttu Forest area of the Toto Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, where I had never been to before, and abandoned me there with our kids,” Safiya stated.
According to her, she spent 10 years in the marriage with her previous husband, adding that the terrorist, who kidnapped her, impregnated her and she had two children for him.
Another widow, 34-year-old Zainab Musa, whose husband was kidnapped and killed by the terrorists, told our correspondent that she was abducted by Boko Haram insurgents from Niger State and taken to the Toto camp, adding that she had a child for one of them, whom she could not identify.
A rescued widow, Sadiyat Sanusi, whose husband was also kidnapped and killed in Kogi State, said, “After killing my husband, they took me to Barada in the Koton Karfe Local Government Area of Kogi State and we were there for two years and I was impregnated.”
Our correspondent gathered that these and other nefarious activities, such as kidnapping for ransom, had become a daily occurrence and informed the decision of the Defence Headquarters to launch the Operation Whirl Stroke to flush out the hoodlums from the forest.
The operation included aerial bombardment of the camp, while ground troops moved in after the sect members and to capture the women and children, while the men fled or got killed while succumbing to the superior firepower of the security men.
Arms and ammunition, including rocket-propelled grenades, were recovered from the operation site, while the rescued women and children were taken to the Internally Displaced Persons’ camp in Nasarawa State.
A social commentator, Hamza Baba, commended the initiative to flush out members of the sect from the forest since they chose to constitute themselves into a serious security threat.
“These people are not even from Nigeria; there are indications that they are from Mali. How can you just enter another country and become a security nuisance, killing and maiming the citizens?” Baba quipped.
He suggested that the army and other security agencies should sustain the onslaught to completely flush out the remnants of the sect so that the residents of the area could have peace of mind.
“Yes, it is a welcome development in view of the untold hardship the sect had subjected not only the people of the area, motorists, passengers and other road users to, but also considering that the route is the only link between the North and the South, and watching while some hoodlums in the name of religious sect constitute themselves into security nuisance cannot be allowed in a secular society such as ours,” said another commentator, Mike Oshiomieh.
He also called for the continuation of the onslaught more so that the Nigeria Customs Service had last week warned of the existence of terrorist camps in some parts of the country, including Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, adding that there was a need to keep the area under perpetual surveillance to prevent further attacks.