Young, rugged-looking boys harbouring around Congo-Russia area of Jos today belong to some of the most dangerous terror gangs keeping residents of the city hostage.
Residents, community leaders and security agents have now marked Congo Russia, a community traditionally christened Buagomo, Niger line in Rikkos and Filin Shetan in Anguwan Rukuba as arguably three of the black spots of Jos. Many residents say that Congo Russia, in particular, is one area where no sane person should dare visit especially in the evenings. Like a market, the area has become a converging point for Jos-North’s dangerous gang members popularly known as Yan Sara-Suka. It is the same spot where the famous 2001 Jos crisis began and has today turned into a den of drug peddlers and users, prostitutes and all sorts of alcohol consumed.
However, armed with courage and backing of some members of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN), Daily Trust on Sunday correspondent with two other colleagues accompanied by the Village Head of Congo Russia and the Ward Head of Tudun Fera which borders the area, were led on a visit to the area. But news quickly spread to the area of an unscheduled visit and most of the “bad guys” quickly bolted. But the Village Head, Auta Bala Agada paints a vivid picture of the group’s nefarious activities. He said: “We don’t know their aim or gain but they come from various places, doing various criminal activities. We have reported to the security and the Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) Sector 2 commanders and Divisional Police Officer, (DPO), Nasarawa-Gwom are trying their best. The vigilantes are equally trying but everyone is being careful because it is difficult.”
A few days before Sallah festivities, members of the VGN, with help from OPSH Sector 2 raided most of the areas in which many youths including girls were arrested. This, according to Hussaini Muhammad, a youth leader from Abba na Shehu Ward and member of the vigilante was why Jos experienced a peaceful Sallah celebration.
Hussaini is of the opinion that idleness was the major cause of criminality but said Abba na Shehu Ward was coming up with a blueprint to engage the youths adding that, if it works, perhaps other communities would borrow a leave from.
Some residents however believed that the origin of Sara-Suka in Jos was an ideology carried by mainly immigrants from Niger Republic who have lived among residents of Rikkos and other Hausa-dominated communities for years.
These thugs are known to be cruel and merciless but have in the last couple of months become more reckless with no regard for human lives. Anyone could be a victim but teenagers are especially targeted as groups strike, stab and go underground, a strategy which explains the actual phrase, Sara-Suka.
Sinani Yusuf, 18, a victim of the gang has an ugly horizontal knife scar in his stomach. He was stabbed almost two years ago and had taken months and almost N500,000 by his family to save his life.
On his part, 21-year-old Rabiu Ibrahim, another victim of the thugs said he had argued with a neighbour he knew to be a local thief. But unfortunately for him, the neighbour who belonged to the gang had solicited the assistance of another gang member and laid ambush on Rabiu. “They flashed me with a touch light at night to temporary blind my sight then they began to stab me, but I was able to escape and ran towards a hospital. With the help of some community members I was treated and then transferred to Bingham Teaching Hospital where I was admitted for two months and my parents spend over N400,000 in the treatment,” he said.
Gradually becoming a collective threat in the streets of Jos, unleashing havoc and attacking and killing who stood in their way. However, the most disturbing aspect for the communities is that parents of these rascals go to extreme lengths to free their children from the courts. The VGN Commander for Jos-North, Alhaji Sani Kachalla told our correspondent that such parents and guardians have continue to shield their children from the law and readily provide the resources to ensure such gang members regain their freedom.
The general believe now is that Sara-Suka boys are becoming bolder and difficult to control. They have no regard for the Police or the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
Kachalla said when the rascals are apprehended and handed over to the police and arraigned, they are handed cheap bail conditions which the parents quickly fulfill. The Commander explained that, “these same boys return to the community to threaten myself and my men, last year, they killed one of our most vibrant vigilante commanders, even I have been attacked.”
Seeing this likely security breach, Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) within the week vowed to unleash its power on the group. The OPSH Commander, Major-General Rogers Nicholas has vowed to demolish any house harbouring any member of the gang. He stressed that, “we will not allow them to drag us back to the security issues we had in the past,”
He noted that intelligence report had revealed that the activities of Sara-Suka are being dominated by immigrants from Niger Republic and that the taskforce was working with the Nigeria Immigration Service on the matter.
The commander’s decision to bring down structures, Daily Trust on Sunday gathered, was necessitated when some women in Anguwan Rogo barricaded a house to prevent members of the taskforce from arresting members of the gang, making it possible for the youths to escape. Major-General Nicholas has since held meetings with parents and community leaders where he read the riot act and vowed to make an example very soon.
The Acting Ward Head of Ali Kazaure, Garba Sani Salihu, that of Tudun Fera, Yahaya Musa and the Village Head of Congo-Russia, Auta Bala Agada are delighted with the Special Task Force Commander’s idea noting that it would bring sanity to the communities and perhaps serve as a lesson to other parents who shield their youths from authority.
Agada explained that joblessness was a major factor. “This is a mixed area, we have Muslims and Christians here so if government can help engage the youths or renovate some of the abandoned buildings it will reduce this menace because as at now, they use these abandoned structures as hideouts,” he said.
A 20-year-old arrested member of Sara-Suka, Ahmed Abubakar, told our correspondent that “once you have been attacked and you vow to retaliate no matter what, if you are able to retaliate, then you are a member of Sara-Suka.”
Ahmed whose gang is operates around Gadan Songhai in Nasarawa, said since his arrest almost two weeks ago, no one has come to search of him.
For the 20 year-old, who confessed to owning a locally made gun, said he had joined group over a year ago when members of a rival gang visited his community for a ritual they called shara (to clear anything that stands in their way) and he was attacked. He claimed, he had vowed to earn his pound of flesh and joined a group of young boys who assisted him.
But the most dangerous trend according to Kachalla, was that the thugs are getting more organised, more sophisticated and likely have leadership hierarchy. “There is a kind of rivalry between them, when a member of a rival gang is attacked, within minutes, they send signal and before you know it, members of the other group will mobilise and attack the other group. We have also gathered that each group has a leadership structure,” he said.
To lend credence to this observation, an intelligence officer in Plateau State said that members of the various gangs now grow in ranks and that certain parts of their bodies are designed with inks as they metamorphosed into a kind of cult. Though Ahmad claimed he joined the gang about a year ago, the back of his hand showed a not so visible design in black ink.