Where and how banditry started in Zamfara

“Farming is Our Pride”, that is the slogan of Zamfara state, one of Nigeria’s food baskets, even though Benue state already claimed the “Food Basket of the Nation” slogan.

Created on October 1, 1996, and located at latitude 12.0229 and longitude 6.04660, this Northern state, well known for its gold has recorded about 4,793 deaths due to insecurity. This is a sharp increase from lesser than 1000 civilian deaths recorded in 2019.

Graph showing rising violence in Zamfara

How Zamfara turned hotspot of banditry

The question on many Nigerian minds is, how did banditry started in Zamfara and what are the notorious gunmen’s motives?

Moreover, Boko Haram has been claimed to be fighting against Western education in the north. What exactly are bandits fighting against?

To unveil where and how banditry started in Zamfara, one only needs to look into a 300-page report submitted to the Zamfara state government by the committee on armed banditry in October 2019.

According to the report quoted by Vanguard, three ex-governors were indicted and many emirs were also fingered, while security operatives were also identified to be culprits.

Local Government Areas of Zamfara State, Nigeria.

How banditry started in Zamfara

The report which covered the period between June 1, 2011, and May 29, 2019, claimed banditry in Zamfara state started in a village called Dansadau.

Although there are conflicting accounts of how banditry turned deadly in the state, everyone quoted by the report seemed to agree it all began in the Dansadau village where the Hausa who, in their quest for farmlands, reportedly indiscriminately encroached into cattle routes and grazing reserves and that triggered friction between them and Fulani residents.

A member of the committee, quoted by the report, narrated that about 19 years ago, a former District Head of Dansadau, Alh. Shafiu Salihu, ignited the problem after he authorized a self-defence outfit called ‘Yan Sakai’ to kill any thief even if it was a goat he stole.

The report went on: “He (committee member) cited an example where a person was discharged and acquitted by a law of court but on getting back to Dansadau, this freedman was killed together with his father. 

“This member further informed the committee that, out of brutality and inhumanity of man-to-man, he (victim) was asked to dig the grave where he was eventually killed and buried.

Turji Kachala chief bandit terrorising Zamfara arrested
Turji Kachala chief bandit terrorising Zamfara arrested. PHOTO: Premium Times

“The Emir of Birnin Gwari was also high handed and further fuelled friction and disharmony when he directed his subjects and other vigilante groups or ‘Yan Sakai’ to kill anybody that was found to have stolen anything.

“According to this member, that ugly scenario where people were allowed to take the law into their hands compounded the problems of mistrust and rivalry among Hausa and Fulani. In the same development, he stated that one Alh. Ishe, a Fulani man who championed the cause of Fulani, made the Fulani in Dansadau Emirate rally behind him.

“This member added that about five or six years after Alh. Ishe took a seemingly leadership of Fulani in the area made ‘Yan Sakai’ aggrieved.

“The rivalry between ‘Yan Sakai’ and Fulani in the area under the leadership of Alhaji Ishe became so intensified and eventually Alh. Ishe was killed and his corpse was put on his car and burnt to ashes.

“Thereafter, the Fulani started launching reprisal attacks around Sangeku and Kabaro villages.

“According to the member, close relations of Alh. Ishe emphatically stated that the life of Alh. Ishe is equivalent to 1,000 souls of Hausa men.

“Therefore, from that time, Fulani in the area started attacking Hausa communities especially in the rural areas and ‘Yan Sakai’ killing Fulani indiscriminately”.

This narration corroborated the committee finding that the first armed banditry took place late in 2009 in Anka/Maru Local Government along Anka/Dansadau Emirates’ border.

Causes of banditry

The report found several causes as responsible for the Zamfara banditry.

The remote causes include institutional failure and blatant betrayal of trust by unscrupulous political leaders, traditional rulers, security officers and judicial officers; poverty, unemployment, indolence and frustration that led many youths to drug abuse and involvement in crime.

This is also without neglecting the influx into and settlement of illegal alien Fulani from neighbouring countries in Zamfara who initially behaved and related with both indigenous Fulani and Hausa harmoniously and peacefully but later exhibited their true criminal tendencies by starting small scale armed robbery, followed by the rustling of non-Fulani and indigenous Fulani cattle, and when herds of the locals were grossly depleted.

They had no option but to join the gang of criminals to make a living and a means of replenishing their lost herds of cattle; proliferation of traditional rulers at all levels by successive governors with no regard to rules and regulations/due process; proliferation and widespread consumption of dangerous drugs; and high-level corruption on the part of bad eggs in the security, judicial and law enforcement services.

On immediate causes, the report found indiscriminate allocation of virgin forest, forest reserves, game reserves, Fulani grazing areas, home settlement as farmlands to farmers by successive Zamfara governments from May 29, 1999, a situation which pushed the Fulani in the state to the wall and left with no option but to take the law into their hands for survival; attacks and counter-attacks, reprisal and counter reprisal between Fulani and farmers on one hand and Fulani v. ‘YAN SAKAI’ on the other; injustice by some traditional rulers in land dispute management; and indiscriminate release of suspects by security agencies played varying degree of roles.

Categories of bandits in Zamfara

It identified three categories of bandits as (a) Hardened criminals who, years before the advent of armed banditry in Zamfara, had been involved in armed robbery on the highways and other heinous crimes, (b) Those who have been forced into banditry by different circumstances, such as depletion of their herds of cattle and poverty, those whose herds of cattle had been rustled and had nothing for livelihood, those who had been pushed to the wall by atrocities of fraudulent traditional rulers, court officials and security agencies who regard banditry as easy means of building large herds of cattle, (c) Those invited from neighbouring countries to assist indigenous Fulani in their battle for survival, saying about 90% of (b) above, have repented and very much desirous of integrating with their various communities to resume their normal and legitimate life and over 90% of (c) have since returned to their various countries.

“However, only a negligible number of (a) have or are willing to repent”, the report said.

Ex-governor Ahmed Sani Yariman Bakura role in Zamfara banditry

An yi kuka da ni a Zamfara - Yariman Bakura - BBC News Hausa
Ahmed Sani Yariman Bakura

Sani Yariman was the governor of Zamfara state between May 2007 – May 2011.

“When small scale armed robbery began to rear its ugly head in different parts of the state, he directed allocation of farmlands in government forest reserves along the major highways in order to create clear view for motorists and make it difficult for armed robbers to escape easily from the thick forest reserves.

“This policy sparked off agitation by farmers across the state for allocation of farmlands in forest reserves nearest to their respective areas.

“The governor bowed to the pressure, thus indiscriminate allocation of farmlands with no regard to Fulani interest began.

“Unscrupulous civil servants in the ministry of environment abused the policy, connived with some fraudulent traditional rulers and allocated almost as much as what was allocated officially by the state government”.

Ex-Governor Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi role in Zamfara banditry

Former Zamfara gov, Shinkafi, defects to APC - Punch Newspapers
Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi

Aliyu Shinkafi was the governor of Zamfara state between May 2007 – May 2011.

“During his four-year tenure, fraudulent civil servants enjoyed a field day.

“They allocated farmlands in government forest reserves at will without the knowledge of government.

“He too allocated some farmlands especially to some high profile individuals both within and outside the state of between 100 to 700 hectares per person.

“191 beneficiaries include legislators, political appointees and party officials”.

Ex-Governor Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar role in Zamfara banditry

How Zamfara Gov. Abdulaziz Yari Bought $1m US Mansion, Kept Foreign  Accounts Two Years After Assuming Office | Sahara Reporters
Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar

Abdulaziz Yari was the governor of Zamfara state between May 2011 and May 2019.

“The seed of security crisis planted during Governor Ahmed Sani Yariman Bakura’s tenure watered and nursed all through germinated fully three months into the tenure of Gov. Abdul’Aziz Yari Abubakar.

“Gov. Abdul’Aziz Yari’s failure or refusal to address the security crisis in the state at a very early stage, however, provided a fertile ground and enabling environment for the influx of bandits from other parts of the country and neighbouring countries.

“This situation complicated and upscaled the armed banditry in the state to the extent of covering the entire 14 local governments of the state and spilling over to neighbouring states of Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger and Sokoto.

“The governor’s nonchalant attitude and unflinching absence from the state provided golden opportunity to fraudulent security agencies, judicial officers and department of public prosecution in the ministry of justice to compromise the call of their statutory duties in favour of extraneous personal benefits. “Management of security is time-bound and expensive.

“The constant absence of former Governor Abdul’Aziz Yari rendered security agencies orphans with no master to report to on urgent security intelligence issues and with no source of funding to avert impending attacks.

“Failure to attend to urgent and important memos on security matters from relevant ministries and departments of government was one of the factors responsible for the inability of government to tackle the security challenges.

“His administration, like those of his predecessors, allocated farmlands to big-time politicians in government forest reserves which worsened the predicament of the Fulani access to grazing areas.

“His deliberate refusal to receive report from a committee he personally set up that worked for two years on ways of finding solution to the unprecedented security challenges in the state is the peak of lack of concern for lives and property in the state.

“The preponderance opinion of witnesses, complainants, traditional rulers, security agencies and civil servants showed lack of attention to security issues brought before the former governor including formal and informal intelligence.

“In spite of the human and material losses, it could literarily be said that no aid was provided to the surviving victims (IDPs) or families of the deceased.

“In spite of his ardent opposition to the Yan-Sakai group (self-defence outfit) from the beginning of the security challenges up to October 2018, when 2019 elections were fast approaching, the state government formally registered and employed 8,500 of them as informal security outfit in the name of assisting the military in their fight against bandits but with the alleged motive of using them as political army to rig the 2019 elections in the state.

“This notorious group used their new status as a license to kill and extort people especially Fulani and political opponents in broad daylight on market days throughout the state. “There is in fact literarily no witness or complainant that appeared before the committee that did not lament the atrocities of the self-defense group.

“They were mainly responsible for the escalation of killings, kidnappings and extortions in Zamfara State from November 2018 (when they were registered and employed) to May 2019.

“One of them was alleged to have killed not less than 30 innocent people within the period under review”.

According to the report, while all the abracadabra of illegal land allocation was going on at the state level from 1999 to 2019, local government council chairmen connived with some traditional rulers to allocate as farmlands all available forest reserves, grazing areas, and Fulani settlements under their jurisdictions to few farmers, largely to politicians and high profile personalities in the affected localities.

“This is the last stroke that broke the camel’s back which pushed the Fulani to the wall with no option but fight the battle of their lives for survival”.

Zamfara Emirs role in the state’s banditry

The committee established that whereas some traditional rulers were complicit in the escalation of banditry in Zamfara, many were negligent in their responsibility of ensuring security in their respective domains.

In fact, were the recommendations of the committee to be implemented to the letter, no less than 15 of the 17 emirs in the state would be deposed.

The story of the alleged collaboration of the Emir of Maru and a District Head with bandits was told by the Zamfara SSG, Alhaji Bala Bello Maru, in his testimony before the committee.

The report, quoting the SSG, narrated: “The Secretary to the State Government informed the committee that, they received a report that armed bandits had planned to attack some villages within the emirate and security operatives were informed accordingly.

“He further stated that, in that night, Rayau, Mahuta, Talli and Dutsin Gari villages of Kanoma District in Maru Emirate were attacked by armed bandits and 17 people were killed and many others injured.

“On the following day (5th June, 2019), all the Emirs in the State paid Sallah homage to His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Zamfara State, Hon. (Dr.) Bello Muhammad, MON, Matawallen Maradun.

“Thereafter, the Executive Governor stated that a visit to the affected villages which were all under Kanoma District should be made in company of the Honourable Member, Zamfara State House of Assembly representing Maru North, Hon. Yusuf Alhassan Kanoma, Alh. Bala Bello Maru, the Secretary to the State Government and all the security heads among other entourage.

“On arrival of the Executive Governor and his entourage, they headed to a primary school where the IDPs were accommodated. “Thereafter, the District Head of Ancient Kanoma on the hill made a welcome address and finished his speech accordingly.

“Then the suspended District Head of Kanoma below the hill was invited to make his own welcome address as his counterpart on hill made.

“As he started making his own welcome address, there were a lot of grumblings and shouting by the villagers.

“In the same development, the Emir was to make his speech and welcome address but there were a lot of shouting and disorder by the villagers and all efforts made to allow the Emir to speak failed woefully.

“On seeing the disorderly crowd, the Executive Governor addressed the gathering of the villagers and there was a lot of applauds and chanting of goodwill messages to him.

“After the Executive Governor and his entourage left for Gusau, the crowd of villagers attacked the District Head of Kanoma and injured him badly.

“It was for the timely intervention of the Hon. Member House of Assembly representing the area, the mob would have killed him. “Simultaneously, security operatives started shooting in the air and throwing teargas canisters to disperse the mob.

“The mob also started throwing stones at the Emir’s official car with a lot of commotion. “When the Governor arrived Gusau with his entourage, people started to allege that the Emir was collaborating with the suspended District Head of Kanoma and armed bandits.

“Therefore, according to the Secretary to the State Government, there were strong suspicions among public opinions that the Emir of Maru and the suspended District of Kanoma are in complicit in cases of armed banditry activities being perpetrated in the area. “Already, in the Governor’s entourage, there were the Commissioner of Police, Director of State Service, Brigade Commander who the Executive Governor sought for their advice of what to do in such ugly circumstance, which they unanimously pointed out that the episode was a big embarrassment to the government and there was the urgent need to take decisive action by suspending the duo (the Emir of Maru and the District Head of Kanoma South) pending the determination of investigation to be carried out.

“Three days after the killing of 17 people mentioned earlier, the armed bandits returned and burnt down the village.

“There was also the issue of 5 million naira ransom which was allegedly paid to HRH, the Emir of Maru through the District Head of Kanoma South.

“However, the Secretary to the State Government informed the committee there was no formal reports or petitions against the Emir from any quarter, but an isolated information from a member of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Yusuf Alhassan Kanoma, and other unspecified sources”.

Police finger Emir of Karu

Zamfara State Commissioner of Police, CP Usman Nagogo, also indicted the Emir of Karu in his testimony to the panel, according to the report.

The report quoted him as saying that in 2016 when CP Shettima Istifanus was the Zamfara State Commissioner of Police while he (Nagogo) was the Zamfara State Deputy Commissioner of Police (Finance and Inspection), then government appointed him as the Peace Ambassador and Chairman to head Amnesty Committee.

“According to him, he visited Dokani forest where he saw arms and ammunitions with over 1, 000 bandits. Buhari Daji surrendered 13 AK47 assault rifles and a rocket launcher as a sign of his confidence in the amnesty programme”, the report said.

“He stated that his concern was not to wage war against the bandits but to enter into dialogue and reconciliation because even if government should deploy one million soldiers, they would not be able to defeat the bandits as they were so many with sufficient and sophisticated weapons to counter any attack on them.

“The bandits had informants everywhere and could pay as much as N500, 000 to an informant.

“He then advised then Executive Governor of Zamfara State that the government should direct the release of Buhari’s wife.

“According to him, then State Director, State Service truncated all efforts put in place by the Amnesty Committee.

“In his view, the main cause of the crisis was the Yan Sakai, Civilian JTF and vigilante groups in that whenever a Fulani man was killed, Fulani would attack the whole village killing several people and leaving scores injured.

“Finally, when he met with the Ardos and other Fulani leaders, their complaints were that they were deprived of attending markets, mosques etc. and whenever Fulani were killed, government did not visit and console them.

“However, whenever the Hausas were killed, the government visited and consoled them”.

Zamfara bandits and ISIS collaboration

Also testifying, DSP Hardo Abubakar Abdulqadir, Sector Commander in charge of Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina and Kaduna states, according to the report, revealed that there was an infiltration of Boko Haram and ISIS elements in Dangulbi and Dansadau forests.

“He informed the committee that his squad arrested an armed bandit at Danjibga village who had an ISIS headband and who informed the squad that there were 15 in number and were invited from Niger Republic”, the report said.

“According to the armed bandits, some of them had since moved to Sokoto, Tangaza, Gudu, Illela etc”.

One rifle for two cows

Zamfara state introduces fresh approach to grazing areas ...

In July, 2020, the state governor, Bello Matawalle promised the bandits he would give them two cows for each AK47 rifle they surrender.

According to him, “For every rifle submitted by a repentant bandit, there would be compensation of two cows.

“We don’t want to give them money, so they wouldn’t use the money to purchase new weapons.

“We said we will compensate them with cows, they are Fulani and they need the cows to advance their economic interest.

“We also told the repentant bandits that all “Dabas” (Camps) in the forests should be disbanded. We won’t accept a situation where the bandits will disarm and then go back to the  forest and be staying in these camps or Dabas

“We asked them to either come to town and be reintegrated into the society or be given economic empowerment where they are, so that they would start a new life.

“Most of them are residing in forests under the shades of trees and inside caves. That is why we came up with RUGA policy to help them”.

No more amnesty

Matawalle has changed tune and now vowed that the state government is no longer interested in dialoguing with bandits as they rejected the olive branch stretched at them earlier.

He said in Gusau that instead, security forces would flush them out of the state.

“My administration will no longer grant amnesty to bandits as they have failed to embrace the peace initiative earlier extended to them,’’ the governor said, while addressing a congregation”.

Shutdown of telecommunication network

The state governor, Bello Matawalle in collaboration with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had earlier in the month (September, 2021) shut down the telecommunication networks in the state to stem the activities of bandits and also aid the security agencies in wiping them out.

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