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“Lawlessness is lawlessness, anarchy is anarchy. Neither race, nor colour, or frustration is an excuse for either lawlessness or anarchy”- Thurgood Marshall
“Illegality will never solve the problem of political lawlessness” – Emanuel Cellar.
Criminal armed bandits and other marauding non-state actors in Zamfara have turned the state into anarchy and total pandemonium. These criminals are operating spontaneously with impunity as if there is no existence of authority within the state. Recent video and audio of interviews trending by various media houses with bandits in Zamfara and elsewhere, particularly, those echoed by the Trust Tv, BBC Africa, Research writers and other freelance journalists like James Barnet, Murtala Ahmed and Adamu El-Hikaya among others have demonstrated the level of audacity, the ego, the quantum and numerical strength of these criminal bandits; and how they operate in their enclaves and area of control with confidence and impunity.
These criminal group have alienated and apportioned the vast forests and ungoverned spaces surrounding the state among themselves, each warlord becomes authority in his sphere of influence. They remove local authorities and replace them with their puppets. They place heavy taxes on the indigenous people as they did sometime in 2021 especially in villages like Katuru, Tungar Guragu, Galadi, Kwanar Isa and other villages surrounding Shinkafi and Isa local government areas. They denied people access to their farms and places of work, even religious and social gathering have come to a standstill due to the activities of these unscrupulous elements.
Violent activities such as extortion, raping, abduction and kidnapping for ransoms, cattle rustling, illegal mining, arms proliferations among other nefarious activities have become the order of the day. The indigenous people of the state have become helpless, living in bondage and total disarray. For a decade, this has been the situation in Zamfara state, and all efforts by government and its security operatives have remained fruitless.
The term Lawlessness refers to as the lack of law, in any of the various senses of that word. Lawlessness may describe various conditions. In society, it is a situation where there is total collapse in governance. A state of abnormality, anarchy and civil disorder. Anomie is a breakdown of social bonds between an individual and their community, in which individuals do not feel bound by the moral strictures of society. The term was popularized by French sociologist Émile Durkheim in his influential 1897 book Suicide. Anarchy (meaning “without leadership”) is a condition in which a person or group of people reject societal hierarchies, laws, and other institutions. It often entails the dissolution of government, a situation or scenario where citizens ignore the existence of any government and resort to take laws into their hands.
State of lawlessness indicates how the administration of the nation or state has become worse with time. Today, people by grouping together are taking law into their own hands and inventing their own rules and not abiding by the rules of the nation. They are not scared by the law, not even by the Supreme Court.
The rate of illicit and heinous activities taking place in Zamfara state is so alarming, threatening the state to turn to a free-for-all. For decade the civil disorder in the area is day by day increasing, turning the state to a fragile and abnormal if not a failed state. From banditry, robbery, extorsion, raping, kidnapping for ransoms, cattle rustling, illicit gold mining, arms proliferations, the prevalent ungoverned spaces which serve as hideouts and safe havens for criminals, and many other organised crimes. Even the vigilante group or ‘Yansakai as they are fondly called by local people are becoming nuisance to the society, though they were formed to counter the despicable activities of these criminals. The group which are volunteers or militia group locally established by the state government pioneered by the traditional rulers, with intent to counter bandits’ activities within the state have now turned to become part of the problem. Like these criminal non-state actors, the vigilantes have also become authority in the state, taking law into their hands through extra judicial killings of every suspect of banditry. Once a suspect of banditry is caught, instead of handing him over to the police for prosecution, these group would instantaneously murder and execute such suspect without resorting to the constituted authority. This was one of the reasons sometimes, the state government had suspended the activities of vigilante.
Not sooner than later, bandits and other marauding non-state actors within the state wage a war or counter attack mission against the vigilante group. The two group have turned to be haunting each other. In an interview aired by BBC Hausa service Adamu Alero, one of the bandits’ warlords operating in Zamfara and Katsina axis have claimed that, he killed uncountable number of vigilantes. All these are happening in a state that has all the administrative structures like any other state in the federation, but the government has become impotent, ineffective and handicapped.
This monstrous and inhuman phenomenon had started from small scale communal disagreements between farmers and herders but due to the lackadaisical approach by both state and federal governments, the phenomenon has transformed into hatred, violence, organized crime and terrorism; it has escalated and metamorphosed to a full-blown conflict. Violent crimes such as, child raping, armed robbery, farmers-herders conflict, cattle rustling, proliferation of small arms and ammunitions, kidnapping for ransoms and armed banditry etc. have become prevalent in the state, and gradually precipitated to other neighbouring states like Sokoto, Kebbi, Kaduna, Katsina and Niger states. The state has now become the epicentre of all these illicit dealings.
The ungoverned spaces and territories in the state are so vast, covering thousands squares of kilometres; almost all the northern states have these unoccupied or ungoverned spaces and territories. This factor makes it easy for criminals to operate with impunity because, they know the state is incapable of stamping its authority especially into these hazardous bushes and forests; and the security operatives are scared or unwilling to cross them. Most of them chose to camp themselves in the city centres, and whenever there is attack on some villages, all they do is to come in convoy shooting sporadically, when the criminals have already conducted their operation and left.
The tragedy is that all those areas have remained ungoverned and this made the terrorist kingpins to operate freely within. They ousted and occupied some villages living there before and built camps, shanties and enclaves for themselves and their concubines. The captives and victims have also a camp where they are kept as well as a camps where these bandits are profiling and stocking arms and ammunitions they use for daily and regular operations. The control is so weak and fragile that bandits can come into rural towns, typically in threes per motorbike. In a single operation one hundred bikes each carrying three individuals can attack a village, while one person is driving, the remaining two are carrying guns, shooting sporadically in the air to scare the villagers, and in sometime shooting at sight. After the operations, few of them would come down and convey all the rustled animals to their dens or markets.
In some areas, these bandits have laid down laws and become the local authorities, ejecting the constituted authorities and install their own loyalists or puppets. Warlords like Kachalla Bello Turji, Dullu, Dankarami, Nasame, Dogo-gide and Kachalla Yellow and their cronies have established and curbed territories for themselves where they operate and no one can dare tress-pass or operate within those territories. Human Angle reported that, dogo-gide and another terrorist leader known as Kachalla Yellow, built community using the location of a villages they ousted in 2013, and no man can get there by foot. This is to show how vast the northwest region is, one source said. The village turned to themselves is called Kango and is under Maru district, which sits by the north of Kuyambana forest in Zamfara state. Kuyambana is another vast forest stretching to Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states. Their idea is to build a place which they can control and where they can keep their weapons and families; they planned to expand the territory gradually by raiding, ransacking and subjugating other neighbouring villages. Bandits from faraway Niger Republic, Katsina, Kogi, Niger, Sokoto and Kaduna states are all converging to the place to settle and unite.
The bandits divided these territories in the state and neighbouring states among themselves; and no one can cross into another enclaves or sphere of influence in the name of conducting operation. If one knowingly or unknowingly step into others’ territories, the result could be callous even among themselves. For instance, the recent report of fight between the two warlords thus, Kachalla Turji and Dullu. According to a source, Dullu who operates around Bungudu-Talatar-Mafara axis, especially around ‘Boko, K’aya, Faru down to colony in Talatar-Mafara. Also, from time to time conduct operations out of his comfort zone to far away along Moriki-Shinkafi- Isa axis. On one fateful day, unknown to him his men attacked Bello Turji’s boys; and to add salt to the injury his boys killed five (5) of Turji’s boys. This had infuriated Turji and in revenge, he embarked into a counter attack mission in Dullu’s territory around Bungudu axis. He and his boys ambushed Dullu’s camp with over 300 criminal bandits, all of them riding motorbikes carrying 2 to three people all armed with deadly weapons. Eventually, they killed all members of the camp including Dullu himself. He released all the victims being kidnapped by Dullu, set the camp ablaze and looted away all the booties including weapons and money. The source mentioned that, about 10 of 100kg sacks full with money have been re-looted in the operations; even Turji himself was so amazed with what he saw.
There was another free-for-all altercation which led to a fight between repented bandits and one Dan-Sa’a camp. Dan-Sa’a operate around unguwar Sarkin Muslim, Sakajiki, Sabon gari and Kungurki in Kaura Namoda local government down to some neighbouring villages bordering Maradun local government. On one fateful day, the repentant bandits entered the bush and squarely engaged these stubborn criminals. This successful operation left quite number of bandits dead, and the repented bandits carted away lot of booties including cattle and sheep. I have no idea whether they returned the booties to the authority.
Narrating his predicament while encountering with bandits to a friend, one Ali Taxi, a trader who use to shuttle between Kaura Namoda, Shinkafi and other periodic markets within the state. On one fateful day he and other merchants conveyed in a vehicle observed people running helter-skelter as a result of bandits’ activities. They decided to delay their journey for a while to allow the criminal disperse. After sometime, they continued with their journey only to be ambushed by the bandits. They ushered them into the bush and trekked between three (3) to four (4) hours. On the process one of the victims felled dejected and exhausted, he revolted and declined to move an inch; instantly, one of the bandits shot him dead and threatened to kill any one of them who proved to be stubborn. They trekked until they were so tired after which they brought some bikes, loaded them and continued with the journey. Aliyu could only rescue himself after negotiation between bandits and his family where they paid heavy ransoms for his release.
Another recent attack was the abduction of some traders of Bebeji plaza, Gusau who went for a wedding of their colleague in Sokoto. On their way back to Zamfara, after passing through Tureta, bandits abruptly came out from bush and ambushed their vehicle. The vehicle is a long custard bus carrying more than 70 passengers, out of which only 30 got escaped but the remaining were all abducted. When a call was made to negotiate the release of the captives, the leader of the bandits taxed N5million naira on each of the abductees. The story has been the same in Furfuri village, just an hour from Gusau metropolitan. These marauding criminal bandits attacked the house of a former state accountant general and abducted his family, for months, they have been living under the custody their. The bandits have requested a ransom of N1,000,000,000.00 (one billion naira) for the release of the family. This is ridiculous!
People in the state are constantly living in apprehension and anxiety; very anxious and worried of what might have happened to them, either on the road while on transit or even at home, as no place is safe in those areas. For instance, when there is an official event, security personnel have to follow or escort the official vehicles for protection from possible attack and ambush by bandits. Recently, when the Zamfara state’s intended pilgrims were called for the take-off of their plane to Mecca for pilgrimage, government had to call for the service of security who escorted the pilgrims from Zamfara to Abubakar III International Airports Sokoto. The intended pilgrims from Isa Local government, Sokoto state were ambushed by bandits on their way from Isa to Sokoto, and unfortunately few of the pilgrims were captured and number of security men were killed, until today they have not been released. According to an eye witness, on their way to Ginashe village, they abruptly started hearing gun shots and exchange of fire between security that are in the front and the bandits from Gundumi forest approaching their convoy. At the end of the encounter, the security was able to managed and passed through Sokoto with two (2) vehicles of intended pilgrims; while the rest of the vehicles had to return to Isa for safety and protection of their live.
On 23rd June, 2022 bandits passing through Bukkuyum local government area, attacked several villages. In Zugu village for example, they killed number of people and hauled away with lot of foodstuffs and other valuables. On 9th July, 2022, just a day to Eid El- Kabir festival around 11:00pm, these marauding criminals entered a village called Gidan baje in Kuara Namoda local government, riding motorcycles and shooting guns. They conducted operation for almost 2 hours and looted away number of camels, cows, goats and sheep.
The numerical strength of these criminal bandits and their dens or enclaves in the state is very alarming and unprecedented. There is no single local government among the fourteen (14) local governments where there is no presence of these enclaves or “daba” as fondly called by the indigenous people. Reports have shown that, there are over sixty (60) camps scattered all over the state with strengths of over ten thousand (10,000). In his research work Barnett James cited that, the bandits may number up to 30,000, spread across dozens of gangs ranging in size from 10 fighters to more than a thousand, most of whom are based in Zamfara state. Many of them were political thugs used or sponsored by Politicians in the state sometimes in 2011, they armed them as political thugs to achieve their selfish ambitions, and there after abandoned and left them with different dangerous weapons in their possession.
Among the notable bandits who have become warlords and operating freely within and outside Zamfara state are; Bello Rugga, Alhaji Auta, Ardo Nashama, Bello Turji and his associates, Kachalla Halilu and Danbokkolo control Shinkafi, Sabon-birni and Sokoto axis; Dogo Gide, Dankarami, Ado Aleiro, Kundu, Aliyu Zakwai (Son of Buharin Daji), Damina who has his enclave in the Dansadau/ Kuyambana forest; Alhaji Auta, Dankarami and Tawaye (twin brothers) live around Dumburum, Gidan jaja and Zurmi-Jibiya axis, Ali Kwaje, Dangote Bazamfare, Alhaji Bodere, Alhaji Belere, Ardo Na-Shaware and Alhaji Shingi. The former and latter who controlled Birnin Magaji axis have now repented and as a result there is a relative peace in that area. there is also Shadari who operates around Anka-Bukkuyum axis. Each of these gang leaders or warlords has his own subordinates and followers. According to a reliable source, some have as much as one thousand members under their control; while others have as low as 150 members under their tutelage. This demonstrates the strengths and quantum of these criminals; no wonder all efforts by the security operatives to decimate them have failed.
To demonstrate their strength recently there was a video that went viral showing one of the gangs in Zamfara showcasing their mighty with sophisticated weapons including AKA-47 and general-purpose machine guns (GPMG), pistols, rockets, drones and other large cache of weapons including artillery. Sometime last year these criminals have gun down a Nigerian military chopper in a forest between Zamfara and Niger states. In so many instances, they have attacked police stations, killed the policemen, looted the few weapons available and set the stations ablaze. There was a time a special reinforcement was sent all the way from Abuja. On reaching Zamfara hundreds of them were sent to Birnin-Magaji to douse the tension in that axis, before they reach, some moles informed the bandits about their coming; and these bandits tricked the policemen, ambushed and killed over two hundred (200) of them and only few numbers were able to escaped.
In one of the audio interviews aired by Adamu El-hikaya, a freelance journalist with Shadari, one of the bandits’ warlords operating around Anka local government, he made mentioned that, during the period when the state government suspended markets in the state, he resorted to kidnapping people because, according to him he can no longer take his cows and sale to the market. When asked on number of people he kidnapped, he responded that, he abducted more than a thousand victims. He boosted of controlling the whole area, and prohibited or halted all mining activities within the area. El-hikaya had to pleaded for him to allow the local miners to come a pick their mining tools. These are only few scenarios out of uncountable operations conducted by these marauding non-state actors. To this end, we have come to understand the quantum of disorder and anarchy Zamfara state and its good people are battling with.
This piece was able to express how the marauding criminals turned the state to a free-for-all; they operate with impunity as if there is no established government. Nefarious activities of banditry, cattle rustling, the counter-productive activities of militant-vigilantes which were purposely formed to augment the work of formal security operatives whose knowledge to the local terrains is very minimal, compared to vigilantes who are the indigenous people of the area; illegal mining which increased the tension as a result of factional armed groups serving as security on mining field owned by influential citizens; ungoverned spaces which serve as hideouts and safe havens to bandits; the issue of porous borders which gave ways for the infiltration and proliferations of small arms and light weapons; kidnapping for ransoms, a new entrepreneur for the bandits and other marauding armed groups which is more lucrative than cattle rustling. All these have contributed in fuelling and swelling insecurity and thereby making the state into a lawlessness.
In view of the foregoing, the good people of the state and Nigeria are pleading for the government and its security operatives to redouble their effort to secure not only Zamfara state and its neighbouring states like, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger, but the whole federation states. We understand that, this administration has invested so many resources in the security of this country, and security agencies and armed forces have been doing their best but, apparently their best is not enough as it barely yields any positive and tangible result. Majority of the population are largely peasant, who live their lives by going to farms, but as a result of insecurity in the state and country at large, engaging in such activity has become a herculean task and tantamount to suicide. The security should therefore be more proactive in their operations. They should take the fight to the bandits’ corridors; they should not give them a fresh air; they should dominate the forests to make sure criminals don’t have the space to come out and attack vulnerable citizenry. May the God almighty help our leaders to overcome all the challenges the country is facing; may we have peace and tranquillity in our land, for with peace all other things are secondary.
God bless Nigeria.
Our Take: The frequency of bandits’ attacks witnessed in Northwestern Nigeria only highlights the government’s lack of capacity to clamp down insecurity generally, allowing bandits and other criminal elements to thrive with total disregard for the law. Although the government has recorded unsuccessful attempts to reduce their activities in the region, focusing subsequent ambush on the dens of these bandits rather than adopting a reactive approach would have a better impact.