By Akanimo Sampson
The cycle of bloodletting in Zamfara State might not be over yet. The state has been facing a deadly conflict that started in 2012 as a result of clashes between farmers and herders.
Gradually, the conflict turned into armed banditry, with the first major attack in ’Yar Galadima in April 2014 when 200 people were killed.
The armed bandits raid villages and kidnap for ransom. On November 22, 2017, the government ordered the deployment of a Special Forces battalion in Zamfara after gunmen attacked communities in Shinkafi and Maradun Local Government Areas.
On April 4, 2018, the Nigerian Air Force deployed Special Forces in the state following attacks in Bawan Daji village in Anka Local Government Area.
On June 6, 2018, following a National Security Council meeting held between security chiefs and President Muhammadu Buhari, the Inspector General of Police announced that 2,000 special security personnel comprising the military, police and civil defence will be deployed to Zamfara.
At the moment, the 2019 governorship candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in Zamfara State, Dr. Sani Abdullahi Shinkafi, is raising an alarm over what he described serious danger and security breach by some of the political elite of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the state who who allegedly want to make sure the issue of banditry festers in the state.
Shinkafi told reporters in Gusau, the state capital on Thursday, he wants the authorities to see the need to rearrest Abu Dantabawa and 17 others who were arrested by the state police command recently.
He is alleging that Dantabawa has been meeting with some leaders of repentant bandits with a view to enticing them with monety and other incentives to go back to the forest and ignite bloodbath in the state.
“The arrest of Abu Dantabawa and 17 others on the 12/09/202, by the Commissioner of Police Usman Nagoggo was based on intelligence reports and proactive measures taken by the Police to curtail any act of banditry and related criminality in the state”, he says.
Adding, he said, ‘’the APC starlwart Abu Dantabawa and 17 others are threats to the security situation in Zamfara, hence the need for apprehending them by the IG, investigate and prosecute them for their dastardly acts to become deterrent to others.’’
Shinkafi says action must be taken as quickly as possible by all the relevant security authorities against Dantabawa and his group, lamenting that banditry has turned Zamfara into a state where over 8000 people have been killed, thousands of children turned to ophans, thousands of women into widows, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced in the last eight years.
Before now, a global rights group, Amnesty International reported that insecurity was escalating in Zamfara, a state in the North-West axis of Nigeria, with daily killings and kidnappings by armed bandits leaving villagers in constant fear of attack.
Thousands of people have been displaced by a conflict which began in 2012 as a result of clashes between farmers and herders.
Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, says “this is Nigeria’s forgotten conflict. The authorities’ failure to act has left villagers in Zamfara at the mercy of armed bandits, who have killed hundreds of people over the course of two bloody years.
“When we visited the region, villagers told us they had pleaded with the government to help them after receiving warning letters from the bandits ahead of attacks but had received no protection. The Nigerian authorities have repeatedly claimed to be tackling the situation, but the mounting death toll tells a different story.”
Previously, 18 villages in the Mashema, Kwashabawa and Birane districts of Zurmi Local Government Area were attacked, leaving at least 42 people dead. At least 18,000 residents of the affected villages who were displaced over the weekend are now taking refuge at various locations in the local government headquarters. The following day a further 15 people were kidnapped in Maradun local government area.
Apparently shaken, President Buhari announced the deployment of 1,000 troops to Zamfara. This is the third time since November 2017 that the authorities have deployed the military in response to attacks, but villagers told Amnesty International that this has not translated into protection for remote, vulnerable communities.
“Previous military interventions have failed to end the killings, especially in rural areas of Zamfara. At least 371 people have been killed in Zamfara in 2018 alone, and at least 238 of these killings took place after the deployment of the Nigerian air force. The government is still neglecting the most vulnerable communities in this region”, Ojigho says.
Amnesty International says it had visited communities in five local government areas of Zamfara – Zurmi, Maradun, Maru, Anka and Tsafe. Although security forces were present in the state capital Gusau, researchers saw soldiers and air force personnel in only two of the villages they visited, Birane and Bagega.
Villagers described feeling helpless and on edge, constantly bracing themselves for attacks. Men said they are sleeping outside their homes and in trees as a way of keeping vigilant, while women and children are sleeping together in groups for protection.
Villagers described a pattern where they receive warnings ahead of attacks, including by phone, ordering them to pay huge sums of money or be killed or abducted.
A villager from Gidan Goga reportedly told the rights group: “Before Ramadan, the bandits called with the same number they called me with two weeks ago and said if we didn’t pay them N500,000 (USD $1,400), they would come and kidnap me or the village head. Right now, we are living in fear.”
In several communities, villagers said they were afraid to venture more than a few kilometres into the bush, which is preventing them from farming. They would not take Amnesty International researchers to see attack sites for fear of meeting the bandits.
A village elder from Gidan Goga told Amnesty International: “We cannot go to farm far from our village. Two weeks ago, I got a call from one of the bandits, saying they are the owners of the forest. He asked me to tell the village head to tell all villagers close to the forest to vacate the villages and come here, Gidan Goga. He said the only way they’d allow the villagers to continue staying was if they paid them five million Naira.”
In a village in Maru, villagers said the only time they see security forces is when they are escorting workers to the state governor’s farm.
“There’s no security here and we live in fear. We can’t go to farm because of fear, meaning it is difficult to feed our families. To go to farm, you need security. The governor’s farm is not too far from here and security forces go with his workers whenever they have to go there,” one man told Amnesty International.
He added that villagers would wait until the governor’s workers were being escorted and travel alongside them to take advantage of the security presence.
A senior police officer in Zamfara told Amnesty International that the police lacks the logistics and manpower to deal with the crisis in the state.
“The crisis in Zamfara is making life hell for villagers, yet it is clearly low down on the list of government priorities. These killings must stop immediately, and those suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice in fair trials. The Nigerian authorities have a responsibility to protect the lives of everybody in the country, including people in poor and rural communities”, said Ojigho.