Rising insurgency and attacks in the northern part of the country has left several people dead and displaced thousands of families. Zamfara is one of the crisis-ridden states in the throes of bandits and terrorists. In this report, CRISPNG’S JABIR RIDWAN details how helpless communities in the state still live at the mercy of bandits — despite paying N70 million levy yearly to the attackers for safety.
Gummi local government area (LGA) in Zamfara state was once a peaceful place where residents go about their daily activities without fear. From farming activities to trading, the area was popular for its boisterous atmosphere.
But not anymore.
The LGA, situated in Zamfara West Senatorial District in northwestern region of Nigeria, has become a shadow of itself.
These days, killings, kidnappings among others forms of evils have become the norm in the area with many living in fear. The local government is one of the hotbeds of terrorists locally known as bandits.
Residents of the area, who spoke with the reporter, said they have endured various degrees of attacks by armed criminal groups.
They also said the assailants usually invade their communities in groups and mostly come at nights and in the early hours of the day.
The attackers, according to residents, often operate for hours unhindered despite the heavy presence of security agencies in the area.
Gummi LGA is home to the Divisional Police Headquarters of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), headed by the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) S.P. Mahmud Rayyanu. It also houses operatives of the Nigerian Armed Forces headed by a Sector Commandant as well as the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) led by the Divisional Officer (DO).
The officer In-charge of the Department of State Security Service (DSSS) and Staff of Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) also stay in the local government secretariat.
In addition, there are armed vigilante groups within Gummi metropolis as well as in villages and communities across the LGA.
WHY ATTACKS ON COMMUNITIES IN GUMMI LGA ARE INCREASING
Security pundits linked the attacks on villages and communities in Gummi to some factors.
Gummi shares border with Bukuyum LGA, which has more dreadful cases of terrorists’ attacks. Bukuyum is home to various camps operated by bandits. It also accommodates about four major armed criminal groups’ camps namely — Fasagora, Akawo, Kairu, and Gando.
The armed criminal groups are known for their notorious activities in Bukuyum which include imposition of levies on residents, kidapping as well as killings. However, due to the fact that many residents of the area have been impoverished by the terrorists and no longer have cows to give when attacked, the assailants are shifting attention to Gummi.
This, security pundits, said informed the rising attacks on Gummi communities. A similar scenario played out in Danko-wasagu LGA of Kebbi state which also shares land border with Bukuyum.
Another factor was the split between factions of Bello Turji and Dillun, the two most notorious armed criminal group leaders in the state. Following their messy split, new factions sprang up in Tabarga and Guyuddu forest areas of Gummi LGA. As a result, Gummi’s forests became their hideout from Nigerian Air Force air strikes.
TEARS, ANGUISH, DEATH THROES — RESIDENTS LAMENT RISING ATTACKS
Kidnapping has become the fastest growing enterprise in Nigeria, especially in the largely ungoverned territories in the northwestern part of the country. Attacks on communities in the region are on the rise.
In April 2022, the son of Ibrahim Mamman Tsafe, commissioner of security and home affairs in zamfara state, was shot dead by bandits.
The attackers reportedly opened fire near the commissioner’s residence in Tsafe town, Tsafe LGA, killing his son and three persons while a few others suffered gunshot wounds.
In May 2022, residents of Dargaje community in Zarummai ward, Bukuyum LGA, woke up to fresh attacks by unknown gunmen resulting in the dead of two people while scores were kidnapped.
Weeks before the attacks, 16 people were killed when gunmen also overran Ganar-Kiyawa village in Bukuyum LGA.
A resident of the community, who preferred anonymity, said the bandits stole their money and rustled unspecified number of cattle during the attack.
In June, bandits again stormed the residence of ex-accountant general of Zamfara, Alhaji Abubakar Bello Furfuri in furfuri community, Bungudu LGA of the state, and abducted nine members of his family.
Months later, the bandits released a viral video showing the abducted daughters of the ex-accountant general wearing arms and ammunition on their neck while the abductors threatened to force them into crime if the ransom demanded is not paid.
In the video, the young girls were seen clutching anti-aircrafts guns, AK 47, LMG and other firearms.
My heart bleeds watching this video of kidnapped children of former Accounter General (AG) of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abubakar Bello Furfuri. pic.twitter.com/gfGDP4zWHt
— Securenorthernnigeria (@Secure__north) October 11, 2022
The girls were eventually freed by the bandits after seven months in captivity.
In an interview with BBC Hausa, the victims said “only five among us were allowed to bath five times in five month while in captivity”.
HOW RESIDENTS PAY N70M LEVY YEARLY TO BANDITS TO AVOID BEING ATTACKED
It was a day like any other. The sun shone and the birds chirped before gunshots shattered the atmosphere. Shehu Abubakar knew his community has come under fresh attack by bandits.
Shehu, a resident of Dargaje Community, which is 27 kilometre away from Bukkuyum LGA, described the security situation in the area as “deteriorating”.
The visibly sad resident noted that all their belongings had been diverted into paying ransoms for their safety.
“it’s about 4 month now that we’re experiencing criminal attacks. In May 2022, bandits attacked our village. On that very day, they killed one and abducted three women. They took them to Tsafe in one bush called ‘Dajin yan kara’ but at that time only one was able to escape,” he told CRISPNG.
“They spent about 8 weeks before they gained their freedom, and they killed my cousin in person of Bala Musa, a father of 11 and husband of two.
“They also destroyed our shops worth millions of naira and raped our women which is the most unfortunate and disheartening crime happen to us.
“During such attack, they (bandits) usually divide themselves into various groups and spread themselves across communities such as Hwarnanawa, Kulumbutu, Tudun Gwandu, Birnin Waje, and other affected villages within Bukkuyum LGA of Zamfara state”.
Shehu further told CRISPNG that Dargaje village is home to about 200 houses which are now desolate due to the raging insecurity.
“Almost all the people in the village have fled for their safety,” he lamented.
Shehu recalled that bandits also killed Bello Umar, a 57-year-old father of 13 with two wives.
Dargaje ward in Bukkuyum is naturally blessed with land for farming. The area is a truism of the slogan of the state — farming is our pride.
The residents, who are mostly farmers, plant maize, millet and beans during rainy season while they usually plant tomatoes and pepper during dry season.
“We can’t sleep at the night when its harvesting period due to fear of being attacked by bandits. We had to sacrifice some of our farm produce to bandits as we have no options,” Shehu said.
The villagers said they once initiated ways of defending themselves since help was not forthcoming from the government.
“Our village have paid about 12 million levy to bandits. I myself contribute with some percentage and still the incessant attacks continue”, Shehu said.
Data by Gummi Emergency Nutrition Response Project gave a breakdown of levies paid to bandits by communities between July and December 2022. The report puts the total levies paid within the period at N70,930,000.
‘BANDITS KILLED MY GRANDCHILD’
The attacks across LGAs in the state have taken a huge toll on residents.
Bayi Rabi’u, a mother of three from Rijiya Gidan Doka District in Gusau LGA, said in early 2023, about 20 women were kidnapped in their village.
The 56-year-old told CRISPNG: “We left our homes due to fear of attacks about three weeks without any intervention from the government. We were afraid that’s why we fled our homes to Gusau for our safety”.
Bayi revealed that recent gun battle between security operatives and bandits in Rijiya community led to death of people.
“On 6 January 2023 about 10 unidentified people lost their lives, my grandchild Kabiru was also killed by bandits at Geba village. There are still people displaced. They also killed one Dan Wugit while some are hospitalised, about three days we couldn’t find a place to sleep and nothing to eat,” she said.
Despite the situation, residents said the state government has not provided any camp for the internally displaced persons (IDPS). Due to absence of government-approved camps, the IDPs live in abandoned buildings or anywhere they find refuge.
HOMELESS AND HOPELESS
Hadiza Sani from Qura Ward in Rijiya District, Gusau, is among those affected by the raging insecurity in the state. Hadiza described the situation as “disastrous”, adding that it has left many of them “homeless and hopeless”.
“We are in terrible condition, we don’t know where to go, I have about six children, and we have lost many people in our community. It is about three years now that we are facing security challenges. We hope to go back to our homes when peace is restored,” she quipped.
Hadiza said many of the children are suffering from starvation as their parents find it difficult to make ends meet.
She added that the situation has made some of the IDPs vulnerable to all kinds of vices such as prostitution, drugs, and thuggery.
Hauwau Lawali, another resident displaced by insecurity, opened up on her ordeals and journey to IDP camp.
“We are internally displaced, and many people flee from their homes. We cannot afford to pay rent or provide food for ourselves and our children,” she said.
The state government had on numerous occasions condemned the activities of the terrorists in the area. In June 2022, the government ordered citizens to take up arms and defend themselves against bandits.
The government also banned motorcycles in some parts of the state to tackle insecurity.
But the attacks lingered despite the directives by the government.
FEAR OF DISENFRANCHISEMENT
Due to the raging attacks, many residents of the affected communities lamented inability to vote as the country holds its general election.
CRISPNG understands that about one-third of 3,142 polling units across 147 wards in Zamfara will not be available for election due to insecurity.
Gummi, for instance, has about eleven political wards among which include 206 polling units.
But with the worsening insecurity in the area, it is survival first for many of the residents at the moment — not election.
Will peace ever return to their communities?