- Gov’t knows killers – Ward Head
- The leaders are Buhari (not the ex-president), Kundu and Munjagara, with this massacre, I am no longer afraid to reveal it
- They have been taxing villages N80,000
- They abduct our girls to rape in the bush then send them back pregnant with money to take care of the baby
- Our people are on exodus, they steal hundreds of cows, sheep… it has been happening like this over and over
Apr. 12, 2014
The recent killings that took place in a Zamfara State village is just one of many such incidents that residents of the state have witnessed in recent times. Gunmen now wreak havoc with impunity, prompting migration of thousands to neighbouring states. Weekly Trust visited ‘Yar Galadima and other villages
Sitting in the shade of a large tree located at the entrance of his village, Alhaji Adamu Amadu, surrounded by his wards and other sympathizers, was mourning the demise of over 150 people in his domain, ‘Yar Galadima. He is the traditional title-holder of Magajin Garin Marabu and village head of ‘Yar Galadima. Additionally troubling to him, is the migration of survivors, which would leave him a leader without people to lead.
Over 2,000 residents, mostly farmers, from ‘Yar Galadima, Magamin Mai Tarko, Dansadau and other villages in Gusau and Maru local government areas of the state, as well as their neighbours from Kaduna and Katsina states decided to meet and brainstorm in ‘Yar Galadima, a village under Maru local government area of Zamfara State. It was meant to be a ‘security meeting’ aimed at finding a solution to the incessant attacks and killings plaguing the area. The meeting started peacefully during the early hours of Saturday, April 5 but soon turned bloody, when gunmen stormed them opened fire on everyone in sight.
Bloodbaths and conspiracy theories
Many residents who spoke to Weekly Trust hold the belief that there is a link between the attackers and the state government. “The perpetrators are known,” Alhaji Amadu, village head of ‘Yar Galadima, said. “The government knows them. They know their leaders like Buhari (not the ex-president), Kundu and Munjagara. They were arrested many times but released. They have established their dynasties where they rule like traditional title-holders. The government knows that, they should therefore deal with them.” He said the number of victims has made him so jaded that he’s not afraid to say the truth, no matter the consequences.
Amadu said on the first day, they held funeral prayers for 120 corpses. “But later, many others were recovered from the bush. For now, we’ve recovered over 150.”
The violence, residents say, was crippling farming and cattle-rearing activities, so they decided to hold the meeting. Amadu continued: “The attackers have stolen hundreds of cows and over 500 sheep in this village. We are appealing to the government for help, because our lives in Zamfara depend on farming. We, as traditional leaders, have no relevance if our wards are migrating. Something must be done urgently. I know I’m disclosing this fact at the risk of being killed or arrested by government, but that is the truth.”
Dynasties of death
Investigations by Weekly Trust revealed that the gunmen are led by different gang leaders who lead what residents describe as ‘dynasties’ which are known by every resident. “For example, we have some dynasties like that of Gidan Sarkin Fulani Mai Kudi, Hannu Tara, Dutsen Baika, Na Alhaji Shehu, Rabe Sarki, among others. They’re dangerous, but they can be crushed,” a resident, who preferred anonymity, said.
Muhammad Nasir was one of those lucky people who survived. He narrated thus: “We were at the meeting venue when news filtered that the gunmen were on their way. The leaders of the meeting urged the participants not to panic. Soon, we saw the gunmen approaching us in camouflage uniforms. The venue of the meeting was on a top of a hill in a bush close to ‘Yar Galadima. Intuition told me that danger was approaching, so I ran down the hill. I began hearing gunshots from all directions. I ran a long distance before I reached friendly faces. The trauma was incredible.”
Sani, another survivor, said the gunmen did not spare anyone at the meeting, shooting down even those who climbed up trees for safety. “Many people attended, because the bushes that surround us link our villages with those in Katsina and Kaduna states. We have common problems with them, like the incessant attacks from gunmen.”
Sani told Weekly Trust that he saw at least 100 gunmen. “Half of them wore military uniforms, while the others wore Fulani dresses and they used sophisticated weapons,” he explained, adding that the attackers came on motorbikes. “When we first sighted the attackers from a distance, we thought that they were farmers from Kizara, a village that has been under siege, too.” He added that the meeting had nothing to do with vigilante activities as widely reported. “It was a farmers’ meeting called to find solution to our security problem,” Sani said.
Sure like death and ‘taxes’
The brazenness of the gunmen has reached a stage that they seem to be a parallel government, according to one resident who also said: “They can go to any village and slam a compulsory tax on them. For example, presently there is a village known as Zonee in Gusau local government where the gunmen imposed on them a tax of N80,000. They have been doing that for long. They usually send a letter to any community and ask them to pay certain amount of money ranging from N50,000 up to N500,000. If the community fails, they would attack. Therefore, how can anyone convince us that the government is not aware of this? Even those of us who are not in government know where those people live. If we had the capacity, we would have confronted them to find a solution for ourselves.”
Weekly Trust learnt that even after paying the ‘tax’, a village can still be attacked. Sani says there was a time when it was paid, but the money was not complete, and the leader of the gang confronted the traditional leader in broad daylight about it. “Can you imagine that level of brazenness?” Sani asked. “Honestly, we didn’t like the utterances of the state governor after the attack, where he vowed to arrest the organizers of the meeting, saying that they held the meeting without permission. I lost a relative, Alhaji Aminu Dankoli, and all I’ll be told is that I’ll be arrested.”
Spoils of war
The most disheartening aspects of the attacks, according to Ahmad Bello, a resident of Magamin Mai Tarko, is the abduction of girls and married women. “During most of their raids on our communities, they abduct women, married or not, and take them to their camps in the bush. When they become pregnant, the gunmen usually send them back to us with money telling them to use it in taking care of their unborn children. Can you imagine the type of humiliation we face?”
Bello said economic activities have been crippled, too. “In villages where there were more than 1,000 cows, now there’s none. Those farming 20 hectares of land, now hardly farm five. Our produce like groundnut, millet, sorghum and many others were destroyed by the attackers. They’ve dispersed over 30 towns and villages. Places like Tungar Makeri, Bare-Bari, Kaboro, Kururu, Madaurari in Gusau and Maru local government areas now lay in ruins.”
According to Bello, the attacks have so far widowed over 300 women and orphaned over 500 children. “These women would now start looking for ways to fend for their families, while the orphans remain without education and other necessities. And no-one has ever come to assist us.” He recalled an instance when a man was riding through their village on a motorbike. “While riding by, a polythene bag fell off his motorcycle and guns scattered all over the place. He casually came down from his motorcycle, put back his guns inside the bag and rode away.”
Alhaji Hashimu, a resident of Magamin Mai Tarko, said the only options left for them is to either migrate to safer places or stay behind and mobilize to defend themselves. “We have come to a point where everyone is now ready to die, and because of that nobody is sure whether we would spend the next one year here. The gunmen can strike at anytime and disperse this place. Therefore, the whole town of Magamin Mai Tarko is thinking of leaving.”
One of the women rescued from ‘Yar Galadima said she is yet to recover from the shock of seeing corpses littering the streets. “We leaped over corpses to escape,” she said. “Many of us are now widows and some of us have lost our children. Our men cannot go to the farm now, for fear of being killed. If our men cannot farm and rear animals, then we’re practically dead,” she added.
Special Assistant to the state governor on Public Enlightenment, Alhaji Ibrahim Dausara, told Weekly Trust that since the state governor was not available, the Deputy Governor was the right person to respond to the issues raised by the villagers. However, when Dausara left his office with a promise to contact the Deputy Governor and get back to our correspondent, nothing was heard from him.
However, Zamfara State’s Commissioner for Commerce, Alhaji Hassan Muhammad Zurmi, volunteered to respond when contacted via telephone. “Security challenges are no longer news in this country. Therefore, for anybody to play politics with security would be unfortunate and dangerous. We haven’t known of such issues in these parts, until insurgency began in the North-East and cattle-rustling debuted in the North-West. Therefore, for anybody to say the government is not doing anything amounts to injustice.”
Zurmi said government has donated many vehicles to vigilante groups and the police. “There was even a time when the [Zamfara State] government wanted to buy guns for the vigilante groups, which became a national issue and was dropped ultimately. This should tell you that the government is concerned and wants these issues to end,” Zurmi said, adding that: “Zamfara is our state and politics will not happen if there is no peace.”
But villagers continue to roll up their humble belongings to head away for safe haven elsewhere. And insecurity continues to plague parts of Zamfara, especially Maru, Gusau, Zurmi and Tsafe local government areas, residents will continue to live in fear until drastic action is taken to bring the menace to an end.