Dozens of people are taking refuge at a primary school in Gidan Kano village, in Maradun LGA of Zamfara State. The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have occupied the whole premises. Some of the men, looking dazed, stood on a veranda, even as a brisk shower drenched others who stood by, or walked around the makeshift camp, all confused and undergoing trauma of various degrees.
The councillor representing the Birnin Kaya/Dosara, a ward hit hard by armed bandits in Maradun LGA, Kabiru Muhammad Danbaza, told Daily Trust Saturday that they had so far recorded 5,645 displaced persons from his ward alone. Three other primary schools in Maradun town were also full to the brim. The town itself was also recording an influx of displaced persons, among them women and children.
The Speaker of the Zamfara State House of Assembly, and also the Chairman of the Damage Assessment and Relief Committee in the state, Alhaji Sanusi Garba Rikiji, said the attacks on three districts in Zurmi LGA had displaced 12,000 residents.
President Muhammadu Buhari on July 30th, ordered the deployment of a military force to Zamfara State, via his Twitter handle. “I have authorized the deployment of a 1,000-strong military force to tackle the troubling security challenges in Zamfara.”
The tweet continued: “In the face of the evolving security threats, in the North Central and North West, we remain determined to neutralize every form of banditry and criminality. What we will never do is abandon any part of Nigeria to terrorists and criminals.”
The president added that there was increased cooperation between security agencies. “We are seeing improved cooperation between the military, police, DSS and Civil Defence Corps, and also prioritizing intelligence-gathering, as well as increasing the use of air assets and surveillance technology to locate and neutralize the criminals responsible for these attacks.”
The Nigerian Air force has launched an ongoing operation codenamed ‘Diran Mikiya’, aimed at flushing out the armed bandits terrorizing Zamfara State. Aircraft are already deployed and soldiers have been deployed to different locations, a military source told Daily Trust Saturday. Sophisticated tech and equipment, as well as skilled personnel, are also on ground, and are already recording success, the source said. “There’s very heartening news coming from Zamfara, and soon,” he said.
Emir of Maradun, Alhaji Garba Muhammad Tambari, called on the security operatives to heed the directive of President Buhari, to bring an end to their predicament.
Recounting their encounters, some residents spoke to Daily Trust Saturday. One, from Aljimma village, who identified himself as Adamu Abdullahi, said a N20 million ‘ransom’ was placed on five villages by the bandits, and had to be paid to avoid attacks. “They would send a representative to our communities asking us to pay ransom, running into millions, as precondition for leaving in peace. I was part of the team that mobilized, house-to-house, collecting money in order to meet the demand.”
Another resident from Gidan Baushe said the armed bandits had earlier killed his son, and younger brother, while working on their farm.
Last week, at least 20 persons were killed in Kwaddi village in Zurmi LGA, after residents failed to meet the ransom deadline.
Village Head of Tungar Magaji, Malam Ali Magaji, said he was kidnapped and later freed after N500,000 was paid by his son. “No one is left at my community, the whole village is deserted. We’ve just learnt that the bandits are looting our homes and shops, for food and fuel,” he said.
The bandits are usually very brazen, Malam Magaji continued. “One would come, rifle slung over the shoulder, riding motorbikes, to our communities. If you’re bold enough to look at them directly, that would mean trouble.”
There also are harrowing stories of rapes carried out by the bandits. A married teenager, who identified herself as Safiyyat (not real name), told Daily Trust Saturday how she was raped by an armed bandit, after he seized her and another woman, to a forest in the night. “We were sleeping in the room of our mother in-law when they broke in. Our mother in-law pleaded with them to spare us, but they threatened to kill us savagely if we resisted.”
Safiyyat tearfully continued: “She gave up, thinking that the armed men were kidnapping us for ransom. So we went with them. As we are trekking into the forest, I kept on pleading with them to spare us, but we were ignored, until when we reached a large rock by a river, at about midnight. One of them asked me to go with him under a tree. I cried, and screamed for help, but to no avail. They raped me.”
“Later, they said we could find our way back home, and tell my husband who was at a goldmine in Anka LGA, that they had shared his wife. We arrived home around 5:00am and found out that our mother in-law was in severe trauma.
A seven months-pregnant woman told Daily Trust Saturday that her condition didn’t stop the bandits from raping her, after they took her husband outside and tied him up. “I later fell ill, and prematurely gave birth to a baby girl. My husband left home, and hasn’t returned up till now,” she sobbed.
Abubakar Sabon Gari is the Village Head of Gidan Dawa, and he told Daily Trust Saturday that the armed bandits had last week abducted three young girls. They released one of them, after she was gang-raped. She was admitted into a hospital for one week and later discharged.
Some people who went back to pack their belongings were taunted and mocked by the armed bandits. “They would say that they can still chase us up to Maradun town if they so wish,” Sabon Gari said. He said some of the bandits would even jeer: ‘You better stop running away. You are weak. No security operative will come into this forest and go back alive. They can’t protect you’.
From January to date, at least 293 people were killed in attacks on at least 18 rural communities of Maru, Zurmi, Anka, Maradun and Birnin Magaji LGAs.
Zurmi LGA has the highest casualties, with 81. The armed bandits in the local government area killed 41 in Birane in February and 40 in attacks on Kwaddi and Gambiro this month. Anka recorded the second-highest casualties, with 62 deaths. The villages of Bawar Daji, Kuru Kuru and Jarkuka were raided in March and April this year. 48 were killed in Maru, while 38 were massacred in the villages of Oho and Dutsen Wake in Birnin Magaji LGA.
The armed bandits made their deadly debut in the state in October 2011, when 23 people were killed at Lingyado village in Maru LGA. Following in January 2012, 15 traders were burnt to death in Birnin Magaji LGA. The bandits intercepted and killed them onboard their truck, and torched the bodies.
In June 2012, 27 were shot dead In Dangulbi in Maru LGA, while In September 2012, 20 were killed in Gusau LGA. Thereafter, in October 2012, 18 were shot dead in Kabaro village in Maru LGA then in November 2012, 10 vigilante members were shot dead in Dumburum village in Zurmi LGA. After killing the vigilantes, the bandits mutilated the genitals of their victims, and then fled. In June 2013, 54 were massacred at Kizara village, in Tsafe LGA, and 22 were shot dead at Maitsaba village in Zurmi LGA.
In April 2014, 126 were killed in Yar’galadima village in Maru LGA, marking the highest casualty recorded so far in a single attack in the state. So far, estimates of those killed by the deadly armed bandits in Zamfara State, from 2016 to present, have the figure at over 3,000 people, with billions having been paid as ransom.