December 8, 2022

Residents and survivors of the recent bandit attacks on Anka and Bukuyum communities in Zamfara State recall the horrors of the bloody night when bandits came ‘visiting’. They also share their dismay at what they consider government’s attempt to downplay the number of casualties with Gboyega Alaka.

OVER 500 of them attacked us in the night. They came in a convoy of bikes and shot indiscriminately, killing, maiming and burning. Even those running were not spared. If they suspected that people were hiding in any direction, they opened fire there. They didn’t care who or how many were killed. The bandits are so wicked and they have been known to pick babies from the back of their mothers and shoot them dead. And they raped as well.”

Grim, horrific? Yes. But those were the words of one of the survivors of the recent bandits attack on Bukuyum and Anka Local Governments Areas in Zamfara. This particular survivor pleaded for anonymity, but that is not surprising. The state has become so dangerous, and many now watch what they say and who they say it to, knowing there could be consequences – especially with the bandits reputation for reprisals.

The last attacks which began on the night of Wednesday, 5th January to Thursday January 6 (2022), survivors say, would rank among the bloodiest, with figures of those killed put at between 140 and 200. Although the Zamfara State Government has officially put the casualty figure at 58, survivors and civil society organisations, including the Zamfara Circle Community Initiative, an organisation of concerned indigenes, are already punching holes in this.

Abubakar Bukuyum, Coordinator of the organisation in Bukuyum Local Government, who said his latest assignment was to collate the number of killed victims, said he already has  a list of 78 dead victims, verified with names and addresses.

“Even the Emir of Bukuyum said only 38 were killed in Bukuyum, but that is not the real figure. My current figure of 78 covers Anka and Bukuyum: 15 from Anka and 53 from Bukuyum. But I also have another 18 in Anka from reliable sources, but I have not included it because I am yet to ascertain their names and addresses. If I add that to 15, then the Anka figure will rise to 33. That also debunks the figure by the Emir of Anka, who put the number of dead victims there at 22.”

Abubakar Bukuyum also said he was not able to get the accurate figure because he had not been able to go to the communities to get the right figures, and has had to rely on information from contacts there because the people could mistake him for a government offi cial  and start venting their anger on him. At the moment, he operates from Bukuyum Local Government headquarters, where he resides.

“As we speak, the feedback we are getting is that the people are very angry with the government, both at their inability to protect them and especially over the false figure they are bandying,” he said.

Bukuyum said the communities attacked in the last onslaught on Bukuyum are Gidan Zabo, Tungar Shekare, Tungar Mallan, Yammatawa, Illela and Darin Dusi. He also said the attacks were carried out in broad daylight, around 9am.

A survivor who lost his wife and three children, Ummaru Makeri, swore that over 150 people were killed during the attacks; while Balarabe Alhaji, a community leader in one of the villages, said they already buried 143 victims.

We no longer sleep with our two eyes closed

Isa Garba, 45, a resident of Kurfandaya and farmer was lucky; he was able to escape unscathed with his two wives and 14 chil dren.

Asked if he had prior information to have been able to escape with all his family, Garba said, “No, not in that sense; but because we have Yankasai in our community, we always knew our community was a target. So even though they came in the night, we were at alert.”

He said the situation has become so bad that the people hardly sleep with their two eyes closed.

“It was a terrible night. I cannot tell you the number of those killed or begin to list the casualties that I know; all I can say is that many people were killed in Kurfandaya, including my village head. It was so bad that even when you are running, they chased you, shooting sporadically at you. If they suspected that people were hiding in any direction in the bush, they opened fire in that direction. So it is by Allah’s grace that we all survived.”

Garba also said this was not the bandits’ first attack on his community. “I can’t even count the number of times they have attacked. In past attacks, they even killed my uncle.”

Another survivor, Shehu Musa, a farmer from Bukuyum, who also escaped with his two wives and 13 children,  also attributed his good fortune to being on the alert, even though the attack happened in the night.

“I was at home with my family but we took to our heels and ran into the bush before they got to my house. The situation is so bad that if you hear the slightest noise, you took to your heels. They normally came in huge numbers, three on a bike, armed with AK47.” Asked to confirm the news that the bandits also rape, Musa said, “That is no news. They rape wives, grandmas and daughters. They even rape wives in front of their husband. Once they see a young lady, she immediately becomes a target of rape. And no amount of appeal would make them spare such girl, as they would rape her in front of everybody.”

Though he has never been a victim of abduction, Musa said he has on several occasions contributed money to ransom victims, the latest being his neighbour.

Asked if the people ever fight back, Musa said, “We do, we have a Yankasai, but this time, they overpowered them. The bandits numbered about 500, and they came in a convoy, three on a bike.”

Asked if he would be going back to his village, Musa said, “Yes, as soon as things settle.”

At the moment, both Garba and Musa are hibernating in an IDP camp.

Reaction to extra-judicial killing

Several reasons have been suggested for these last attacks. While some say the bandits, who were trying to relocate their camps in a bid to escape military airstrikes, attacked the villages; some say the incident erupted when local vigilantes tried to stop them from passing through their communities, while others say it was a reprisal attack.

Abubakar Bukuyum, however, pinned it on the last. Although he admitted that it may be too early to conclude, he said there are strong indications that the attacks were kind of reprisal.

“In truth, our local vigilantes have, during their past operations carried out extra-judicial killings. It is pubic knowledge that most of these bandits are of Fulani extraction, while majority of the vigilantes are Hausa. But they have been known to go about killing Fulani indiscriminately, and you know you can’t just conclude that every Fulani is a bandit. If you do that, then you are being unjust to the Fulani community.  So they killed bandits as well as innocent Fulani. Kurfandanya, where the most casualty was recorded in these last attacks, is reputed as a very strong community where the bandits have never penetrated because of the presence of strong men with  charms that have made them invincible. Even the bandits are afraid of coming into the communities, but they have been bidding their time and waiting for a chance to hit them. Unfortunately, they got their chance on this occasion, having got information that most of the strong men were out of town on training. The bandits have their informants who live among the communities.”

Surely, all the attacks couldn’t be reprisal; what are the bandits’ other motivation?

“Well I would say it is more of economical, just like the armed robbers down South. They would kidnap people, take them to the bush and then ask for ransom money. And the amount they demand ranges from as low as N10,000 to N20,000, N10million, N20million, even N150million; depending on the financial worth of the captives. Like I told you, the bandits have informants in the communities, so they know those who are wealthy and those who have just made money. They know those who have just sold their produce and have money, so they come targeting them.

“In the past, they rarely kidnapped ordinary people, it is now that they have exhausted the rich people and forced many of them out of the communities to Bukuyum Town, Nasarawa and other towns, that they now kidnap ordinary people. There mode of operation now is to move in, abduct half of the communities and leave the rest to go and source for ransom money to free them.

Would that mean that Bukuyum and those towns mentioned are safe?

“Yes,” he answered, but quickly chipped in that in 2015, the Emir of Bukuyum was kidnapped.

“The news was rife then; but there hasn’t been anything of the sort in the town since then. You could say Bukuyum town is fortified, as we have about 20 soldiers stationed there.”

Sex as booty

The Zamfara Circle coordinator in Bukuyum, also admitted that rape is a common weapon of the bandits, once they sub due any community. “Oh yes, they rape. They rape  mothers in front of their children and children in front of their mothers and siblings. Sometimes, when they hear that a girl is newly married, they would come and kidnap her, take her to the bush for days, do whatever they like with her and then bring her back. Sometimes, they still collect money before releasing such women or girls; and sometimes they just released them. I think it is just psychological warfare. Of course when they do their collective kidnapping, they usually have women among them, whom they rape to satisfy their sexual urge, and still collect ransom on them before releasing them.


“If the people tell you the atrocities these bandits commit, you would know that they are not of this planet. They kill anybody in sight, even babies. In fact I cannot capture the mood in those communities as we speak. Speaking to them on phone to get the number of casualties, you can literally feel the sadness and heaviness in their heart. I mean, these are people they know: their family, children, wives, husbands, neighbours….

“There are times they kidnap people, collect ransom on them and still kill them. And there have been instances where captives and their families are not able to raise ransom money and they still set them free unhurt.

The authorities know these bandits

Interestingly, Bukuyum said these criminals are not altogether faceless, as the people know them, even their leaders’ names. “Of course they have leaders. The last attacks have been put on the doorstep of Turji. Turji and his gang are the ones troubling Zamfara and the neighbouring Sokoto State. Some said the last attacks erupted because he was trying to relocate to another forest.”

Another respondent, a journalist in the state, who would not have his identity disclosed for fear of being seen as opposition by the sitting administration in the state, corroborated Bukuyum’s view, even supplying more names.

He listed some of the bandits leaders as Turji, Dan-Karimi (aka Smally), Bagewaye, Dan-sa’adi, Kachalla, Ado-Aleru; adding that they are numerous – more than 100.

What then are the security men and agencies doing?

To this Bukuyum soberly replied: “Even as security men, if you are sent to a particular locality to operate, you cannot operate successfully without the support and help of the local leadership. So in Zamfara, what I see is that there is no political will to fight these bandits. I am from Bukuyum; but before the emergence of this present governor, there were some measures put on ground to combat this whole banditry menace by the previous administration. But he came in 2019 and dissolved all the measures. And now that everything has erupted in his face, he is now trying to reinstate these same measures.”

Chief among these measures, Bukuyum said was the closure of markets. According to him, the governor had reckoned that closing the markets would deny bandits avenues of getting food and other supplies; but this has also denied the vigilante and security men their only opportunity of cornering the bandits in broad daylight.

“You know, markets being what they are, even bandits cannot do without them; so the security men, most times acting on intelligence, would move in, surround the market, order everyone to lie down, and then pick out the bandits. The good news, however, is that he is beginning to reopen the markets now.”

Another of such measures, he said, is the banning of black market for petrol, to deny bandits access to fuel; but he said they found a way round that, as they now move in convoys of motorcycles.

And the one Bukuyum considers the greatest error is dissolving the dreaded local vigilante group, Yankasai.

“Only yesterday, he reinstated the popular Yankasai, which he met and dissolved. His reason, of course, was that they were engaging in extra-judicial killings. But Yankasai was one group the bandits were utterly afraid of, and any community that had one or two members was literally impenetrable. Such community however remained a potential target, because they always wanted to hit them back. During the regime of the former governor, Yansakai never killed anyone on their own; they apprehended and handed bandits and other criminals to the security agencies, because they were working hand-in-hand. My house in Bukuyum town is close to a military camp and I can recall that we had about 100 soldiers stationed there; and these vigilantes would serve as torchlight to lead them to the camps of the bandits, where they would be arrested and eliminated. So they had their usefulness, because Bukuyum was relatively peaceful. What the governor needed to have done was to sanitise their activities.

“I think the banning of Yankasai was in fulfilment of the agreements he reached while negotiating with the bandits; but what has happened after have only proved those who say ‘you don’t negotiate with bandits’ right. The attacks never stopped. Even the former governor started that process of negotiation with the bandits, but it didn’t work. What I think this government should have done is to assess the measures taken by the past government and see which were useful or relevant and not just drop them all. You don’t politicise everything. I can tell you that if he did not dissolve this Yankasai, all the casualties recorded during this regime would not have been recorded.”

Does he not think the reduction of troops in Bukuyum from 100 to around 20 could also be responsible for this increased attacks and casualties?

Bukuyum said this is purely a military decision but attempted an explanation: “I think what they did was to redeploy them to places where they think are more vulnerable. They have relocated some of them to Gwashi, which is also under Bukuyum. Gwashi, as we speak, is the most terrible place in terms of banditry attacks.

Zamfara Circle Appeal fund for IDPs

Abubakar Bukuyum also disclosed that the Zamfara Circle has been raising money to provide relief materials to victims and survivors. He implored indigenes and well-meaning Nigerians across the country to donate generously to this cause. The account details are: Polaris 4091041192, account name: Zamfara Circle.

No political will to stop bandits -journalist

According to the journalist who insisted on anonymity, what has continually perplexed Zamfara indigenes and residents, is the inability of the security agencies to overcome the bandits.

Another major source “First, all the bandits are indigenes; only very few of them are outsiders invited by the indigenes. The people, including people in authority and security men, know them; they know their family houses, they know their parents and their parents’ houses and they know their hideouts. So why are the security men afraid of going into their enclave? If you got to Shinkafi, Kaura Namoda, Zakura, Anka and tell any bike man to take you to the bandits’ camp, they will most certainly do.”

of worry, he said, is why government’s insistence on phone line registration not yielded any possible results? “These people use phones to make transactions, and up till the moment when ransoms are paid, nobody would move in to attack them or make any arrests.”

When reminded that bandits have also learnt to use victims’ phone to contact their been relatives, the journalist said: “All these bandits have their private numbers and people know these numbers , and if you call them they would pick; so why have they not been able to track and arrest them, using their phones.”

To make matters worse, he said the government would announce that security men killed 20, 50, bandits but no one would see their corpses.

“There is also an allegation by Sahara Reporters that the governor gifted the bandits Hilux vans. Initially, the state government refuted it, but Sahara Reporters insisted and mentioned all the bandits that received the vehicles. And would you believe that subsequently, the bandits have even used the Hilux to attack and raid some communities in the state?”

What could be the governor’s reason for such action?

The journalist attempted an explanation. “I think it was part of the conditions and demands the bandits put forward during the negotiation for them to sheathe their sword. As I’m talking to you, there is one repentant bandit, Alhaji Mashawari, who was appointed as a Senior Special Assistant to the governor. He does not have any specific portfolio but earns salary. In all fairness, since his appointment, I can tell you that he has not been involved in any attack. We know of so-called repentant bandits who have gone back to the fold.”

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