Zamfara killings that won’t just stop

With the death, early in March, 2018, of the notorious armed bandit, Buharin Daji, terrorising villages in Zamfara State it was thought the orgy of violence imposed on the communities was over.

But the palpable peace lasted only a couple of weeks, before the killings resumed with total mindlessness.

On Wednesday, March 28, 2018 local vigilante members in the village of Bawan Daji were holding a meeting to strategise in view of the next farming season. The villagers had been warned by the bandits to forget any plans for farming this year and that was for reasons best known to the bandits. But with the meeting, it was clear the villagers were hoping to defy the bandits.

Reports had it that to make sure they were not defied the bandits continued patrolling the village, brandishing dangerous weapons. It was a psychological warfare that would soon culminate in the brutal shootings that cost dozens of lives, as the bandits, on realising a vigilante meeting was holding, struck.

Not satisfied with the carnage they had unleashed the bandits pursued the fleeing villagers to the bushes and shot and killed more. Again, while the survivors attempted to bury the dead, they attacked them in the cemetery, killing many more.

Initial counts put the death toll at more than 60. But based on the latest statistics of recovered corpses, it is confirmed that 36 of the villages were killed. Meanwhile dozens are still missing, suggesting that the death toll could rise, especially in view of the fact that some of the corpses could be lying in the forest where the bandits are still watching, waiting to spill more blood.

Armed banditry and cattle rustling in the Zamfara-Kebbi axis have been a major security concern for nearly a decade. In a bid to overcome the problem, after the military action dubbed ‘Operation Sharan Daji’ had failed, a peace meeting was convened in January 2017 and an amnesty offer made, on the condition the bandits agreed to renounce violence.

Buharin Daji led many of his lieutenants to the meeting and eventually accepted the offer. But not before articulating his reasons for opting for banditry and violence. Fulani, herdsmen, he said, were being victimised by the local (perhaps non-Fulani) vigilante members. Many, he claimed, had been killed without anyone giving them justice. And to protect and give his people justice, he took to violence.

Unfortunately, Buharin Daji brought more misery to his people because his gang did not discriminate whenever they struck. Kidnappings, cattle rustling and killings were generously ‘democratised’ and everyone was a target. All he and his gang members cared about were their loots.

While this trend persisted the government of the state looked ‘hopelessly’ to the federal government. The military operation, as Zamfara State Governor Abdulazeez Yari once said, was only temporarily successful, like most military responses to serious social and structural problems.

The gangsters had scampered to safety as soon as the soldiers arrived. But they regrouped again, after the military presence had been scaled down, on the assumption that they (the bandits) had been vanquished. And then, with undiluted vengeance they reappeared and made several villages, including Mallamawa, Barka da Yabo, Tungar Kahau, Maikamar rimi, Gidan Anna, etc. to defray more costs.

So, Governor Yari’s attempt to restore normalcy by dangling a carrot, via the amnesty offer, to the bandits is understandable. But the problem is, like the military solution, it did not go beyond that point to understand and address the underlying issues Buharin Daji had complained about.

In most Zamfara communities, I am made to understand, cattle rearing has become such a perilous business that only bandits and rustlers could guarantee herds and herders’ safety. And the only way families that own herds of cattle could do so was to ensure that one of their own became a member of a gang of bandits and rustlers. In that way that member would protect his family and their herds and terrorise others as a form of revenge or deterrence.

While Buharin Daji’s excuses are inexcusable, they are, nonetheless, worth looking at, given that the violence has refused to end. In an audio clip, believed to be a conversation between the kingpin and one of the peace mediators, Buharin Daji could be heard bragging about his ability to fight for as long as possible and that, even in death, he would fight on through his proxies (lieutenants).

His death, allegedly masterminded by the security forces in the state, in the hands of a former co-bandit and lieutenant, Dogo Gide, is a reflection of the power play among the gang members. Dogo Gide, who was an associate of Buharin Daji, reportedly accepted the amnesty offer and renounced violence, just like Buharin Daji. But when the latter fell out with the government on account of the alleged arrest of another associate, he returned to violence and banditry. Dogo Gide, however, did not. And he paid a price when Buharin Daji’s men attacked his (Dogo Gide’s) in-laws and rustled their cattle.

Despite entreaties it was said that Buharin Daji refused to return the cattle, which made Dogo Gide to clever plot his former boss’ death by inviting him to a peace meeting. It was there he (Dogo Gide) and boys killed Buharin Daji and eight members of his gang. His death was welcomed by the government, security forces and people he had terrorised. It was claimed that soon after the incident the security forces arrived to confirm and retrieve his corpse and that they were assisted in searching for the corpse by the rival gang.

While he was alive Buharin Daji unleashed maximum terror and evoked fear. He was not just a brutal killer who rustled cattle and kidnapped villagers for ransom, but he was also a gunrunner who procured and loaned sophisticated weapons to other criminals. His armoury, it is claimed, was beyond belief. He was a state within a state.

So, how did an ordinary villager, a former herdsman acquire such weapons and notoriety? This, methinks, is the question the governments should be asking with a view to finding a lasting solution to problem. Already, with the recent killings, it appears the late kingpin is making good his promise to fight even in death.

Tribute to a brilliant mentee
A couple of years ago a student who came to do a Masters degree was introduced to me. She had come to the local Masjid to pray and, perchance, met my wife. I don’t know how the conversation led to me, but my wife eventually introduced her to me as a student in Coventry University.

From that day she became very close to my family and when her husband came visited she linked us up and we became good friends.

In the time she was studying, she took me as a mentor and, even though I made her to work extra-hard, she was never deterred. She once told me she graduated with a First Class in her first degree and wanted to finish her Masters with a Distinction. I did my best to support her.

When the results were out, it was an excellent outcome. And with that her husband encouraged her to do a PhD.

Although she returned back to Nigeria where she got a lecturing job, she kept applying to universities in different parts of the world and I wrote references to support her applications.

Less than a month ago while I was preparing a lecture note for my students my wife received a call. It was her, Halima Goni Abdu. She told my wife she was in London, on her way to Canada to begin a PhD. As usual, her husband and daughter were with her. She promised to stop by on her way back. But it won’t happen.

On Monday, March 29, 2018, I received a call that shattered my heart and left me paralysed for much of the day and next two days. It was the news of her death, after a brief illness in Boston, where she was visiting from Canada. She has since been buried.

May Allah forgive her shortcomings and reward her with al-Jannat Firdausi and comfort her husband, Alhaji Ahmed, and daughter, Eeman.

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