Mutunji: The reign of the bandits

RESIDENTS of Mutunji, a community in the Dansadau district of Maru Local Government Area (LGA) of Zamfara state, live in constant fear that a dreaded terrorist leader, Damina, could swoop on them and abduct them, just like he did their relations he whisked into the forest but never returned home.

Damina is demanding N150 million from the villagers for the abducted persons.

In late 2022, Nigerian security forces allegedly killed Damina’s men in the community in a reprisal attack that followed the bandits’ onslaught on the military base in the village, during which the bandits killed 12 soldiers and burnt four operational vehicles.


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The bandit leader vowed to make the people pay the money in cash or with their lives. He has begun to carry out his threat by killing and abducting scores of the community residents in the first round of five attacks he threatened to unleash on them.

Because of Damina’s activities, Mutunji has now become a shadow of itself. Its schools and clinics have been shut down. Businesses and farming activities that once kept the community alive have collapsed.

In recent months, it has lost dozens of its residents to bandits led by Damina, who has claimed responsibility for the abduction of 48 people from Mutunji and the killing of 17 of them.

List of 10 persons killed among the kidnapped villagers
List of 10 persons killed among the kidnapped villagers

A youth leader of the community, Umar Khalid Mutunji, said bandits loyal to the terrorist stormed the village at about 7:30 p.m. on Friday, November 24 2023 and descended on worshippers in a mosque and other people at a night market (Yar Kasuwa) where they abducted 178 people, including children and adults. They killed one person on the spot.

Umar noted that after whisking the people he took from the community away, Damina screened and released all females and minors among them and took away 48 male adults.He killed two of the men just a few kilometres from the village, leaving 46 males with him.

After about a week, Damina sent one person out of the 46 men with a letter bearing his phone number (withheld), and other details. He warned the people of Mutunji and the nearby village of Malele to be ready for attacks since they refused to pay him the protection levy he demanded. He also accused the villagers of inviting the military to kill his men.

The youth leader noted that out of the 45 persons in captivity, the man who brought the letter confirmed that ten had died of hunger and 35 others were facing serious threats from the bandits.

Those who died were Abdulrashid Adamu, Usama Ahmad Duku, Sahabi Isah, Yasir Zubairu, Murtala Tela, Sanusi Mai-Dungu, Muazu Dila, Gabas Maihanchi, Bakin su Kwabe, and Dan Bai mai-Kiwo.

In the message he sent to the village, Damina suggested that since the community could not pay the levy, each family having someone in captivity should pay ransom for the release of their relatives, or else he would kill them.

A resident of the village who pleaded anonymity said on Sunday, December 10, 2023, that a military aircraft bombarded bandits who gathered at nearby Chabi village for a meeting with Damina and killed scores of them. The resident said as a result of thunderous sounds from the strike, Damisa’s abductees attempted to escape but failed.

“He killed seven of them while two sustained serious injuries and managed to escape to Dangulbi health facility where they were treated and evacuated by the Nigerian Army operating in the area,” the source said.

List of Kidnapped victims before killing of 17 person among them
List of Kidnapped victims before killing of 17 person among them.

He said another abductee, Magaji Musa, and one young person, Abubakar Aliyu, escaped and received treatment at health facilities in Dansadau and Dangulbi, leaving the number of those in captivity at 24.

He said the Mutunji community needed support for protection and livelihood.

There is nothing to indicate government presence in the area, he stated.

He recalled that in late 2022, bandits attacked the military base in the village, killed 12 soldiers and burnt four operational vehicles.

“The dreaded Damina sent a message to the military informing them of his planned attack on them by 5:00 p.m., which the military took for granted. The bandits didn’t add even a minute on the 5 p.m. when they launched the attack.

“In a reprisal attack, the military jet that targeted the bandits at a neighbouring village Malele pursued them, and they ran into our community – Mutunji. Still, the jet threw a bomb that killed the bandits, including 71 innocent people in the village, while others sustained various degrees of injuries, including a young boy whose two legs were amputated.

“Since then, we haven’t had any security operative in the community, and no government official has ever since visited us. We are just on our own,” he lamented.

Umar Bashir (Not real name), one of the persons who escaped from the bandits’ camp narrated his ordeal to The ICIR. He said they spent the first two days in captivity without food or water. “Some of us were too weak. Others were behaving abnormally because of the trauma they had gone through. There were yet others who could not cope with the crisis and died. It was a terrible experience,” he narrated.

On his part, another person who escaped from Damina’s camp, who also cannot be named, revealed that the bandits arrived at Mutunji in large numbers, rode on motorcycles and besieged the community.

They claimed they wanted to discuss an issue with the community leaders. Before they arrived, Damina had directed that his men abduct anyone they saw in the village.

“We were over one hundred within the community at the time. There were gunshots behind us as they moved us into the forest. The gunshots were from the community vigilantes to scare the bandits.

“That helped some of us to escape before reaching the enclave where they kept us. All children, women and other aged persons were allowed to return home, but three men who attempted to run were killed,” he said.

He quoted Damina as saying he would not cry alone but would make the community cry. The bandit warlord queried how soldiers would kill his men, and he would be left to mourn alone. He also reiterated his decision to make the community pay the N150 million levy he imposed on its people.

The ICIR gathered that the majority of the villagers are now armed with firearms for what they described as self-defence, and male adults embark on night patrol of the entire community because Damina has vowed to attack the people five times, out of which he has shown up just once.

Apart from a lack of government presence, including any form of security such as the Police or Army in the community, education has stopped in the village.

Findings by The ICIR showed that over 1,500 children in the village are out of school as the two public primary schools in the community have been shut down for two years.

Malam Nura, a resident, said Muntunji Primary School was given to the military as its officers’ base before they were attacked, leading to the total closure of the school.

The second school – Alkasin Primary School – was closed following the incessant banditry attacks.

Nura added that even a junior secondary school in the nearby Malele community had also been closed for two years due to frequent bandits’ attacks in the area.

“Parents worry that their children are now at home playing. Therefore, we solicit the government’s intervention for the children’s future,” Nura appealed.

Mutunji shares its border with Niger State in the south. In its western part is the Bena town in Danko-Wasagu Local Government Area in Kebbi State, all blessed with vast and fertile arable land.

The people produce tonnes of grains, including guinea corn, maize, soya beans, beans, and perishable foods such as tomatoes, watermelon, and sugarcane.

The ICIR gathered that prominent people in Zamfara State have farmlands in the Dansadau area, with an average farmer harvesting between 1,000 and 20,000 bags of grains.

The Mutunji community youth leader said in a regular farming season, he usually harvested 1,000 bags of grains, and he said he knew many farmers in the area who got over 15,000 bags of grains, including sorghum, maize, beans and soya beans.

However, he lamented that the terrorists’ activities in the area had denied farmers the opportunity to visit their farms. The situation has crippled farming activities in the area and threatened food security in the state.

“A farmer in this community used to harvest 10,000 bags of grains, but because of this terrorism, he harvested below 20 bags this year. I used to get about 1,000 bags. This year, I didn’t get even one bag because of all the encounters with the bandits.

“They destroyed all our farm produce. Farmers invested much money in their farms but couldn’t harvest anything as they (bandits) reared their cattle on our farm, and no one could challenge them.”

The ICIR observed that no health facility functions in Mutunji village. The only option for residents is a chemist shop run by a health worker in the community.

The nearest health facility is the Dansadau General Hospital, which patients from Mutunji village patronise amidst fear of possible attack on a bad road.

The bandits closed the government clinic in Mutunji some years ago. Children and pregnant women die as a result of lack of access to a health facility.

“Children no longer have access to vaccination because people who should vaccinate them no longer come because of insecurity,” Abubakar Sani, a resident of Mutunji said.

Due to the frequent bandit attacks, the ICIR observed that commuters spend days travelling between Gusua, the Zamfara State capital and Dansadau town. The distance between the two towns is 117 kilometres.

Many commuters access Dansadau town by waiting for the Emir’s convoy with soldiers or pleading to join a military convoy going to the area to give them protection.

The District Head of Mutunji, Alhaji Umar Adamu, in an exclusive interview with the ICIR lamented the hardship of his district due to the activities of bandits in the area, saying he was forced to relocate from the area to because of the bandits.

“As I explained to you, the Mutunji area is indeed a blissful area, we are blessed with many villages under Mutunji district. For example, we have over 37 villages, and we have about 28 Jumu’at Mosques in Mutunji district.

“However, as I am speaking to you, we are in a very difficult situation, we have been in this bad situation since when the bandits attacked our security personnel (Military). The economy of our area deteriorated and eventually collapsed, no farming, no schools, no cattle rearing, no health facilities, no religious schools, and no business activities.

” Wallahi, I am assuring you that not all the traditional leaders are living in their communities around the area; to the extent that even me I was forced to vacate the area, because wether I like it or not, I must serve the bandits as long as I remain in the area. But I know it is uncalled for to serve them, that was what forced me to relocate from the area.

He confirmed that the people nor resort to self and carry firearms to protect their communities.

“As I am talking to you, the situation (insecurity) forced so many communities to bear firearms. However, bearing the firearms is the only solution but at the same time a dangerous step.  The peace of any community is respecting law and order and there should be presence of government not ordinary citizen punishing another citizen. There is no justice and there is no order for ordinary citizen to take charge against another because it will be a power based on superiority of arms and this is regrettable as it indicates a sorry state of the nation,” the District Head lamented to the ICIR team.

He therefore appealed to the government to as a matter of urgency provide security personnel to the area to protect the people and maintain law and order.

“We have a vast arable land, our area (Dansadau axis) is the heartbeat of Zamfara State as we produce grains massively for food security and economic development and anyone in Zamfara knows this is a fact.

“I am hereby urging our leaders to ensure they discharge their responsibilities effectively in terms of maintaining law and order in communities for peace to rain among citizens and to enable us to worship God properly,” he appealed.

Alh Adamu noted that no single village in Mutunji community was having an active primary, secondary school, noting that even Qur’anic schools that used to admit students from even neighboring states are now shut down.

“I can also count over ten (10) Jumu’at Mosques under my watch in Mutunji district that are completely shut down,” he lamented.

He listed the mosques shut down due to the persistent banditry activities in the area to include Jesa Jumuat Mosque, Jesa-ta-biyu, Kasambo jumuat Mosque, Fankashi Mosque, Guro Mosque, Dogon Ruwa Mosque, Danfasa Mosque Tungar Baushi Mosque; Babban Kwari Mosque.

The ICIR observed that the bandits use the vast forests in the state as their hideouts (camps and enclaves). Because majority of them pastoralists, they know the terrains in the forest better that the security operatives, making it difficult to track them.

It was also observed that all the 14 local government areas of the state are facing serious challenges of the banditry with villagers in rural, hard-to-reach areas suffering more than others in urban areas.

The bandits also block roads at will to kidnap commuters and travelers for ransom as they bear sophisticated weapons, even better than that of the security operatives.

Major and popular bandits warlords in Zamfara state include Kachalla Bello AKA Turji, operating around Shinkafi LGA axis, northern parts of Maradun LGA in Zamfara state and Isah Sabon Birni, Goronyo in Sokoto State and some parts of Niger Republic at the border; Kachalla Halilu Sububu who security reports described as the major supplier of arms, operating around Sububu Forest, Villages of Faru, Janbako, Gora, Kwanar Nono, and others in Maradun and Bakura LGAs along Kwanar Boko to Colony road; Dan-Sadiya, who terrorises the people of Kaura Namoda, Bungudu and Birnin Magaji LGAs.

Others are Gwaska Dankarami. who is operates in Zurmi and Birnin Magaji LGAs in Zamfara state, Jibia in Katsina State, and some parts of Niger Republic; Alhaji Nashama, Alhaji Nashawari, Shehu Bagiwaye and other bandit kingpins have their camps and operate in the eastern parts of Birnin Magaji, Kaura Namoda LGAs and other parts of Bungudu east and other local government areas in western parts of Katsina State.

Another bandit warlord is the popular Ado Aleiro and his siblings who operate alongside Dan-Isihu, Tulele, Riskuwa, Kachalla Balli and other parts of Tsafe and Gusau LGAs in Zamfara and some parts of Niger State through popular ‘Munhaye’ Forest to Kuyambana Forest linking Zamfara, Niger and Kebbi States.

The lingering banditry in the state has forced many residents to become internally displaced persons (IDPs) in their own domains. As there are no official IDP camps in the state, such displaced persons only squat with relatives or in uncomplicated buildings. Many communities in Mutunji District have been completely deserted. These include Randa, Tasa, Kwana, Mahuta, Unguwar Duka, Unguwar Kawo, Sawade, Tudun Raha, Guru, Hayin guru, Tungar Baushi, Baban Kwari, Gazamba, Jesa 1, Jesa 2, Fankashi, Bakin Dutsi, Babbar Gara and Yar Tsaba. All these communities are completely deserted without any human activity taking place there.

However, residents of other major towns and villages like Malele, Ruwan Tofa, Mai Awaki, Maigoge and Farar Doka in Mutunji District of Dansadau Emirate in Maru LGA who decided to remain in their homes now bearing firearms for self-defense, hence increasing the proliferation of firearms among the civilians in Zamfara State.

The security situation in Mutunji District exemplifies the reign of bandits in many parts of Nigeria, particularly in the north. Bandits are ravaging communities in several states including Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Katsina and Kaduna. Bandit activities have also been reported in Niger State in North Central Nigeria.

This situation, a security consultant for Zamfara and Katsina state governments who also is the chairman Security Committee of the Arewa Consultative Forum ACF) Detective Auwalu Bala Durumin-Iya, described as another threat to the security of the state and the country as a whole.

According to him, the proliferation of firearms refers to the widespread distribution and availability of guns, often beyond the control of regulatory authorities. This phenomenon has significant implications for society, affecting various aspects of public safety, security, and stability.

He said arms proliferation has Impact on crime and violence: “The easy availability of firearms increases the likelihood of their use in criminal activities, such as homicides, armed robberies, and gang-related violence. Areas with high rates of gun proliferation often experience elevated levels of violent crime and insecurity.

He also identified the impact on conflict and instability. “In regions affected by armed conflict or political instability, the proliferation of firearms exacerbates violence and prolongs conflicts. Illicit arms trafficking fuels insurgencies, civil wars, and terrorism, contributing to humanitarian crises and displacement of populations,” he stated.

Durumin-Iya said that arms proliferation can also have humanitarian consequences, noting that “the presence of firearms contributes to human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, forced displacement, and gender-based violence. Civilians, particularly women and children, are disproportionately affected by the negative consequences of gun proliferation.”

According to him, there could also be an economic impact.

“The proliferation of firearms can have detrimental effects on economic development by impeding growth, deterring investment, and disrupting livelihoods. In communities plagued by gun violence, access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities may be compromised,” he reasoned.

“Furthermore, it has challenges for governance. The widespread availability of firearms undermines efforts to maintain law and order, weaken governance structures, and erode public trust in institutions. Weak regulation of firearms can lead to corruption, illicit trafficking, and the empowerment of criminal networks.

“Additionally, it attracts international security concerns, the expert stated.




     

     

    “Illicit arms trafficking contributes to transnational crimes and poses challenges to international security. Firearms flow across borders, fueling conflicts, destabilizing regions, and undermining efforts to promote peace and security at the global level,” he explained.

    Durumin-Iya noted that addressing the proliferation of firearms requires comprehensive strategies that address both supply and demand factors. This includes strengthening arms control measures, enhancing law enforcement capacity, promoting disarmament initiatives, addressing root causes of conflict and violence, and promoting responsible gun ownership. Collaborative efforts involving governments, civil society organizations, and international actors are essential, he said, to mitigate the negative impacts of gun proliferation and promote peace, security, and stability.

    Meanwhile, the Zamfara State government has established a Community Protection Guards (CPG) who were recruited to guard their various communities to complement the efforts of conventional security operatives and they are armed with modern ‘Pump Action Guns’, provided with operational vans, motorcycles helmets, bullet proof vest and other security equipment with a view to assisting the ongoing inspection against the marauding bandits in the state.

    All efforts made by the ICIR team to get the Commissioner of Police Zamfara State Command, Muhammad Shehu Dalijan and the Zamfara State Commissioner for security and Home Affairs, Bala Muhammad Mairiga , to speak to our reporters prove abortive. Several attempts were made to speak to each of them at separate times, but they were not available to answer questions.

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