‘#ZamfaraBandits’: Beyond the root causes

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On July 26, 2022, the BBCAfrica News, on Twitter, programmed an interactive discourse hash-tagged #ZamfaraBandits, which was audio-taped for an hour, and hosted by Dr. Aliyu Tanko, with experienced voices dialoguuing the current dimension of banditry and kidnapping in the North-west of Nigeria.

Being a student of history, I am impressed by the way some of our advocates begin to realise that the years old popular Fulani grievances i.e. of land alienation absence and displacement of grazing areas and routes, veterinary provisions and medical facilities etc. which, though must be considered to a limited extent, have not always been the case. Crime and criminality in this part of Africa have been the passion of many bandits and kidnappers claiming attacks and killings.

Efforts are being invested to prove the historical reality of this narrative beyond the question of herding and farming occupations—beyond the question of land—environment-and-climate change. For my believe has been that, there’s quite a number of criminal gangs penetrating deeper into the Nigeria’s forest zones and asserting their control over them. Their competing rivalries and competitions have less to do with the question of land, environment and grazing areas (much as researchers noticed about these). Various video clips taping the voices of these bandits suggest that their grievances are more in common with the growing enmity between them and their Hausa communities. Hardly has any Fulani bandit been recorded agitating for grazing areas in this regard. Much of what he keeps talking about is his years old tragic experience in common disputes over stolen cattle, farm residue etcetera. While these have been the agitations so far, tensions grow higher as interest groups (politicians, traditional rulers, community miscreants and even international players) keep murmuring around the floral, faunal and mineral reach of these areas, plundering the reach natural endowment of their lands, mercilessly exploiting its mineral deposit and unfaithfully harbouring local mercenaries to justify their cause.

The whole story now changed to a lucrative business with individuals and interest groups indirectly paying a greater patronage and the criminal gangs and bandit groups keep breeding new eggs with even more dying interest in labouring the crime more than ever before. They work for dough, and the harsh realities of the socio-economic conditions of Nigeria amidst intense poverty, corruption and racketeering especially among the political class and security personnel, have also improved the criminality-syndrome of the situation. It’s disheartening to have heard that a considerable number of youths in rural areas are showing interest to participate in the same ‘jungle job’! The words of approval being pronounced by some of these youths in Kadisau, Faskari and Tsafe, over the recent coronation of Yandoton Daji kingpin, Ada Alero as Sarkin Fulani, could have attested to this realization. It may also surprise the reader that these pronouncements are not only coming from some of the Fulani but also some of the Hausa as well! This is enough to prove that criminality has no ethnic colouration no matter how it is tinged.

Far from the years old agitations against land alienation and social and economic marginalisation, these bandits must have realised the dream of a ‘promised’ lifestyle that had been obstructed by the challenging realities of the 19th century Jihad movements—notably the Sokoto Caliphate. They couldn’t have wanted it too late! They had desired to overrule these forests for quite a long time. [Historical evidences are available to prove this assertion]. The views of Mr. Abdulaziz Abdulaziz and Mr. Bulama Bukarti on the yesterday’s #ZamfaraBandits Twitter dialogue, aptly hinted at.

However, Bulama’s adjunct on the ethnic dimension of the crime, seemingly owing its antecedence from the parochial explanation of the Sokoto Jihad, cannot be mistaken though, but it’s not ideologically precise. One needs to understand the perception of the rural population on the meaning and ideals of the b. Fudi’s Jihad and WHY and HOW, areas along Zamfara-Sokoto borderlines, accommodated the highest number of ‘non-Muslims’ population, and as suggested by several historical evidences, the number of this population (though no available data to prove the exact figure), did not only confine to Habe inhabitants of this axis but also the Fulbe—especially the nomads living on the outskirts. Both groups did not answer the call of the Shehu much as others did elsewhere.

In particular, the nomads were even more hostile to the Sehu’s ideals over the question of herding vis-a-vis their sedentary lifestyle. But looking at the Fulani as necessarily the Shehu’s kinsmen by among some section of the Hausa, might have sufficed Bulama’s curiosity. Still however, this assumption could hardly amount to saying that the historical recollections of the perceived ‘Fulani’ Jihad against the ‘Habe’, are what is currently fuelling the crime of banditry, kidnapping and rustling in these areas. As a matter of fact, most of the bandit gangs have no factual knowledge about the Jihad of Uthman b. Fudi, and if they have at all, they only come across various confusing narratives that have no basis outside their home ‘tell-tales’.

Even where the crimes proved to have clearly graduated to ethnic cleansing such as in Shinkafi, Zurmi, Birnin Magaji, Dansadau, Tsafe, Kadisau—Faskari as well as areas around Bakoro, like Guga etc., oral accounts suggest otherwise that these grisly acts are fuelled not necessarily by the past historical memories of ‘Fulani Jihad’ but rather by shared feelings among-and-between the mixed Hausa/Fulani communities. Growing animosity and accompanying circumspection and mistrust have continued to engender public peace and have downgraded the level of mutual trust haunting against all-and-sundry. Indeed reprisal attacks being staged against the Fulani by the Vigilante Mobs—largely composed of Hausa ethnic group, must have influenced the ethnic dimension of the conflict.

Fulani are known to have dispersed widely across West and Central Africa and beyond, they therefore, maintained close ties with their close affinities—relatives and kinsmen within and outside Nigeria; indeed within and outside Africa. They couldn’t afford to bear losses without retaliation. It’s not surprising therefore, that when in a community, there’s conflict, the Fulani shared feelings would automatically reconnect the same in the neighbourhoods. In cases where there may be a number of them resisting the temptation, others would force them to desist the areas and camp off away in preparation for attacks. This is to tell the reader the strength of their unionship—ideally involving the good, bad and debris of both. still however, some of them are reportedly becoming victims of their brothers’ relentless onslaught.

In another angle, this ensuing panic is believed to have aggravated by community vigilante mobs allegedly being the ‘filthy dogs’ crossing the rubrics of mutual co-existence in most of these rural areas. However, the explanation of their politically partisan engagement must also have a degree of limitation. One needs to interrogate the fact that, while the political class in this country is largely dominated by the Fulani, they still couldn’t avoid exploiting the Hausa sense of familiarity in masquerading their power hubris and campaigning their political interest. Could the abandonment of these ‘Hausa thugs’ after elections justify their ungodly actions in the form of ‘Vigilante Mobs’? Certainly not, because, these calculations seem disagree with politics as ‘a game of number’. It’s a faulty game and it does not tend to portray the real picture of the situation at present. What of the Hausa political contestants who have also exploited their Hausa youths to manipulate and rigg elections in favour of their interest? Aren’t they worth a pay?

The truth of the matter is that, Fulani have not always been in good mood with anything ‘Police’—call it ‘Yan Doka’, ‘Banga’ and (or) the more modern conception of ‘Yan sa Kai’ long time before now. In the colonial period, the Native Authority Police (‘Yan Doka’) were used as tools of intimidation and excessive punishment against various colonial ordinances and taxation—including in this case, the cattle (Jangali) tax—under which most of the Fulani fell victims and even caused their migration southward. After independence, especially in the midst of the proceeds to police reform, ‘Yan Banga’, with some of them being the stranded colonial ‘Yan Doka’, were randomly recruited to maintain security and order as well as arrest thieves and prevent stealing and rustling in markets. Their stiff actions to arrest thieves and display their shame on the glare of public eyes, had not always been comforted by among the Fulani. This is because, while seen as possessing large herd of cattle, the Fulani tended to become the ‘targeted victims’ of taxation as farmers were paying more, not actually by penny, but by forced labour on cash crop production.

While this fear had been the case in colonial and post-colonial times, it has still been so attendant at present, and even more devastatingly, appeared to have jeopardized the traditional mechanisms and eroded the time-tested traditions being employed to settle scores and solve problems. ‘No mercy’, has been the silent slogan of crimes and conflicts in these areas, O God!!

Another point justifying the crime dimension of this ungodly genocide, beyond the undisputed facts of grazing areas, taxation and extortions, as well as all the Vigilante coaxial dynamics, has been the traumatic aspect of the bandits’ operation, including in this case, the manner by which victims of kidnapping, released, ransomed or escaped, tend to respond or react after months of severe torture while in captivity. I must commend the impression given by Mrs. Shiffi Nuhu, also a speaker on the yesterday’s Twitter ‘#ZamfaraBandits dialogue, on Mal. Yusuf Dan Anka’s recent documentary which, in her view, covered a neglected aspect of the conflict i.e the question of victims and victimology. She should have added that this neglected aspect must also include the psychological trauma being inflicted upon the victims right at the kick of attacks, when the sound of the fusillading bullets caused nonobstetric death in expectant mothers, to those affected by forgotten memories especially among the menfolk and to various forms of torture being employed against those in captivity.

Far from agitations over land, the question of crime and criminality has been at the heart of these bandits and if care is not taken, madness would triumph, impunity and injustice would reign supreme and the country’s fate would be shaken spectacularly!
Musbahu writes from Katsina, Katsina state via

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