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Return of bandits spreads fears in Zamfara

Visibly disturbed, Alhaji Umaru Keta could not control his emotion as he narrated how a gang of armed bandits invaded his village in a broad daylight one fateful Monday. His eyes were reddish and misty as he wiped tears away.

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“They arrived here on about six motorbikes, with some of them clad in military uniform. They alighted from the bikes, wielding all sorts of rifles and headed straight to the police station.

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“Some of them went inside the station, forced the cell open and freed those in detention, including their partners in crime. They said they would go with three officers manning the station,’’ he narrated.

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Asked whether he knew something about the peace agreement between armed bandits and the local vigilante group, Alhaji Keta said the peace deal would not be meaningful unless the criminals were disarmed.

Zamfara State had enjoyed relative peace after a peace deal between the bandits and the local vigilante group was brokered in December 2016 by the state government under the leadership of the deputy governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Wakkala Muhammad.

But pockets of deadly raids on some communities, believed to have been carried out by some defiant armed bandits, have threatened the peace process.

Corroborating Alhaji Keta’s story, another resident identified as Usman Ali, said the bandits laid siege and blocked all entry and exit routes in the village as they carried out attacks.

“They blocked the main street, stopping cyclists, motorists and even pedestrians from passing. Those trapped on the streets and inside residential houses had their phones seized. One of the armed bandits was going round seizing phones and other valuables from the residents,’’ he said.

Another resident, Sani Bala, said he ran into one of the attackers as he was trying to hide, and he was disposed of his monies and phone. He said they collected more than 200 phones from residents and went away.

“One of the attackers slapped a resident who was trying to make call and the phone fell off his hand. The attacker thought he was trying to contact security operatives,’’ he said. 

Yusuf Ibrahim said he was shocked when one of the bandits shot one resident dead in the full glare of bystanders. The victim was left lying in the pool of his blood.

“Having held the police station hostage, some of the attackers were busy seizing motorbikes from residents. On sensing what was happening, one resident quickly tried to push his motorcycle to a nearby house, but unfortunately for him, one of the gun-wielding attackers spotted him and told him to surrender. When the resident resisted, he was shot on his chest and he died instantly. At the end, the gunman didn’t go with the bike. I felt dizzy and almost slumped as that was my first time to witness the killing of a fellow human being. The gang leader later rebuked the killer, saying they were instructed not to kill anyone. He said they would only go with police officers.

“We were very surprised at what their leader said. I recall that when they arrived, people began to scamper for safety, but they told us that they were not here to kill anyone. They said they came to deal with police officers stationed in the village. “Despite this assurance, some residents still ran for safety while some were bold enough to stay and witness what would happen,’’ Ibrahim further narrated.

Narrating his own part of the story, Musa Ibrahim said he was at Kunchin Kalgo market when he received a call that his hometown of Keta was under attack. Kunchin Kalgo is a village located 10 kilometers south of Keta.

“Armed bandits also attend that market, so when the news got to them that their colleagues had attacked Keta village and abducted some police officers, they began to celebrate in the market. Some of them were blowing whistles, shouting joyfully. And no one could challenge them.

“We heard that a peace deal was struck with them, but their rifles were not collected. Let me tell you, as long as their rifles are with them, that peace process will remain a mirage,’’ he said.

When our correspondent visited the township police station, from where the officers were abducted, he saw a heavily armed team of policemen manning the station. The officer in charge referred our correspondent to the police command in Gusau, the state capital. 

The village head of Keta, Alhaji Lawali Nassarawa, called on the government to come to the villages to hear genuine complaints from the people, saying justice must be ensured among all the clans.

Two weeks ago, Governor Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar expressed concern over the recent attacks on some communities in the state. He condemned the attacks on Bakura, Maradun and some parts of Anka Local Government Area, saying they were unacceptable.

The deputy governor of the state, Wakkala Mohammad, said the state Security Council had resolved to take proactive measures to deal with the situation. He said they would continue with the peace dialogue started last year, which led to the restoration of law and order in the state. He revealed that the Security Council would employ the services of more security agents such as the police, army and other operatives to deal with the recent situation.

 “It was agreed that any warring faction that refused to accept the peace dialogue and the implementation of the agreements reached during the talks should be dealt with ruthlessly,’’ he added.

The Police Public Relations Officer, Zamfara State command, DSP Muhammad Shehu, said the Divisional Police Officer of Tsafe Local Government Area and other officers were dispatched in search of the missing officers.

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