Five soldiers were recently killed by bandits in Sunke village in Anka Local Government Area in Zamfara State, barely three weeks after the state government raised alarm on possible Boko Haram attacks in the state, even as gunmen recently attacked Tureta Local Government Area of Sokoto State, seizing thousands of cows.
The recent attack on soldiers sparked fears among residents of Zamfara State despite the return of peace for several months. Residents have called on the state government to hold the repentant bandits accountable for their pledges.
Several people who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday said the peace deal should be strengthened and parties involved should ensure they honour the deal to ensure sustainability of the agreement.
“Of course, peace has returned to the state, but what the repentant bandits are doing in recent times call for a lot of concern. The government must invite them to remind them of their promises on halting attacks on people.
“We are working on our farms now, no killings, no kidnappings for ransom but the main problem is that armed men have shifted their attention to cattle rustling. In our district , that is Kawaye, cattle theft by the so called repentant bandits has become the order of the day.
“Residents of communities such as Gobirawa, Dawan Jiya, Duza and Tungar Daji are bearing the brunt of cattle rustling in recent times. The armed men are doing that on a massive scale. Even when they had an encounter with soldiers in Sunke, people in our community began to flee to the relatively safer neighbouring town of Bagega, especially when the soldiers stationed there temporarily withdrew for reinforcement,” a resident, Aliyu Muhammad, said.
Another resident, Aminu Shuaibu said there were reports that those behind the Sunke attacks are not repentant bandits. He said reports indicated that they crossed into the state from the Birnin Gwari forest in the neighbouring Kaduna State.
“Yes, we heard they came from that axis. Security operatives should be very vigilant so that some criminals won’t come and re-pollute the minds of those who embraced peace here. The peace process should also involve other neighbouring states,” he said.
Peace had prevailed for months in the state after the pact in June this year as there were no reports of attacks after that.
The attacks had ceased, kidnappings for ransom had stopped and farmers were returning to farming after the dialogue with armed bandits. Some of the armed men started laying down their arms.
At least 49 AK47 rifles, and more than 200 other guns were collected from repentant bandits and the local vigilante group otherwise known as Yan Sakai since June.
But last month, the state government, in a surprise announcement, raised alarm on possible attacks on seven local government areas of the state by dispersed Boko Haram elements.
The government said it was in possession of credible intelligence reports suggesting that some disgruntled politicians of the state origin were making clandestine moves to destabilize the state.
“They are intending for sinister and personal gains, collaborating with dispersed elements of Boko Haram to launch series of attacks on innocent and peace-loving people of the state in order to scuttle the relative peace being currently enjoyed as a result of the peace dialogue process initiated by the present administration.
“According to the intelligence reports, the cruel and mischievous elements have perfected plans to launch the attacks in seven local government areas of the state and strategic places within the state capital. According to the reports, two important personalities of the state are also targeted for elimination should this dastardly act succeed.
“The targeted local governments include Gusau, the state capital, Tsafe, Talata Mafara, Anka, Zurmi, Maru and Maradun. The strategic places targeted are Gusau Central Mosque and Gusau Mami Market were soft targets are known to gather both at day and night”
The Boko Haram elements were said to have been recruited from far and wide to carry out these heinous acts between September 23 and October 25, 2019, according to the reports.
Barely two weeks after the alarm, a motorbike riding gang of armed men were spotted at Mayanchi Junction along Gusau-Sokoto highway. No one knew their mission at that time.
“They had a stopover at Mayanchi junction, they didn’t harass anyone but their appearance was quite intimidating. Some of them had their hairs plaited. They took some items from shop owners and went away without paying for the items.
“They blocked the highway for some time, resulting in a hold-up. They later allowed the vehicles to move freely. Thereafter, they moved on and disappeared into the forest.
“They told residents that they should not panic as they were on their way to Birnin Gwari in the neighbouring Kaduna State on invitation from armed bandits there,” a resident, Sani Kabir, said.
The Special Adviser to Governor Bello Muhammad Matawalle on Security Matters, Alhaji Abubakar Dauran, told Daily Trust Saturday that, contrary to fears that the peace process may collapse after the alarm, the deal is intact and successes are being recorded.
He said shortly after the Sunke attack, they held an emergency meeting with the leaders of repentant bandits and learned that those behind the Sunke attack were not part of the earlier peace deal.
On the incessant cattle theft, Alhaji Dauran said measures were being taken to stabilize the situation and people should be patient and have confidence in the ability of the authorities to handle the situation.
“The deal is intact, and we have recorded huge success. You are a living witness that we were able to recover 49 rifles from repentant bandits and more are being surrendered. We are always in touch with leaders of the repentant bandits.
“Therefore, I can tell you that the attack has nothing to do with our successful peace initiative. We are on top of the situation and I can tell you that we met some leaders of the repentant bandits from all parts of the state and we resolved that they should start disarming the boys in the forest. The disarmament on their part would start from this month,” Dauran said.
Asked about the role played by the a bandit called Dogo Gide, who killed the notorious cattle rustling kingpin known as Buharin Daji, Alhaji Dauran said during the peace talks, Dogo Gide sent his representatives and affirmed his support for the process.
“Shortly afterwards, reports available to us indicated that Dogo Gide renounced cattle rustling and kidnapping and migrated to neighbouring Niger State with herds of cattle.
Apart from the Sunke assault, there has not been any report of an attack or kidnapping in the state since June.
Gunmen storm Sokoto villages, seize cows, sheep
While the storm was settling in Zamfara, residents of communities in Tureta Local Government Area of Sokoto State were taken aback by a sudden attack by about 150 gunmen who stormed Tarana Mahuta, Bagurba and Gidan Kare between last Sunday and Wednesday.
Residents said, though the bandits did not kill anyone in the communities, they rustled over 10,000 cows and an unspecified number of sheep at gunpoint.
They allegedly shot one Mallam Shehu when he confronted them as they were taking his cattle away. Shehu sustained gunshot wounds on his hand and thigh and was taken to hospital.
The Secretary of the Council, Alhaji Mohammed Bello Liman Silame, said over 5,000 displaced persons were camped in the Tureta Model Primary School following the attacks. Other villages affected included Kuruwa-Birni, Kuruwa, Dan Tayawa, Ba-girbi, Bela, Gidan Sule.The council scribe disclosed that the state government had sent relief materials including sacks of rice, millet, gari and maize to victims.
He noted that some of the displaced persons had started returning to their villages.
The Deputy Governor of Sokoto State, Mannir Dan’Iya, said despite some hitches the peace talks were still on.
He noted that those responsible for the recent attacks were bandits from neighbouring countries.
Dan’Iya who chairs the Sokoto State Committee on Negotiations said: “The state government and security agencies are doing everything possible to end the banditry.
“Security agencies arrested some of the bandits on transit after the Tureta attack. Almost two-thirds of what they carried away were recovered, in due course they are going to be paraded by the appropriate authorities.
“The state government will not back down on the negotiations as other paramilitary agencies are brought in to tackle the increase in banditry in the Northwest.”
The police spokesman in Sokoto State, ASP Muhammad Abubakar Sadiq, said special forces were deployed to retrieve the seized cattle.