Bandit bands raid towns, assault drivers, kidnap children, and kill anyone who opposes in northwestern Nigeria. What do these men want, and who are they? In a recent BBC Africa Eye programme, some of the most feared bandit commanders in Zamfara state are brought into the spotlight as they take us inside Nigeria’s biggest security crisis.
Zamfara state in northern Nigeria has experienced an uptick in violence over the past ten years. Armed with Kalashnikovs and machetes, young men in gangs enter villages on motorbikes and set them on fire, rape, steal, and kill. They suddenly emerge on the roads, shooting drivers and taking scared passengers from their vehicles to be either shot or ransomed. Even youngsters are not safe; hundreds of students have been kidnapped from boarding schools throughout the state and held captive at bandit hideouts buried deep in the woods while being demanded for ransom.
Nearly a million additional people have been forced from their homes as a result of the fighting in the northwestern region, which has claimed thousands of lives. The situation is still poorly acknowledged, despite the severity of the suffering, in part because it is so risky for journalists to travel in remote areas. Mass murders and abductions grab headlines, yet there hasn’t been much local reporting, leaving fundamental questions unanswered: These thieves, who are they? What are they seeking? How did this violence start, and why?
BBC Africa Eye has spent more than two years locating and interviewing some of the most infamous bandit commanders in Zamfara in an effort to find answers. A young Nigerian journalist and law student named Yusuf Anka visited bandit commanders in isolated settlements all around the state, including one of the guys who kidnapped nearly 300 girls from a high school in Jangebe in February 2021, at great personal risk.
This incredibly unsettling documentary from BBC Africa Eye is the consequence of Anka’s travels. The film exposes the full depravity of the violence that has spread over the north west in a series of disturbing interactions with both victims and offenders. It demonstrates that, despite the bravery of the security forces, the Nigerian state is failing to provide basic security to many of its citizens. It also demonstrates how lucrative the kidnapping for ransom industry has grown and alerts the nation that this crisis has now hints of an ethnic conflict between the Hausa and the Fulani.
What Does the Documentary Entail
The expository documentary explains the major problem conflicting the people of Zamfara. Opening the rest of Nigerians, and the world a clear insight as to the occurrence of the uniqueness of the happenings in the region. It digs deep into the societal and ethical conflicts that have persisted in Zamfara between the two dominant ethnic groups, Hausa’s and the Fulanis.
Both parties were heard, issues were trashed and it become clear as day that what had started as a communal conflict has gone on to become grievances against the government of Nigeria (or even at Nigerians at large) which is a result of perceived discrimination and underpresentation.
Major Points in the Documentary and our Take
Apparently from what was discovered is that the Fulanis have come to believe that Nigeria is no longer welcoming to them as it seems the country does not regard them as Nigerians or their business of cattle rearing as a crucial business to the sustainability of the Nigerian people.
The Fulani’s, although some people will argue that they’re entirely not Nigerians, have been in Nigeria, settled in Nigeria, breed, made home and business in Nigeria since the 15th century. It is safe to say that like every other tribe in Nigeria, they have settled in and thus have the same basic human rights as everyone other Nigeria. Apparently from conceived report, the Fulanis settled in Nigeria have to battle with different problems of inability to herd their cattles in the traditional pastoral way with the claims that they are no longer welcomed in Nigeria as “people see them as Hyena’s rather than human.”
“How have the Fulanis become so worthless in Nigeria.
There are no veterinary clinics to help their cows. We have nowhere to take them to drink Don’t cows have any value? Everyone needs milk, and meat.”
He even further alleged that there are quite a number of Fulani graduates but the government never considers them, “I swear if 1000 Hausa student sat alongside a single Fulani man, they’ll pass all the Hausa’s and fail the Fulani. There are no bandits, the government are the only bandits!”
The affected groups believe that the only language the Nigerian government understands is violence, and they are hell bent on using the only available means to get heard.
- The number of bandit groups have increased since the government have retorted to paying bandits ransoms for kidnapping and the act of terrorism.
- It is believed that the government is the sole beneficiary of the crisis going on in Zamfara and the country at large.
- Governments response to crime is poor, completely non-existing or one-side in many cases.
- It is obvious that the Government know this terrorist/bandits but fakes unknowing!
- Affected communities are tired of running and hence, asking for ammunition to defend theirselves and their people.
- The Government technically promotes Banditary and Kidnapping.
The most shocking facts in the documentary relate to the kidnapping of the roughly 300 girls who were taken by robbers from a public high school in Jangebe in February 2021. The robbers who carried out the kidnapping were never apprehended and refused to talk to the media in the past, but the BBC team managed to find one of the attackers who oversaw the attack on the school. He says on video that the Nigerian government paid the bandits a ransom of 60 million Naira to release the girls. Anka queries, “What did you do with the money?” “We got more rifles,” is the prompt response.
Meanwhile, the current Zamfara State governments debunks ever paying any ransom for the release of the kidnapped girls.
A teenage boy who was the brother of one of the kidnapped girls was seen in horrific scenes dying after being shot in the stomach in the video as well as the dramatic return of the girls to their families in early March. The BBC was informed by numerous witnesses that the youngster was slain by Nigerian security personnel. The boy’s father told the BBC, “I recall how he raised his head to look at me while he was in that condition. “I’m hurt by how much anguish my son endured. I’m in shock.” The Nigerian military was contacted by the BBC for comment of the incident, but no response was given.
The assiliant is not remourseful, neither is the massacre ending soon, and this is why!
In the expository, Ado Aleru, a well-known Fulani warlord wanted by Katsina authorities for planning a massacre in the village of Kadisau in June 2020, grants the one and only media interview he has ever given. Following his inauguration as “Chief of the Fulani” and “turbaning” by an emir in Zamfara state, Aleru has been the focus of recent controversy in Nigeria. In response to the BBC’s inquiry regarding the number of people he had kidnapped, Aleru said, “My men do that; I just go and murder them.”
Aleru is evasive when it comes to his political goals, but one of his allies expresses the complaints that are pushing many young Fulani men to join bandit bands. The man tells us that cow herding has traditionally been a part of life for the Fulani people, but it has gotten harder as traditional grazing routes have been cut off and land and water have become more rare. According to the man, the Fulani are routinely denied access to government employment and other economic possibilities, and the Nigerian air force regularly targets and kills innocent Fulani ranchers and their cattle. He questions, “How have the Fulani become so worthless in Nigeria.”
- Perceived Ethnic Conflict. The Hausa’s are Bent on Silencing the Fulani’s – Whatever it takes.
The battle between Fulani herders and Hausa farmers is how some interviewees, including Ado Aleru and his associate, have described the violence. When Anka travels to Kurfa Dunya, a Hausa farming hamlet, soon after a bandit attack in early January 2022, he hears the same thoughts. The local vigilante militia showed the BBC a series of mass graves that they claim contain the remains of more than 200 men, women, and children, despite the fact that the government acknowledges that 58 people were slain by bandits at Kufar Dunya. One of the vigilantes declares, “If permitted, we will kill every Fulani guy, even in the town, because they massacred our mothers, dads, and children and discarded their bodies here.
Bandit gang, says, “It’s evident it’s tribal.” “If not, how is it possible to pass settlements while destroying exclusively Fulani ones? Why would a Fulani murder a Hausa who was not at fault? Clearly a tribal clash is at play.”
Similar vigilante organisations have been formed by Hausa farming communities throughout the state of Zamfara to protect their families and lands. But vigilantes frequently lack discipline, and militias formed for self-defense can quickly become armed gangs seeking retribution. The horrifying effects of one such attack in the town of Tsafe are depicted in the BBC film. A group of Hausa vigilantes and neighbourhood kids rampaged through the town in January and February 2022 after a string of bandit raids, torching Fulani homes and businesses. The BBC team discovered a teenage Fulani girl who had been severely burned and hacked with machetes inside the neighbourhood hospital. They set the room on fire with all of us inside, she told the BBC. They pursued me while slicing and thrashing me, “I pleaded with them to spare my life, I’m not a bandit.”
- Tribal Conflicts
The notion that there are ethnic conflict aspects in the violence has rightfully worried many Nigerians. But after hearing the voices in this movie, that is the inevitable conclusion. Hassan Dantawaye, a bandit leader who was one of the first Fulani men to bring guns into Zamfara and take up arms at the head of a bandit gang, says, “It’s evident it’s tribal.” “If not, how is it possible to pass settlements while destroying exclusively Fulani ones? Why would a Fulani murder a Hausa who was not at fault? Clearly a tribal clash is at play.”
- Banditary and Kidnapping has become a Lucrative Business for bandits and the government – there might be not end to it soon!
Dantawaye also talks about the current generation of Fulani boys who have grown up amid the slaughter that started more than ten years ago, frequently without parents. These lads are a new and more terrifying breed of Fulani bandits, surrounded by guns and raised in a culture of extreme brutality. Many of them aren’t really motivated by the political complaints of their elders; rather, the enormous sums of money that can now be made in the kidnap-for-ransom sector and the blatant cruelty of the culture in which they were nurtured drive them. Banditry is now a lucrative industry.