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Fresh attacks raise fears of renewed killings in Zamfara

Residents of Zamfara State have become apprehensive after an attack on Karaye community last Sunday left dozens dead, thus sparking fears of resurgence of deadly…

Residents of Zamfara State have become apprehensive after an attack on Karaye community last Sunday left dozens dead, thus sparking fears of resurgence of deadly raids after a successful peace deal in June.

In the past three weeks, tension has heightened in Gwalli District of Gummi Local Government Area of Zamfara State after nine suspected armed bandits were extra judicially executed by members of a vigilante group known as Yan Sakai, leading to a reprisal on Karaye community.

The killing of the armed men sparked the deadly reprisal on Karaye and Kurfa villages barely three weeks after. The attack on Karaye community came six months after a landmark peace pact was reached between bandits and the Yan Sakai.

Karaye  community is 40 kilometres west of Gummi town and the road leading to the village is largely unmotorable.

Traditionally, the armed men are known for their tit-for-tat approach to provocations. Some of the residents who spoke with our correspondent in Gummi said they knew that the armed men would definitely come for retaliation.

One of the displaced persons spotted by our reporter on the streets of Gummi town with her child on her shoulder said she trekked from Karaye to Gummi to seek refuge. She said her husband was no where to be found even though she was told later by a neighbour that he wasn’t among those killed during the attack.

“The armed men didn’t allow us to get out of our houses. We could only hear sounds of gunshots and see heavy smoke billowing out of the burning shops and grain silos,” she said.

Another resident, Abdullahi Aminu, said he dashed into the bush after the gunmen started firing shots. He said he didn’t  allow the armed men patrolling the streets to see him escaping.

“I was holding a torchlight, I instructed my wife and children to remain indoors. I quickly moved outside and jumped over a fence at my neighbour’s residence and I scaled another fence again and jumped outside. Then, I ran into a bush where I hid  till 3am before I started trekking to Gummi town,” he added.

Some of the displaced persons, Daily Trust Saturday learnt, are taking refuge in the houses of the relatives. There is no concentration of displaced residents in government buildings like schools.

“A woman and her three children are taking shelter in my apartment. We are the ones feeding them with the little we have and there are food donations from individuals in the neighborhood to the displaced persons not only in my house but other places harbouring the displaced,” a resident, Saminu Tijjani, said.

Another resident said his relatives from Kurfa village were with him for two days before they relocated to another empty house opposite his own, even as food is being supplied to them from his own house.

“We are supplying food to them, we gave them blankets and other items for their use since the cold season has set in. They said they would like to go back home if the security situation improves,” he said.

Residents further  told our correspondent that a few days to the Sunday attack, they noticed the movement of armed bandits on motorbikes riding towards Gyalange and Gwalli area in preparation for attacks on villages in the district.

“I can tell you that the armed men were spotted coming from Tureta area in the neighbouring Sokoto State days before the attack. And we believed the motorbike riding bandits were heading to Gwalli district because they were asking residents to guide them on the proper routes to take.

“They passed through areas like Kurfa, Gyalange and Bardoki down to Karaye. Even before the Karaye carnage, there was a fight after soldiers stationed in Gummi engaged the armed men in Gyalange community where they attacked and killed two people.

“Then the armed men withdrew from area to Loni, near Barikin Daji. In Karaye community, they had an encounter with the Yan Sakai and the vigilante members  were able to kill nine of them. That was why the armed bandits mobilized and stormed Karaye community to avenge the killing of their colleagues,” a resident, Ali Shuaibu said.

Another resident, Hussaini Ahmad, told our reporter that members of the vigilante group that partook in the killing of the Fulani were fished out and immediately arrested. He said the killing of the Fulani did not go down well with authorities at the time a peace agreement was initiated to end the menace of banditry and cattle rustling that had been plaguing the state for many years.

“The Yan Sakai that killed the bandits were later arrested and charged with taking laws into their hands. Gummi local government has been relatively peaceful compared to other local government areas even at the peak of the deadly attacks in the state,” he added.

Some of the residents who survived the  attack on Karaye community told Daily Trust Saturday that they had a feeling that the village would be raided after the heavy clash between the armed men and the Yan Sakai.

“When they laid siege, the armed men stayed metres away from the community. They blocked all escape routes and started firing at the residents. They shot dead those trying to escape. Some of them trekked to the community from where they parked their motorbikes and started moving house to house, shooting residents dead.

“Before they fled, they torched houses, grain silos, shops and vehicles. Even the corpses were not spared as charred bodies of the residents were also found on the streets.  At least 19 persons were killed in the attacks,” Sani Mairama said.

The armed men had earlier attacked Kurfa village, looted shops and seized dozens of motorbikes belonging to residents.

“The armed men were having a field day. Even before they raided the community, they mounted road blocks, collecting money from residents of the communities in the district on exit or entry.  The vast forest around the areas provided a safe haven for them,” Kabir Dan Mallam said.

A lull had prevailed in respect of the attacks since  the peace deal was struck in June this year. The armed bandits had agreed to halt further attacks on villages after the Yan Sakai stopped extra judicial executions of suspected bandits, especially in rural markets.

The peace dialogue saw the unconditional release of hundreds of captives by both sides in the last five months. Residents of the state heaved a sigh of relief after the peace dialogue and were happy that the worst days were over as there were no more reported attacks in the last five months.

The Special Adviser to the state governor on security, Alhaji Abubakar Dauran, said in spite of the setback, the peace deal is still intact, and all stakeholders in the peace process are in touch with one another.

He said the leaders of the repentant bandits and the Yan Sakai had condemned the recent attacks and vowed to abide by the terms of the agreement, adding that the leaders from both sides  had  not lost communication with their members and would never do anything that could jeorpadize the deal.

“Part of the measures taken was that the cows seized from the Fulani by the Yan Sakai were returned to their owners and the cattle herded away by the bandits after Sunday’s attack were also released to the owners. So, you see, both sides are willing to sheath swords.

“I can tell you also that security operatives have arrested the Yan Sakai that perpetrated the earlier attack on the Fulani and the Fulani too were arrested and the actions taken  will bring back sanity to our communities,” Dauran added.

Governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle of Zamfara State had earlier approved the suspension of a senior District Head of Gummi, Alhaji Abubakar Bala Gummi ( Bunun Gummi).

The state government wasn’t specific on the allegations leveled against him but sources told Daily Trust that the approach of the senior district head to issues concerning the crisis angered the authorities.

“Earlier, a leader of the repentant bandits came for a meeting at the emir’s palace in Gummi and at the meeting, he lodged complaints that his men were attacked by the Yan Sakai and the senior district head was indifferent to the matter,” a source said.

Governor Bello Matawalle flanked by CP Usman Nagogo and SA security Alhaji Abubakar Dauran during the display of the rifles submitted by a bandit
Governor Bello Matawalle flanked by CP Usman Nagogo and SA security Alhaji Abubakar Dauran during the display of the rifles submitted by a bandit

However, the recent attacks sent jitters to residents of the communities. They are apprehensive that the dark days of bloodbath might return if serious measures are not taken to contain the situation right from its early stage.

“I think this is what took us to the situation we found ourselves . What I mean is that some fools among us were taking laws into their hands by arbitrarily arresting people and unlawfully executing them in rural communities in the name of self defence.

“Even though the authorities must have their own share of the blame because when all these unlawful executions were taking place they did nothing or little to stop it until the situation degenerated to this level,” a resident, Usman Aminu, said.

Even before the recent crisis, last September, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Usman Nagogo, summoned an emergency meeting between the Yan Sakai, representatives of the armed men and Fulani leaders. The meeting was held at the palace of the Emir of Gummi, Justice Lawal Hassan Gummi (rtd).

The meeting was part of the plan by the state police boss to consolidate the peace deal and  douse tension after an altercation between herders and farmers had caused a stir in some communities in Gwalli district.

A source familiar with the crisis told Daily Trust Saturday that some herders believed to have migrated from either Shinkafi or Birnin Magaji local government areas of the state during the administration of former governor Abdulaziz Yari had decided to settle at an area west of Gwalli community in Gummi Local Government Area.

“You know it was during the days of the crisis between herders and farmers in the state, nay at the peak period of the crisis. The state government at that time asked the herders to vacate the area.

“The Abdulaziz Yari government wrote a letter to the Gummi emirate council, Gummi local government and local security chiefs ordering the herders to leave the area on the suspicion that they could be criminals.

“When the herders settled at the area, they began to purchase lands and some other property largely through the local chiefs in the area. The herders settled and starting working on the lands they purchased and suddenly there was an order by the authorities for them to leave the area.

“On the premise of the order, some unscrupulous elements decided to take the advantage of the situation and began to confiscate property acquired by the herders at that time. They drove the herders away and took over their lands.

“Unknown to the authorities, the herders who reportedly migrated to the neighbouring Kebbi State were planning to avenge the treatment meted out to them,” the source added.

“When the herders arrived at the communities, people out of apprehension fled their homes. You know,  in a situation like this, the herders wouldn’t bother to make distinction between those who offended them and those who did not. There could be high casualties and this is why when the people saw them, they fled.

“But the fleeing residents had returned to their homes and normalcy was restored thereafter. The timely intervention of the state police command really saved the situation. All the aggrieved parties agreed to  put every thing behind them at that time for the sake of peace,” a resident,  Hassan Idris, said.

“So, the armed men came back to the communities on vengeance mission and it coincided with the time Governor Bello  Matawalle’s administration had struck a peace deal between herders and farmers in the state and you know the authorities would not relax  and watch any one formenting  trouble after the peace deal, that is why they quickly intervened to de-escalate tension.”

The altercation over the land, observers said, was the remote cause of the last Sunday’s attack on the communities. However, the recent killing of the Fulani by the Yan Sakai triggered the attacks. Both sides, the Fulani and the Yan Sakai, do retaliate attacks on each other.

The spokesman of the state police command, SP Muhammad Shehu, said the state commissioner of police had in September led other officers to the palace of the Emir of Gummi , Alhaji Hassan Lawal, to consolidate on their earlier peace building process.

“The two warring groups of Fulani and Hausa communities from Gwalli and Makaranta villages in the local government were assembled at the palace of the emir.

“The reason for the assembly was to address the existing rivalry/dispute through peace  dialogue and reconciliation so as to avoid unwarranted loss of life and property,” Shehu said.

He said the state police boss,  Usman Nagogo, who presided over the meeting, called on the two warring parties to voice out their grievances in order to address them once and for all. He enjoined them to respect the resolutions reached during the meeting by accepting the truce  and avoiding whatever could cause a break down of law and order in Gummi and Zamfara in General.

Mr Nagogo  assured them that the ongoing peace initiative was being carried out with all sense of sincerity and justice to all the parties. He thanked  the emir for his continued support and cooperation on the peace initiative.

SP Shehu further recalled that on November 3, 2019, some Yan Sakai members  around Bardoki village in same Gummi local government area attacked and killed nine  Fulani  on suspicion of being bandits.

“The command swung into action and  arrested 11 members of Yan sakai who actively participated in the actual killing of the Fulani that led to the Sunday’s  incident  and are being investigated by the state CID in Gusau. They would be charged to court  for prosecution  in order  to serve as deterrence to others,” he added.

“Combined teams attached to “operation puff Adder”/Men of Operation  Hadarin Daji and Vigilante led by the DPO Gummi mobilised to the scene and  embarked  on extensive bush combing with a view to trailing and arresting  the perpetrators,” he said.

He said discreet investigations into the incident were ongoing and  whoever is found wanting would  be made to face the full wrath of the law.

The command called  on members of the public  to desist from taking laws into  their hands, as it would not hesitate to deal decisively with any person or group of persons trying  to sabotage the relative peace being enjoyed in the state.

The deputy governor of the state, Barrister Mahdi Aliyu Gusau, had visited Gummi emirate to condole with people of the emirate on behalf of Governor Bello Matawalle.

Governor Bello Matawalle through the Director General, Press Affairs, Alhaji Yusuf Idris, vowed to fish out the perpetrators of the attacks adding that no one would be allowed to drag the state back to the darks days of carnage.

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