Senator Saidu Muhammad Dansadau represented Zamfara Central at the upper chamber of the National Assembly (1999 – 2007). In 2019 he served as a member of the MD Abubakar Panel constituted by the Zamfara State Government to probe insecurity in the state. In this interview, he discusses the root causes of the banditry in the state and pathways to a solution. Excerpt:
Sir, you come from one of the communities worse affected by this problem of banditry; can you tell us in a nutshell how devastating the problem has been over the years?
Honestly speaking, it has not been easy, in fact not only that our community is one of those affected, in fact, the whole problem started from around my village and that was simply because we are surrounded by thick forest, with the river which is the border between Zamfara State, Katsina State in the east, Kaduna State in the southeast, Niger in the southwest and Kebbi in the west. So criminals find that environment very conducive as a hideout.
Armed banditry really is a very complex security challenge. Number one, it has so many dimensions, number two there are so many factors responsible for it and one of the factors is the depletion of herds of cattle of the Fulani that we have been living with for years peacefully.
Yes, it is true, there are some farmer-herder skirmishes here and there but they have always been resolved in an amicable manner and sometimes by traditional rulers, at times it will get to the area courts and it is resolved.
You said you have lived with these people for years, can you recollect growing up how life was between the pastoralists and certain communities in your area?
It was very interesting. I recall with nostalgia, when the Fulani settled on an individual farm, if they are having a naming ceremony, they invite the indigenous farmers to the naming ceremony. We used to spend the whole day in the ruga of the Fulani drinking fura with nono, eating the kind of rice they cook; normally when they cook rice they put milk in it, very nice, very unique. So it was quite a smooth and cordial relationship.
At what point did the relationship get bad?
From late the 70s: The truth of the matter is when the herds of cattle began to deplete, following also certain factors; urbanization and inflation, high cost of living, that is number one.
Number two, the police, the alkali, the area courts, the traditional rulers have realized that a typical Fulani cattle rearer detests being detained or his child being detained. I have seen it, rather than detain a typical Fulani cattle rearer for two days, he prefers, in fact, you kill two of his children because if you detain him, he has nowhere to detain you but if you kill his children, no matter how long, if you kill his two children, he will come back and kill 10 of yours.
And my belief is that they have some superstitious belief about detention or imprisonment and that is why rather than detain them for two days, they wouldn’t mind giving you N20,000 or N30,000. So this is another factor that contributed to the depletion of their herds of cattle.
Thirdly, a typical Fulani man, like every other person – but their own is unique – loves his child to the core, to the extent that anything that his child does he doesn’t see anything wrong in it. So their children began to carry one goat, while they are in the bush rearing the cattle, to sell it at the market.
We used to have a local beer parlour which was under a tree, they will go there, drink beer and in the evening they go back home.
Gradually they began to sleep in the town and in the brothels where they joined the prostitutes as the goge music is going on and they are dancing together with the prostitutes. So that contributed a lot to the depletion of their herds of cattle to the extent that some families got to a stage where they have only about 10 heads of cattle; some even had nothing.
These brought about rustling.
So, from cattle rustling, there is this story that especially in your area, this thing flamed up of recent – in the last 10 years – after the murder of Alhaji Ishe around Dansadau; can you recollect what happened?
No, in fact, the murder of Ishe was not one of the causes but like you said it inflamed the situation, it inflamed it there is no doubt about that because Ishe was like a Fulani activist. To be fair to him, he was a fairly honest person because whenever there is a misunderstanding between Fulani and farmers, he used to go and assess the situation if a Fulani is wrong, he will tell the Fulani you are wrong and made to pay compensation to farmers and if farmers are wrong, they also tell the farmers they are wrong and if the farmer is notorious, Ishe will lead the victim from the Fulani to the court to the extent that sometimes he would hire lawyers to protect the Fulani.
Not only that, if a traditional ruler is also oppressing the Fulani, he would confront him. In fact investigation of recent has given a clear insight into what actually led to his murder: It was his activism, confronting traditional rulers that led to his murder.
People are blaming the vigilante group; in fact, the truth of the matter is that the vigilante groups were hired. The vigilante groups in my village were offered N600,000 to murder Ishe and they declined, they refused and some others were hired elsewhere and they came and they murdered him.
That is why the Fulani in the entire Zamfara State felt that like their leader, or what we call in Hausa, garkuwa, the person that is up and doing in protecting their interest anywhere to ensure justice, has now been murdered. And that is why the day he was murdered when some of the Fulani saw the corpse, they said this corpse will lead to the murder of not less than 100 Hausa people.
So there is no doubt that his murder inflamed and worsened the security situation in Zamfara State. In fact, that is why the security challenge, banditry, became statewide.
As at the time he was murdered, banditry was restricted to just Anka and Maru local government areas and just a few skirmishes here and there.
What was the nature of the conflict at that initial stage, before his murder?
It is like I told you, there were so many factors. In fact, it wasn’t really conflict that led to cattle rustling which later metamorphosed into armed banditry.
You see, the genesis of this matter started at the end of the civil war in Chad between Goukouni Oueddei and Hissene Habre. After the war, a large number of Fulani migrated to Nigeria and they went as far as to around my village. Some of the Fulani recognized them, they were even saying ‘look we are in trouble, with this kind of Fulani that migrated to this area no matter how long both the farmers and we, the original Fulani, we are going to be in trouble’.
And nothing was done at the time?
Nothing was actually done, typical of authorities in Nigeria. They are those who introduced small-scale armed robbery between one village to another. Cattle rustling were not known in Nigeria’s history, they are the ones who introduced cattle rustling to our local Fulani.
Don’t forget I told you another factor is the depletion of herds of cattle of our local Fulani. So those local Fulani who had nothing at that time, recruited them into cattle rustling.
Now by the time the cattle of the Hausa people, which they used normally for farming finished, they now began to rustle the cattle of the Fulani and that is how it continued to grow from bad to worse.
It got to a level where they will tell the head of a Fulani family ‘give us one or two of your children to concentrate in this cattle rustling’ and if you refuse, they will come and attack you, kill either one or two of your children and rustle your cattle. That was how the situation began to get worse.
So some were intimidated to surrender some of their children because they have witnessed how those who refused to give their children were attacked. The same children you refused to give are now being killed and some of your cattle rustled. Now they became intimidated, they now surrendered.
Now when some of the Fulani migrated, some to Zamfara State, some to Kara State and a majority of them to Adamawa State, when the cattle became few, the son who is part of the cattle rustlers will lead the cattle rustlers to his own family and they would rustle the cattle of his father. That is how it continued to grow from bad to worse.
So in all these years, especially in recent times when the armed banditry began to become manifest, what has been the reaction, especially official reaction?
Honestly speaking, the reaction was that of let us report to the authorities.
What did the authorities do?
Virtually very, very little if anything. And then another trouble began to rear its ugly head. When they report to the police and the police called the Fulani when they part with money the person who reported them, they will go, attack and kill him.
From that stage it moved to, ‘since police cannot protect us, let us protect ourselves by using our own vigilante group’ and Yan sa-kai emerged – that is the traditional hunters.
But some of the Yan sa-kai have caused more harm than good to the whole conflict.
No! Honestly speaking I don’t believe that but like in any group of people you are definitely going to have bad eggs, there are definitely bad eggs among them. There is one of them that I reported and I made sure he was arrested, right inside my village, because he was worse than bandits. He was extorting money from the Fulani and from the farmers. In fact, he was killing people in the name of being a vigilante.
But what was done to him?
You know typical of police attitude in Nigeria, somebody was arrested, he was in detention for almost nine months, from one place to another, one day I was just informed he was back to Dansadau and he is still there.
And that leads me to another issue that escalated this phenomenon, making it extremely difficult to curtail, that is a situation where vigilante groups or soldiers will arrest some people, the criminals, they will hand them over to the police but before you know it, within 3, 4, 5 weeks they are released and they go back in the name of reprisal and attack the entire village of the vigilante group that arrested them.
As I am talking to you now, following the recent aggressive operation of the military, there are no less than 400 bandits in the hands of the police but they are systematically being released one after the other.
Now, the governor of Zamfara State has set up a committee which will be responsible for arraigning these people before the court of law and the committee is meeting a lot of challenges – lack of cooperation from the police because any time the military hands over any number of criminals, the committee will go and take their particulars and their number and the police apparently are not happy.
And because the governor followed the advice given to him by some people, he said he won’t know the number of people who are arrested, he won’t know the number of people handed over to the police and when they are released he won’t know. The only thing he will know is when they go back and attack an entire village as a reprisal for their arrest.
In the past, if the military attacked them, they don’t attack any village but now they have made it a duty any time the military makes an onslaught against them, they will take time, relax, withdraw then after some time they will launch a reprisal attack against innocent communities. Most of the attacks you heard of in recent weeks are following the onslaught of the military and the success the military had been recording.
Had the police complemented the efforts of the military by preparing honest charges, honest and fair charges against the criminals and arraigned them before the court of law, I am telling you this matter would have been reduced to the barest minimum. But this issue releasing them is the most serious impediment to the success of the fight against armed bandits.
Your community, Dansadau, last year went into a peace pact with some of the bandits in that area; what has been the situation since then?
It was an attempt being made and in fact, I was involved and it didn’t emanate from us the farmers, it emanated from them because you know, the order given by the governor of Zamfara State closing markets, closing filling stations around the villages where banditry has been rampant had put them in a very difficult situation because they could not go to the market to buy anything. If they wanted to sell some of their cows whether legitimate or stolen they had no market to go and sell, so it put them in a very difficult situation.
So they sent some people to our traditional ruler that they would like us to please sit down and discuss and that was in fact in July but it was never consummated because to some extent the military was not quite receptive to that idea because it was done during Abdulaziz Abubakar and at the end of the day it became somehow deceptive.
The relative peace we have gotten is of two legs; one, when the network was cut off, quite honestly speaking, the menace of armed banditry, killings, maiming, kidnapping in Dansadau area, reduced by 50% to 60%.
Also, when there was this order by the state government it make things extremely difficult for the Fulani, it also affected the farmers because what will amaze you is that in Dansadau we reached a stage where one litre of petrol was sold for between N3,500 to N4,000. If you are buying it in Dansadau you buy it N3,500 if you are buying it in the village you buy it N4,000. It was that bad. So that scarcity of petrol also made their operation extremely difficult.
We that had spent 10 years witnessing on a daily basis people been killed, kidnapped, maimed, women raped, today as I am talking to you, two months, two weeks, only three people have been killed and even that was caused by the vigilante group. Some of them I personally directed for their arrest and they are in police custody now and we are monitoring and they are going to be arraigned before the court of law and the law will take its course.
We want to begin to teach people a lesson that when you do what is wrong, you will know you have actually done what is not right.
With the relative peace we are having, people are going about their normal businesses from one village to another. Of recent the government has opened the markets, the Fulani are coming to market to sell whatever they want to sell and buy whatever they want to buy peacefully and there is no any other problem.
Do you think such community arrangement will provide the solution?
In fact, the locals have spoken to the press severally and they were asked this same question you are asking, they said yes, it is feasible for this relative peace to continue to grow from strength to strength and for it to be sustained but on one condition. According to the locals, and I agree with them, both the state government and the federal government should move in quickly by providing some facilities and services especially skill acquisition programmes, introducing moderns method of dairy farming so that ultimately the Fulani will stop going from one place to the another looking for greener pastures.
Someone who was killing people and making money and now there is peace, and he is not making money anywhere and he has nothing; remember it is only their leaders that are having large herds of cattle, the actual bandits literally have nothing. So if you don’t do anything to engage them to enable them to earn a legitimate living, definitely this is not going to last. But I assure you we interact with them.
Recently, I met with Ali Kachalla’s senior lieutenants. They came to my village and we had discussion with them. They told us everything, they said nobody wants to be a criminal, nobody wants to be in the bush forever, nobody wants to be killing people – some of them quoted verses of the Holy Quran. They said ‘we know what we are doing is not right but it is like the society is up in arms against us, so we have been pushed to the wall’.
They said ‘if you come to our aid by providing us with some facilities, skill acquisition programmes, some boreholes where our cattle will have some water, some small earth dams and schools’ – they emphasized on schools. To our greatest surprise, their first demand was that government should build schools, primary schools around the area they live so that their own children and the children of the villagers will be classmates in primary school and this is an excellent suggestion.
So our appeal to government, especially the federal government is to seek advice from the community leaders of both the Fulani and the Hausa on what to do wherever there is relative peace, let government move in quickly by providing some facilities. If that is done, other areas that banditry is still going on, they will say; ‘look at so and so area, see them living in peace, they have all the XYZ, they have primary schools, they have been given foreign species of cows, they are getting milk up to 20 litres a cow per day’. This is what we are advocating.
Perhaps because of the success of what happened in Dansadau, of recent there was a letter from the bandits with Shenkako also advocating for something similar – about community leaders facilitating talks with government to lead to a ceasefire; what do you think of that?
Well, if he can make himself available for talks, yes, some community leaders can sit with him but so long as he will not make himself available for talks, I don’t trust that kind of letter, the letter may be deceptive.
And look what our people did is to show their enthusiasm for peace. Ali Kachalla that was alleged to have shot down a military helicopter, it was he himself that sent a message to our traditional ruler and told him, ‘I have called a meeting of all our bandit camp leaders, I want you to send your representatives, only to hear what I am going to say’.
When the man went, after opening prayers, Ali Kachalla stood up and said “look why I called you for this meeting is to inform you that from today (he repeated it three times) nobody should dare kill anybody in Dansadau area, nobody should dare kidnap anybody for ransom, nobody should dare go to anybody’s farm to drive him away from his farm, do you hear what I am telling you? They kept quiet. He said but if there is anyone who thinks he is a rascal I want to hear him tomorrow go and kill somebody.”
And I can tell you that from the day he made that meeting with them, for 42 days only two people had their motorcycles seized by some Fulani, and on that very day, his people went and arrested the people who seized the motorcycles, returned them to their owners and they took the people to Ali Kachalla. Up to this moment that I am talking to you, nobody has seen them again. So if anybody wants peace, he has to demonstrate as Ali Kachalla has done.
If Turji wants peace he should emulate what Ali Kachalla has done by keeping the entire Shinkafi area, Moriki and Zurmi, to have some relative peace. After having some relative peace say for two months then he can draw the attention of the government to say ‘Look, for two months nobody has been killed in Shinkafi area, Zurmi or Moriki, nobody has been kidnapped so please I need peace’, then he makes himself available to the community leaders in that area; there are community leaders he can meet with. That is how to do it.
What do you think is ultimately the way out of this problem because it is now over 10 years that these violent activities have been going on?
Honestly speaking, and the way out has been categorically mentioned in the Holy Quran and the Holy Bible that God says if I bless any community or any society with a lot of my mercies, with a lot of human, material resources and natural resources and they derail by committing all kinds of crimes against him such as the corruption we are having today, such as the rituals that are happening in this country today, God says ‘I am going to subject you to severe punishment on this earth and on the day of judgment I will subject you to worse punishment’. I subjected you to the punishment in this world not that I don’t like you, I like you but for you to think twice and return to me by doing the right thing’.
So the only way out, and that has been my campaign, is for us to resort to repentance, each and every Nigerian that is of maturity age – from 18 years – knows what is between him and God, from a messenger to President Buhari, from Dangote to the poorest person, everybody knows what is between him and his God. Let him pick just one sin that he or she has committed against God; let him stop it instantly, let him or her repent to the Almighty God.