Residents of Dan ’Aji village in Faskari Local Government Area of Katsina State are yet to recover from shock following the abduction of no fewer than 26 women including children. Properties were looted and houses burnt. The victims said the incident will hunt them for a long time. Daily Trust Saturday reports.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Trust Saturday, some of the victims said they passed several nights in the bush, rapped severally and in some instances beaten.
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Our correspondent recalled that this is the first time the real story of what happened to the victims came to the fore. Both Zamfara and Katsina State governments have remained silent on some of the revelations made by the rescued women.
Governor Bello Matawalle had shortly after the girls surfaced in Gusau, said the Zamfara State secured their release and that no ransom was paid.
I'll continue to commit to our dual kinetic and non-kinetic approaches for dealing with armed banditry bedeviling the Northwestern region of Nigeria. Inspite of the myriads of socioeconomic challenges we inherited in Zamfara State,
— Dr. Bello Matawalle (@Bellomatawalle1) November 8, 2020
“We trekked for three nights,” said a sorrowful looking 35-year-old abductee who is one of the victims that regained freedom.
Our journey with the bandits.
“When the day breaks, they would camp us in the bushes to spend the day there and at night we would continue with the journey. That was what we did for three nights,” she said.
She added that about eight of them – elderly, young girls and some pregnant women were spared from the bandits’ sexual abuse at night.
“However, the remaining female abductees were repeatedly raped throughout the period,” she said.
Prior to Tuesday, October 13, 2020, Dan’Aji village in Faskari Local Government Area of Katsina State was relatively peaceful in spite of its proximity to the forest where the dreaded bandits carry out their heinous acts along the Katsina/Zamfara interstate border.
Things, however, radically changed that day as villagers are still counting their losses after the bandits ransacked the village, killed, especially elderly persons, looted properties, destroyed some by setting them on fire and abducted a sizeable number of women and children and disappeared into the forest.
Journey into the forest
The abductee told Daily Trust Saturday that the journey into the forest was one which will linger in their memories for the rest of their lives.
“We trekked throughout the night in the forest till we were weak. We were threatened with death and sometimes beaten, after which we were supported by those that are stronger to enable us to continue to trek,” she said.
She added that a new circle of torture was later introduced after they were taken deep into the forest.
“For those of us that were not raped, the bandits would come and hit us on the head about ten times at night and two times on our back the following day,” she said.
Responding to how they were fed while in captivity, she said it was initially rice and beans which was cooked and eaten with palm oil and salt, but when that finished, they brought corn flour which was cooked and eaten with soup.
“They will always ask us to get up and cook when it is meal time, saying we are women, so we have to cook for all of us,” she added.
Another rescued abductee who was amongst the pregnant women spared from rape, said she was mercilessly beaten to the extent that she had to undergo blood transfusion after they regained their freedom.
She also talked about the journey into the den, saying it was the most horrific experience she has ever had.
“We trekked all night and camped all day long. On the last day, we came to a stream where we spent the night and proceeded the following day to our final destination,” she said.
Another woman who was also abducted, said on that fateful day, the bandits invaded the village and searched houses, looted whatever they could after killing some people and asked women to come along with them.
“We spent three days trekking barefooted; some of us developed wounds and sores as a result of spike piercings. In all, we spent five days trekking into the forest where we were camped.
She noted that while in captivity, a woman and a young girl were brought from another village, but they left them there with the bandits on the day they were released.
How we took ransom to the bandits
Muhammad Lawal Amadu (Liman), one of those who took the ransom to the bandits, narrated how it all happened and what followed thereafter.
“The bandits invaded our village Dan’Aji on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 at about 5:23pm. They came in large numbers, over 500 of them. They ransacked the village, killed 16 people and burnt down a lot of places.
“They went from shop to shop, looting and then setting them on fire. They went from room to room, searching and setting them ablaze. Rooms of brides that were married for not more than a year or two were all set on fire.
“After that, they abducted 24 of our women and children, some were below the age of 10; they took them away into the forest where they spent 23 days,” he said.
He, however, noted that two persons were released the very day they were abducted.
“They claimed that they told the bandits that they were indigenes of Zamfara State. They called the husband of one of them to pick them in the forest and contacted us for ransom, warning that the money shouldn’t be paid to anyone asides them and insisted that all the money must be taken to the forest.”
N6.6m ransom paid
Muhammad Lawal Amadu told Daily Trust Saturday that an initial sum of N2.1m had been taken to the bandits who asked them to drop it under a particular tree.
“We dropped that amount and returned, but they called back that the money was too small for the release of our people.
“They asked for another N400, 000 to make it N2.5m, which we ran around and raised, but again they said it was not enough. We had to source for another N1.7m, which we took to them as well,” he said.
Amadu noted that two weeks after the invasion, the bandits returned and abducted five other girls, one of which had undergone surgery a few days earlier.
“Her stepmother pleaded with them and they eventually released her when they confirmed her health status. This brought the number of our abducted women and girls to 26.
“After the second abduction, we began another round of negotiation with them, and that was how the total amount given to them rose to N6.6m.
“When they finally released them, we were invited to Zamfara Government House where we were told that our children were released as a result of the intervention of the state government. We didn’t talk to them because that was not our concern, our major concern was the freedom of our people.
“Even the abductees were made to say that they spent only five days in captivity, which was actually not the case,” he narrated.
On the issue of trekking for three days in the forest to deliver the ransom, Amadu Liman said, “It is not as if we spent all the three days in the forest, but what it meant was we were there on three occasions, delivering the ransom in instalments as negotiations with the bandits were ongoing.”
He narrated that they usually spent the whole day trekking to and from the spot they were asked to drop the money and always returned home late at night.
He said the journey into the forest was terrible as the bandits have their people all along who monitor the movement of those bringing the money.
“We kept communicating with them as we moved on in the forest and we meet a lot of their people along the way, who often warned us that any sinister move we make would be at our own peril,” he said.
‘My four daughters among the victims’
Abdulkadir Musa Dan’Aji Abdulkadir Musa Dan’Aji is one of the villagers who had four of his daughters abducted.
He said he had to sell all he had to raise money for the freedom of his daughters.
“I had to sell my farm produce even before harvest and many other things. Some of my relatives and my fathers-in-law assisted me in raising the money,” he said.
He said after paying the ransom, they were asked to pay transport fare for their daughters to be brought back.
“They said we should pay N1, 500 for each of our daughter for the motorcycle that will transport them out of the forest which we did.
“We waited and waited but didn’t hear from them until much later when we heard that they were with the Zamfara State government.
“They told us that they were beaten, starved and raped. All of them were raped and they said they were sleeping in open spaces in the forest,” he said.
On his part, Bala Musa Dan’aji said he sold his farms, groundnut and maize produce to pay for the release of his 12-year-old daughter, who also went through untold hardship including rape in the hands of her abductors.
Another villager whose wife was abducted said he sold whatever he could and had to borrow money.
“They were raped, beaten and they told us that they sleep on the ground under the elements,” he said.
We need support
The Ward Head of Dan’Aji, Malam Ammani called on concerned authorities to come to their aid by providing security in the area so that they would be able to salvage what is left of their farm produce.
He said lack of security presence and the terrible state of the road leading to their village were a source of concern.
“The Yankara-Dan’Aji-Yan Malamai road has become a death trap for us. The bandits always lay ambush and attack our people plying that road,” he said.
Our correspondent recalled that the girls were returned to Katsina by the Zamfara State Commissioner for Security and Home Affairs, Muhammad Dauran.
During the handover, Dauran informed Governor Aminu Masari that the victims were kidnapped between Katsina and Zamfara border town.
“We are going to intensify negotiation with the bandits for dialogue because we have seen a lot of benefits and achievement in our state regarding security; so, dialogue with bandits is still relevant,” he said.
Masari, in his response, pledged the commitment of Katsina and Zamfara states to restoring peace in the two states.