Before the ongoing military onslaught in against the criminal bandits in Zamfara State, it was very clear that a spill-over of banditry from Zamfara into the heart of Sokoto state is imminent. Now the eastern flank of the state is effectively under siege as bandits continue to attack villages and towns in Isa, Sabon-Birni, Goronyo, Gada, Illela, Tangaza, Gudu local government areas.
If anything, the killing of 13 suspected bandits by a mob in Tangaza town Sokoto state on Saturday 18th September 2021 has confirmed the fact that bandits are indeed fully operating in Sokoto state, something needs to be done and fast.
Currently, the criminal bandits are running away from the military operation in Zamfara state and moving enmasse into Sokoto and other neighbouring states. This is not undermining the fact that some of these bandits groups operating in Sokoto state have been operating and are domesticated in the state even before the military onslaught in Zamfara state.
Banditry has been ongoing in Sokoto state for some time. The state emergency management agency (SEMA) has confirmed that as at October 2019, 45,175 internally displaced persons (IDPs) had been displaced by bandits attacks just as 66 towns and villages were sacked in Sokoto state. Some of these internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been taking refuge in 14 camps across the state and in the neighbouring Niger Republic.
More recently, SEMA also confirmed that as at March this year, there are over 7000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in two local governments alone -Isa and Sabon Birni displaced by the bandits. Some of these IDPs are still taking refuge in make-shift IDP camps in the areas and the neighbouring Niger republic.
The question is not whether or not bandits are in Sokoto state but what are the authorities particularly the Sokoto state government doing to stop the march of the bandits in the state?
Obviously silence and a do-nothing-approach hoping that the bandits will go away cannot solve the problem. Are the elites and other stakeholders going to stay quite until the banditry problem blossoms out of proportion before everyone runs heater skelter and start the blame-game?
On the hush-hush, feelers have it that the Sokoto state government is negotiating with bandits. Hopefully this is not true but if it is, it should be stopped because negotiation with bandits and such criminals will NEVER work. Zamfara is a very clear case study for everyone to understand that amnesty for bandits is never the solution. The solution is a combination of full scale military force, local vigilante, use of technology (ICT) and justice reforms.
There is obviously a gradual ZAMFARANISATION of Sokoto state by bandits which is gaining momentum daily. Something should be done by the authorities before it gets too late.
Bandit attacks are ongoing unabated in several parts of Sokoto state. In the eastern flank of the state, around Isa and Sabon Birni (borders with Zamfara state) which has long been the hardest hit part of the state in terms of banditry, cattle rustling etc, the bandits have launched attacks severally for several years.
In one of such attacks in July this year, the bandits killed 2 soldiers and injured seven others in Unguwar Lalle village of Sabon Birni local government area before burning the military operational vehicles. As they normally do, the bandits came to the town on more than 100 motorcycles each with at least 3 armed Fulani bandits carrying an AK-47 rifle.
Around the same flank of the Sokoto east senatorial zone, on 15th August 2021, bandits killed nine persons in an attack on Bejingo, Dantudu, and Tulutu villages in Birjin ward, Goronyo Local Government Area of the State
Coming down towards Illela, Gudu, Tangaza axis around the central senatorial zone of the state, bandits are killing and abducting people at will. Tangaza town has been on the frontline of bandits attacks now even as 13 suspected bandits were killed by a mob two days ago. In retaliation, the bandits invaded Saminaka village in Tangaza local government area the next day where they killed 6 people including 4 married women. Saminaka village is known to be inhabited by hunters who led the attack leading to the killing of 13 bandits in Tangaza town the previous day. On the same eastern/central part of the state, the commercially vibrant and border town of Illela has been at the mercy of bandits for a very long time. More recently on 1st March 2021, armed bandits attacked Amarawa community in the Illela Local Government Area of Sokoto State, killing at least 10 persons. Illela is a border town to Niger republic which makes it more vulnerable for attacks.
Niger republic is very strict on bandits so you really don’t hear of banditry in Niger republic. Sorry to say but they are more serious than us when it comes to speaking to criminals in the language they understand. Within the same period, the bandits visited Gwadabawa Local Government Area and whisked away the PDP local government chairman, Alhaji Nasiru Isah. In November 2020, bandits attacked and killed one person in Deyeji village in Gudu Local Government Area of the state and also burned down the village.
On the Northern part of the state, bandits are wrecking havoc on innocent citizens. In May 2021, two suspected kidnappers were killed by men of the Nigeria police while attempting to attack Sanyinna town in Tambuwal local government area of the state. Within the same period, six suspected bandits were arrested by the police in Dange/Shuni and Kebbe local government areas of the state. Further down Southern part of the state, the Tureta, Bodinga and Dange-Shuni axis is gradually becoming the newest hot-bed of banditry in the North-West geopolitical zone. Tureta local government area is on the border with Zamfara state hence there has been a steady in-flow of bandits fleeing the ongoing military clearance operation in Zamfara state. Even before the military operation in neighbouring Zamfara state, Tureta town and its environs have been at the mercy of the bandits for a long time. There is the dreaded Dogon Karfe area around lambar Tureta located just at the border between Zamfara and Sokoto states. Less than two weeks ago, six persons were killed by gunmen in lambar Tureta Sokoto state. Luck however ran out of 18 bandits who were intercepted by security operatives around the area trying to flee from Zamfara into Sokoto and subsequently neutralised. The bandits were reported to have pasted a ‘notice of attack’ on a tree at Kwanar Kimba village in Dange/Shuni local government area of Sokoto state. In the notice, the bandits urged the community to invite as many military personnel as they possibly can for protection’. Indeed, they kept their promise by attacking the nearby wababe village two days after, killing 1 person and abducting nine.
On the Sokoto-Gusau road around Dogon Karfe, travellers normally have their hands on their chests until they drive pass Dogon karfe because they could be attacked by bandits anywhere near that area. Innocent motorists and travellers are frequently attacked just as it happened few weeks ago when the bandits laid siege on the once peaceful road where they killed some travellers and abducted others. 2 bus loads of travellers were reported to be ferried by the bandits into the bush during that particular operation.
These incidents highlighted above are but a fraction of the continuous attacks by bandits in Sokoto state. There are many more attacks both reported and unreported going on in Sokoto state on a high scale.
It is imperative to note that the geography of these continuous attacks shows that the bandit attacks are ongoing around ALL parts of the state: the North, the West, the East and the South but mainly on the eastern flank.
Obviously, Sokoto state lags behind Zamfara in terms of frequency of bandits attacks but nonetheless, the seat of caliphate has its own originality in banditry as there are unique in-state bandit groups particularly in Isa, Sabon Birni, Illela, Goronyo and around the Jabo/Shagari/Kajiji/Tambuwal and Tangaza/Kware/Gudu axes. These bandit groups are domesticated in Sokoto state and have been wrecking havoc on the innocent indigenes of the state for a very long time. These criminals have sacked villages and towns on several occasions in the past.
Last month August 2021, bandits sacked 17 communities in Sabon Birni local government area leading to the displacement of over 50,000 people who had to take refuge in Niger Republic.
A number of solutions are necessary for Sokoto state to be proactive in the current efforts to stop the march of the bandits. These are:
1. SET UP ‘SOKOTO FOREST RANGERS’ LOCAL VIGILANTE YAN SAKAI IN EVERY COMMUNITY ESPECIALLY IN THE RURAL AREAS: The Sokoto forest rangers should work with the military, police and other security agencies under COMMUNITY POLICING. They should be motivated with a monthly cash allowance of at least N10,000 monthly.
2.BLOCK MOBILE PHONE LINES ACROSS THE STATE FOR 3 WEEKS IN THE FIRST INSTANCE: Mobile phone network service should be blocked in Sokoto state. This is a right step in the right direction especially when juxtaposed with the success of such method in Zamfara and Katsina states. Satellites should be deployed to monitor the forests and other flashpoints in real time.
3. LEGISLATION: Since kidnapping, banditry and related offences fall under state laws, the Sokoto state house of assembly should pass a law making kidnapping, banditry and related offences punishable by public hanging even if to set a deterrent and convince these criminals that there is a government in place.
4. SUPPORT THE MILITARY AND OTHER SECURITY AGENCIES WITH LOGISTICS ETC
5. SUSPEND ALL WEEKLY LOCAL MARKETS: All rural markets should be closed to cut off the bandits supply lines on food and other essentials
6. CLOSE ALL FUEL STATIONS IN THE AFFECTED LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREAS
7. BAN SALE OF MOTORCYCLES AND USE OF SUCH IN THE AFFECTED LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREAS.
8. STOP CATTLE MOVEMENT IN & OUT OF SOKOTO STATE
STATE OF EMERGENCY: If the ongoing carnage continues in Sokoto and neighbouring states, particularly Zamfara and Katsina states, the federal government will have to mull the option of declaring a state of emergency in these states. Clearly, if the carnage continues, there will be the need to fully militarise these affected states even for a period of 6 months through a state of emergency so that the military can assume full responsibility and with the support of local vigilante Yan Sakai, clear these bandits and restore peace in these affected states.
A STITCH IN TIME SAVES A GENERATION.
DR ABUBAKAR ALKALI – Convener, Movement for a New Nigeria MNN