In north-western Nigeria ultra-violent bandit gangs raid villages, attack drivers, abduct schoolchildren and kill anyone who resists.
At least 279 school girls were kidnapped from their school in Jangebe in Talata-Mafara LGA of Zamfara State on February 27 2021, but were released by their captors after about a week.
The state government announced that the school girls were released after scaling several hurdles, but denied it paid any ransom, even though the bandits who abducted them had demanded N300 million.
“Alhamdulillah! It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe from captivity. This follows the scaling of several hurdles laid against our efforts. I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe,” Zamfara State Governor Bello Matawalle said.
However, in a new documentary by BBC Africa Eye, a self-confessed bandit kingpin Abu Sanni, revealed that the schoolgirls were kidnapped by his gang as revenge against the government for sending the military after them.
Sanni said his gang demanded N300 million from the government for the release of the schoolgirls but N60 million was paid.
“When the rainy season ended, they sent the military after us. We decided to show the government they should not interfere in our problems.
“We went to Jangebe and took the students. We wanted to get the government angry. We demanded N300 million but after negotiations, N60 million was paid for their release,” he said.
To rein in the activities of terrorists and bandits across Nigeria, the federal government has announced that it would place a ban on motorcycles and mining activities across the federation.
Attorney general of the federation and minister of justice Abubakar Malami, said such action would eliminate sources of funds for the terrorists and bandits in Nigeria.
Malami explained that while the motorcycles were used for movement, mining activities provide bandits with the money to fund their arms supply.
However, Sanni revealed that the N60 million ransom money was used to restock on their arms supply, providing insight into the source of funding for their nefarious activities.
“We bought more rifles,” he said, in response to a question on what the ransom money was used for.
Sanni further revealed that insecurity had become a very lucrative business that “everyone”, including the government, was benefitting from.
“Because it has become a business. Everyone wants money. That is why things are deteriorating, from the top to the bottom. Everyone is benefitting. We also get money. Though for our money, blood is spilled, so it continues,” he confessed.
‘I just go and kill them’
A bandit leader declared wanted by the Nigeria police since 2019, Ado Aleru, was also featured in the 50-minute documentary titled ‘The Bandit warlords of Zamfara’.
Aleru who was recently given the chieftaincy title “Sarkin Fulani” which sparked criticisms and condemnation nationwide, confessed in the film that his gang invades villages as a form of protest against the government.
“We only protest with guns. We know no journalists. We don’t know where to protest. Our protest is to take up arms and storm villages,” he said.
Aleru, later clarified that he does not kidnap people, but only kills those who have been kidnapped by his gang members.
“I have never kidnapped anyone myself. My men do that. I only go and kill them,” he said, noting that he has lost count of the number of people he has killed, especially members of the local vigilante group.
Across Zamfara State, Hausa farming communities have formed similar vigilante groups to defend their fields and families. But vigilantes often lack discipline, and self-defence militias can easily turn into armed gangs bent on reprisals.
The BBC’s film shows the appalling consequences of one such attack in the town of Tsafe. Following a series of bandit raids in January and February 2022, a mob of Hausa vigilantes and local youth rampaged through the town burning Fulani homes and businesses.
In the local hospital the BBC team found a teenage Fulani girl who had been slashed with machetes and badly burned. She told the BBC, “They set the room ablaze with all of us inside. They chased me, beating and slashing. I begged them to spare my life. I am not a bandit.”
‘Zamfara killing propelled by tribal conflict’
A man named Hassan Dantawaye, identified as one of the first bandit warlords to import AK-47 rifles to Zamfara, said the alleged injustice against Fulani triggered retaliatory attacks against the Hausa in the state.
Dantawaye, who is a former beneficiary of an amnesty programme, said: “Everyone, the Fulani and the Hausa, have done something wrong. For the Fulani, retaliation is their major problem. While the Hausa don’t investigate who is guilty or innocent.
“We have policemen, soldiers, governors, chairmen, even councillors, no one is stopping this situation. It is only when we launch an attack, they will say we (referring to Fulani people) are wrong because they don’t see what is done to us,” he said.
A few months after he spoke with the BBC, Dantawaye’s house was burnt down, an incident that made him pick up arms again.
He alleged that soldiers supporting the Hausa were responsible for the attack on his residence, adding that the conflict is a “tribal war”.
“This was done by soldiers, not vigilantes. How can [there be] peace with these transgressions? There is one thing with us whenever we are called for dialogue, we honour it but later our opinions are disregarded.
“In the whole world, nobody cares about our (Fulanis) concerns. What is done to us is not fair and must stop,” he said.
Thousands of people have been killed in this conflict across the north west, and close to a million more are now displaced from their homes.
The investigation carried out by a young Nigerian journalist and law student Yusuf Anka, film lays bare the full horror of the violence that has taken hold across the north west.