At a press conference in Abuja last month, Sa’idu Dansadau, ex-senator representing Zamfara central, said bandits have killed at least 3,000 people in the state in the last two years.
Dansadau spoke one month after Abdulaziz Yari, governor of the state, announced that he had resigned his role as chief security officer of the state because of his inability to secure lives. Armed bandits have wreaked havoc on residents of the state and the impact can be seen from the number of widows and orphans.
The horrific situation has defied all measures put in place by the government; among those bearing the brunt are children whose lives have either been cut short or forced to take up responsibilities ordinarily meant for their parents.
A STATE OF FARMERS
“Farming Is Our Pride”, the motto of Zamfara, shows clearly that majority of the people are farmers. Rural areas are fertile and virtually every family engages in farming, often on large scale. While this farming season is recording constant rainfall – the delight of every farmer – majority of the rural dwellers have abandoned their farms for fear of bandits.
Mamman 63, was one of the dozens of residents of Gidan Goga, who on a day during the last Ramadan, trooped to a farm near the village. Their activities went on uninterrupted until news came that gunmen had killed a renowned farmer and his three sons while working on their farm. The killers fled. The villagers decided to go to the farm to recover the corpses. While they were doing so, the gunmen returned and killed 19 more.
A VICTIM SURVIVED DEATH BUT GOING THROUGH PAIN
Mamman survived that incident but not without a gunshot that left his right leg in a state of perpetual pain. Initially, he had some treatment at the nearest hospital in Zurmi town but the pain won’t just go.
When TheCable caught up with him where he was recuperating, the farmer writhed in pain. Oblivious of the stench around him, Mamman, who hardly affords eye contact with visitors, narrated how the pain has been increasing daily.
When asked how his treatment was going, he said, with a tone of resignation, “It is all about traditional herbs and concoctions. But the pain remains the same.”
Mamman is not the only one living with wounds from gunshots by bandits. Many like him, who survived attacks of the armed bandits live in pain and largely without proper medical treatment.
A REPRISAL ATTACK
In April 2014, the bandits stormed venue of a meeting in ‘Yar Galadima in Maru local government and killed over 200 people. The meeting was about setting up a vigilante group to protect villagers from attacks. Like many other villages that had a taste of the brutality of the attackers, the people of ‘Yar Galadima still live in fear.
Beyond their fear, they also live with the burden of having to carter for widows and orphans.
“We can’t forget that black day forever. But more painful was the fact that we are living with a reminder of the impact of that attack in the form of widows and orphans,” said Nasiru, who witnessed the 2014 attack.
“There are many of them here. Some had to move to other places to make ends meet. But coming across widows and orphans every day makes me feel vulnerable as if that tragic day is coming back all over again.”
In Birane the district of Zurmi local government area where 41 people were killed by the bandits in February, there is a list of all those killed. Some of the gory pictures of those killed were taken just before burial. Almost every family is sheltering orphans. Some of the widows have either returned back to their families or moved to other villages. Those who stayed were mostly those who have many children. The children have not been able to continue their education.
“Many of the children boys and girls you see working at farms at the entrance of the village are orphans. They have to help their families to survive without a breadwinner. We are all poor. There is nothing we can do to help,” Adamu Dan Ila, a resident, said.
In Birane district, people go to farm only when soldiers are on patrol.
In some cases, the bandits will kidnap villagers and call their families to pay ransom within a specified time. Families and often villages comply and put the ransom money together and pay as instructed. Local knowledge and in some cases tip from informants kept the bandits ahead and in-charge.
Going to a farm a kilometre away from the village in Birane and ‘Yar Tasha and many other villages is like a suicide mission, according to a resident who pleaded anonymity. Like many rural families, Musa Shehu of ‘Yar Tasha has given up farming
“We all know the danger of going to the farm. The bandits are hiding in the bush near our villages and they can appear at your farm and kidnap for ransom. If you argue with them they will kill you. It is very dangerous,” he told TheCable.
Many parts of rural Zamfara have no access roads and take hours to reach on rough uncharted paths across streams and often rocks. This also gives the bandits an advantage. Some areas can only be reached on motorcycle which is the major logistic of attack used by the bandits.
Above all, the people of rural parts of Zamfara live with so many anxieties: not about healthcare, education or jobs. They live permanently uncertain if they will be alive the next day.