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How commercial drivers survive bandit attacks in Zamfara

In mid-October, Hammed J. Sulaiman went to Zamfara state to get the story of challenges facing commercial drivers while plying the routes where bandits mostly operate.

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Abu Abel’s car after an encounter with bandits.
Photo Credit: Abu Abel*

Abu Abel* would not have embarked on the journey if he had known danger loomed ahead. It was like a movie scene for him when hearing an open fire as bandits laid an ambush. 

“Bullets penetrated my front screen and my hand was hit, but Alhamdulillah I am still alive.” While showing CAMPUS REPORTER his wounded hand, he said two bullets got stuck in the steering system after passing through his fingers.

His attackers are youths in the neighbourhood, many of whom he knew since childhood.

“Those boys are between 15  and 16 years of age, holding rifles and AK-47,” he said. But that day, those young boys were baying for his blood and his passengers’.

They all ran into the bush but one of the passengers was hit in the arm and leg before he could escape.

Aftermath of the attack.
Photo Credit: Abu Abel*

Other passengers were not so lucky. The bandits killed a few and kidnapped others. But there was no time to mourn anyone: It was the survival of the luckiest.

The aftermath of the attack.
Photo Credit: Abu Abel*

Before, Abel used to drive past Zurmi, Kaura Namoda, Birnin Magaji, Chinkafin, and Talata Mafara, where bandits are now residents, but not again.

“All the policemen in Chinkafin are not even up to 15,” he said.

Therefore, villagers in bandit territory are left to their fate. 

Jamilu* while driving.
Photo Credit: Hammed J. Sulaiman

A driver who spoke under anonymity said he no longer ply the routes because of fear of brutal attack. “I used to ply areas where bandits now inhabited. But now, it is like a suicidal mission. I will only drop passengers halfway in other towns so they can board another bus.”

He, however, stated that their associations (NURTW) across the state are seeking help to improve security.

Mr. Lateef while standing, inspecting his bus.
Photo Credit: Hammed J. Sulaiman

Lateef, a frustrated commercial driver, said the recurring attacks by banditry affect them extremely. “Last week, up to eight of our members were killed. Today is Tangaza (local market day), but we dare not go there,” he said.

He added that he has never encountered bandits before but what he had heard from victims usually scared him a lot. He urged the government to find an everlasting solution to the menace.

The aftermath of the incident. Picture obtained from AbdulWarith

A passenger, AbdulWarith, 23, narrated the experience of his encounter with bandits in July. They had just left Bungudu local government area and were on their way to Mafara when they started hearing gunshots, and everyone scampered into safety. One passenger was hit.

“On Banditry, Buhari is Bias”

According to Abel, he said the Buhari-led administration is never ready to tackle the problem of banditry, and alleged that the president is bais.

“We no longer hear of Boko Haram again as bandit issues are now rampant but Buhari is not teaching them in a language they would understand. If he declared them as terrorists, the army would engage them differently. Now, where are all the fighter jets or Tucano they claimed to have ordered?”

He also criticised the decision to shut down telecom service in the state. He said one of his friends from Mafara told him that their situation is getting worse because whenever bandits operate, there won’t be communication to seek reinforcement.

Shattered glass of a car after the banditry attack.
Photo Credit: Abu Abel*

As someone who had once worked in MTN telecommunication service before, Abel said the devices used by bandits can be tracked via recharge cards that were sent to them and loaded or last call(s) that were made.  “But Nigeria is not ready to do anything concerning this issue,” he said.

He disputed the truth of Turji’s death. Bello Gudde Turji is one of the top commanders of bandits terrorising Sokoto, Niger and Zamfara. 

“Turji that they declared wanted and dead would even announce to some villages that he will raid on so so so day and will do so. Turji visits Sokoto to raid, visits parts of the Niger border to raid and nothing would happen. Then why is the government mute? And again, Yan-Sakai who are local vigilantes that are protecting their own towns, the government always allege they (Yan-Sakai) are taking laws into their own hands.”

Most Bandits’ Attacks seem Reprisal Attacks

According to experts and security field researchers’ analysis, most attacks by bandits are reprisal in nature. For example, in late September, Yan-Sakai, local vigilantes from Goronyo raided Mamande community in Gwadabawa Local Government Area (LGA) in Sokoto State, killing 11 Fulanis they accused of banditry or serving as bandits’ informants. This, among other reasons, led to retaliation by Turji, a terror bandits’ leader, who then conducted a revenge strike in Goronyo, killing approximately 60 people.

Dr Murtala Rufa’i, a renowned security field researcher who had also had contact with bandits during his course of research, said bandits are mostly pastoralists and claimed they have no forgiving soul.

“You cheat a pastoralist today, thinking he has forgotten, when he has the opportunity 10 years later, he will certainly fight back. They don’t forgive and they are never ready to forgive.”

But then, what is the fate of innocent people like commercial drivers working their means of livelihood?

Entrance, Gusau Central Motor Park, Zamfara state.
Photo Credit: Hammed J. Sulaiman

NURTW Officials, Excos speak

Officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) at Central Park, Gusau, Zamfara state were not ready to give details concerning banditry.

”The government said we shouldn’t say anything to anybody, particularly newsmen, and more so, we have higher officials who can speak on our behalf or you can go to other places,” an NURTW told CAMPUS REPORTER.

In fact, getting information from any transport worker is difficult because everybody is a suspect.

A driver who mustered some courage to speak insisted on not identifying himself. Before speaking to the  CAMPUS REPORTER, he carefully hid his identity card.

Gusau Union Branch, Inside Central Park, Gusau, Zamfara state.
Photo Credit: Hammed J. Sulaiman

“So, one of the major steps the government has taken is that passengers that want to travel must come to the park and not stay on the roadside. This is because the park has receipts with names, phone numbers and other details of passengers’ closest person or family,” he said.

He said this is necessary because drivers and passengers going from Zamfara to Sokoto, are often attacked by bandits around Shuni or Denge where they are led into the forest.

To minimise the incident of bandit attack, the state government has set up 11 committees such as luggage committee, livestock committee, light and weapon committee, and others to look after transportation matters within Zamfara.

Inside Gusau Central Motor Park, Zamfara state.
Photo Credit: Hammed J. Sulaiman

He urged government to do more because bandits’ activities have affected the economy.

“Almost 98 per cent of our drivers have diverted their routes”

At the Zamfara NURTW State Secretariat, Alhaji Musbau Abdulazeez, National Liaison Officer from National Headquarter spoke to CAMPUS REPORTER about the challenges faced by the members of his association.

He said almost 98 per cent of the drivers are no longer following the areas because of security challenges. They have to take other routes since many roads are linked to the bandits’ stronghold.

Signage/Main Entrance of Zamfara NURTW State Secretariat.
Photo Credit: Hammed J. Sulaiman

Signage/Main Entrance of Zamfara NURTW State Secretariat. Photo Credit: Hammed J. Sulaiman

Abdulazeez wondered how villagers in bandits’ hotspots survive since many drivers now avoid the areas.

Though the government has taken some measures, there is no significant change yet.

Secretariat, Zamfara NURTW State Council.
Photo Credit: Hammed J. Sulaiman

He wanted the government to end banditry promptly so that the drivers can be doing their business without fear.

“The only thing the government can do is to eradicate them, that is the only solution so that our drivers will have the rest of mind in following where it is easiest for them in order to meet their demands.”

Alhaji Suleiman Ibrahim, Zamfara NURTW State Secretary, also reinforced the viewpoint of the National Liaison Officer. He said commercial drivers are mainly responsible for the supply of cash crops and movement of people to various destinations and lamented about how banditry has crippled the sector.

Inside the Secretary’s Office, Zamfara NURTW State Council.
Photo Credit: Hammed J. Sulaiman

He wondered why it is taking the government a long time to curb the menace. He further revealed that prayers alone cannot solve it, and hence all hands must be on deck.

“Everybody has a role to play,” he said, stating that every sector and all tiers of government must cooperate.

He further stated that the union had warned and advised their drivers of night journeys.

“We have advised our drivers that once it is dark, they should find somewhere to sleep, and then in the next morning by 6:00 am, they should continue their journey.”

Despite measures, governments and bandits remain at loggerheads

Despite shutting down telecom services, closing weekly local markets, banning sales of petrol in jerry-cans and other measures by Zamfara and Sokoto state governments, bandits still remain at loggerheads. In early September, Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara state stated that his administration is no longer interested in engaging in dialogue with bandits who are kidnapping civilians after they turned down an olive branch handed to them previously and that instead, security personnel would flush them out of the state.

But contrary to his assertion, bandits are still operating with their full chests. The recent one was an attack on Kwarin Mai Saje community in Tsafe Local Government Area in retaliation for the residents’ refusal to pay a N3 million levy imposed by bandits, where community goods were plundered, women raped and six people kidnapped.

In Sokoto, issues of levies by bandits are not new. Honourable Idris Muhammed Gobir who is a former chairman of Sabon Birni Local Government Area of Sokoto State and currently a special assistant to the Minister for Police Affairs recently revealed how bandits are now controlling and collecting tax in over 59 Sokoto communities.

Efforts to get comments from the Zamfara State Ministry of Works and Transport were not successful.

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*Names with asterisks have been changed to protect subjects’ identity

 Free Press Unlimited provided support for this report through the Campus Reporter Project of Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism.

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