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Zamfara State Banditry
Yan Bindiga / Yan Ta’adda
Operation Sharan Daji
Operation Diran Mikiya

Nigeria’s bandit violence has its roots in clashes between nomadic cattle herders and sedentary farmers over land and resources. But tit-for-tat attacks have over the years spiralled into broader criminality. Intercommunal clashes are common in Nigeria, especially between nomadic and settled communities. These kinds of clashes have been known to break out in the central Middle Belt region (e.g. in Plateau, Bauchi, Benue, Kaduna, and Nassawara states) as well as in the south, where casualties are regularly reported. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has reported that murder rates linked to ethnic violence are higher in Nigeria than those related to terrorism, also a major security concern in the country.

Some top politicians holding sensitive public offices who hail from states in the northern part of Nigeria are the major sponsors of the dreaded Fulani Herdsmen. A lot of arms and ammunition had been imported through Niger Republic border, Chad and Republic of Cameroon by this crop of politicians who also claim to be farmers. The connections enjoyed by the gunmen with those sponsoring them who are in this top government position made the Herdsmen to have the much confidence to engage in killings and destruction of farmland in any part of the country because of their god fathers who are also in top security agencies.

The involvement of top public office holders in the nefarious attacks carried out by the Fulani herdsmen made it difficult for even the Presidency and the top echelon of both the military and the police to take proper action against the Fulani herdsmen as they move around all parts of Nigeria communities with illegal arms unchallenged by security forces except in occasion where there was outcry after the gunmen must have wrecked havoc resulting in many killings.

There are growing ecological and demographic pressures in the rural areas of Nigeria. A series of brutal attacks and kidnappings in 2016 stretched from Nigeria's southern Niger Delta to its northwest corner and were blamed on herdsmen from the Fulani ethnic group. Politicians and newspapers railed against the nomadic herdsmen as a creeping national security threat.

President Muhammadu Buhari, himself a Fulani who declared cattle among his possessions after taking office in 2015, put out a statement vowing to deal with “rampaging herdsmen.” But there was no common cause to these attacks and that most farmers and herdsmen coexist peacefully. When relations do sour and turn violent, it’s usually due to local disputes that go unresolved, along with competition for increasingly scarce land and resources.

A report published in 2015 by aid agency Mercy Corps said Nigeria could save $13.7 billion annually if clashes between farmers and herdsmen stopped in several states. The bloodiest violence happened in 2009 and 2010 under the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan.

In theory, herdsmen and farmers play complementary roles. Herds can graze on crop remnants, while cows can add manure to fallow fields. But that symbiosis is breaking down. Cattle can trample crops, enraging farmers. The problem will get worse in coming years as climate change and desertification push more migrant herders farther south.

It is a misnomer to describe the security situation in Zamfara state as mainly cattle rustling phenomenon, because all forms of criminalities are involved. Zamfara State has been the center of bandit attacks, leaving hundreds of people killed and thousands displaced. At least 371 people have been killed in Zamfara in 2018 alone, and at least 238 of these killings took place after the deployment of the Nigerian air force.

The main actors and factors in the conflict are the local fulani people and their supporters from the Republic of Niger on one side and the local farmers on the other. Armed with sophisticated weapons, including AK 47 rifles and rocket launchers, bandits operated from the Zurumi forest close to Nigeria’s boundary with Niger Republic, where they ambushed Chadian herdsmen crossing into Zamfara State.

Rural banditry and cattle rustling in the state is quite different from other states. This is because of the active involvement of the vigilante groups in the conflict. In other areas the vigilante contributed in cushioning the effect of banditry, while in Zamfara some of the vigilante members seized opportunity of the conflict towitch-hunt their old foes. Moreover, with the increase in the spate of the conflict in 2014, the vigilante group had divided opinion on how to approach the menace. Some were of the view that the bandits should be violently fought, while others advocated for a more honest and peaceful approach. Whenever and wherever the bandits strike their explanation is that they are on "vengeance mission" or "reprisal attack" against the vigilante members that carried out extra-judicial killings on their fellow members.

Muhammadu Buhari’s order to his security chiefs to step up efforts to secure the country shows that tackling insecurity is still top on the agenda of government. He backed up his resolve to arrest the worsening banditry again when he told troops under Operation Sharan Daji and Diran Mikiya to “be as ruthless as humanly possible” in putting down criminality. More than three years after he took over the reins of government, with an assurance to address rampant insecurity, living in Nigeria is becoming more precarious. All over the land, people are confronted with pervasive insecurity. Death has become commonplace, even when the country is not in a full-scale war. The sight of mass killings no longer evokes any sense of shock or abhorrence.

On 22 November 2017 President Buhari ordered a military crackdown on bandits operating in rural communities in Zamfara State, following fresh attacks on some communities in Shinkafi and Maradun Local Government Areas. On 22 November 2017, the government ordered the deployment of a Special Forces battalion in Zamfara after gunmen attacked communities in Shinkafi and Maradun LGAs. To enable the army carry out this new mandate, PMB approved the stationing of a full battalion of Special Forces in Zamfara State, and the operationalization, in the new Order of Battle (ORBAT), of the newly-established 8 Division of the Nigerian Army in Sokoto. The President also approved the movement of the 1 Brigade of Nigerian Army from Sokoto to Gusau upon the take-off of the 8 Division.

Nigeria's state police reported the deaths of dozens of people who they believe were killed as a result of a row between nomadic Fulani herdsmen and farmers in late June 2018. Commissioner Undie Adie said a search of Berom villages, following clashes between the groups on 23 June 2018, resulted in “86 persons altogether were killed.” The massacre came after days of violence triggered by an attack by ethnic Berom farmers on Muslim Fulani herders, on 21 June 2018.

Adie also disclosed that six people were injured and 50 houses, two cars, and 15 motorcycles were razed. Some 11 villages were attacked and a curfew is now in effect. “The grievous loss of lives and property arising from the killings in Plateau today is painful and regrettable,” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said, issuing “appeals for calm and assures that no efforts will be spared” in bringing the perpetrators to justice. Buhari, who is a Fulani, called for calm following the attacks.

The Fulani are believed to be the world's largest semi-nomadic group and are found across West and Central Africa – spanning Senegal and the Central African Republic. The group was responsible for a church shooting in late April 2018 which resulted in the deaths of about 16 people. The deaths were the latest in an ongoing battle, for land and resources, between the herdsmen and farmers. Government officials said the bodies of the victims are being turned over to their families.

In line with the mandate of Operation SHARAN DAJI (OPSD), troops are conducting operations into bandits’ enclaves in Zamfara and Katsina State. The operation is being conducted simultaneously in collaboration with all security agencies and local vigilantes’ to achieve synergy. The current offensive is designed to identify and destroy bandits’ camps/enclaves in the area of operation.

On 4 April 2018, the Nigerian Air Force deployed Special Forces in the state following attacks in Bawan Daji village in Anka LGA. On 6 June 2018, following a National Security Council meeting held between security chiefs and the president, the Inspector General of Police announced that 2,000 special security personnel comprising the military, police and civil defence would be deployed to Zamfara. OPERATION DIRAN MIKIYA, which commenced on July 31, 2018, was an intensive air operation aimed at locating and neutralising armed bandits and other criminal elements in the North-West with a view to restoring normalcy in the affected areas. The operation would be carried out from Katsina state.

The Federal Government decided to assemble and dispatch a 1,000-man military and special forces to tackle the persistent violence in Zamfara State. Nigerians appreciate this gesture as a visible effort to curb if not end the mayhem. AVM Samson Akpasa, the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) Special Operations Command (SOC) stated "We have aircrafts like Alpha jets, Diamond 42 for surveillance, MIC 35 attacking helicopters, EC 135, Ogusta 109 helicopter, among others. We are expecting ground transportation equipment, already two personnel carriers have arrived; more are coming to support the operation. Never before has the Nigerian Air Force deployed such equipment against the miscreants. This time it is going be a total departure from what we had before, just like the name of the operation implies, ‘’Diran Mikiya’’."

The NAF has begun Op Diran Mikiya in ZAMFARA State, an anti-banditry operation, commanded by AOC Special Operations Command AVM Samson AKPASA. Based out of GUSAU, ZAMFARA State ans KATSINA, KATSINA State. Tasked to the operation are a C-130H, ISR platforms (DA 42 aircraft), helicopters (Agusta AW109, EC 135) and Alphajets.

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) said its combat aircraft had neutralised several bandits during air attacks near Mashema village and at another location four kilometers Southeast of Yanwari, both in Zamfara. Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, disclosed this in a statement in Abuja. “On Aug. 1, 2018, ground troops, while on clearance operations near Mashema, came into contact with a group of armed bandits at a location West of Mashema village and therefore requested for air support. Accordingly, a NAF Alpha Jet aircraft from Katsina and an Mi-35M from Gusau were scrambled. In close coordination with troops on the ground, the combat aircraft engaged the bandits’ location with rockets and cannons neutralising several of them and causing a few survivors to scamper into different directions. The 2 aircraft subsequently pursued the fleeing bandits and thereafter neutralised them in follow-up attacks. Similarly, while on armed reconnaissance on Aug. 2, 2018, a NAF combat helicopter located over twenty armed bandits dressed in black attire with stolen cattle in their custody, in an open field near Yankari and Hayin Alhaji villages".

On 25 August 2018 the Nigeria Airforce said Air Task Force (ATF) for Operation DIRAN MIKIYA has successfully initiated air strikes that destroyed more bandit camps in Daji Bawar and Sunke Villages in Zamfara State. The NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, made this known in a statement in Abuja. ”The strikes were planned on the heels of intelligence reports indicating that some bandits who had survived the intensive air assaults on their various hideouts at Shinkafi, Galadi, Ajia, Shamashalle and other areas of Zamfara State had relocated to Anka Local Government Area (LGA) of the State.... The ATF, therefore, launched coordinated air strikes on the camps in the two villages with a force package of 2 attack helicopters". At least 30 bodies of the bandits and many others injured were later discovered by the troops of Sector 3 Operation SHARAN DAJI.

The Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, said Nov 7, 2018 the ongoing Operation ‘Diran Mikiya’ targeting at Zamfara bandits at Dajin Rugu shall be extended to cover, Birnin Gwari (Kaduna), Sokoto and Katsina axis. Speaking with newsmen on Wednesday shortly after returning from Zamfara state at the Umaru Musa Yar’adua Airport in Katsina, base of the operation, the Air chief said the expansion was necessary following the review of the 3-month-old operation.

On 28 December 2018 Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State expressed support for the call on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a state of emergency in the state. Yari while addressing newsmen at a press briefing in Gusau, said, “I am also in support of the declaration of state of emergency if it will save the lives of people of the state.... The security men are doing their best. But, it is sad to know that some of the people involved in the kidnappings are close relatives or associates of the victims, which is part of the reasons the problem is persisting.“We must all come together and expose anyone or group that is part of these hoodlums, and we should also pray for Allah’s intervention,” Yari said.

The Nigerian Air Force said on 07 February 2019 that it had intensified its strikes on bandits in Zamfara State, killing scores of them and destroying their hideouts and trucks. Its spokesman Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola said in a statement that the bombardment was conducted after intelligence reports indicated their presence in the area. Air Commodore Daramola said: “The Air Task Force (ATF) of Operation DIRAN MIKIYA has intensified the bombardment of armed bandits’ hideouts in Zamfara State and environs. “The air strikes were preceded by days of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, initiated based on credible Human Intelligence reports, which led to the identification of several camps being used by the bandits to launch attacks against innocent civilians.

Northwest Nigeria saw a sharp rise in mass abductions and other violent crimes since late 2020 as the government struggled to maintain law and order. In a region where criminal gangs rob and kidnap civilians for ransom, gunmen took hundreds of boys from the Government Science school in Kankara town on 11 December 2020. Some escaped but around 320 remained missing. An audio message from a man identifying himself as Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, said the Islamist group was responsible for the kidnapping from the all-boys school in the north-western state Katsina. Boko Haram had not previously claimed any attacks in the north-west. “We are behind what happened in Katsina,” said the man on the audio, which reached Reuters via a Whatsapp message. “What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices as Western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and his holy prophet.”

Exhausted and dishevelled, several hundred Nigerian schoolboys seized in a mass abduction claimed by Boko Haram experienced their first full day of freedom on 18 Dece,ber 2020 after a nearly week-long ordeal. But relief at their survival mingled with concern that many others could still be captive, and the circumstances of their release remained unclear.

The raid was reportedly carried out by a well-known criminal in the region, Awwalun Daudawa, in collaboration with Idi Minorti and Dankarami, two other crime chiefs with strong local followings, possibly acting on behalf of Boko Haram. Authorities in northern Nigeria confirmed that bandits — and not Boko Haram Islamists — kidnapped the now-rescued 344 schoolboys.

The governor of Katsina State, Aminu Bello Masari, told DW in an exclusive interview "bandits and not Boko Haram kidnapped the schoolboys from the government science school, and they will soon be reunited with their families." Masari told DW "All 344 schoolboys have been rescued, and no ransom was paid". Despite Governor Masari's denial that no ransom was paid for the schoolboys' release, the government had said it was negotiating with the attackers, described initially as bandits, casting doubts on his statement.

The kidnap of 344 schoolboys in northwest Nigeria had the appearance of an Islamist militant attack. There was even a video purporting to show some of the boys with members of Boko Haram, the extremists behind the 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in the northeast. But four government and security officials familiar with negotiations that secured the boys’ release told Reuters the attack was a result of inter-communal feuding over cattle theft, grazing rights and water access -– not spreading extremism.

In 2021 Security forces announced a crackdown, including air raids and a telecoms shutdown in parts of the country’s northwest in an attempt to flush criminal gangs from their forest hideouts. The military acquired more equipment to track down and eliminate criminal gangs, which had been subjecting people to a reign of terror, including through the illegal imposition of taxes on communities under siege.

In the official gazette on 06 January 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari’s government labelled activities of Yan Bindiga and Yan Ta’adda – references in the Hausa language to bandit gunmen – “as acts of terrorism and illegality”. “I think the only language they understand – we have discussed it thoroughly with the law enforcement agencies; the security chiefs, the inspector general of police – is to go after them,” Buhari told Channels Television. The official gazette referred to criminal gangs who carry out mass kidnappings of students, abduction for ransom, cattle rustling and destruction of property, among other crimes. The definition will mean tougher sanctions under the terrorism prevention act for suspected bandit gunmen, their informants and supporters such as those caught supplying them with fuel and food.

The military conducted air attacks on 08 January 2022 on targets in the Gusami forest and west Tsamre village in Zamfara, killing more than 100 bandits including two of their leaders. More than 300 gunmen on motorcycles stormed eight villages in the Anka local area in Zamfara on 09 January 2022 and started shooting sporadically. Gunmen killed at least 200 people in Zamfara state, in an apparent retaliation for military air raids on the armed groups’ hideouts.

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Page last modified: 24-01-2022 20:11:42 ZULU