By Isa Sanusi
‘Yar Galadima, a village in Maru local government of Zamfara state is yet to recover from Saturday 5 April, 2014 when bandits killed over 200 people. On that day, initially the funeral of 180 people was held. Later, the body count kept rising. More corpses were discovered in the bush and behind buildings where they ran for their lives.
One market day in April 2014 the people of ‘Yar Galadima were busy making the best of the weekly opportunity to transact business and buy stock of basic needs. Others were in the market to meet friends and relatives from other villages. But that Saturday April 5, 2014 was more than a market day. People from neighboring towns and villages have assembled in the market square to discuss on how to communally address incessant armed banditry that has been affecting everything: from daily life to education, business, farming and even healthcare. It was while the meeting was going on that the armed bandits stormed the village announcing their arrival with sporadic shooting. They shot, hacked and in some cases used chain to strangle many young men and women. They left in their trail dead bodies and tears.
When this reporter visited the village, the first thing the villagers talked about was that day, the day they said was the worst for them. A resident said “It was a day we will never forget. We will never be the same again. On that day, all we had were tears and pain. It affected almost everyone. Even days after the incident we kept recovering corpses in the bush. The number of the dead kept rising and rising. Allah forbid such a bad thing.”
A sign that the villagers still live in fear was the way they receive any strange face. The fear of the unknown dangle on their faces. Asked why their fear is still fresh four years after the attack, Ado Dan Mallam said “We will never cease to be afraid. We always sleep with one eye closed. When we see a strange face our fear increases. Who knows, we are afraid that the strange face might be that of an informant?” Across villages of Zamfara state afflicted by rampaging armed bandits almost every villager can tell how the bandits operate. Because many of the villages are very remote and off major roads and without any road at all the bandits were able to hold sway. They always stay in the bush not far from villages they target. All villagers will aptly tell you specifically where the bandits are located. The bandits always make attempt to kidnap their target at home or in the farm. If the target resisted he will get killed instantly. If he cooperated, they will take him to their hideout and use his mobile phone to tell his family or relatives to bring minimum of N500,000 per person. In some cases, they demand N1 million. The ransom is determined by the value of the victim. If the money is paid they release the victim and warn the village to keep quite about it. Some villages made the mistake of informing security agencies about the activities of the bandits – and such villages always paid the price that come in the form of a deadly attack.
The bandits find it easier to operate because they use informants. Using money, they get some in the village who act as their informants telling them about happenings in the village, movement of security agencies and even the movement of richest people and their families.
‘Yar Galadima has an advantage over many other villages. It is located along the road to Dansadau. Beyond that, the village suffers all the setbacks that in addition to banditry made life more difficult. Like people of many other villages the people of this village can only go to farms located located along the major road leading to Gusau the state capital for fear of being either killed or kidnapped by the bandits.
The village has only one source of water; a solar powered borehole that has broken down and had never been put back to use for two years. A resident said “We are dealing with so many problems. Banditry is one of them but we don’t have water. Our borehole has been out of use for two years now. We begged the government but nothing has been done.” While the borehole is broken, the people have to resort to the well outside the town where largely women and children haggle for untidy water from the old well from dawn to dusk.
The people of ‘Yar Galadima still live in fear of the unknown and still live with the memory of the attack that left behind many widows and orphans. “The orphans are all over the village or taken by their grand parents. The widows majority of them have either gone back to their towns or have remarried here and in other villages,” said Rilwanu who narrowly escaped the April 2014 attack.
Armed bandits have directly and indirectly been calling the shots in majority of the rural parts of Zamfara. Many villages are far away from police presence or any form of security. The people held in between extreme poverty, neglect and fear of bandits seemed to have given up any hope of going back to life without the fear of bandits.