Zamfara State in Northwest Nigeria, has been ravaged by bandits and kidnappers for over two years now.
The bandits raze markets and homes and kill villagers indiscriminately.
This piece explains how Zamfara, with a population of over three million inhabitants, has become a killing field of some sort.
Nigeria has untapped deposits of mineral resources spread across its 36 states. Some of these untapped minerals are zinc, tin and gold.
Zamfara is rich in gold. Unfortunately, mining gold in Zamfara is unstructured, largely informal and illegal.
Artisans, most of whom are unskilled, are in charge of the extraction, purification and commercialization of gold in Zamfara on a small scale.
Gold mining in Zamfara is largely artisanal and small scale (Guardian)
In this disorganized maze that is the gold mining industry in Zamfara, criminal gangs have become law enforcers and they dispatch persons who they consider to stand in their way, to the graves.
Gold from Zamfara is routinely smuggled out of the state to ready markets in neighboring Togo, Benin and Niger. From here, the gold finds its way to other markets across the world, with Nigeria benefiting next to nothing from the sale; and Zamfara maintaining its status as one of the poorest states in the country.
Intelligence reports say there is a nexus between the illicit gold mining industry and the killings in Zamfara.
How many people have been killed by the bandits in Zamfara so far?
It is difficult to put a figure to the killings. However, for a crises that has spanned all of two years, the death toll is better imagined. Hundreds have been killed in Zamfara since 2016 and hundreds have been buried in mass graves.
The modus operandi of the bandits goes like this: they raid villages, tear down doors, drag the heads of homes from houses and hurl them into forests. In the forests, they establish contact with the families and demand a ransom. Once this ransom doesn’t arrive on time, they proceed to killing their victims.
At other times, the bandits just kill for fun.
The bandits also rustle livestock across villages and communities in Zamfara. Hundreds of cows, goats and birds have been forcefully taken from homes by rampaging bandits.
From Ajia and Wonaka in Birnin Magaji local government, to Kayayi village in Shinkafi local government, from Yan Taskuwa to Kucheri, from Tungar Kolo to all the Kara markets in Zamfara, the bandits have left sorrow, tears and blood in their wake.
The spate of killings in Zamfara has also prevented farmers from going about their business. As a consequence, food is becoming scarce in Zamfara.
What is being done by the government to stop the killings?
After indigenes of Zamfara State who reside in Abuja stormed the presidential villa to register how displeased they are with the federal government over the killings, President Muhammadu Buhari issued a directive suspending all mining activities in Zamfara.
Buhari said he is “constantly in touch with the security chiefs, and receive regular briefings on the situation in Zamfara and across the country. Let me assure that we will continue to do everything to motivate and equip them to respond effectively to all our security challenges”.
The presidency would later issue a statement to say that “in the face of intelligence reports that have clearly established a strong and glaring nexus between the activities of armed bandits and illicit miners – with both mutually re-enforcing each other, the Federal Government of Nigeria has directed that mining activities in Zamfara and other affected States are hereby suspended with immediate effect”.
Acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, also informed the nation that the “Nigeria Police Force in collaboration with the Nigerian Military and other Security Services has commenced “Operation PUFF- ADDER” which is a full scale security offensive against the bandits.
“The operation is aimed at reclaiming every public space under the control of the bandits, arrest and bring to book all perpetrators of violence in the area and their collaborators, achieve a total destruction of all criminal camps and hideouts, mop up all illicit weapons fueling the violence and attain a full restoration of law and order in the affected communities.
“Our commitment at protecting the sanctity of life and property is irrevocable, and we will not scale-down the pressure on the armed bandits until they are totally flushed-out.
“Mining activities in Zamfara and other affected states are hereby suspended with immediate effect. Consequently, any mining operator who engages in mining activities in the affected locations henceforth will have his licence revoked.
“All foreigners operating in the mining fields should close and leave within 48hours. I want to assure the general public, especially in the affected areas that the security services are doing their best to address the situation”.
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) also announced that its Air Task Force (ATF) for Operation DIRAN MIKIYA has successfully destroyed a bandits’ logistics base at Ajia in Birnin Magaji.
According to Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, “the ATF dispatched a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Alpha Jet, supported by an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform, to attack the compound, scoring accurate strikes on the target and causing it to erupt into flames, which engulfed the structures and resulted in the neutralization of some of the bandits”.
At the time of writing, Nigeria’s already stretched security architecture, has been mobilized to Zamfara to deal the bandits a devastating blow.