Two experts who have studied the activities of the bandits in North-west Nigeria for many years say they believe banditry kingpin Bello Turji wrote the now infamous letter.
The experts also said that Mr Turji may have written the letter, calling for a ceasefire, following the backlash he received from his fellow outlaws after his group burnt unarmed travellers alive in Sokoto.
The controversial letter
Mr Turji addressed his three-page open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State and the Emir of Shinkafi.
The wanted crime lord is originally from Shinkafi Local Government Area of Zamfara State and the letter was reportedly delivered to the emir of the area.
In the letter, written in the Hausa language with a salutation in Arabic, Mr Turji promised to embrace peace if the federal and state governments, as well as the Shinkafi emirate, promise to accept him.
In the letter, he said he was ready to surrender all his arms if the five conditions in the letter are met.
He listed the conditions as dissolution of unofficial vigilante groups in the North-west, a meeting with traditional rulers and religious leaders, a stop to the ‘marginalisation’ of Fulanis; honest discussions between bandits, traditional rulers and politicians, and the participation of first-class emirs in a security meeting.
“Unnecessary Killing of people will be over,” he said. “Because unofficial vigilante members would just see innocent person and kill … We need to be seen as people with equal rights like any other person else. We’re being killed unnecessarily. We’re being relegated to the background. We should be allowed to return to our houses and live normal lives. We also want to have a meeting with our traditional rulers and religious leaders to iron out issues.”
“… we’re not fighting the government or trying to form our government. No! We’re just tired of the marginalisation of the Fulanis; especially in the markets. So, if you people need peace to reign, we should do it for the sake of God. And for normalcy to return, we want a situation whereby no one will be cheated,” he said.
In the letter he signed off with his full name, Muhammadu Bello Turji Kachalla Fakai, Mr Turji also said that an Islamic cleric, Ahmed Gumi, first-class emirs and notable Islamic scholars should be invited for a summit with the bandits.
“… especially Sheikh Ahmed Abubakar Gumi; we know him because he came here and preached to us and we’ve witnessed the importance of peace due to his counsel, hence, the need for us to do our best for peace to return to our land.”
Reasons behind the letter
Murtala Rufai, a social historian at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto, told PREMIUM TIMES that he believes Mr Turji wrote the letter for two reasons.
Mr Rufai, who wrote the book, “I’m a Bandit,” said Mr Turji’s decision to burn commuters in a bus in the Sabon Birni area did not go down well with some bandits’ leaders.
“You know the backlash it generated. They were not happy with him (Turji) because he just did what was off the book for them. A meeting was convened on the 13 of December by the bandits’ kingpins and Turji was told point-blank that he was wrong. Even some of his top commanders were not in support of his actions,” the academic said.
Mr Rufai, a researcher on banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling in the North-west, has access to many bandits’ leaders; especially in Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and Kebbi States.
He said it did not take long before Mr Turji agreed that he was wrong.
“That letter was a sort of a soft landing for him. He wanted to appease his friends and commanders and also express regrets over what he did. The letter was released on the 14 December and delivered,” he added.
According to the university don, Mr Turji also wrote the letter “possibly after getting information of impending attacks by soldiers.”
Another source, Basharu Guyawa, the coordinator of Rundunar Adalci, a human rights group in Sokoto, also confirmed the authenticity of the letter.
“You know that Turji is used to writing letters especially during the ban on telecommunications service in the area. He wrote several letters to village and district heads on ransom payment. So, we believe this is also from him,” Mr Guyawa said.
When asked whether he believes the letter was written out of fear of impending attacks by soldiers, Mr Guyawa answered in the affirmative.
“It could be true because the letter was delivered a day before the attacks on Turji’s and other bandits’ camps began. He might have some information on the impending attacks and wanted to use it as a way of deceiving government.”
PRNigeria, a news agency with close ties to security agencies, later reported an attack on Mr Turji’s camp on Saturday.
“The notorious bandit leader, Bello Turji, is ‘incapacitated’ after sustaining severe injuries when military fighter jets raided his hideouts and bandits camps in the North West,” PRNigeria reported on Sunday.
“The attack jets of the Air Task Force, ATF, Operation Hadin Kai, also killed several bandits, in the raid carried out at some forests in Zamfara and Sokoto States, early Saturday.
“According to the intelligence source, the actual number of bandits who were eliminated by the airstrikes could not be ascertained,” the agency reported.
Although Mr Turji is believed to have survived the air raids, his whereabouts is currently unknown.
The police spokesman in Sokoto State, Sanusi Abubakar, did not respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the fate of Mr Turji following his letter and the airstrikes.
Zamfara no longer interested in dialogue
Efforts to speak with the Zamfara State Commissioner for Information, Ibrahim Dosara, were unsuccessful as his known telephone lines were not connecting. The SMS sent to his lines were also not responded to.
But Governor Bello Matawalle had in September said the state government was no longer interested in dialogue with bandits.
Mr Matawalle initiated a peace accord with bandits’ in the state after he was sworn in as governor in 2019. The peace efforts failed as many bandits returned to their terror acts after claiming to have accepted to be peaceful.
“My administration will no longer grant amnesty to bandits as they have failed to embrace the peace initiative earlier extended to them,’’ the governor said.
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