Six months after sacking a military base in the area, bandits have collected at least N40.7 million as protection levy from residents of Mutumji communities in Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State.
Residents said they delivered N9.7 million to the bandits on February 4 as the last instalment of the levy collected from various peasant communities in Mutumji.
PREMIUM TIMES reported last September how bandits attacked the Forward Operating Base in Mutumji, killing nine Air Force, two police and one army personnel. The bandits reportedly also stole weapons and other equipment before setting the base ablaze.
A traditional ruler in Mutumji, Abdulkadir Abdullahi, told PREMIUM TIMES that soldiers withdrew from the area after the attack on the military base. He said the withdrawal has made villages in the area a soft target for bandits, who have imposed protection levy on the communities.
Mr Abdullahi said Mutumji has 47 villages with four district heads and 32 ward heads. He said all the villages are now under the control of bandits and that those that chose not to pay the levy have relocated to neighbouring Kebbi and Niger states.
The traditional ruler said the deserted villages include Guru, Danfasa, Dogon-Ruwa, Tungar-Baushi, Jesa, Gazamba, Fankashi, Damkofa, Jesasarnesa, Maijankai and Gobirawar-Guru.
He also identified villages that have paid the protection levy as Sabon Garin-Mahuta, which paid N6 million; Randa, N6 million; Kwanar Dutse, N10 million; and Unguwar Kawo, N5 million.
Mr Abdullahi said Mutumji community initially paid N4 million to the bandits as harvest permit, before paying on Monday the N9.7 million balance of their protection levy.
“The total amount imposed on Mutumji was N20 million. We were given one week to complete the payment,” the traditional leader said.
He said the N40.7 million paid by all the communities did not include ransoms paid by individuals to the bandits for the release of kidnapped relatives.
“Some residents are fleeing the communities because they cannot afford to contribute the money,” the traditional ruler said.
How protection levy is being paid
Multiple sources told PREMIUM TIMES that the leader of the bandits terrorising the area is Lawalli Damina, who they said leads criminal activities in Dansadau Emirate.
Locals said Mr Damina’s band of bandits routinely kidnap for ransom and rustle cattle in the area. They said the situation deteriorated with the withdrawal of security personnel at Mutumji base.
According to the residents, the bandits stormed Mutumji on Friday, February 4 and took over Mango plantations at the outskirts of the community. They moved into the town and blocked the road linking Mutumji to Dansadau, robbing residents of valuables.
On that Friday, which was a market day in Dansadau town, about 12 kilometres from Mutumji, residents said the bandits seized five motorcycles and foodstuff from residents returning to Mutumji from Dansadau market.
Following that incident, Mr Abbdullahi said their leader, Mr Damina, ordered the community to send two residents to meet him at Farar Doka in Dan-Gulbi ward. However, the traditional ruler said the community sent five emissaries to the meeting, including a Fulani, Alhaji Gudau, who resides in the outskirts of Mutumji.
“At that meeting, Damina initiated a peace dialogue with Mutumji and asked the community to raise N50 million to appease his footsoldiers not to attack and kidnap in Mutumji. But after intense bargaining, Damina agreed to collect N20 million.
“The deadline for the delivery of the N20 million levy was February 14, but we were only able to raise and deliver N9.7 million on Monday. He has given us one week to complete the payment, this is even as many residents are fleeing in fear of attacks,” the traditional ruler said.
“Whenever they wanted to impose a levy on a village, they would first abduct one or two residents of that community. Upon their release, they would send them to deliver a message to the villages, that they were ready for peace but a certain amount of money had to be paid for them to settle the troublesome bandits among them.
“The bandits would tell us that any community that refused to pay the protection levy would be wiped out. That would compel the residents to pay because there are no security forces around to protect them,” Mr Abdullahi said.
The troubled area
Mutumji is in Dansadau Emirate and sits at the edge of Kuyanbana forest in the ungoverned boundaries with Katsina, Kaduna, Kebbi and Niger states.
Mutumji is in Bindin ward, one of the five wards of Dansadau Emirate. The other wards are Kuyanbana, Dan-Gulbi, Dan-Kurmi and Dansadau town. While Dansadau Emirate has five wards, the council headquarters, Maru, also has five wards which constitute Maru Emirate. The wards are Bingi, Kanoma, Mayanchi, Ruwan Dorawa and Maru town, which host the local council headquarters.
Dansadau Emirate alone covers 492 square kilometres out of the 1180 square kilometres of Zamfara State, that is over one third of the landmass of the state. The area has a land suitable for farming and rearing of livestock.
PREMIUM TIMES’ findings revealed that despite the landmass and population of Dansadau Emirate, less than 100 security agents are patrolling selected places in the emirate. The residents said this was what has exposed them to the terror of the bandits.
However, the police said they did not receive any official complaint from the residents of the communities over the N40.9 million protection levy imposed on them by the bandits.
The Police spokesperson in the state, Muhammed Shehu, said the police cannot be in every community in the area but added that they have personnel on ground in Dansadau district.
He urged the residents to always inform and cooperate with the security forces in ensuring the security of lives and properties.
Mr Shehu said he could not speak on the withdrawal of soldiers from Forward Operating Base in Mutumji, because it was a military formation.
Efforts by this reporter to speak with the military authorities were unsuccessful as the known phone contact of the army spokesperson in Zamfara, Y.A Ibrahim, did not connect since Tuesday afternoon.
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