Dogo Gide, one of the suspected masterminds of the March 28 attack on a Kaduna-bound train, perhaps, runs the biggest kidnap-for-ransom franchise in Nigeria.
His operation, which is primarily based in the country’s troubled northwest region, primarily targets government institutions, officials, schools and travellers.
Unlike other armed groups in the region, he forbids his gang members from attacking villages around the Kwiambana Game Reserve, Zamfara State, where he is believed to be hiding.
So much is his influence across the northwest that he reportedly warned other gangs to stop attacking villages in the area or risk incurring his wrath.
Local sources credit the relative reduction in gunmen attacks on rural communities in Zamfara to Mr Gide’s order – his fight is with the government. He has vowed to make the government pay and bleed.
Since 2011, various armed gangs have been operating in the country’s northwest.
But their activities snowballed after the 2019 general election when they began attacking travellers on major highways in the region, especially on the Abuja- Kaduna Expressway.
The intensity and frequency of their attacks on rural communities in the region increased. Livestock rustling, abductions and mass killings -sometimes of entire communities – were reported almost daily.
The activities of these gunmen, dubbed bandits by the Nigerian media, became so increasingly heartless that last November the Nigerian government secured the order of a federal high court in Abuja declaring the activities of the gang acts of terrorism.
But this designation did not deter the bandits. They grew bolder and stronger and started targeting military formations, including attacks on Nigeria’s premier military academy, the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna.
A life of violence
Mr Gide rose to prominence in 2018 after he reportedly killed Tsoho Buhari, who used to be the most ruthless and most feared bandit in the region.
Mr Gide, who used to be a protégé of Buharin Daji, killed him after an argument ensued between both men after Mr Buhari reportedly rustled the cattle of Mr Gide’s in-law.
The killing of Mr Buhari, who was so cruel that he was thought to be invincible, ballooned Mr Gide’s admiration among the gangs operating in the area.
He quickly rode on the waves of his newly found popularity among the armed gangs in the area to coordinate and expand the activities of his own gang.
But long before his encounter with Buhari Daji, Mr Gide has led a life of violence and had been radicalised by one of the most blood-thirsty Islamist groups in the world – Boko Haram.
Born in Erana District, Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State, Mr Gide attended the Qur’anic school of Isah Erana, a popular moderate Islamic cleric and a former chief Iman of Erana town.
It was unclear at what point Mr Gide started his criminal operations, but like the motley gangs operating in the Shiroro and surrounding area, his operation originally involved raiding villages, hijacking harvests, and rustling livestock.
But the trajectory of his criminal enterprise soon changed after he encountered members of Boko Haram, who had sleeper cells in the area.
The Boko Haram members in the area advised him to desist from raiding villages but to switch to attacking government establishments, officials, and institutions such as schools, considered haram (forbidden) by the Islamist group.
Mr Gide later teamed up with Ali Kachalla, another notorious gang leader in the area and they moved their operational base to neighbouring Zamfara State, where the Kwiambana Game Reserve provided a natural cover from security personnel and for moving, rustled cattle and abducted people freely.
The government set aside Kwiambana Game Reserve in Zamfara for the preservation of plants and animals. The forest stretches from the ‘Dajin Rugu’ to the Kontagora Forest. The reserve has been slated as a possible UNESCO heritage site.
The reserve was named after one of the five political wards of the Dansadau Emirate. The other wards are Bindin, Dan-Gulbi, Dan-Kurmi and Dansadau town. Dansadau Emirate. Dansadau Emirate, where Mr Gide lives, covers 492 square kilometres out of the 1180 square kilometres of Zamfara State – about one-third of the state’s landmass.
Security officials knowledgeable of the duo’s operation told PREMIUM TIMES that they received funding and arms from Boko Haram at the beginning of their alliance.
Security officials and residents said the gangs of both men have been working in tandem in attacks and kidnap-for-ransom raids on schools, travellers, and officials in the North-west.
Security officials in Kaduna and Zamfara told this newspaper that either gang carried most of the kidnappings on the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway out.
So much is the influence of Mr Gide that he now runs a parallel government of some sort in the area. People familiar with the happenings in the area told PREMIUM TIMES this.
He passed an edict banning gangs from attacking rural communities in Zamfara. He forbade them from abducting residents, demanding ransoms, or the payment of protection levies.
However, he permitted them to attack security bases and schools in the area, and communities outside the state.
In the Babban Doka community in Zamfara, where Mr Gide regularly performs Juma’at prayers, he banned the activities of commercial sex workers and the sales, and consumption of alcohol and all psychotropic drugs.
He warned that any vendor or chemist caught selling any of the banned substances will be summarily executed. A resident said he made the announcement during a Juma’at prayer Babban-Doka in the presence of strange gunmen believed to be Boko Haram insurgents.
Just like Mr Gide, Mr Kachalla also known as Ali Kawaje, was a protégé of the coldblooded Buharin Daji.
The duo also imbibed Boko Haram doctrine and received support from the Islamist group, security officials, and residents in their area of operation told this newspaper.
Multiple security sources who requested anonymity for safety reasons said Mr Kachalla has three wives and several children but non of his children is involved in his criminal operation.
“His parents are still alive and in a place in Maru local government area. His immediate family members are far away from his base because he doesn’t want them to get engaged in the act or get killed by security agents,” he said.
Though nothing was known about his exact age, in a profile published by the Daily Trust, the newspaper claimed Mr Kachalla is in his late 30s. Sources say he was born in Madada community in Dansadau,
Just like Mr Gide, Mr Kawaje rose to prominence after the death of Buharin Daji. But his claim to fame was his gang’s downing of a Nigerian Air Force jet in January 2021, according to the Daily Trust profile. He subsequently recruited new fighters to increase the numerical strength of his gang.
“Buharin Daji trained most of them, but when he died, they couldn’t decide on who to be the leader, especially with what happened that led to his death. Before his death, Buhari preferred Kawaje to Gide because he and Kawaje belonged to the same Fulani clan,” another source said.
Locals say Mr Kachalla has several camps and hideouts around the Birnin Gwari and Dansadau axis.
Sources said he has several herds of rustled cattle, which are being tendered for at different camps in the Kwiambana forest by his lieutenants.
He is one of the few bandits’ leaders who don’t mix their inherited cattle or family domestic animals with those he rustled from other people.
“Kawaje is rich but not as wealthy as Dogo Gide. They have several things in common, especially the fact that they attack security agents without even the slightest provocation,” one of the security sources said.
If he is not leading an operation himself, he is often seen at Babbar Doka, a community near to Dansadau. This is also his location of meeting his ally, Mr Gide, and other guests.
Mr Kawaje has been blamed for several attacks on communities in Zamfara, Kaduna and Niger States, and even Kebbi State.
Another of his show of strength was his public burning of a Personnel Armoured Carrier of the Nigerian Army in Dansadau town. Sources said he masterminded the May 2021 abduction of dozens of pupils at the Tegina Islamiyya school in Niger State.
Sources said it was his gang, which in October 2021 first tried to attack a train from Abuja to Kaduna with explosives. Though that attack almost derailed the train, the bandits could not abduct any passenger.
Security officials accused him of leading the attack on the Kaduna international airport two days before the train attack.
Security sources told this newspaper that the attack on the Kaduna-bound train was a collaboration between Messrs Gide, Kawaje and other Islamist elements active in the area.
“He tried unsuccessfully,” one source said, talking about his attempt to attack the train in October.
“Malam Abba (Ansaru leader in the northwest) used to be Kawaje’s sworn enemy, but they’ve now found reasons to be friends. When Kawaje planned the onslaught against the airport in Kaduna and the train, he thought he could not do it alone. But with the coming together of Dogo Gide and other Ansaru and Boko Haram elements, they could pull it off,“ the source said.
But the attack in March was not the first collaboration between Messrs Gide’s and Kawaje’s gangs. Multiple sources told our reporters that they collaborated in the abduction of staff and pupils of the Government College (FGC), Yauri in Kebbi State, in June 2021.
The sources said the bandits shared the captives among themselves.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the bandits released about 30 of the pupils in October, after four months in captivity.
A father of one of the abducted pupils, Daniel Alkali, told PREMIUM TIMES, that Mr Gide refused to negotiate with parents directly, insisting that he would only negotiate with officials of the Kebbi State government.
“The government has to listen to Dogo Gide, he has refused to listen to us the parent, he insisted on negotiating with the Kebbi government.
“We’re more disturbed that among the 30 students rescued, only two are girls, those still in captivity are girls. What is the motive behind that? Why are they holding girls and releasing the boys?” Mr Alkali asked.
Meanwhile, Garba Rabiu, the security adviser to Kebbi governor, Atiku Bagudu, briefly responded to BBC Hausa that the government commits to ensuring the release of the remaining students.
Fifteen of the kidnapped students are still in captivity, married off to criminal gangs in the forest. Residents of Babban Doko told this newspaper that some of the kidnapped pupils sometimes visit their community for henna under the cover of heavy gun-wielding criminals.
Infiltration by Boko Haram
An Islamic cleric, Ahmad Gumi, who met with Mr Gide last year, said Boko Haram has radicalised the bandits and this is clear from his gang’s indiscriminate killing of innocent people. He said the outlaw may have turned into an ideological terrorist.
“I met Mr Gide in the forest in Niger state. He complained their actions were a reaction to their people being killed in the bush. But I made him understand that there is a way out aside from killing innocent people. He can do this through dialogue,” Mr Gumi said.
In Zamfara, security sources said the armed group believed to be members of Boko Haram have established a sleeper cell in the Kwiambana axis. They have radicalised Mr Gide, who is believed to be Qur’anic literate among the bandits’ leaders hibernating in the forest.
Meanwhile, a former Senator, Sa’idu Dansadau, confirmed the presence of a strange armed group who performed a ‘separate congregational prayer’ at Dan-Dalla community, near the Kuyanbana forest.
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