Several villages in Zamfara State had been under the siege of cow rustlers, who attack cattle rearers with reckless abandon and leave them gritting their teeth with varying degree of losses. MUHAMMED SABIU writes on the agonies of the cattle rearers and the havoc which cow rustling has begun to wreck on Zamfara State.
Twenty-three people were killed, several others were injured on that fateful day and yet it was not due to a Boko Haram attack. Indeed, apart from the brutal murder of innocent souls, hundreds of cows and sheep belonging to the villagers were stolen.
Zamfara State has been in the news over the activities of cow rustlers, a development, which the state government said it had been trying to curtail.
It started as a small matter in 2010, when armed bandits attacked the small village of Lygado in Maru Local Government area of Zamfara State and ended up killing scores of people and still their cows, playing out the scenario painted above.
Ever since, cow rustlers have been having a field day in the state, with several attacks across Bungudu, Gusau, Maru and Maradun local governments following the Maru mayhem. Other affected local governments were Bukuyum, Zurmi, Birnin Magaji and Tsafe.
‘We have lost a huge fortune’
In May 2013, cattle rustlers invaded a village in Dansadau emirate of Maru Local Government Area of the state and stole 113 cows and 50 sheep belonging to some Fulani cattle rearers, leaving them to grit their teeth at the losses, which one of the victims, Alhaji Saleh Mohammed described as painful and unforgettable. But if that attack was painful and heavy on the state, it was not the worst; as a bigger attack, which attracted national attention soon followed. Hoodlums had stormed Kizara village in a commando style in June 2013, killing 58 people and leaving over 50 injured.
Among the people that were killed in that attack were: the District Head; the Chief Imam as well as the richest man in the village, Alhaji Ali Kizara.
Sunday Tribune findings revealed that these attacks, whenever they occurred, not only leave many residents saddened as a result of the economic blows they suffered as a result of the theft of their animals, some breadwinners are left with emotional trauma as the cattle rustlers sometimes raped their wives and daughters at gun points. A victim of such trauma, who pleaded for anonymity, confided in Sunday Tribune that when the hoodlums came to their village, they asked all the married men to tell their wives to come out. He said “it was then one of the cattle rustlers pulled down the wrapper of my wife and asked her to follow him. It was one of the worst scenes I have seen with my two naked eyes since I was created. Here was my wife lying on the floor while hefty men took turns to rape her. She was wailing and crying helplessly with nobody to come to her rescue.
Apart from rape, Sunday Tribune gathered that sometimes the hoodlums abducted women. This finding was corroborated by the state governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari while addressing the state House of Assembly in September 2013, disclosing that 12 women were abducted by these hoodlums.
On an almost monthly basis, reports of cow rustling in Zamfara State continued to hit the news, with varying degrees of losses recorded after each incident.
Speaking on the losses incurred as a result of the activities of the cow rustlers, a leader of the Fulani in Gusau, Alhaji Sani Sarkin Fulani observed that it was not possible to quantify the losses in monetary terms or give the exact number of animals that had been stolen. He said his members had lost quite a fortune, which will take several years to recover.
Cattle rearers desert villages for safer climes
Indeed, the activities of the hoodlums, Sunday Tribune gathered, had led to several cattle owners selling their animals and buying houses at the state capital. One of such people, Alhaji Mohammed told the Sunday Tribune that when his village was attacked sometime in 2011, he lost 100 cows and 40 sheep to the armed bandits. He said: “After the attack, I met with members of my household and we agreed to sell the other animals and relocate to the state capital. I have since bought a house in Gusau and I am living happily with my family,” he said. Further findings showed that many Fulani cattle owners had fled to neighbouring states. An official of the Fulani association who wouldn’t like his name to be mentioned remarked, “it is true many of our Fulani brothers have left the state because of the incessant attacks by these bandits. Many of them have migrated to Katsina, Kaduna, Niger and Kano states.” He added that some had even gone as far as Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon.
Heaven helps those who help themselves
Further investigation further revealed that those who did not have the opportunity to relocate to the city had to find a way of defending themselves, with a source telling the Sunday Tribune that “we selected the able-bodied men among us and when it was night, they divided themselves into groups and patrolled the entire village. In the afternoon, we had a well-coordinated channel of information and intelligence gathering. So, in the event of any possible attack, we will easily communicate to the entire village.
More questions, less answers
The questions on the lips of many observers are what are the remote causes of these incessant attacks? Why the incessant attacks of cattle owners? Are these mere cases of cow theft or is there a grand plan against the Fulani cattle owners in the state?
Though a survivor of the attack from Lygado village, Malam Lawal Abubakar told the Sunday Tribune that the intense rivalry between the members of the vigilante group and the Fulani cattle rearers resulted in the present crisis, the incessant attacks have been unfathomable. According to him, the members of the vigilante group and the Fulani rearers had been involved in series of fighting over the years because of grazing and quite often when these crises ensued the Fulani were at the receiving end. He contended that the Fulani began to acquire arms which they used to defend themselves but a vigilante member; Aliyu Adamu said most of the Fulani were using the arms for untoward purposes, a development which he said brought about reprisals.
A Fulani cattle rearer, who pleaded for anonymity, was, however, of the view that the whole crisis started when politicians started allocating grazing reserves to their supporters, noting that when cattle rearers who took their animals for grazing and have nowhere else to take their animals got to farmlands, the farmers often picked a fight with them. He added that angered farmers and their sympathizers could be responsible for cow rustling as a way of paying the Fulani cattle owners back.
A cry for help
Commenting on the menace of cow rustling, Alhaji Sarkin Fulani attributed the crisis to the division among the Fulani. He said the Fulani now had different groups, a development that has affected their ability to effectively champion their cause even as he called on the appropriate authorities to address the activities of these cattle rustlers. He also said the various Fulani groups must be united under a single authority that will speak for them.
Piqued by the ugly publicity which cow rustling has continued to attract to the state, the Zamfara State government said it has put in place concerted efforts to address the activities of the bandits. The state’s deputy governor, Mallam Ibrahim Wakkala, while condoling with the people of Dansadau, announced that the state government was ready to grant amnesty to these hoodlums. Wakkala appealed to them to lay down their arms and embrace peace, saying that the state government was willing to dialogue with them.
In addition, findings by the Sunday Tribune showed that the government had been planning to organise a stakeholder’s peace conference to address the security challenge.
In the same vein, the state’s police command said it has arrested over 100 suspected cattle rustlers believed to have been involved in the various attacks across the state. In a statement made available to the Sunday Tribune and signed by the command’s spokesperson, DSP Lawal Abdullahi, the command disclosed that the suspects were currently being interrogated by the police, adding that among those arrested were three suspects believed to have carried out the gruesome murder of 58 people in Kizara village.
With these arrests and the command’s promise to keep on fighting the criminals, will cattle rearers breathe the air of freshness and enjoy their fruits of their labour?