Raise N7,500, get a pistol

June 1, 2019

Eighteenth Century British philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, might not have had Zamfara State in mind when he painted the picture of the disorderly society that prevailed before the institution of government. Describing the setting as the state of nature, Hobbes reckoned that life in that setting was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short because there were no laws governing how people related with one another, hence it was all a matter of survival of the fittest.

Sadly, that seems the ugly prospects that stare the residents of Zamfara, the Northwest state where bandits appear to have taken over the reigns, unleashing a reign of terror on hapless residents. But they(residents)appear to have grown tired of waiting for help from the security agencies and have  resorted to securing themselves against the mindless anti-social elements who have turned the state into a killing field. The consequence is the proliferation of arms and the springing up of many local arms manufacturing outfits who are out to meet the rising demand for arms among the residents. So cheap now are arms in the state that with N7,500, a sum that is barely enough to buy 50 litres of petrol, you can own a pistol.

An erstwhile politician and former secretary of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, an international umbrella of  cattle breeders, Alhaji Sale Bayari, recalled  that before now, most of the Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) that circulated in the area were smuggled in from the Maghreb due to the Arab Spring uprising and the activities of the Al-Qaeda movement. He said that some of the arms used in the uprisings found their way into the country through migrants from Libya to Sudan, Mali, Chad, Niger and finally, Nigeria.

Bayari, who is the current chairman of Gan Allah Fulani Development Association of Nigeria, recalled further that a lot of these SALWs were brought into Nigeria because of the big crime market involving armed robbery, cattle rustling, kidnapping, bunkering, Niger Delta militancy and herdsmen/farmers’ crises, among others.

Bayari explained that herdsmen, having seen the efficacy of the arms that were used against them by cattle rustlers and other criminal elements, became desirous of acquiring them for self-defence. But at the end of the day, such arms are not only used for self-defence but also for aggression, depending on the sociology of the society.

“Kamuku Forest is a typical example of such an environment which has become the fortress of the oppressed, the displaced, the maimed, the dispossessed, the poor and the orphans of those murdered in cold blood in their struggles to defend their tribe, faith and their means of livelihood,” he said.

Guns, guns everywhere

But while the world is fixing its gaze on the killings in the state, the gun manufacturing industry is booming, all in the name of local vigilantes protecting the people in various communities, especially those that are most hit by the killings. In Tsauni, a community in Tsafe Local Government Area, about 90 kilometres drive from Gusau, the state capital, for example, local gun manufacturers have found wealth.

Investigation conducted by The Nation revealed that a double-barrel pistol from the local blacksmiths in the area sells for N7500, while a short single barrel gun that carries between 10 and 20 Boris iron balls, costs between N13,000 and N20,000.

A gun manufacturer in the area, who pleaded anonymity, said the business had enjoyed a boom since banditry became pronounced in the state.

He said: “We now have a bigger and wider market because of the activities of bandits. People also come here in hundreds every day for the concoction that could make one immune to bullets of any type. People come here daily from all corners of the country and even beyond. A lot of people buy these guns and go back to their communities to get the ammunition, which is easy to get from any automobile mechanic.”

Asked whether they sell their products to only  vigilante groups in the state, he said: “We sell to anybody with the purchasing power. Why should we ask them who they are and where they come from? That is not our business. Our business is fabricating these guns and selling them to make money. We should not ask questions or they’ll think we are security people and we will lose their patronage.”

In Tsafe, Sokoto Road in the heart of Gusau and other parts of the state, it is now a common sight to see travellers atop trucks and in small commercial vehicles flaunting their locally made guns without being subjected to any form of checks. Teenagers are also frequently seen clutching guns in the streets.

The police, who are constitutionally saddled with the responsibility of checking the proliferation of arms are nowhere to be seen in the whole of Tsauni community, and no single security operative is found around.

The Emir of Anka, Alhaji Attahiru Ahmad Muhammad, who is also the Chairman of the Zamfara State Council of Chiefs, lamented the absence of security agents, saying it is the the reason banditry and other criminal activities have assumed a gruesome dimension.

He stressed that none of the 14 local government areas in the state could boast of 50 policemen except those in the state capital. This, he said, makes the communities prone to the activities of criminals who can easily hide in those areas without traces.

One of the first sights that confronts a visitor to Tsauni community is the booming market of firearms displayed on mats the same way as tomato sellers display their ware beside the main road. A more dangerous aspect of the arms production business in Zamfara is the experience the manufacturers are gaining by the day. They have even started producing guns that use vehicle plugs as bullets, which they christened mai plugo (the plug type). Also on display are swords, machetes, moon-shaped bows and knives of different shapes and sizes.

A leader of the vigilante group, Malam Ibrahim Muhammad, lamented that the police who everyone look up to for protection and to investigate and fish out bandits’ informants had among them some bad eggs who make it possible for suspected informants to be free by changing the charge sheets before taking them to court. He said their initial suspicion was that it was judges that were setting the suspects free.

He said: “On one occasion, we investigated and found an informant for the bandits. We apprehended him and handed him over to the police. But we went through hell before we could secure the bail of those that apprehended him as they were arrested by the police and detained for spurious reasons.”

Read also: 26 killed as mob, bandits clash in Zamfara

Genesis of banditry

Tracing the genesis of the banditry that now ravages the state like a deadly disease does a healthy body, the Emir of Anka, Alhaji Ahmad, said it all began when some residents, who called themselves “Yan sa Kai,” organised themselves as a group and launched extra-judicial killings on Fulani kingpins when cattle rustlers started their nefarious acts in the 1990s.

He said: “At that time, there were only cattle rustlers who had their dens in the forest. They later organised themselves and appointed a leader who had a sort of magic stick. They would visit towns and villages on market days, and when he pointed the magic stick to any person of his choice, they instantly labelled the person a cattle rustler, hack him to death and burn his flesh in front of everyone, after removing his ear.”

The emir recalled that 98 per cent of their victims were Fulani; an act he said some politicians used to incite the Fulani against the Hausa by claiming that the Hausa wanted to eliminate the Fulani in their domain. The Fulani, according to him, started migrating in fear for their lives.

He added that when the extra-judicial killings continued, the Fulani organised themselves and started contributing money to buy all sorts of guns. They then started converging to attack the ‘Yan Sa Kai’ group, killing any one of them they came across.

The emir said it is sad to see people accusing traditional rulers of aiding bandits when they (traditional rulers) are the ones calming down the situation in their own capacity. He called on the Federal Government to live up to its promises so that people will have access to their farmlands and go about their normal activities.

Now, the Yan Sa Kai group has started mounting road blocks and checkpoints, wearing blue uniform with their “mai plugo” on their shoulders and collecting tips from drivers as gratification for securing the roads. Many people believe there is the possibility that the same people responsible for banditry could be the ones blocking the roads.

Most of the vigilantes and “Yan Sa Kai” members are widely believed to be immune to gun bullets and metal blades because of the concoctions and other talisman they take to protect themselves.

Executive order raises hope

Many people see it as a welcome development that President Muhammadu Buhari’s recently signed into law the executive power to remove, revoke or banish all forms of firearm or shotgun certificates or licences in Nigeria. The executive order, according to reports, will take effect from  today(June 1 this year).

The law stipulates that the licence issued to anybody in the past, allowing them to sell, own or carry any type of prohibited weapon, components parts or ammunition is now history. Only policemen, soldiers and other security agents are fully authorised by law to can carry a gun can now do so.

Yet, many people believe that revoking gun licences is not enough, because most of the people who  own various types of guns are carrying them illegally. The critical thing, they say, is the recruitment of enough policemen to man every nook and cranny of the community. The Emir of Anka had earlier suggested that youth service should be extended to three years so that the youths, during their orientation in camp, would be trained as security operatives and incorporated into the security folds for the additional two years as other countries are doing, while the normal recruitment of security agents should still go on.

To dislodge kidnapping in Zamfara State, drastic measures need to be taken, according to the Chairman, Zamfara State Council of Chiefs. Communications in Zamfara State, he said, should be cut off for at least three months if a lasting solution must be found to the activities of bandits.

The telephone, according to the emir, is what the bandits use to call the families of kidnapped people to demand for ransom. He said the situation had worsened to the point that bandits, during the telephone contact, instruct their victims’ family members to bring food items and other cooking materials, including salt, in addition to the ransom they demand.

He said that while cutting off communication could be a difficult solution, the people of the area would have to endure it in order to find a solution to the calamitous activities of bandits. He reasoned that without a source of communication with victims’ families to negotiate ransom, the bandits could give up their acts. “But there is no solution to a problem without a price,” he said, adding that part of the price the people of the state has to pay is to go incommunicado.

The emir condemned the situation where the security agencies prioritise security to individuals at the expense of the lives and property of the larger majority.

“As you can see, I am an emir with six security personnel, comprising the police, the Civil Defence and others. I am only one person. You can see more than 40 security men in the convoy of a single governor, while in the whole of our community, you cannot see up to 10 security operatives. What kind of security arrangement is that?” he queried.

Police launch manhunt for culprits

When contacted on the issue of the booming arms trade in the state, the  Commissioner of Police, Celestine Okoye,  told The Nation that he had issued directives to his men to fish out and arrest any person indulging in the fabrication and illegal sale of arms across the state.

A visibly angry CP warned that gun manufacturing is one of the worst crimes, adding that owning firearms factories is illegal across the country. “No one has the right to own  any gun factory and anyone caught in the business will be dealt with accordingly,” he warned.

Oloye hinted that the command has  protection arrangements for informants of security agencies, especially on the activities of bandits. He  assured the residents of the command’s full protection at all times. “Anyone with information on the bandits and their criminal activities should not be afraid to come forward and see me”, he counselled.

Okoye revealed that to curtail tomorrow’s criminality, the excesses of these criminals must be curtailed today, assuring the people of the state to be calm because their travails will soon be over.

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