Bandit Gangs Impose Their Own State in Nigeria’s Lawless Northwest

By Masara Kim
Masara Kim
Masara Kim
November 24, 2021 Updated: November 25, 2021

Radical insurgents of an unknown jihadist faction in Nigeria’s northwestern state of Sokoto have taken over nearly 80 towns, according to lawmakers. Once in control, the insurgents have reportedly imposed heavy taxes, seized crops, and taken women as sex slaves.

“They have suspended all laws and instructions from the government and have introduced their own rules and taxes in my [county],” Aminu Boza, who represents Sabon Birni County at the Sokoto State Legislature, told The Epoch Times by phone on Nov. 21.

“My People are dying. Many have fled their homes to escape the stringent laws and excessive levies introduced by the bandits. I am in pain right now and can’t even sleep.”

The jihadist territory grab is in the northeastern corner of Sokoto, which is majority Muslim. The state borders the Niger Republic to the north and is known as one of northwestern Nigeria’s most terrorized regions.

As many as 300,000 residents have fled to safer regions during the past month, according to Rev. Salihu Garba, a native of Sokoto who currently lives in the United States, serving as a minister with the Evangelical Church Winning All, in District Heights, Maryland.

Bandit gangs specializing in kidnapping for ransom have launched multiple attacks in recent months on the predominantly farming populations of the state—both Muslim and Christian.

In the latest attacks, from Nov. 14 to 18, terrorists killed scores of farmers in three eastern counties located on Nigeria’s borders with the Niger Republic, according to media reports and local officials. As many as 43 people were killed in the counties of Goronyo and Illela, according to eyewitness accounts, The Daily Trust reported.

Idris Gobir, former chairman of Sabon Birni County, said the combined death toll from attacks from Nov. 15 to 18 in 12 villages in the county is 31.

Epoch Times Photo
Children displaced from Gatawa, Sabon Birni County, Nigeria, on July 14, 2021 (Mansur Isa Buhari)

Annexations

The latest attacks come following weeks of unchallenged annexations by terrorists who are imposing a government to supplant the national government in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

On Sept. 20, state authorities reportedly shut down telecommunication networks and suspended markets and religious activities in the latest effort to stop terrorists from communicating with each other. But more attacks have ensued since then, including a bloody invasion of a military camp in Sabon Birni County on Sept. 25, which killed 22 soldiers, according to media reports.

“As of Nov. 15, more than 79 towns in Sabon Birni have been seized,” state Rep. Boza said, following a series of armed attacks that forced more than 300,000 residents to flee in recent weeks. Close to 200,000 people—chiefly women, children, and elderly men, who couldn’t escape—surrendered to the terrorists, he said.

According to Boza, the terrorists have systematically captured towns in Sabon Birni and, within weeks of taking over, forced elected leaders to publicly renounce their allegiance to Abuja.

“They said to the people, ‘Now we are the government. We have suspended all laws and instructions given to you by your government,’” Boza said. “More than 90 armed terrorists on 30 motorcycles invaded Gangara town on Nov. 2 and captured nine town leaders. They took clerics and the village head [a position similar to mayor] and some elders of the community. In all, they went away with nine people to a nearby town called Satiru, one of their strongholds, and designated tax-collecting points.

“They told the village head that he had been sacked and forced him to choose one of four bandit commanders to replace him, so he chose one Hassan Dankwaro before they were accompanied back to Gangara town where the village head was made to announce the new leader to the villagers.

“They went to a place called Makaruwa and did the same thing and also in Gatawa and other places.”

Epoch Times Photo
Aminu Boza, the representative of Sabon Birni County at the Sokoto State Legislature. (Courtesy Aminu Boza)

Levies Replace Ransom

Bandits in Nigeria are notorious for holding kidnap victims for ransom. In Sokoto, the terrorists have instead imposed levies on all captured towns—collecting more than 300 million Nigerian naira ($730,000) in two weeks, according to Boza.

“I personally contributed N100,000 [$245] to pay the levy for one of the communities. One of my councilors just called me 30 minutes ago to tell me his community had just been levied, too, and he was on his way to pay. Last week, it was 42 communities that were levied, and the total amount paid was about N200 million [$400,000], but in less than six days, the number increased to 79, and they are not stopping,” Boza said.

Different gangs control different towns, and levies vary according to the mode of capture, said Gobir, who’s also an aide to current Nigerian Minister for Police Affairs, Muhammad Maigari Dingyadi.

“The communities under them are in two categories—those that willingly surrendered to them and those that were forcibly taken,” Gobir told The Epoch Times by phone. “Those areas that they enter peaceful agreements with are levied differently than those they simply captured.

“For instance, in Gangara, Burkusuma, and Gatawa Districts—the three most terrorized districts in Sabon Birni, they said 65 villages in those Districts must pay N300,000 each, which is more than N20 million. Others like Gangara, they said they should pay N1.5 million. A place like Gatawa, which was also captured, paid N4 million. Another place like Makuwana paid N2 million. A place like Dogon Marke paid N2 million, Koran Gamba paid N3 million, Zangon Abba Nurat paid N4 million, and so on. There are a lot of them, and I have all the records.”

The terrorists have billed some communities more than once within six days, according to Gobir.

“Gang leader Bello Turji, a bandit leader operating in the north of the state, now levies communities and collects forced taxes. Last week alone, he collected over N66m from 40 communities,” Garba told The Epoch Times in a text.

Epoch Times Photo
Bandit gang leader Bello Turji (first from left seated) at a peace meeting with government officials in Isa Local Government, which borders Sabon Birni county in the east of Sokoto in February 2019. (Mansur Isa Buhari)

‘Living Their Lives for the Bandits’

Farmers in all the captured communities are forced to harvest and surrender their crops to the terrorists, along with their women and girls, who are taken as sex slaves, according to Sokoto-based war reporter Mansur Isa Buhari.

“It’s like the villagers are living their lives for the bandits. Everything they have has been taken by these people,” Buhari told The Epoch Times. “They take their women—I have interviewed people whose wives were raped before their eyes. One told me how the bandits came to his house when his wife, daughter, and mother were sleeping and woke them up and ordered him to choose one for them to rape.

“They threatened that if he didn’t choose, they would do it themselves, and as one of them said, ‘We will put a bullet in your heart.’

“He was crying when he was telling me some of these stories.”

Sex slavery by the terrorists has been confirmed by Sheikh Bello Yabo, a popular Islamic cleric in Sokoto.

“These terrorists captured women in a particular village and raped them in a mosque,” Yabo said in an audio on the internet in which he berated President Muhammadu Buhari for deploying more than 34,000 troops to the southeastern state of Anambra during its governorship election on Nov. 6, but failing to protect citizens in Sokoto.

“Their only source of income is farming, and these bandits have prevented them from going to the farm,” Buhari said. “Those who have dared to farm, once the crops are ripe, they force them to harvest and surrender the crops to them. In fact, in some places, the bandits will accompany the farmers to their farms and wait for them to harvest their crops and hand them over to them.”

Buhari believes the bandits are using the monies collected through levies and the sale of crops to acquire arms.

“They are buying arms regularly, and since kidnapping used to be the only source of finance for such, but is becoming outdated and less rewarding, they have resorted to levies with which they buy arms from Niger Republic and other neighboring countries,” he said.

Sokoto State Police Commissioner Kamaldeen Okunlola has denied the terrorist takeovers and levying of communities in the state. In a Nov. 8 statement issued by Assistant Superintendent of Police Sanusi Abubakar, Okunlola said the reports of the terrorist takeovers were “not substantiated.”

Masara Kim