October 29, (THEWILL) – Mariam Abubakar, a mother of six is one of the thousands Nigerian Refugees from Sabon Birnin and Isa communities of Sokoto state who were seeking asylum after being displayed by armed groups mostly referred to as bandits.
She lives in Guidan Kare, a settlement most dominated by most Nigerians who now see the francophone country as a second home due to relative peace.
Guidan Roujun, a suburb of Tahoua region, Niger Republic, where many Nigerians were currently hosted as refugees after fleeing their ancestral homes in Nigeria as a result of repeated attacks by armed groups operating within the Eastern part of Sokoto State.
Since her community was sacked by armed bandits in 2021, the 30-year-old housewife from Gatawa in Sabon Birni local government area of Sokoto State has relocated to the community.
Mariam recalls how her hometown was invaded in 2021 by armed bandits where no fewer than twenty-five people were murdered while many others were abducted.
According to her, living in Guidan Kare has brought her more peace of mind than her birthplace in Nigeria. “The day armed bandits ransacked our village in Gatawa, we fled without moving a piece of our belongings. There was no place to run for safety except leaving Nigeria territory.
“In fact, many people in the community who were mostly men were killed in the dawn attack. My husband narrowly escaped the bandits’ brutal killing and is currently working as a security guard in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), she recounts.
Chased From The Motherland
Mariam’s story is not very different from Halima Umaru, a 35-yrs-old who was also forced to flee her home following a brutal attack on her community in Isa town, the headquarters of Isa local government of Sokoto’ state.
Unlike Mariam, Halima lost her husband and two other siblings in the attack. However, she was able to escape the scene alongside her four children.
The once-successful female farmer recounts how the conflict has made her forget her homeland in Nigeria after she finally found a comfort place in the Niger community.
The mother of four said living in the francophone country has been a pleasure for her and her children. “We have been enjoying every basic thing in this community. We are treated like one, there is no any form of discrimination.” She told TheWill.
[She recalls how most of her compatriots moved into the community as refugees in 2021. “We were about eighty then, most of us were displaced by the bandits during one of their attacks on our communities.
“But, to God be the glory, we are accommodated without any cause to regret living in our homeland. We are fed daily, given shelter and clothing. They are treating us like sisters with one love and affections.
Her account and that of Mariam were similar to Aishatu Kumaro, another Nigerian refugee and widow who hailed from Kumaro village in Sokoto State. Her place of birth in Kumaro has been under the attacks of armed bandits since 2018.
She narrates how the village among others were currently under the reign of some bandit warlords. The recent attacks, according to TheWill a finding was recorded in late August this year. The attackers, suspected to be armed bandits had killed no fewer than eight persons while livestock were also stolen.
Although Aishatu said both herself and other siblings escaped from the hands of terror bandits, her husband alongside able men in the community were unlucky as the gunmen did not spare their lives. “My husband was killed on the day we were attacked in Kumaro.
“All our men were killed by the attackers. We escaped with my three children. In fact, we talked a long distance of kilometers before we arrived at the Nigerien borderline in the middle of the night. We are accommodated by some community leaders in some temporary refugee camps.
When asked if there are plans to return back to their motherland (Nigeria), Mairo Ahmad, another Nigerian refugee at Tudun Sunnah village said she will prefer to live all her life in the francophone community.
“They (armed bandits) have killed my siblings in Zango Mallam of Isa Local Government Area in Sokoto state. I was told my village head has been dethroned and replaced with a bandit by the warlord.
“Currently, I have no place to go. I’m a bonafide citizen of Niger Republic. The citizens here are like my sisters and they have accepted us as citizens because we speak the same language and practice the same religion,” the 27-years-old, mother of two told TheWill.
“The Nigerien communities will have many reasons to accommodate any Nigerian within their neighboring communities because of their historical tiers”, says the District Head of Gwadabawa District, Alhaji Lawan Muhammadu Zayyanu.
Zayyanu traced the marital bond of the two countries to eighteen centuries when the famous Islamic jihadist Usmanu Dan Fodio migrated from Marata town in present Niger Republic to establish Sokoto caliphate in present -day Nigeria.
“There is evidence of marital bond between the two countries and could be dated to eighteen centuries.
“In fact, my kingdom, Gwadabawa district used to be the headquarters where the traditional head of Konni town in Niger Republic and its environs were crowned in those days. We are like citizens with dual nationalities,” the Monarch said in an interview.
He reasons that such inter-bonds between citizens of the two countries may not be affected by conflicts or government policies from the two neighbouring countries.
“I can say that this armed conflict confronting the border communities is an avenue for the people of Niger Republic to show love and affections for their neighboring Nigerian. They are only separated by the borderline but most of them have inter-relations.
According to the monarch, communities within Niger Republic and Nigeria are bonded with the same language, religion and similarity in culture.
“There are marital, social and economic relationships that have existed for centuries between the two countries. One can say this might be the reason why business thrives within border communities,” says the monarch.
The Raging Conflict?
Since 2019, more people have been internally displaced and crossed communal borders to communities within Niger Republic with families of victims fleeing relentless attacks by armed groups in the Sokoto, Zamfara and Katsina states of Nigeria to take refuge in Nigeria’s region.
According to the United Nations Refugees, violence in parts of north-western Nigeria has forced the francophone country to host more than 200,000 Nigerian refugees, including more than 57,000 refugees from Northwest Nigeria in Maradi region and 15,000 in Tahoua region in late 2021.
Bello Dan Hakimi, a commercial motorcyclist who once guided TheWill in a similar tour around communities affected by banditary attacks in 2021 shared a bitter experience after the armed group ransacked his community in February this year..
Bello was living apparently in abundance as a successful farmer at Dan Adua in Isa Local Government of Sokoto state. But all that changed, when his hometown came under heavy attack by some gunmen suspected to be armed bandits.
“Many people were killed in the dawn attack on my village by these armed groups. Only a few of us who were men escaped the attack because it was a cruel one.
“We managed to escape and now take refuge at Guidan Runjin in Niger Republic before I later return to venture in commercial driving on hire purchase, ” he recounts.
Presently, Bello’s village had remained one of the abandoned communities in Isa local government council that have fallen under the control of these armed bandits owing to their proximity to Zamfara, another epicenter of banditary activities.
“At the time, I was homeless because all my farm produce was looted by the armed bandits who invited our community.
“I decided to use my motorcycle for commercial purposes, especially most of our people that have crossed into Niger Republic communities,” the 46-yr-old told TheWill.
Despite military operations within the border communities, residents say they experience more attacks and takeover of their communities by the bandits lords operating within the Eastern part of Sokoto and Zamfara states.
“There have been significant efforts by the military to reduce the bandit ma attacks within our communities but as I am talking to you now, armed bandits are still in control of many villages in both Isa and Sabon Birnin,” says a village head who pleaded to speak with TheWill on the condition of anonymity.
“They have installed their traditional heads in those villages under them and leving the residents to pay monthly taxes either by cash, farm produce or livestocks.
According to the source, “As I am speaking to you, there is no village heads or civilian leadership in Zango Mallam, Dankaka, Gamji, Dan gida, Kumaro, Dan Kura, Dan Kayludan Magana, Dana, Garije, Arage, Zangeraawa, Burtu, Suna, Katsaian Ille-kuda. They are under the control of some bandit leaders whom I won’t mention.”
Who Are The Bandits?
Dr. Murtala Rufa’i, a lecturer at the department of History, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto traced the history of armed banditary Armed banditry in northwestern Nigeria to a product of an aged-long misrule, impunity and high-handedness on the part of state actors.
He reveals how security agencies as well as foreign pastoralists have remained the main culprits in the escalating of the conflict which has spanned over a decade.
“The fundamental actors are of course the pastoral communities – they are a broad category of people that include the local pastoralist in Nigeria and migrant trans-human that came through the international borders,” says Rufai, who authored a book that unveil Bandits warlords operating within Zamfara, one of the northwest states ravaged with banditary.
“These categories have played a very important role in the emergence and escalation of the violence in the first instance.
“And on the other side, we see the activities of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN), secondly, we have seen an upshot of this vigilante group known as ‘Yansakee’ also operating differently across the northwestern part of the country.
“Basically, these are two major principal actors when you look at the conflict on the surface. But, when you look at it deeply and widely, you see the traditional leaders playing a role; religion leaders also playing their own role; politicians also fueling the fire of armed banditry.
The academician also points out the roles played by the local miners and their foreign aliens, saying, “their access to ungoverned or under-governed spaces to many porous borders within the northwest states that resulted into the movement of small arms and lite weapons, all combined to the escalation of the conflict.”
***This reporting was completed with the support of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development and the Open Society Foundations.*