Life in Zamfara state today resembles life in the American wild west of the late 60s, when cattle rustling was the order of the day, however; the Zamfara case has more devastating consequence to life in the state, the mayhem which the cattle rustling activities have unleashed on society is anything but very scary.
The activities of these Zamfara State cattle rustlers has continued to confound law enforcement agencies, they wreak havoc with impunity, leaving in their wake sorrow, tears and blood. In the last few years, these anti social elements have turned Zamfara state into the center of kidnapping and their activities have become so entrenched in the state that Zamfara state has been transformed into a hell on earth.
These individuals have become a law unto themselves, this is demonstrated by the impunity with which they fearlessly, viciously and tenaciously fight back government’s response, frustrating every attempt to stem their activities. So far, the actions of these cattle thieves portrays the law enforcement agencies as toothless bulldogs with little or no clue to battling the problem.
However; in a show of astute policing, the Nigeria Police Force has ingeniously connected the dots and finally broken the myth of invincibility which have dogged the Zamfara affair.
Recall that in November 2018, the Nigeria Police Force claimed to have killed 104 armed bandits, fallout from an attack carried out by the police force in Mahanga forest in Birnin Mogaji Local Government Area of Zamfara State. The Force Spokesman, acting DCP Jimoh Moshood, said that the Inspector General of Police ordered that a Police Joint Intervention Team of about 1,000 police personnel comprising the seven units of Police Mobile Force (PMF), Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU), Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS), Police Anti-Bomb (EOD) Squad and conventional policemen be deployed to battle the activities of the hoodlums, based on this order, a raid of their hideout was carried out, the raid covered 50 hideouts in three camps, among things recovered were over 500 cattle and 79 sheep.
According to emerging facts, a filthy lucre-pipeline connects Lagos (where a market for stolen cattle has been established) to Zamfara, (the main domain of cattle thieves). The reverse flow, of money from the coastal state to the northern heartland, enables bandits to arm themselves with sophisticated weapons to sustain their criminal activities. The spokesman said that the team has been mandated to arrest and prosecute bandits who kidnap for ransom and cattle rustling gangs operating in parts of the state.
He revealed that since the team came into effect, they have arrested over 85 suspects, recovering 27 AK-47 rifles and 52 locally fabricated rifles and other dangerous weapons, 269 cattle and 109 sheep which according to the spokesman, had already been handed over to their owners.
On November 29th 2018, the Inspector General of Police, deployed the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Department of Operations to coordinate the operation. The operation which was deadly as the bandits did not want to leave without a fight resulted in the death of 16 gallant Nigeria police officers, at the end of the operation, 20 officers were declared missing, these were later rescued, but at the end of the day, the cattle rustling gand knew that it was no longer going to be business as usual.
This raid became the chip that exposed the connection between the bandits and their source of funding.
According to our police source, intelligence report generated by the Intelligence Response Team (IRT), based on materials gathered while on the trail of suspected bandits showed that the bandits who are mostly camped in the thick forest have been buying arms (suspected to have been smuggled through Niger Republic) worth millions of Naira, some of these weapons include rocket launchers which they freely use to attack security operatives deployed to comb the area and arrest the bandits.
The investigation revealed that millions of naira were transported into the bush on a weekly basis. In the course of tracking these monies, investigators discovered that the monies emanated from Lagos State. They were able to establish the network that included some of popular cattle dealers in Lagos, these were identified as those transferring millions of naira to the bandits, some of which were recently arrested by the police.
The arrested cattle dealers are giving information that is beginning to clarify the Zamfara impasse gradually exposing the network that has sustained and strengthened the operation of bandits, the confession by some suspected cattle dealers in Lagos to the police tells of how they transfer millions of naira to the bandits who have been terrorizing residents in Zamfara State. They alleged that the said amount was proceeds from cattle sent to Lagos from Zamfara by their agents for sale.
The arrested suspects have been identified as Mohammed Altine, Basher Aliyu, Lawal Abubakar, Abdulahi Umar and Ali Ibrahim, they were traced to an abattoir in Agege area of the state where they recovered some of the stolen cattle.
The head of IRT, Abba Kyari, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, who was head of the team deployed to Zamfara state said that to break the ring, they traced and identified the receivers of the stolen cattle and arrested them before their next batch could be transported to Lagos. Aliyu who is said to be the point man in the receiver network on realizing some of the bandits had been arrested, fled to Lagos and alerted some other major dealers that their suppliers (bandits) were already in police net, but unknown to Aliyu, the detectives in the course of their investigation had already secured bank details and addresses of some of the cattle dealers, five of which were traced and arrested in Lagos.
50 year-old Mohammed Altine popularly known as Alhaji Ego, said that though he knew that the cattle were stolen he didn’t know that the owners of the cattle were murdered. According to Altine
“My family members are cattle rearers, so naturally I learnt how to take care of them. I relocated to Lagos about 20 years ago in search of greener pasture because those who were coming back home from Lagos were very rich. Almost every family in Zamfara has a cattle rearer, so it was difficult to succeed.
“As soon as I got to Lagos, it was not easy to settle down so I started working for different persons at the popular abattoir in Agege. My responsibility then was to take care of some of the cattle that were brought into the market until they are sold and I was paid N200 per day. I did that for so many years till I was able to get a direct link with the importers. I would buy one cow on credit and sell. I was making more money. I travelled back to Zamfara where my extended family were resident and told some of the popular cattle rearers that they can deal directly with me.
“One such person is Yaya Ali and he was regular in sending those cattle in trucks. Sometime last year, I was arrested when police said that the cattle that I displayed for sale was stolen. It was the Sarki of Fulani in Zamfara that led police to Agege. We returned the cattle and the matter ended.”
Ali called him again requesting to know if he was interested in selling more cattle.
“I asked him the source and he said that most of them were stolen but that the owners died during a clash in their area. He explained that they took advantage of the crisis and gathered most of the cattle without any owner. I decided to give it a try because some other persons where buying and selling from him.
“The first batch he sent was about 20 and I sold them and returned the money to him. After I waited and there was no problem, I asked him to bring more. I also got contacted by one man from Zamfara popularly known as Ibrahim Naira. All I did was to make sure that I only sell to customers who will butcher them and sell. I stopped selling to the Fulani cattle rearers because their owners could easily trace their cattle if they are alive.
“Since October till date, I have sold about 350 cattle received from Ali. He gives them to me at the price of N100, 000 and I would sell for at least N160, 000. I normally send at least N2 million to Ali on weekly basis.”
“I know that they are stolen but am not aware that Ali is part of those killing innocent people. I am a businessman, I simply buy and sell without asking too much questions.”
Bashiru Aliyu, on the other hand said that he fled to Lagos when the war against the bandits intensified.
“I am from Gusou Local Government in Zamfara State and a cattle rearer. Buying and selling stolen cattle is common in the north, even my parents bought some of them although if you ask them they will tell you that they are not aware. It is no longer safe to breed cattle in our area except you belong to a certain group. There are no securities for farmers. They kill them and steal their cattle. I have been a victim and because of that I decided to stop completely.
“I discovered that there is a flourishing market in Lagos and travelled down to negotiate business with some of the dealers. One of my major customers is Altine. I started buying from the locals and sending them down to Lagos for sale. The gain was not much than N6000 per cattle. I have nine children and 2 wives who are dependent on me. I needed to survive, that was why I decided to make quick money by buying and selling stolen cattle.
Unfortunately, the bandits who were stealing these cattle became so common that police and soldiers started arresting them. Naturally, they will want to trace the location of the cattle. This was why I ran away from Zamfara to Lagos when I heard that they had arrested one of my suppliers.”
37-years-old Aliyu, confessed that between October and when he ran away from Zamfara, he had collected no less than 330 cattle which were sold in Lagos.
“I collected 50 from Asha Soho, 60 from Abdulahi, 80 from Isah Guso, 70 from Fasi Abdulahi, 40 from Mohammed and 30 from Musa Guso. I can remember these ones because they were given to me recently. I sold all of them at Agege at the price of N160, 000 for each cow and N180, 000 for each bull.
“Initially, if you steal cattle and sell it in an open market, they will arrest you. They always alert their family members in every state, if they lose cattle. All the cattle in the market are marked by the owner. The reason no one arrested us all these months was because the owners are dead.”
Ali Ibrahim, 45, whose abattoir number is 66, said that in the three years he started buying stolen cattle he has received about 20,000 trucks of such. According to him
“In this business, you cannot make much money if you do not receive stolen cattle, I am from Zamfara State and married to two wives with eight children. It is not easy to sustain them with the little money we make legitimately.
“It was three years ago that Ibrahim Naira approached me and asked if I was interested. I agreed and also introduced him to Altine. I was paid N6000 per truck that arrives. I would also take some of them on credit and sell to make extra gain. I know that I have received more than 20,000 trucks from Zamfara and Sokoto and all the cattle are stolen. I am aware that most of the cattle belong to my people who were killed by armed bandits. I assume that could be the reason why no one has accused me of stealing their cattle. It was Altine that told police where to find me because he knows my house.”
Another suspect, Lawal Abubakar, said he had only received about 180 cattle from one Ibrahim Naira.
“I am a native of Gusau Zamfara State and I am a farmer. All these Fulani herdsmen invaded our farms and destroyed our crops. All efforts to get government to compensate us failed, all we did was to look for another source of living. I was introduced into the business of buying and selling cattle. I travelled down to Lagos five years ago and established myself at the Agege cattle market. If you buy stolen cattle, they will surely catch you. I was satisfied with the little I was making till I was approached by one Ibrahim Naira.
“I am aware that there are bandits killing people in Zamfara and stealing their cows. Since I am not part of them, I felt that it should not concern me. My job is to receive the cattle in Lagos and sell them. The reason why most of them are sending their cattle to Lagos is because Lagos people like meat and party. You must sell them no matter the price.”