Detectives, who have bank details and addresses of some of the cattle dealers, were able to trace and arrest five of them in Lagos.
The insecurity in Zamfara State is a conundrum that confounds the country’s law enforcement agencies. Within a few years, armed banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling became entrenched in Zamfara and literally, turned the state into a hell on earth. As the ravagers grow stronger, they fearlessly, viciously and tenaciously fight back government’s response and frustrate every attempt to dislodge them. So far, cattle thieves are still on the rampage, their reign of terror still raging. And every week, they wreak havoc with impunity, leaving in their wake losses and casualties of the magnitude that portray security operatives, not only as toothless and clueless but fighting a lost cause.
Eventually, comes a ray of light. Police have successfully connected the dots that give insight into why the problem persists. 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 bandits and their activities
Sometimes in November last year, the Nigeria Police Force declared that it has killed 104 armed bandits during an attack on Mahanga forest in Birnin Mogaji Local Government Area of Zamfara State. A statement by the Force Spokesman, acting DCP Jimoh Moshood, in Abuja, said 50 hideouts in three camps belonging to the bandits were also destroyed. He added that over 500 cattle and 79 sheep were recovered from the bandits. He said that following the incessant attacks in the state, the Inspector General of Police ordered that a Police Joint Intervention Team of about 1,000 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.
The spokesman said that the team which was headed by an Assistant Commissioner of Police 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 arrival, the team has arrested more than 85 suspects, recovered 27 AK-47 rifles and 52 locally fabricated rifles and other dangerous weapons, 269 cattle and 109 sheep which he added, had already been handed over to their owners.
Moshood further noted that consolidate on the successes achieved, the Inspector General, on November 29, 2018, deployed the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Department of Operations to coordinate the operation. But further revelation showed that the deadly confrontation that ensued between the police anti-rustling team and armed bandits left 16 officers dead and 20 missing. Though the missing officers were later rescued, the operation to dislodge the bandits terrorising the state is ongoing.
The making of the Lagos raid
But a new twist seemed to have been added to the drama following the confession by some suspected cattle dealers in Lagos to the police on how they transfer millions of naira to armed bandits who are 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 suspects identified as Mohammed Altine, Basher Aliyu, Lawal Abubakar, Abdulahi Umar and Ali Ibrahim were traced to an abattoir in Agege area of the state where they recovered some of the stolen cattle.
According to our police source, the activities of the suspects were detected based on intelligence report generated by operatives of Inspector General of Police, Intelligence Response Team (IRT), who were on the trail of suspected bandits who have been terrorizing some local government areas of the state. As it were, the suspected heavily armed bandits have killed not only the police but also several residents.
Part of the discovery by the police was that the bandits who are mostly camped in the thick forest have been buying arms worth millions of naira suspected to have been smuggled through Niger Republic. Some of these weapons include rocket launchers which they have used to attack security operatives deployed to comb the area and arrest the bandits.
The involvement of Intelligence Response Team (IRT)
Top on the list of the most wanted bandits in axis is Dankarami, a Hausa man from Rukudawa village in Zamfara state. He is described as a deadly man who is responsible for thousands of lives lost in the state. He is said to be controlling several groups scattered in the state. He commands not less than 400 armed men which includes citizens of Niger Republic. The Dankarami groups are experts at cattle rustling and always kill their victims before carting away their cattle, wives or valuable.
In the course of investigation, detectives discovered that millions of naira were transported into the bush on a weekly basis. They traced some of the monies and discovered that they emanated from Lagos State. They were able to establish that some of the cattle dealers were transferring millions of naira to some of the bandits that were recently arrested by the police.
The head of IRT, Abba Kyari, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, was said to have deployed his team in Zamfara state to trace and arrest the receivers of those stolen cattle alleged to have been transported to Lagos. On realizing the heat was on, Aliyu fled to Lagos and alerted some other major dealers that their suppliers (bandits) were already in police net. Luckily, the detectives who have bank details and addresses of some of the cattle dealers were able to trace and arrest five of them in Lagos.
Revelations by Altine
The first suspect, Mohammed Altine, aged 50, and popularly known as Alhaji Ego, alleged that it was not until recently that he realized that the owners of the cattle were murdered. Giving some insights into how he became part of the evil ring, he said: “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.”
But Altine who hails from Bunza in Kebbi State said he was surprised when Ali called him 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.’
When asked if he was part of the bandits, Altine said no but insisted that he was simply helping them to dispose their cattle. “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.”
Buying and selling stolen cattle
The second suspect, Bashiru Aliyu, 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.”
According to the 37-years-old Aliyu, from October till the day he ran away from Zamfara, he has collected not 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.”
On the activities of Dankarami, he said that people in Zamfara State are lucky that they are not remembered by the deadly group that he leads. “The man is very dangerous, he is the only one that can attack Fulani herdsmen and survive it. They fear him. Any real cattle rearer in the north these days must be heavily armed. This is the only way to survive at least from the local rustlers. Dankarami is controlling the forest that is why some of our people move their cattle to the south. No farmer is safe in Zamfara State.”
Another suspect reveals how and why he got involved
Yet another suspect, Ali Ibrahim, 45, whose abattoir number is 66, alleged that he started buying stolen cattle three years ago and has received about 20,000 trucks of such. “In this business, you cannot make much money if you do not receive stolen cattle,” he said. “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.”
Why they send their cattle to Lagos – Suspect
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.”
He claimed that he realized that some of the cows were stolen two years ago but added that because of the money that he was making from it, he decided to continue. “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.”