From John Adams, Minna
Members of Zagzaga community in Munya Local Government Area of Niger State who regained their freedom after 37 days in captivity have revealed that the leader of the group of bandits who abducted them was actually a member of the community.
The leader of the bandits popularly referred to as Alhaji Leyi, very notorious in his operations around Shiroro, and Munya local government areas, was said to have settled in Zagzaga community for 12 years, rearing cattle and other animals.
Alhaji, however, relocated from Zagzaga to Kusasu community in Shiroro Local Government Area in 2012, about nine years ago.
Alhaji Leyi, according to members of the community, later became a commercial motorcycle rider in the community after his cattle were all stolen from him by cattle rustlers.
Although born and bred in Wurukuchi in Kaduna State, a border village with Niger State, Alhaji Leyi had moved round the nooks and crannies of all the villages in Shiroro and Munya local government areas throughout his years of cattle rearing, and has the knowledge and map of the entire communities in the area on his palm.
Alhaji Leyi and his gang are said to be perfectly in control of the following communities in Shiroro Local Government Area where they operate with high level of impunity, and these include Iburo, Galkogo, Galape, Kusasu, Nasafa, Chukuba, Nakuna, Kudodo and Kudumi.
According to the Chairman of Shiroro Local Government, Mallam Suleiman Chukuba, eight wards out of the 15 wards in the local government are in control of the bandits with over 10, 000 people displaced.
Also in Munya Local Government Area, the group has a firm control of Zagzaga, Katarma where the entire village has been sacked, Chibani, Jankasa, Kuchi, Sohon Kabula, Sabon Kabula, Mangoro and some villages along Gidan Waya.
The community disclosed that Alhaji Leyi at a point while in the community, was the Sarkin Fulani (leader of Fulani) in Zagzaga and a major stakeholder in decision making in the community.
Until he left the community, they said Alhaji Leyi had no tendency of criminality due to his friendly nature and ability to struggle to earn a living for himself, and therefore, wondered the turn of events.
However, Alhaji leyi returned to Zagzaga community nine years after, on the 22nd of November, 2021 to visit terror on the people that had accommodated him for 12 years.
A total of 69 members of the community were abducted on the night of terror, when Alhaji layi and his group invaded the community in an operation the people said lasted for several hours.
Two members of the community were killed by the bandits while several others sustained gunshot injuries in that midnight raid.
Two weeks after the abduction, four women and four men escaped from the kidnappers den.
A week later, 19 others, including a N5million ransom bearer who was seized by the bandits, escaped to safety.
The bandits had earlier demanded N1million for the release of each of their victims, but after much plea from the community, Alhaji Leyi and his gang agreed to collect N5million.
However, drama ensued when the man who took the N5million ransom to the bandits was seized after he had delivered the money, with Alhaji Leyi asking the community to pay additional N1million and two motorcycles for his release along the other abductees.
Alhaji Layi and his group eventually set free his former hosts after collecting N5million and two motorcycles as ransom.
Before Alhaji Leyi and his group invaded the community, they had launched a major offensive against the military camp that was stationed in the community since 2018, and dislodged the military, killing one soldier and injured few others.
The military, however, closed down the camp after the attack and this paved way for Alhaji Leyi and his group to launch an onslaught on the people.
Recounting their ordeal in the hands of their abductors after 37 days, some of the women who spoke to our correspondent at their temporary settlement in Minna, the state capital, said they were shocked to discover that the man who masterminded their abduction was a member of their community.
The women who did not want their names mentioned for fear of being revisited by their attackers though they are temporarily camping in Minna, pointed out that it was after they arrived at the den of the kidnappers, a village between Katarma and Kusasu that was seized from some villagers that they discovered that Alhaji Leyi was their leader.
“Immediately we saw him, he started calling our names and even our husband’s names one after the other. We could not believe ourselves when we saw him.
“We started asking ourselves that, was this not the Fulani man that was in our community. In fact, we were not really sure because it is about nine years now that he relocated from the community with his family.
“But when he now asked his people not to maltreat us that we became convinced that he was the Sarkin Fulani (leader of Fulani) in our community. We the women were kept separately in a different location but within the village.
“He was the leader of Fulanis in the community but later, he started doing kubukabu (commercial motorcycle) in the community until he left”.
They narrated that Alhaji Leyi told them that nothing will touch them, but they will remain in captivity until their ransom is paid, adding that “he told us that what he is after is money and nothing more”.
Painting a vivid picture of the village being used by Alhaji Leyi as a concentration camp, the women said the village is about 20-30 kilometers from Kusasu community, a border town between Niger and Kaduna states, and that the bandits have asked the people to vacate the village for them.
They, however, disclosed that they trekked for three days non-stop before arriving at the camp, adding that the entire village is being occupied by the bandits, numbering about 100, including underage children between 12-15 years, who were seen undergoing training on arm handling.
“All through the three days of trekking, we were only given water to drink and no food until we arrived at our destination in the evening of the third day. Our children were crying for food but nothing we could do”.
They disclosed further that Alhaji Leyi and his gang usually harvest the villagers’ farm produce to feed them and that their major food was boiled yam, and they eat once in a day.
“They will take the men among us to the farm to harvest the villagers’ yams and bring it for us to cook. We eat once in a day and when it is 6:00p.m, they will lock everybody in the room. The women were kept in a different place from the men.
“Before we left, they were telling the villagers to harvest their farm produce and vacate the village for them. Some of the villagers have even left the village”, they added.
Meanwhile, a source close to Kusasu community told Sunday Sun in an exclusive interview that Alhaji Leyi and his gangs have continued to reign supreme within Shiroro and Munya local government areas of the state unchallenged.
According to the source, the bandits’ leader moves freely in Kusasu, including observing his Friday prayers in Kusasu Central Mosque at times but surrounded with his heavily armed boys as the people watched helplessly.
According to our source, not only did he and his gang pray in the mosque on Fridays, they make all their purchases from Kusasu market unmolested, stressing that “Alhaji Leyi comes to Kusasu here to observe his jummat prayers (Friday prayers) sometimes. He also comes to the market here in Kusasu but heavily guarded by his boys.
“People see him and his gang in Kusasu here, but who will ask him a question or talk to him. He moves around with heavily armed boys in the community here, you can ask anybody and they will tell you”, he said.