From John Adams, Minna
The remaining 38 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, notorious for his operations around Shiroro and Munya local government areas, was said to have settled in Zagzaga community for 12 years, rearing cattle before, relocating to Kusasu community in Shiroro LGA in 2012, about nine years ago.
Alhaji Leyi, according to members of the community, from cattle rearing, later became a commercial motorcycle rider in the community after his cattle were all stolen by cattle rustlers.
Although born and breed in Wurukuchi in Kaduna State, a border village with Niger State, Leyi had moved round the nooks and crannies of all the villages in Shiroro and Munya LGAs throughout his years of cattle rearing, and had the knowledge and map of the communities in the area on his palm.
Leyi and his gang are said to be perfectly in control of the following communities in Shiroro LGA: where they operate with high-level of impunity: Iburo, Galkogo, Galape, Kusasu, Nasafa, Chukuba, Nakuna, Kudodo and Kudumi.
According to the chairman of Shiroro LGA, Mallam Suleiman Chukuba, eight wards out of the 15 wards in the area are in the control of bandits, with over 10 people displaced.
Also in Munya LGA, 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.
According to the community, 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.
However, Leyi returned to Zagzaga community nine years later, November 22, 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 Leyi and his group stormed the community in an operation the people said lasted 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 N5 million ransom bearer, who was seized by the bandits, escaped to safety.
The bandits had earlier demanded N1 million for the release of each of the victims, but, after much pleading by the community, Leyi and his gang agreed to collect N5 million.
However, drama ensued when the man who took the N5 million ransom to the bandits was seized after he had delivered the money, with Leyi asking the community to bring an additional N1 million and two motorcycles for his release, alongside the other abductees.
Leyi and his group set free his former hosts after collecting N5 million and two motorcycles as ransom.
Before Leyi and his gang invaded the community last month, they had launched a major offensive against the military camp that was stationed in the community since 2018. They dislodged the military, killing one soldier and injuring a few others.
The military closed down the camp after the attack and paved the way for Leyi and his group to launch an onslaught on the people.
Recounting their ordeal in the hands of their abductors for 37 days, some of the women who spoke to our correspondent from their hospital beds, where they were receiving treatment in a private hospital in Minna, said they were shocked to discovered 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, pointed out that it was after they arrived at the den of the kidnappers in a village between Katarma and Kusasu that was seized from some villagers that they discovered that Leyi was their leader.
They said: “Immediately we saw him, he started calling our names and even our husband’s names one after the other. We could not believe it when we saw him.
“We started asking ourselves, 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 since he relocated from the community with his family.
“But when he asked his people not to maltreat us, that was how we were 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 Fulani in the community but, later, he started doing kabukabu (commercial motorcycle) in the community, until he left.”
They further narrated that Leyi told them that no one would touch them but they would remain in captivity until their ransom was paid, adding: “He told us that what he was after is money and nothing more.”
Painting a vivid picture of the village used by Leyi as a camp, the women said the village was about 30 kilometres from Kusasu community, a border town between Niger and Kaduna states.
They, however, disclosed that they trekked for three days without stopping before arriving at the camp, adding that the entire village was occupied by the bandits, numbering about 100, including underage children between 12 and 15 years who were undergoing training in firearms.
“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 there was nothing we could do,” they said.
They disclosed further that Leyi and his gang usually harvested the villagers’ farm produce to feed them and the major food was boiled yam that they ate once a day.
“They would take the men among us to the farm to harvest the villagers’ yam tubers and bring for us to cook. We ate once in a day and when it was 6pm, they would lock everybody in the rooms. 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, as Leyi and his gang reign supreme within Shiroro and Munya LGAs, a source close to Kusasu community told our correspondent in an exclusive interview that the bandit leader moves freely in Kusasu, including observing his Friday prayers in Kusasu Central Mosque surrounded by his heavily armed boys.
According to our source, not only do he and his gang pray in the mosque every Friday, they make all their purchases from Kusasu market unmolested, stressing: “Leyi always comes to Kusasu here to pray every Friday; he also comes to the market here in Kusasu.
“People see him and his gang in Kusasu here but who will ask him questions or talk to him? He moves around with heavily armed boys in the community here, you can ask anybody and they will tell you.”