Heavily-armed men emerged from the forest on motorbikes in Sokoto East. Their mission this time was not to spray bullets on innocent villagers; they were to dispatch letters to village heads in Sabon Birnin, giving them a seven-day ultimatum to pay their new levies for safety.
A few days earlier, the bloodsucking criminal gang had unleashed terror on the communities, killing not less than 40 at a weekly market. The attack posed a threat to residents of the enclaves, who are now directly governed by bandits.
PAY THE TAXES OR DIE
By imposing taxes on these communities, the terror group, led by Bello Turji, a notorious bandit leader, is raising millions of naira to build an arsenal of heavy weaponry to unleash more mayhem.
Turji fled Zamfara, a neighbouring state, after military offensives against him and his cohorts. He has since built a new empire in Sokoto forest and procured more ammunition, according to confidential interviews with sources familiar with his movements.
“If we don’t pay the taxes, they’ll kill our people,” a community leader in Sokoto told FIJ. “There is nothing we can do since the government has shown that they can’t help us.”
TOILING TO FILL TERRORISTS’ POCKETS
Since the levies were imposed in October, residents of the affected communities have had sleepless nights rallying around to raise the funds. Over 40 under-policed villages in Sabon Birnin have had to pay over N67 million to fill bandits’ pockets.
Lai Muhammed, the Minister for Information and Culture, decried rhe development, saying violent extremists collecting taxes from citizens across the northern parts of Nigeria are not different from street thugs extorting cash from citizens in the southern parts of the country.
BANDITS INSTALLING DISTRICT HEADS AFTER CAPTURING VILLAGES
Meanwhile, northwest bandits are capturing villages misgoverned by state and federal authorities. On Sunday, news from Sokoto was dominated by accounts of villagers lamenting how bandits imposed new district heads on them after capturing their villages.
“Some of the communities paid N1.5 million each while others paid up to N2 million or even N4 million across three wards,” a local in one of the villages told FIJ after his village paid to bandits. “Everyone in the village was asked to pay N5,000. Everybody paid. I also paid. It was compulsory payment.”
A youth leader in one of the terrorised villages said complying with bandits’ directives was the only way their safety could be ensured. He said recent events in the communities had discouraged him to convince his people to vote for any politicians in subsequent elections.
“Recently, we made some payments,” he said. “We paid the money not because we so wished, but because we didn’t have any other option. I observed that some villages had paid before us. Definitely, if we didn’t pay, they might attack us.”
Despite paying millions to bandits, the victimised residents are still uncertain, knowing that the ongoing ceasefire is just temporary.
After interviews with local sources, village heads, and community journalists, FIJ compiled names of villages that have paid millions of naira in taxes to bandits. Below is a list of the villages:
|VILLAGES THAT PAID IMPOSED TAXES IN SABON BIRNIN||AMOUNT PAID IN CASH|
|6- Dogon Marke||N3million|
|8- Kaifin Aska||N2million|
|12- Dan Aduwa||N1.5million|
|15- Garin Idi||N1million|
|17- Tudun Wanda||N370,000|
|19- Zangon Ga Itace||N300,000|
|26- Hawan Diran||N80,000|
|30- Dan Maliki||N400,000|
|38- Walkiya Sabuwa||N1million|
|39- Walkiya Tsohuwa||N300,000|
|42- Zangon Abamu||N2million|
NOT THE FIRST TIME
In Zamfara, Katsina, and Niger, villagers had to pay bandits to not attack their homes or kidnap their children. This is intensifying a protection levy racket in the northwest and north central states. Yet, governors unable to defend these terrorised states have charged citizens to pick up weapons to protect themselves against the terrorists locally believed to be bandits.
Security experts warned that the governors’ admonition would fuel a booming business of muskets made from scrap metal. Unfortunately, procuring a locally made gun costs just N3,500 in Sokoto, according to a report by HumAngle.
Mansur Isah Buhari, a human rights activist and journalist, condemned authorities for misgoverning and allowing bandits to take over parts of Sokoto. Mansur had published a report on how terror kingpin Turji imposed district heads on some villages in the Sabon Birnin area of the state.
“In fact, there are many other villages where bandits say villagers must pay N300,000 each for not farming enough so they could return to pack from them,” he told FIJ. “And it was the bandits that prevented them from going to the farm. This is happening in this country and nobody is doing anything about it.”
When FIJ contacted Sanusi Abubakar, the Sokoto State Police spokesperson, he admitted that several places captured by bandits in Sabon Birnin are inaccessible. However, he refuted the news that villagers paid millions to bandits in taxes.
“We have our police officers and DPOs who are currently working on it; that story is not substantiated for now,” Abubakar said. “Currently, we have an operation that comprises the police, air force, and military. We are going to launch an operation in those areas and, hopefully, see the light of the day.
“Some villages are more than 100 km from Sabon Birnin, which are not even accessible. In fact, people have deserted those areas,” he added.
This investigation was published with development support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA)
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