A traditional title holder in Dansadau district in Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State has narrated his experience after regaining freedom 25 days after he was kidnapped.
Mustapha Umar, (who holds the traditional title of ‘wazirin Dansadau‘) was kidnapped alongside his younger brother, Isah Umar, and one other resident, Tukur Maigari.
He told PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday of the experience and warned that banditry will persist unless concerted efforts are made to end it.
How we were kidnapped
Mr Umar said they were abducted about 3 p.m. on April 1, about four kilometres from Dansadau town. He and the others were riding on motorcycles when they were ambushed by the bandits.
“The gunmen who had apparently monitored our movement, suddenly appeared and forced us to park. They blindfolded us and searched us. When they found money on me, they asked who I am. I lied that I was a teacher,” Mr Umar Said.
He said they continued the interrogation as they took them into their enclave in the bush enclave, until one of the bandits discovered that he is a cattle dealer, who owns a truck for conveying animals in the Dansadau district. But Mr Umar said he continued to insist that he was a teacher.
“It took a few hours to get to the bandits’ enclave. However, three days later, we were moved to a farther enclave, where we stayed for the remaining three weeks. It was there that we experienced our worst treatment, including beating by the bandits.”
Life in captivity
Mr Umar said they were held in a small hut. “We were denied everything, including five daily prayers. I only spoke when my relatives called the bandits during the negotiation for ransom. They beat me whenever I used an English word while talking on phone with my people.
“I protested against not being allowed to perform salat (prayer). They later agreed to let me pray and provided the water for ablution.
“While we were there, they brought in five more captives into our small hut. We could not stand up to pray because of the size of the hut.
“Young children of the bandits, who were below 10 years were providing us food every morning and some times in the evening. Even though I was blindfolded, whenever they came, I used to open my face to peep at them.
“They are under teens, apparently being initiated into criminality at a tender age, because they were aware that we were captives. Whenever they brought us food, they saw our disturbing conditions and our eyes covered.
“The bandits beat me, especially after vigilante members attacked the Dansadau cattle market and killed Fulani herdsmen. They beat us repeatedly for two days, after which they told us the beating was because their brothers were killed by vigilante members at Dansadau market.
“Days later, they attacked Magami district in Gusau. When they came back, they said there would be no more beating because they had succeeded in their reprisal attack against the vigilante members at Magami.”
Failed military operations
Mr Umar said captives were more likely to be killed when military fighter jets flew over the bandits’ enclave and dropped bombs.
“The bandits, when they sight a fighter jet, would hide all their guns and rush their wives and children under mango trees and other safe places, leaving their captives where the military could easily target and bomb.
“I witnessed at least seven military operations into the bandits’ enclave. There were shelling but none of the operations was successful because the bombs dropped on empty places, after which, the bandits would come out and celebrate that even a chicken was not killed.
“They know all the military fighter jets with their names. They know the one sent for surveillance and the one that drops bombs, which they called ‘Mai Shulo’. That is when you see them and their families running helter-skelter, taking cover from the possible bombs.
“After every military airstrike operation, there was celebration among the bandits because none of their men was killed.”
How ransom was paid
The traditional ruler said a N4 million ransom was paid to the bandits to secure their release on April 25. They were led somewhere around Tsafe Local Government Area by the bandits and released.
“After negotiating the payment, they (bandits) via phone calls ordered the money to be taken to Gusau. They later changed the delivery location to Wanke, and to several other locations, possibly to beat arrest.
“We were brought closer to the main road and saw the movement of vehicles around Tsafe Local Government Area where the ransom was paid.
“We were guarded by the gunmen while others moved further to collect the ransom. After they collected the money and counted it, they put the money in their sack and came back to our location and ordered our release.”