Six months after sacking a military base in the area, bandits have collected at least N40.7 million as protection levy from residents of Mutumji communities in Maru local government area of Zamfara State.
Residents said they delivered N9.7 million to the bandits on February, 4 as the last installment of the levy collected from various peasant communities in Mutumji.
The troubled area, Mutumji, is in Dansadau Emirate and sits at the edge of Kuyanbana forest in the ungoverned boundaries with Katsina, Kaduna, Kebbi and Niger States.
Recall that last September, bandits attacked the Forward Operating Base in Mutumji, killing 9 Air Force, two Police and one army personnel. The bandits reportedly also stole weapons and other equipment before setting the base ablaze.
A traditional ruler in Mutumji, Abdulkadir Abdullahi, told newsmen that soldiers withdrew from the area after the attack on the military base. He said the withdrawal has made villages in the area a soft target for bandits, who have imposed a protection levy on the communities.
Abdullahi said Mutumji has 47 villages with four district heads and 32 ward heads. He said all the villages are now under the control of bandits and that those that chose not to pay the levy have relocated to neighbouring Kebbi and Niger States.
The traditional ruler said the deserted villages include Guru, Danfasa, Dogon-Ruwa, Tungar-Baushi, Jesa, Gazamba, Fankashi, Damkofa, Jesasarnesa, Maijankai and Gobirawar-Guru.
He also identified villages that have paid the protection levy as Sabon Garin-Mahuta, which paid N6 million; Randa, N6 million; Kwanar Dutse, N10 million; and Unguwar Kawo, N5 million.
Abdullahi further said that the Mutumji community initially paid N4 million to the bandits as harvest permit, before paying the N9.7 million balance of their protection levy on Monday. “The total amount imposed on Mutumji was N20 million. We were given one week to complete the payment”, the traditional leader said.
He explained that the N40.7 million paid by all the communities did not include ransoms paid by individuals to the bandits for the release of kidnapped relatives.
According to locals, bandits routinely kidnap for ransom and rustle cattle in the area. They said the situation deteriorated with the withdrawal of security personnel at Mutumji base.
Findings revealed that despite the landmass and population of Dansadau Emirate, less than 100 security agents are patrolling selected places in the emirate. The residents said this was what has exposed them to the terror of the bandits.
The Police, however, said they did not receive any official complaint from the residents of the communities over the N40.9 million protection levy imposed on them by the bandits. Its spokesperson in the State, Muhammed Shehu, said the Police cannot be in every community in the area, but added that they have personnel on ground in Dansadau district.
He urged the residents to always inform and cooperate with the security forces in ensuring the security of lives and properties.
Shehu said he could not speak on the withdrawal of soldiers from Forward Operating Base in Mutumji, because it was a military formation. However, efforts to speak with the military authorities were unsuccessful.