A Notorious Banditry Leader, Bello Turji Narrates How Banditry Started In Zamfara

Bello Turji

A notorious banditry leader, Bello Turji, has narrated how the crime started in Zamfara State.

Sitting under a tree with a sophisticated gun and a military hat, Mr Turji, in a five-minute video, responded to a background voice that asked him to trace the genesis of banditry in the north-western Nigerian state.

How we started armed banditry’

The terror kingpin said the Fulani community lived in peace and harmony with their Hausa neighbours until a former governor of the state adopted a partial Sharia Law allegedly to subjugate the Fulanis.

“I can recall how the former governor of Zamfara State, Ahmad Sani Bakura, implemented the Shariah Law,” Mr Turji, who entered into a failed truce with former governor Bello Matawalle, claimed.

“The law started and ended abruptly after a Fulani man (found guilty of stealing) got his hand amputated. In my opinion, I attributed the atrocities in Zamfara State to the stoppage of the law after it was partially used to amputate…”

Mr Turji said the Bakura-led government took sides with the Hausas in implementing the law.

Alleged atrocities by vigilantes and Yan Sakai
The terrorists further explained how local vigilantes and Yan Sakai militia exacerbated their (Fulanis) grievances.

“There was a man called DanKurman Galadima, with one Bala Maigora, who were the pioneer vigilante leaders that led the extra judicial killings of herders across Zamfara State with the government and the citizens watching them without making any decision.

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“The killing of the Fulanis continued by those vigilante leaders for about two years without any action from the government until the late Buharin Daji and his group led a retaliatory attack at Kizara, Yar Galadima.

“At that point, instead of the government to mediate, it took sides and started killing the Fulanis in the bush, rustling their cattle, with the aim to exterminate them.”

As this hostility continued, Mr Turji said the Hausas formed a militia group, Yan Sakai.

“Armed with dane guns, the Yan Sakai continued with the killing of the Fulanis,” Mr Turji continued. “This forced the Fulanis to take arms and started attacking villages mostly at monthly or yearly intervals. They began with two guns, later three, five and ten guns.

“I can recall when I started banditry, we only had 30 guns. We watched how the vigilantes killed all the Fulanis in these areas; they sacked all the Fulanis and the Hausas in our local government areas Zurmi and Shinkafi,” he added.

“After we took arms, we attacked communities and killed people indiscriminately because that is how we were treated by the vigilantes members even when they knew that we were not thieves.”

This is not the first time Mr Turji has made such claims. In an exclusive interview with Daily Trust, he claimed that he resorted to banditry to fight against the subjugation of the Fulanis by the Hausas.

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The early bandit kingpins, who majorly specialised in cattle rustling as a purported way of liberating the Fulanis from all subjugation, gave the same reason, according to Murtala Ahmed Rufai, a senior lecturer at the Department of History, Usmanu DanFodiyo University (UDUS).

An academic paper titled: ‘I Am a Bandit’ and written by Mr Rufai provides a clear perspective of what Mr Turji explained in his recent video.

Notably, the first bandit group emerged [in Zamfara] in 2011, focusing on cattle rustling and robbery. But, the effort to suppress the group unfortunately worsened the situation.

The local vigilantes and the Yan Sakai militia allegedly targeted innocent Fulanis, in response to the activities of the cattle rustling gang.

Sadly, many armed groups with trans-border links, took advantage of the cruelty against the Fulanis and escalated the conflict.

They advanced their mode of operation to include kidnapping for ransom, raiding villages and perpetrating more heinous crimes like raping and mindless killings.

Banditry reached its peak in 2018 when one of the founders in Zamfara, Buharin Daji, was assassinated, leading to the emergence of about 30 splinter groups in Zamfara and neighbouring states, including Katsina, Kebbi, Kaduna and Niger, among others.

Turji’s reign of terror

It was unclear if Mr Turji was part of the bandits that split after the death of Buharin Daji. Still, he rained terror across communities in Isa Local Government Area of Sokoto State, Shinkafi and other LGAs in Zamfara State.

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The terror kingpin has amassed wealth from the illegal taxes he imposed on local communities.

Named Muhammadu Bello at birth, one of the violent attacks by Mr Turji was in December 2021 when he burnt more than 20 travellers, including pregnant women and children, in Sokoto State.

A few weeks after that, Mr Turji wrote an open letter to former President Muhammadu Buhari and the emir of Shinkafi, outlining the terms of a ceasefire in the North-west and requesting a peace agreement.

In the letter, he said he was ready to surrender his arms if his five conditions were met.

He listed the conditions as dissolution of unofficial vigilante groups in the North-west, a meeting with traditional rulers and religious leaders, a stop to the ‘marginalisation’ of Fulanis, honest discussions between bandits, traditional rulers and politicians, and the participation of first-class emirs in a security meeting.

This was after the failed truce with the Zamfara State government in 2019.

Mr Turji is among the 97 terrorists declared wanted by the Defence Headquarters.

He had escaped death twice after the air component of Operation Hadarin Daji bombed his house in 2021 and 2022.

The air raids killed many of his foot soldiers.

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