Nigeria: 'How Abducted University Students Were Moved to Dreaded Zamfara Forest'

(file photo).
26 September 2023

The police said rescue operation is ongoing.

The students of the Federal University Gusau, Zamfara State, abducted by suspected terrorists were moved to the Kwiambana Game Reserve - a dreaded forest that transverses Nigeria's North-west and North-central region.

The terrorists attacked three female off campus hostels at Sabon Gida, one of the university's hosting communities on the outskirts of Gusau, Zamfara State capital, and abducted 24 students and some residents of the community, last Friday.

Thirteen of the victims have been rescued as of Tuesday, in two separate rescue operations by a combined team of soldiers of the 1 Brigade Nigerian Army, Gusau and other security agencies.

Residents of the area including a traditional leader who witnessed the incident told PREMIUM TIMES that after the raid, the terrorists, moved their victims on several motorcycles to the Dansadau District of Maru Local Government between Friday and Monday while manoeuvring through various ungoverned farming communities around Kwiambana Game Reserve.

After Friday's raid, PREMIUM TIMES learned that the captives and their abductors slept in mosques in at least two farming communities near Dansadau on Saturday and Sunday.

According to residents of the area, on Monday they reached Madada forest - the larger part of the Kwiambana Game Reserve.

The reserve is believed to be controlled by terrorists loyal to Ali Kachallah and Dogo Gide - who are believed to be the masterminds of the abduction.

"After the attack, they proceeded to Gajeren Kauye community just three kilometres from Dansadau town they slept over there with the victims in a mosque, the next day Sunday they moved to Kukan Magu village about eight kilometres from Dansadau town.

"They reached their final destination which is the Madada forest on Monday morning and displayed the victims to the Ali Kachallah who is in charge of the turf, and one who masterminded the abduction," one of the residents who asked not to be named for safety reason told PREMIUM TIMES.

The spokesperson of the police in Zamfara, Yazeed Abubakar, said such vital information from locals should have been communicated to security agents "for a timely response".

He, however, said rescue operation by security agents is ongoing.

"We are pleading with the people to always communicate information to the security agents for a timely response," the police spokesperson said.

The suspected masterminds

The suspected masterminds of Friday's attack on the university's community, Messrs Kachallah and Gide, perhaps, run the biggest kidnap-for-ransom franchise in Nigeria's North-west and North-central regions.

Their operations, unlike other armed groups in the regions, forbids their gang members from attacking villages around the Kwiambana Game Reserve. They primarily target government institutions, officials, schools and travellers. This has endeared them to locals in their areas of operation who are grateful to them for being spared.

Local sources credit the relative reduction in gunmen attacks on rural communities around the Dansadau axis to their order - they often send their emissaries to Dansadau town to resolve conflicts among residents. Other gangs of bandits who attack communities in the area are severely punished by them.

Friday's attack was not the first collaboration between Messrs Kachallah's and Gide's gangs.

This newspaper reported how they collaborated in the abduction of 136 students from Salihu Tanko Islamiyya School in Tegina, Rafi Local Government of Niger State, on 30 May 2021, and staff and pupils of the Government College (FGC), Yauri in Kebbi State, in June 2021.

In May, Mr Gide released the last two of the 11 students of the FGC Yauri. The girls, Farida Kaoje and Safiya Idris, spent years in captivity.

Before the attacks on schools in Tegina Yauri and Gusau, gunmen loyal to Mr Gide had attacked public schools in Kaduna and Katsina states abducting students and forcing the authorities to close down schools in areas deemed vulnerable to attacks.

Sources said the bandits normally share the captives among themselves and later demand huge ransoms from the government and families of the captives for their release.

Game reserve turned criminal hideout

The Dansadau Emirate which hosts the Kwiambana Game Reserve, covers 492 square kilometres out of the 1180 square kilometres of Zamfara State.

The area has land suitable for farming and rearing livestock.

In September 2021, PREMIUM TIMES reported how the terrorists attacked the Forward Operating Base in the Mutunji community in the Dansadau district, killing nine air force, two police and one army personnel.

In the Dansadau district, the bandits immediately took control of any community without the presence of security personnel, sacked their traditional rulers and imposed a protection levy on the residents who were willing to stay.

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