Zamfara state’s ever active human volcano has erupted again, and the death toll, as usual, has been high. This time, the community affected is Birane, in Zurmi local government counciil area. The police officially reported 18 killed. However, villagers and independent sources said as many as over 40 persons may have been killed. According to sources, the violence began with a dawn ambush by gunmen of traders heading for the village market. In the vehicles also there were braidesmaids going for a wedding in the same village. The attackers reportedly stopped the vehicle, pulled the driver out and slit his throat. Next, they opened fire on the stationary bus, killing everybody on board.
After that, they proceeded to the market itself. At that time it was full, as expected. Arriving, the gunmen fired into the crowd. Hussaini Abdu, an eyewitness, told journalists that attackers, “in a large number“, arrived “on motorbikes. They attacked and killed people who were coming into or going out of the village. About 41 people were shot dead in a short period of time. A commercial motorbike rider, transporting a woman and her three children, was killed and the motorbike set ablaze. Nobody could tell the whereabouts of the passengers.”
The police version of the tragedy is, however, different. Muhammad Shehu, the spokesman of state Command, said what started the massacre was a preemptive attack carried out by local hunters, assisted by a vigilante militia, against suspected bandits. “When they heard that bandits were preparing to attack their community they took matters into their hands”, he said. Muhammadu believed that if the intelligence had been passed over to the police, the massacre could have been averted.
However, the police narrative has been controverted by the Zamfara governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari. He also heads the supposedly very influential Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF). Reacting to the killings Friday, two days after they happened, the governor said he alerted security agencies about an impending attack 24 hours before it occurred. “Whatever humanly possible that needed to be done, we, as a government, have done to mitigate this disaster. But it does appear that security agencies are failing in their responsibilities“, he lamented. “I feel let down facing the people of this state whenever I remember the promise I made to them” that we will end mindless killings if we are elected. “But unfortunately, things are now getting worse”.
We sympathise with the government and people of Zamfara state the huge human and material losses reported in the continuing banditry. This is moreso because the governor is helpless in this matter. He made a campaign pledge to end the perennial violence but he does not control the security forces, even as his state’s chief security officer. This reopens the time worn debate over whether or not states should set up their own police departments.
As for the Nigeria Police Force, controlled from Abuja, we understand their peculiar challenges. Their operatives, thinly spread over a huge territory, are poorly equipped to confront an enemy with superior fire power. Worse, they have to wait for orders to come from far away Abuja to intervene in local conflicts. But this is as far as our sympathy goes. The police’s explanation that the Birane massacre happened because residents resorted to self-help is tame and, therefore, untenable.
First, the governor’s claim that he handed over intelligence to the police 24 hours before the killings began has not been denied. Secondly, the resort to self-help by residents was because they had lost confidence the federal police. It had failed them, not once but several times in the past. We think the police should accept blame, and like a beaten dog, put its tail between its legs and walk away in shame.