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‘Residence Levies’ Dot Lives Of Nigerians Living In Terrorist Controlled Northwest Areas

Nigerians in the Northwest region of the country are facing worsening security challenges. While authorities are yet to find lasting solutions to killings and abduction of armless Nigerians, residents are paying multi-million naira protection levy to terrorists.

As Nigerian troops intensify offensives against terrorists in the country’s Northwest region, residents are still paying armed groups to live. 

The country’s 1999 Constitution guarantees citizens the right to life and to live anywhere in the country, while it also vested the responsibility in the government to provide security of life and property.

But terrorists, locally known as ‘bandits’ have plundered across the region, forcing more than 200,000 people out of their homes.  In the Northwest, as it is in some parts of the country’s Northeast, terrorists are taking charge and virtually setting up their own government in the troubled areas such Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, among other states. 

They go on a rampage in the deep rural areas in those states, which are the epicentres of the growing crisis. For residents to live without attack, they must ‘pay protection’ levy to terrorists. 

Attacks in the Northwest

Abduction for ransom, attacks on locals, and cattle rustling by the terrorists have continued to put residents in the region on the tenterhooks. 

Despite repeated claims by authorities that they were not negotiating with terrorists to secure the release of abducted persons, families of hostages have paid huge sums through their nose to terrorists. 

This, analysts say, has increased the confidence of the terrorists to lord over more areas in states like Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina to levy taxes on the residents to avoid being attacked. 

“These terrorists have moved from their hideouts in the remotest communities to urban communities to get more money, to rustle more cattle, and to get larger ransoms,” said Kunle Adebajo, HumAngle’s Investigations Editor. 

Aside from various criminal activities of the terrorists in the last decade, HumAngle reported a series of mass kidnapping raids on boarding schools in the region last year. Following these, hundreds of schools have been closed and over one million children in the region are not attending classes.

A blackout of telecommunications in the region imposed in the region by the Nigerian government and restriction of movement of large gatherings were thought to have clipped the wings of the terrorists as there was a reported decline in the attacks and some success recorded by security agencies raiding terror gangs camps. Still, the terrorists seem to be waxing stronger.

They attacked military bases and police stations in Zamfara and Sokoto states. In one of the instances, the terror group on Sep. 24, 2021, attacked a military base in Mutumji, killing nine Air Force personnel, two police officers and one army personnel.

They also stole weapons and other equipment before setting the base ablaze. As these terror groups gain access to greater firepower, victims in the areas they ‘govern’ are held for hefty ransoms tagged ‘protection levy’ 

The imposition of a levy on communities started in Sokoto State in October 2021 and the population of each community was said to be considered in determining the amounts they pay to terrorists. 

According to reports, Attalawa, Danmaliki, Adamawa, Dukkuma, Sardauna and Dangari villages in Sokoto were asked to pay N400,000 each. Before the report on levy payments to terrorists gained media attention, residents of Kwatsal village billed N4 million were said to have already paid N2 million out of the money to the terrorists. 

By Nov. 2021, terrorists operating in Zamfara also negotiated with residents in troubled communities that the worth of their lives would depend on their compliance with ‘protection levy’ for the criminals. 

The threat became real when they reportedly attacked Kwarin Mai Saje community in Tsafe Local Government Area (LGA) of Zamfara State on Nov. 13, 2021, over the failure of the residents to allegedly pay a N3 million levy. 

In the same week, a university lecturer and journalist, Mansur Isa, said that Gatawa village in Sabon Birni Local Government Area of Sokoto State among other communities in the axis contributed N20 million as ransom for kidnap victims and protection levy.

In some cases, terrorists kidnapped community heads or monarchs to negotiate their ‘protection levy’ fees with residents. 

In Dec. 2021, residents of different communities in Zurmi, Kaura Namoda, and Birnin-Magaji LGAs of Zamfara were reported to have raised alarm over N1 million protection levy demanded by terrorists who set up their own government in Birnin Tsaba, Gabaken Mesa, Gabaken Dan-Maliki, Turawa, Askawa, and Yanbuki.

In a recent report published by Premium Times on Feb. 16, 2022, a traditional ruler was quoted as saying 47 villages in Mutumji in Zafara are under the control of terrorists who task them for ‘protection levy.’ 

According to the report, residents of Mutumji communities in Maru Local Government Area of the state said they have paid over N40 million as protection levy to terrorists in the last six months. 

The last instalment of the levy (N9.7 million) collected from various peasant communities in Mutumji was reportedly delivered to the terrorists on Feb. 4, 2022. 

For villages that chose not to pay, they have reportedly relocated to neighbouring Kebbi and Niger states as reports on attacks on defaulters make headlines weekly. 

HumAngle reported recently that an air of uncertainty had enveloped two communities in Zamfara State, over an imminent terror attack following their failure to meet up with the payment of N9 million levied on them by a terror gang. 

A terror group led by Dullu Kachalla, one of the terror kingpins in the area, had reportedly sent a message to Jangeru and Birnin Yero villages in Shinkafi Local Government Area of the state on Sunday, Feb. 13, to brace up for an attack after they failed to meet up with the tax payment. 

Following negotiations with the terror group, the residents of the two communities agreed to pay N9million as against N40 million requested by the terrorists. They were given two weeks to get the money ready or face attacks. 

To avert the attack, they are contributing N6000, according to leaders who did not want to be named.

Authorities’ actions and inactions

Before the declaration of bandits as terrorists by the Nigerian government, there was a peace deal brokered with them by Northwest governors but it later collapsed

The peace deal collapsed due to the difficulties of having an agreement binding on all of the terror groups. The military has launched repeated operations including the use of airstrikes to bomb their hideouts but that appears not to be the solution to the worsening security challenge.

Chukwuma Al Okoli, a Lecturer and Resident Researcher in the Department of Political Science, Federal University Lafia said in a 2019 piece for The Conversation that to tackle the security challenges in the region, “there’s no more effective solution than forceful inland and frontier policing. 

“Such policing must deal with the region’s peculiar circumstances of diverse borderlines, forestlands and hinterlands. This requires a tactical synergy between grassroots vigilantes and the state security operatives.”

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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