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Nigerian Civilian Guards Arrest Bandit Believed to Be a Kingpin in Northwest

By Masara Kim

Nigerian civilian guards claim they’ve nabbed a bandit commander linked to feared warlord Bello Turji, boasting about it in a viral video. Despite silence from police and army officials in Abuja, reports suggest federal forces also have made similar arrests. However, no official confirmation aligns the captured suspects with those in the civilian video.

Bello Turji, a notorious bandit terrorist believed to employ more than 1,000 mercenaries, is famed for attacking and levying communities in the Northwest region of Nigeria, particularly in Zamfara and Sokoto States. In September 2021, after a civilian guard group locally known as Yan Sakai allegedly attacked a mosque in Gwadabawa, killing eleven people, Turji retaliated by leading his bandits to a market in Goronyo, Sokoto State, where they mercilessly gunned down more than 50 civilians. In December 2021, his forces ambushed a bus in Sabon Birni, setting it ablaze and burning passengers alive, killing 30 people. Turji’s brutal actions reached a horrifying peak in January 2022 when he orchestrated the slaughter of over 200 civilians in Zamfara state. His reign of terror is only rivaled by another bandit warlord named Dogo Giɗe (“Do-go JEEH-day”) who has been linked to mass village raids and whole student bodies of colleges.

In the footage, a ragtag narrator in the northern Hausa dialect proudly announces the capture of one of Turji’s commanders, alongside four others.

“We’ve arrested one of Bello Turji’s commanders,” says the narrator.

“With this, we have arrested four commanders so far along with Bello Turji’s father,” says the narrator, as he shows the captive, identified as “Danbala,” surrounded by armed men on a pickup truck.

Approximately 100 yards away, a crowd of restless civilians is lined up around the vigilante camp.

The narrator, wielding an AK-styled rifle, describes the crowd as agitated residents demanding the lynching of the suspect.

“These are all community members. They are just anxious to witness his execution. But that is not the law. God willing, we are investigating him. We will investigate and recover weapons,” he says.

Video where the narrator says they got the commander and Turji’s father. Says community members want them executed right before their eyes but they are trying to complete interrogation to uncover hideouts and recover weapons before executing.

The exact date and location of the video are unknown, but it depicts a familiar scene of sparse woodlands akin to those found in the northern regions of Nigeria.

Upon closer examination of the 2 minutes and 2 seconds of footage, TruthNigeria pinpointed a clue linking it to Sokoto State. At the 1 minute and 16 second mark, a small gray sign briefly flashes, bearing the blurred inscription “SUBEB/Sokoto, UBEC/2017.”

For context, SUBEB stands for State Universal Basic Education Board, a federal agency overseeing elementary education across Nigeria. Working under the umbrella of the Universal Basic Education Board (UBEC), it ensures educational standards are met nationwide. The presence of this sign, near a suspended water tank, strongly suggests that the setting is a primary school. This school seemingly benefited from UBEC’s 2017 intervention through SUBEB Sokoto.

In September 2018, officials disclosed a substantial N4.56 billion grant from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) for diverse infrastructure projects in Sokoto. This funding, distributed as part of the 2016 and 2017 matching grants, was earmarked for initiatives such as classroom renovations, school fencing, electrification, water and sanitation projects.

However, the presence of camp beds strewn across the grounds in the video suggests a stark deviation from the school’s intended use. It appears that the premises now serve as a makeshift base for vigilante groups, highlighting the complexities of repurposing educational infrastructure in regions beset by security challenges.

In 2021, Turji, relocated his base from Fakai in Zurmi, Zamfara State, to the east of Isa local government area of Sokoto State.

TruthNigeria’s inquiries sent by text message to the army spokesman in Abuja, Major General Onyema Nwachukwu and the Police spokesman in Sokoto, Deputy Superintendent of Police Abubakar Sanusi were not answered. But a soldier serving in one of the northwestern states of Nigeria told TruthNigeria the video was shot by civilian joint task force volunteers deployed to the northwest from the northeast region.

“These are Maiduguri vigilantes deployed to Zamfara,” wrote the soldier who pleaded to remain anonymous while not being certain of the location of the video. Another soldier in Borno state confirmed the vigilantes are from Borno.

“From their uniform you can tell they are civilian JTF members from Borno. They are the only ones who wear black on black,” he said in a voice note to TruthNigeria.

Around the same period the video emerged on February 15, the Nigerian Army reportedly arrested a bandit commander under Bello Turji.

Zagazola Makama, a counterinsurgency expert and security analyst in the Lake Chad region posted on his X handle that Kachalla Duna Tagirke was arrested in Sokoto.

Two days prior to the arrest of Kachalla Duna, the Nigerian Police headquarters reported it arrested a group of five persons suspected to be members of a kidnapping syndicate along the Bodinga-Tambunwal Highway in Sokoto State.

Photos of the suspects from both operations do not match the suspect in the vigilante video.

Masara Kim is an award-winning conflict reporter in Jos and senior editor of TruthNigeria.

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