Hopes, Fears As Insecurity Threatens Successful Polls in Zamfara Communities

Barely one week before Nigeria’s general election, residents of rural communities in Zamfara State still live between hope and fear as insecurity that has over the years rendered thousands homeless threatens peaceful polls.

“Just a few days ago, militants killed people on their way to Bagega Market, including my best friend. They killed at least nine people. This is the situation. Our uniformed men have a lot of work to do to secure us if they want a successful election here,” said an emotional Atiku Umar, a resident of Kurya in Anka LGA.

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Like other residents of Kurya Community, Atiku believes election may not hold in their community without the necessary commitment from security personnel and authorities.

“To be honest, it is very difficult to conduct elections in these areas if they do not take certain measures to stop all of these attacks. Although the security situation is improving, the challenge is still threatening.

“The bandits still strike at will. So electoral officials may not even come to our villages. Sometimes even the security personnel may be afraid to come here in a few numbers. Sincerely speaking, our security personnel are trying, but the bandits are still active, very active,” he added.


Despite the recent elimination of a number of bandits in places across Zamfara, there was an unreported killing of at least 13 people in Riyoji, Magami Tudu Communities of Zurmi and Kaura LGAs. A few months earlier, bandits attacked and killed villagers and kidnapped eight others in Hayin Banki community of Anka LGA of the state.

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Mamman Nasir, whose cousin was released from captivity after her abduction on the outskirts of Shinkafi, said the victim and his family were deeply traumatised following the incident. He said the situation is getting better, but the unpredictability of the bandits’ operations makes them live in constant fear.

“You know these bandits don’t have a specific time for their operation. They strike sometimes when you least expect them. You may feel secure today but they may attack the next day since they are the itinerary,” Mamman said.

Bashir Kaura, a resident of Kaura-Namoda, said although their town is safe, the situation remains worrisome for rural communities, saying, “there are villages in the LGA where bandits still have significant influence. So, in those areas, no one can say for sure that election officials will even risk their lives to go there and talk more about doing the election. From here up to Birnin Magaji, people are living between hope and fear of the unknown.”


Of the three communities visited in Shinkafi LGA (Katuru, Kware and Kurya villages), the residents are all eager to exercise their constitutional and civic rights by participating in the forthcoming 2023 elections that will produce the next set of leaders that will lead Nigeria at the national and sub-national levels. However, for them, the security of lives and properties before, during and after the elections remains a top priority.

Nasiru Mariyo of Kurya village said he would only partake in the election if he felt protected. “To be frank, the election will hold, God willing. But this is dependent on how secure people feel. If the government provides enough security, then there will be a successful election.”

“I will only talk to you because of this man,” said 43 years old resident of Katuru, Sani Bala pointing at my guide. This was after several hours of looking for a resident to speak about their concern.

Sani said he agreed that election is a process that will bring succour to their problem if they did rightly it but he decried that “in the past, there have been elections but were not fair and credible enough to effect any reasonable change”.

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“Honestly, there are many areas that election may not hold due to what is happening. We are short-changed and have lost lives and property as a result of the insecurity in this village. We are abandoned but because the election is approaching, we will now be remembered, that anger may not allow us to vote,” visibly angry Sani ranted.

He added, “In some areas, it is the insecurity that will halt the election because people are afraid bandits might ambush them at the poll.”

Sani partly explained their frustration with the electoral umpire. He said, “INEC is just saying stuff, but we are not certain they will do the right thing. I would like to vote, but if I feel insecure, I will not come out.”

Another resident, Lawali Ado, acknowledged that the security situation has improved significantly around Katuru but insisted that only sufficient provision of security personnel during the election will make him and his family “take the risk”.

“The issue now is how to improve the security situation if people are to participate in the election. Our troops are doing good; they are killing the bandits, but more needs to be done. We must empower the security forces. If there are fifty soldiers in this area, for example, we should double their number to 100. If this is done, then our people will have the confidence to exercise their civic right, but without security, there won’t be any election here.”

For Muhammadu Jenge, the government’s sincerity and commitment from the security agents to their safety will be enough for them to participate in the election. He said that their village has seen a lot of terror from the merciless bandits terrorising Katuru and neighbouring villages. “Election here will not be successful except with security measures. If the government wants to do it, I think in two weeks they can achieve a lot. If the security men are adequately supported, they can secure us. I will definitely go out to cast my vote, but only with an improved security situation.”

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For optimists like Alh Sani Badunku, he hoped that security forces would triumph over bandits. “Insha Allah the election will hold but Governor and the security have to do more to secure us. I will cast my vote as I did in all previous elections. I pray that almighty Allah grants success to our security forces. I pray for a successful poll.”

In Kware community, Muhammadu Bagobiri, said, “These bandits often move with around 100 motorcycles, each one carrying three persons making them a battalion of 300 at a time with each wielding an AK47 rifle. So how can 10 soldiers face them? Even 50 soldiers can’t! If they want an election that will attract voters to cast their votes, there should be a massive deployment of security forces across all the polling units. But without this, people won’t leave their shelters for polling units.”

Anas Umar argued, “There are villages around us that you can’t dare visit, such as Gulbi. There will be elections definitely in the urban areas but in the village, we are in a precarious situation. Our relatives from some villages are here with us in Kware, so automatically they cannot vote because their polling units are not here even if the election holds here.

“We acknowledge the efforts of security personnel, but they should double their efforts because these bandits are really a serious danger to us. I personally cannot go out to cast my vote. The bandits seem obviously not scared of the security forces. They attack the security personnel too. They may attack people during the election.”


The conflict that metamorphosed into violent attacks across Zamfara started around 2011 as a communal/farmer-herder conflict. An academic from Usmanu Danfodio University Sokoto (UDUS), Dr Murtala Rufai, noted that they hatched the menace in 2011 when the late Kundu and Buharin Daji emerged with an armed group to protect the interest of the Fulani communities.

“They named the group Kungiyar Gayu, meaning an association of young guys, even though none of them was a youth. The public referred to them as Kungiryar Barayin Shanu (cattle rustlers association). Their real motive started to manifest itself in 2012 when cases of cattle rustling began in the state. Members of the gang considered it as a cultural association aimed at the liberation of the Fulani from the highhandedness of security agents, traditional rulers and politicians.”


According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Gusau, three communities of Kurya, Kware and Katuru had 22, 758 registered voters during the 2019 election. The electoral umpire disclosed that the turnout was around 40% in the areas for both presidential and gubernatorial polls. In 2015, with registered voters of 19,845, there was a turnout of 54% and 52.1% for presidential and governorship elections respectively in the areas.

Meanwhile, the total number of registered voters rose to 24, 433 in the three communities after the recently concluded registration exercise – representing an increase of 1,675. However, some localities with polling units such as Kukar Banda, Garkar Gambu, Kafin Mazuga and Garingoga had been displaced, while others are populated largely by itinerant nomad settlements that may not be available during the election period.

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While it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of attacks in the areas in the last five months, residents confirmed that there were more than 20 attacks – including on the routes – that left many kidnapped, injured, lost property or even killed. They confirmed that in the last two months, there had been some successes against the terrorists, but residents maintain that the unpredictability of the nature of the modus operandi of the attackers makes the relative peace unreliable.


The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state said that the Federal Government and the State Government are working tirelessly to address the security challenges bedevilling the state so that the electorate can exercise their civic right in a peaceful atmosphere.

According to Zamfara State APC Publicity Secretary, Yusuf Idris Gusau, normalcy has returned to Zamfara communities as people have resumed their normal socio-economic activities. He said that insecurity would not hamper the 2023 polls in Zamfara rural communities.

“Zamfara state government in collaboration with the federal government is addressing the issue of insecurity. The issue has subsided to a minimal number. And people are going about their normal businesses. All economic activities and other social life have resumed in all the affected areas.

“The issue of security will not hinder the 2023 election in all the rural areas. Even if there is a need to move polling units, INEC and security agencies alongside all parties will decide that to a secure place. Security situation in Zamfara state has improved significantly. The military and other sister security agencies are carrying out serious offensive to the bandits’ sites, which made them now on the run,” he said.

However, the major opposition People Democratic Party (PDP) in the State expressed concern about the instability, especially in rural areas, and how it might affect the general elections. The State Publicity Secretary of the Party, Abba Bello Oando, called on the federal and state governments to work together to protect vulnerable areas so that the electorate can feel safe during elections.

“As a party, we are calling on the federal government and the state government to remember that it is their responsibility to provide security for the people so that they can come out without fear of casting their votes to their preferred candidates in the election; and to ensure that the election is peaceful, devoid of any rancour or violence,” Oando added.

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 He added that they have had several meetings with the electoral umpire and so far they are in consonance with its preparation for the poll.


The Zamfara State Police Command said it is coordinating other security agencies to secure electorates, election materials and the entire state before, during and after the election.

According to the police spokesperson in the state, Mohammed Shehu, they have come up with strategies that will ensure adequate security and peaceful poll in the state.

He said: “Truthfully, there are security challenges in certain parts of Zamfara State but Zamfara State Police Command under CP Kolo Yusuf has come up with plans and strategies that will ensure peaceful activities before, during and after the elections. The command is working with other uniform personnel to achieve this objective.”

“The successes we are recording through the arrest of bandits, informants, drug and logistics suppliers testify to the fact that we are doing enough to prepare for the 2023 elections.

“The Police are working collaboratively with other security outfits and stakeholders to provide adequate security and give INEC the opportunity to conduct the 2023 election and accord the electorate the opportunity to participate in the election without fear, let or hindrance.

“We are calling on people and all other stakeholders to cooperate with us to be able to discharge our duties perfectly. That will lead to a free, fair, and credible election without rancour.”

We will ensure registered electorate are not disenfranchised due to insecurity – INEC

Meanwhile, the country’s electoral commission has given the assurance that no registered voters with PVCs will not be disenfranchised despite the security challenge.

INEC Public Relations Officer Mukhtar Samaila Janyau told Wikki Times in Gusau that the commission is working with security personnel, political parties, traditional leaders, and other relevant security agencies to ensure that the security challenge does not hinder the election in the state.

“We meet from time to time with political parties, traditional leaders and security personnel. And security often furnishes us with information about places that are accessible and those that are inaccessible. From the available information, displaced people are returning to their communities. So before the election, we will know the exact places that are inaccessible to protect the lives of the people, our staff, the electorate, and electoral materials. We can’t take our staff to an insecure place to conduct the election,” he said.

He added that where the security threat is high, polling units can be relocated to more secure places for people to cast their votes.

“We are ready and confident that every electorate that had registered and obtained his/her PVC, God willing, will be informed about where to cast their votes if they cannot vote in their polling units due to security reasons.

“INEC has experience of what transpired in the Northeast in the previous elections in 2015 due to Boko haram insurgency and in the 2019 general election… so what we did was to move a polling unit from a place that is insecure to a place that is secured so that people can cast their votes,” he said.

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He, however, noted the electoral body does not have provision to convey the electorate from their villages to a new, different location. “What INEC does is to inform the people of the new voting location on time so that they can prepare and arrive in the new place and cast their votes, it is the responsibility of the electorate to present themselves at the venue.”


For Dr Aminu Idris of the Department of Political Science, Federal University Gusau, the security challenge remains “the greatest danger to the electoral process” which will scuttle the prospect of the forthcoming general election due to the rural-based nature of Zamfara State population distribution.

“I wonder how INEC will conduct elections in such communities. INEC and stakeholders should devise means of getting people to participate in the election. Many rural communities are displaced within and outside the state. So how do you get them to vote? Relocation is not a plausible option practically.

“This is the greatest danger to the election. Democracy is all about participation in the political process. But I think in this situation that there is every tendency there may be political apathy,” explained Dr Idris.

According to him, the resultant voter apathy and disenfranchisement will affect the quality of leadership that the process will eventually produce.

Similarly, the Chairman of Gusau-based Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Zamfara Circle Community Initiative (ZCCI) Dr Aminu Lawan lamented that hundreds of villages have been rendered internally displaced persons (IDPs) across different parts of the state.

Dr Lawan wondered how the electoral umpire will provide alternate polling units to IDPs that are scattered across different locations in the state that will not be manipulated by politicians.

He said, “Zamfara state today in Nigeria is the most insecure state. This coming election will be the most challenging. There are areas that are no-go areas as we speak in various LGAs. …in some LGAs like Marau around Dansadau, Gulbi, Dankurmi, and Bingi there are specific days that they can travel and some they cannot because they can be attacked.

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“They (INEC) assured us that in places where they cannot provide security, they will provide alternative polling units. But our concern here is that it will be at the mercy of politicians to manipulate.

“It is virtually impossible because most of the people from those villages are not staying in one place, they have been displaced to different places. Take Maru LGA for example some of them are in Gusau as IDPs, and others are in Birnin Magaji, Kaura, Shinkafi and Zurmi because these are the closer LGAs to them. They went there either because of relative peace or their relatives are there. So where will they (INEC) put the polling units? Kaura or Zurmi?”

He charged the Government to take the fight against the bandits to their hideouts with all seriousness or engage in a genuine dialogue that will end the bloodbath in the state.

This report was published with support from Civic Media Lab.


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