ABUJA: Inside Gbau Zokwoyako, Tales Of Alleged Fulani Banditry And Kidnap For Ransom
The violent bangs continued on the frail metal door, accompanied by sporadic gunshots at midnight on January 28, 2024. The door lost its grip from the concrete wall, and in a second, Henry Yanana, 32, saw armed men burst into their house and take him along with his father.
The kidnappers also abducted others from his community.
For him, it was a shocking and unprecedented experience. But for many in the Gbau Zokwoyako community, in the hinterlands of the Kuje Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), it’s just another day!
Gbau Zokwoyako is close to Gbaupe, Lugbe, Ketty and Garki areas of the nation’s capital. It takes about an hour on a motorcycle through lonely and dusty pathways from Gbaupe to get there. However, there are other routes to the community.
The people of Gbau Zokwoyako speak Gbagyi, an indigenous language in the FCT and live in houses surrounded by mountains.
THE WHISTLER met Yanana while on a visit to the community. He pointed at the entrance door that was damaged by the kidnappers who he said spoke Fulani language. “We heard the dog barking that night, and our door banging while we were sleeping. They (armed men) entered the room and asked us to get up.
“When we asked why, they told us to keep quiet. They said they had been asked to come and kidnap us because we do not always listen. They asked us to wear our clothes and follow them.”
On the said day, the armed men, six in number, abducted Yanana, his father and seven others at gunpoint using a house-to-house invasion tactic. Three out of the abductees were visitors in the community who attended a burial earlier that day.
Out of the three visitors, the assailants shot one, who was rushed to an undisclosed hospital in the Galadimawa area of the FCT, and later confirmed dead. The remaining two were whisked away along with others to an unknown destination.
In the course of whisking them away, Bitrus Makada, in his 40s, attempted to escape, but was instantly shot in his hand and back by the assailants. He did not survive the gunshots.
His elder brother, Adamu Makada, in his 60s, was also killed after he told the kidnappers he was visually impaired and could not go with them.
“They thought he was lying,” Yanana said, as he pointed to the gravesites of the deceased brothers. They were buried on January 29.
Marian Adamu, 60, a wife to Adamu Makada is still grieving the loss of her ‘husbands’. She had escaped abduction after pleading with the assailants that she was lame and frail. The assailants, however, did not leave without carting away the money she had in her bag.
“When they left. She stepped out to find my junior father (Bitrus Makada) there. She thought he was pretending to be dead to avoid being kidnapped. She lifted his hands, only to see blood everywhere and he was already dead.
“She also thought the kidnappers carried her husband (Adamu Makada) away, but we later saw my dad’s body at the back of the compound,” Faith Yusuf, daughter of the deceased..
The mother spoke to THE WHISTLER in Gbagyi while Yusuf interpreted in English.
Ransom For Survival
Having killed three of nine abducted residents, the abductors left that night with six people: Four men and two women including Yanana. The assailants made him carry stolen alcoholic and soft drinks on his head. The luggage included bread and other edibles carted away from a store in the community.
In a pleasant turn of events, Yanana was asked to return home after they had trekked for hours inside the forest.
“They carried us into the bush with a heavy load on my head. Three of the kidnappers were in front of me, and three were behind me. They saw the way I was carrying the items and noticed one of my arms was bad. The kidnappers came together and agreed I should return to the village.
“One of the women with us who was abducted along with her children pleaded with the kidnappers to allow her children to return as well, because they were still little. They agreed and asked me to go with them. That was how I gained my freedom,” Yanana said.
Yanana described the assailants as wearing “black on black, they spoke Fulani language and they carried AK-47.” But they spoke Hausa to their captives.
Kaunana Yusuf, grandmother of the abducted children, confirmed the return of her progeny a few hours after they were abducted. She said her daughter, Faith Yusuf, was taken away without proper clothing. She told THE WHISTLER that she was hopeful that the assailants would contact the community for ransom.
The kidnappers are still holding five people – Three from the community and two visitors who attended a burial ceremony held in the area.
The traditional ruler of Gbau Zokwoyako , Chief Danlami Sambo, told THE WHISTLER that he was certain the assailants would make demands, and the community would raise funds to rescue their own.
Sambo was abducted in August 2022 and was held hostage for seven weeks. He told THE WHISTLER that he trekked along with other captives in blindfolds, for three weeks before arriving at the final destination in Kogi State.
The younger brother who took N6 million to the captors was also abducted. Sambo had returned to raise funds to secure his brother’s release. He raised N4 million for the ransom.
“A total of N10 million was paid,” Sambo revealed to THE WHISTLER.
Meanwhile, the assailants contacted Gbau Zokwoyako as expected on January 31, demanding N10 million. The representatives negotiated the ransom and pleaded to pay N600,000 ransom, given that they lost three people to the attack.
“On Wednesday, they said we should bring N10 million. We said we had only N600,000, and they said No!
“On Thursday (February 1), they called again, and we told them we have only been able to raise N1.1 million. They said they would not accept it.
“On Friday (February 2), they called us again. They said they would kill them if we didn’t bring the money they asked for.
“On Sunday (February 4), they called to ask how much we have raised, and we said N2 milion. They rejected it again. They said they would not call us again, or give our people the phone to hear their voices. So, they switched off the phone,” Yanana explained.
As of press time, the community said, it was sourcing funds by selling valuable properties and borrowing to facilitate the negotiation. Yanana has sold his motorcycle and he’s currently seeking buyers for his family lands.
The village is demanding that the government establish a police station and military base in the area. THE WHISTLER observed that it would take over 40 minutes on a motorcycle to get to the only police station in the suburban area of the Council.
Kuje residents have decried recurring kidnap incidents by bandits suspected to be Fulani people. Gbaupe, located near Gbauzo Kwoyiko, has recorded varying experiences of insecurity.
On December 10, 2023, at about 11:50 pm, bandits launched a house-to-house operation in Gbaupe, abducting 12 residents at gunpoint.
Two escaped during a gunfire exchange between the kidnappers and members of the local vigilante security while two escaped after they arrived at the abductors’ den.
Deborah Samuel, a resident of Gbaupe and mother of five, recalled how she paid N2 million after her son (minor) and daughter (pre-teen) were taken away by four armed men who invaded her household. The rest of the assailants had surrounded her compound during the operation.
A total of eight victims remained in captivity for 13 days while negotiations were ongoing for their release. “I was the first to be contacted,” Samuel said, noting that the assailants had contacted her two days after the attack.
“They demanded N50 million from each household and they asked me to give their numbers to other people. My daughter was the one interpreting for them because she understands Hausa very well.
“Up till their release on December 23, the negotiation was ongoing. The daughter said they had trekked for nine hours to the mountain the night they were abducted.”
Peter Nicholas, the head of the local security network in Gbaupe told THE WHISTLER that he coordinated the ransom negotiation, and “a total of N17.7 million was contributed by the affected households.
“By January 13, the Fulani men invaded a Fulani-dominated settlement in Gbaupe and abducted a father and two sons. They were released four days after about N7 million was paid as ransom.
While Nicholas said that the community had set up a vigilante group to curb the infiltration of bandits and douse tension, THE WHISTLER observed that many personal properties have been vacated out of fear of future attacks by bandits.
Gbau Zokwoyako community on their part, said police operatives from Pegyi Divisional Station who came after the incident on Monday, asked that the traditional head set up a local vigilante team to secure the porous environment.
However, THE WHISTLER gathered that the FCT Special Intervention Squad (SIS) in collaboration with other security sister agencies are on the trail for the kidnappers. Also, the operatives have strengthened security in some identified high-risk areas of the community to avert reoccurrence.
The surge of kidnappings in the FCT is having adverse effects on lives in the city, with apprehension heightening among residents.
A special report by SBM Intelligence revealed that over 280 people were abducted between January 15, 2023 and January 15, 2023, from Bwari, Kuje, Abaji, Gwagwalada, Abuja Municipal and Kwali.
Bwari recorded 158 abducted victims, Kuje- 67, Abuja Municipal- 30, Kwali- 24, Abaji-2 and Gwagwalada-2.
“As a result, many have invested in enhancing their security infrastructure and adopting various precautionary measures such as avoiding public transportation, extreme measures such as refraining from late-night movements, and arming themselves with weapons such as pepper sprays and knives,” the report said.
The situation, the report noted, has raised the cost of living by 20 per cent in estate security fees and by about 50 per cent in rent. Business revenues were said to have plunged by 33 per cent and transport fares rose to about 250 per cent within the capital territory.
To curtail the growing kidnapping incidents, SBM recommended swift government action against rising kidnappings, enhanced security measures, provision of public transportation for residents, and redesigning the FCT political security architecture.
“Given that the government’s primary obligation is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens, the government needs to urgently implement the recommended measures to ensure a community safe for all residents,” the report said.