• Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Niger groan as more
teenagers embrace the gun

• Inside the minds of child bandits in the northwest


• Kidandan…Where bandits rule overlords

Aliyu, 17, wanted to be a legend. So, he burned his father’s cat to a charred skull to create his legend out of rage. His father, Jatau, railed at him for killing the cat (mage) and Aliyu charged back at him, daring him to retaliate. After burning the cat, he pounded its charred remains into dust and made an amulet from it. “Whenever it is around my neck, no bullet can kill me,” he said, fingering the talisman made of animal hide and bone fragments.

Aliyu knew his father treasured the cat. But it had to die. “I killed it to teach him (his father) a lesson,” he said.

The 17-year-old had seen his father crouch in fear, cuddling the cat, while his mother and sisters got raped. In that moment, he renounced his respect for the father. Aliyu swore he would never be like him and jettisoned his dream of following in his steps as a rice farmer. The man who he embraced as his childhood hero was nothing but a frantic coward, he thought.

“That man was a coward. He watched them (bandits) rape his wife and daughters – my mother and two sisters. Afterwards, they (bandits) came back to abduct them. They said they were ‘too sweet’ to be left behind. My father did nothing. He was a coward,” Aliyu said, fiddling the safety of his rifle.

In a predawn attack on his village, Birane, in Zurmi LGA, armed bandits stormed his home and raped his mother and two sisters. Afterwards, they shot his grandpa and cousin in the head, and his father on the left foot. Then they abducted his mother and two sisters.

Furious and spoiling for revenge, Aliyu joined the Yansakai, a local vigilance group fighting armed banditry in Zamfara’s rural communities. But he believed that “they were too slow.” The leader of the branch that he patrolled with, also refused to commit the group to Aliyu’s quest to rescue his mother and two sisters.

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“He said they did not know where the bandits took them. But he was simply afraid. They (Yansakai) are always too afraid to face the bandits,” said Aliyu.

Subsequently, he quit the vigilance group and warmed his way into the fold of a local gang loyal to Dan Karami, a bandit kingpin.

But since he joined the group, Aliyu hasn’t found his mother and two sisters. “There is no word about them from anywhere. I have searched everywhere,” he said, adding nonchalantly, recently, he heard that his father was killed by another bandit group laying siege across communities in Zurmi LGA.

Aliyu hopes to quit armed banditry after he rescues his mother and sisters. “Once, I do that, I will drop the gun,” he said.

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