From Umar Danladi Ado, Sokoto
Uncertainty, fears and confusion have shrouded communities in Sabon Birni Local Government Area of Sokoto over the expiration of bandits’ seven-day ultimatum to residents to pay levy or risk being attacked.
Bandits operating in the area had sometime back given a week ultimatum to local which elapsed recently.
No fewer than 10 communities where bandits recurring operations are subjected to the imposition of levy by the bandits in Sabon Birni local area and neighbouring councils.
According to them, the bandits fix the levy depending on the population, farming capacity and number of the weekly market days in the community. The source also said the residents of the communities contribute under the arrangement where youths give N1, 000, while leaders of household contribute N2, 000 each to settle the community levies.
Our correspondent gathered that the bandits have for the past one year sustained the imposition of levies on individuals and communities for the last one year as many locals had been forced to consistently pay monies to them to avoid attacks.
This, according to them, was the easiest way to restore peace and address the issue of bandits’ attacks and other crimes ravaging the area.
The residents also expressed sadness over the proliferation of insurgent activities in the areas, saying they agreed to pay the levies as government failed to address the problems. Similarly, other communities yet to start remitting levies were given ultimatum to comply.
According to local sources, those who fail to comply are at the risk of beeing attacked. Hitherto, some communities alleged to have been paying N2 million each as levy include Tagirke, Baure, Dogon Marke, Mallamawa and Makuwana among others.
The member representing Sabon Birni Local Government in the state House of Assembly, Hon. Almustapha Gobir, confirmed the introduction of the levies by the bandits, saying that some of the communities have agreed to be paying the monies so that the bandits stop attacking them.
Also, the former chairman of the area, Alhaji Idris Ahmad Gobir, confirmed that the bandits have started collecting the levy from several communities in the area.
He stated that majority of the residents who could not afford to settle the bandits’ levies have fled from their hometown to safe heaven within the other villages and neighbouring border communities in Niger Republic.
“The insecurity situation in the area is fast taking a more pathetic dimension because the bandits have occupied and taken control of the area,” Gobir said. He added that the threats by the bandits to attack communities for failure to pay the levies did not come to the affected communities as a surprise.
“The threats should be taken with all seriousness considering their antecedents as on several events, they mean their words,” said he. However, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Kamaluddeen Kola Okunlola, despite the claims, said such statement is not true.
Okunlola said no community in Sokoto was imposed on levy by bandits. Also, residents of the areas have appealed to the authorities concerned to review the pattern of fighting insurgents as according to them the present method was not yielding fruitful results.
The communities also appealed to the three tiers of government to intervene by safeguarding the lives and properties of citizens as well as addressing the issue of insurgents once and for all.