By Michael Olugbode
Angry residents of Shinkafi Local Government Area of Zamfara State took to the streets at the weekend to protest the security situation in the area.
However, the state police command arrested 18 of the protesters for organising and partaking in an unlawful assembly.
Shinkafi, like other parts of Zamfara, has witnessed several killings and kidnappings by bandits.
The protesters attacked the palace of the Emir of Shinkafi, Muhammed Makwashe, and the residences of political appointees in the state, mostly those appointed to oversee peace dialogues with bandits in Shinkafi area.
Zamfara has adopted a policy of engaging armed bandits in dialogue while making efforts to secure the state. Many Nigerians have condemned the policy, saying it encourages criminality. But the state government has defended it saying many kidnapped victims have been released due to the dialogue and some of the bandits have laid down their arms.
Residents of the area, including some of the protesters, said the protesters used derogatory terms to accuse the state government and traditional rulers of underreporting their ordeals with the gunmen who frequently attacked their communities at will.
The protesters, who damaged the emir’s palace, also called for the termination of peace dialogues with the bandits and demanded weapons for self-defence.
Residents said the latest protest followed the abduction of a popular community volunteer and vigilante, Sama’ila Lagga, who is said to have been a target of the bandits for a long time.
The gunmen abducted Lagga at his residence in Shinkafi, on Saturday, leading to the violent protest.
The residents called off the protest after a report that Lagga was abandoned by the gunmen at a riverine area in the outskirts of Shinkafi and the security officials took him to a hospital for medical attention, the source added.
The police spokesperson in Zamfara, Muhammad Shehu, in a statement, said the police have arrested 18 of the protesters “for organising and partaking in an unlawful assembly, illicit demonstration and damage to public and private properties in Shinkafi.”
He said the police recovered Dane guns, cutlasses and sticks from those arrested.
Shehu said a team of police officers and repentant bandits responded quickly to Lagga’s arrest and rescued him. He was reunited with his family after he was debriefed, he said.
“The youths who were suspectedly sponsored to undermine the relative peace of the area were carrying Dane guns, cutlasses and sticks to the Palace of Emir of Shinkafi and houses of One Murtala Dele and Moyi Sidi where they vandalised windows and doors of the three houses.
“Joint police and military quickly responded and dispersed the protesters to avoid unwarranted break down of law and order and possible loss of lives and properties. Eighteen suspects were arrested in possession of Dane guns, cutlasses and sticks. All the suspects are in police custody undergoing interrogation.
“The Commissioner of Police, Abutu Yaro, has ordered the state CID to commence a discreet investigation into the unlawful protest with a view to unravel the circumstances behind the dastardly act. He further warned parents and guardians to always have a firm control of their children so that they don’t involve in violence activities,” the police spokesperson said.