Understanding The Zamfara Security Threat


Zamfara state is situated in the North West region of Nigeria. It has 14 Local Government Areas and a population of approximately 3.8 million people. Zamfara is bordered to the north by Niger Republic, to the south by Kaduna state, to the east by Katsina and to the west by Sokoto and Niger states.

Zamfara state’s ethnic majority are Hausas and Fulanis, while minority ethnic groups include Gwari, Kamuku, Kambari, Dukawa, Busawa and Zabarma. Other ethnic groups found within the state are Igbo, Yoruba, Kanuri, Nupe and Tiv.

The main languages spoken in Zamfara state are Hausa, Fulfulde and Arabic.

The predominant occupation of the people is Agriculture with 80% of the population engaging in agricultural activities. Zamfara has a high level of poverty with over 70.8% poverty rating.

The state has been plagued with security challenges which have worsened over time. Hoodlum attacks, banditry and cattle rustling are major challenges they deal with. The porous border with Niger Republic has exposed Zamfara state to the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

High levels of unemployed and uneducated youth have encouraged the formation of criminal gangs with easy access to arms. While the vast land expanse and deep forests have provided safe havens for criminal gangs who raid villages, kill citizens, rustle cattle, kidnap for ransom and attack travellers on the highway.

Much of the insecurity has been tackled by vigilanté groups and hunters. Policemen and soldiers are often attacked and killed. The local law enforcement frequently reports arrests of criminals, but not much is known about what happens thereafter.


In February 2018, the Zamfara state governor stated that with a population of over 4 million, they were only 2,000 policemen, 315 soldiers, 400 mobile policemen and less than 100 air force personnel. These numbers are likely to have increased in recent times.

As at 1st April 2019, the Nigerian Army launched ‘Exercise Harbin Kunama IV’ which is focused on tackling the armed bandits and insurgent groups from identified forest areas and strongholds in Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara States.

Heretofore, much of the defence related activities reported were Nigerian Airforce deploying air assets to launch an airstrike on suspected bandit hideouts in the forests.

The vastly ungoverned spaces and the forests provide major cover and protection for criminals in the state.

While these airstrikes may have been tactically successful, they have not been strategically successful in stemming the menace.

Troops deployed to Zamfara experience direct small arms fire attacks from the criminal groups. The criminal groups frequently patrol the communities and ask the locals questions about the capabilities, strength size, leadership and the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) of the troops assigned to the area. The police in the area have been known to flee either at the onset of or during intense attacks.

One key complaint given by troops operating in the area is the mode of transportation used by the bandits. The bandits utilize fast motorcycles which allow for easy manoeuvre, invasion and escape, whereas, the troops must utilize pick-up trucks and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAPs) which are comparatively inflexible. Delays and push backs they receive when requesting airstrikes on known enemy locations also hinder their operations. Those requests are often met with bureaucratic paperwork processes detrimental to successful tactical operations. In the case of close air support, the response often comes too late (up to 1.5hrs after initial request in some cases).


Banditry and kidnapping are the two main security threats and concerns in Zamfara today. Farming and herding communities in Zamfara and the wider region have long been terrorised by gangs who raid villages, steal cattle and kidnap residents for ransom.

Zamfara is largely an ungoverned space and in response to the incessant insecurity, residents began forming and hiring local vigilante groups to confront the armed criminal groups. This development has given rise to the recent increase in violent incidents, as accusations of extrajudicial killings of suspected bandits have been on the steady increase.

In addition, the criminal groups have begun conducting reprisal attacks against the vigilante groups to avenge the deaths of their members. According to reports, villagers would prefer it if the vigilante groups are disbanded because the communities they are meant to protect are usually on the receiving end of vicious reprisal attacks by the bandits.

The poor governance in the state has exacerbated illegal gold mining to which many of the criminal gangs operating in the region have links to. However, gold mining communities are also frequently targeted. In a reported incidence, approximately 50 bandits cut off the area, robbed the mines, demanded gold and other precious stones from the miners.

Figure 2 Zamfara illegal gold mining operations are large scale with some reports indicating that security personnel have on some occasions been found providing static security for the mines.

The armed bandits are bold enough to operate in broad daylight, brandishing their AK 47 rifles. In some communities, they move freely and warn villagers to mind their business while they mind theirs. Considering their strength and influence, some members of the community even approach the bandits to settle their disputes

The only difference between them and Boko Haram is that they do not govern or administer Sharia.

Many believe the attackers are Fulanis from Niger Republic and Nigeria. Interestingly, their targets are also local Fulani cattle-rearers who have no means of protecting themselves.

The motivation for these Zamfara attacks is primarily pecuniary.

Attacks initially focused on stealing cattle and reselling them (a cattle goes for approximately $600 in the market).

Kidnapping in the state became intense in 2018. The abductors have no preferred target criteria or profile. However, traditional rulers and family members of the political elite are often targeted. Abductions occur mostly in residential areas and during any time of the day.


Tackling insecurity in Zamfara as with other parts of Nigeria will need to be multi-faceted. Solutions should include:

  • Tackling border insecurity
  • Instituting biometric databases as a means of identifying indigenes/citizens
  • Increasing the number of Policemen operating in the state- A state-run system incorporating and training the vigilante groups can be a start.
  • Utilizing geospatial intelligence collection to determine the locations of the mines and cracking down on illegal mining activities in the state.
  • Conducting social network analysis to identify key persons of interest and then carrying out targeted kill/capture operations using the military’s special operations forces.
  • Setting up early warning systems using the community members in the remote villages that will allow official control rooms to know about an impending or imminent attack while allowing for quick reaction forces response.
  • Review of the military Air Strike approval process, the response time of CAS requests and additional training and equipping of the policemen to reduce cases of policemen abandoning their duties and responsibilities during attacks.


Culled from Bulwark Intelligence

Chris Ogunbanjo

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