The protracted violence and lawlessness devastating parts of Northwestern Nigeria has taken a new dimension with growing tension between religious and non-religious terror groups.
HumAngle has learned of brewing hostilities between a branch of the Al-Qaeda franchise, Jama’atu Ansaril Muslimina fi Biladis Sudan, commonly referred to as Ansaru, and Fulani-linked terror groups locally known as bandits.
HumAngle understands that in at least one incident, Ansaru killed the relative of a top leader of an armed group in the Northwest. The leader was mobilising for a major offensive against the terror group before this incident.
Ansaru is a breakaway faction of the Abubakar Shekau-led Boko Haram. It emerged officially in 2012 after a split, and months later, it was declared a foreign terrorist organisation by the United States Department of State alongside Boko Haram.
The group maintained a low profile for years until 2019 when an Al-Qaeda propaganda channel released a photo of Ansaru fighters.
In Jan. 2020, Ansaru claimed responsibility for an attack on the Nigerian army convoy in Kaduna. But reports of the incident later showed that the convoy travelling through the Kaduna-Zaria road was that of the Emir of Potiskum, a town in Northeastern Nigeria.
Nigerian security forces have stepped up operations in response to the reemergence of Ansaru in 2020. In Feb. 2020, Nigerian police tactical units stormed one of Ansaru’s camps in Kuduru Forest, Birnin Gwari area of Kaduna.
On Aug. 13, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) dispatched a group of helicopter gunships and fighter jets to target Ansaru positions in the Kuduru forest and, in Nov. 2020, the military said combat aircraft carried out airstrikes targeting Ansaru camp in Dunya forest, Katsina State.
In a recent chat with The Guardian, Kaduna state-based cleric, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, said that armed groups were at war with Ansaru and they had also given the Al-Qaeda franchise 10 days to vacate their territory.
Gumi disclosed that there was an infiltration of armed groups in the Northwest by religious terrorists. According to him, “they will say the military too is killing their children and women; so they accept the Fulani from outside to assist them. But as they are coming in, some of the elements of Islamic terrorists join them.”
Gumi also told the paper that Ansaru reached out to the gang leader he met during a peace mission in Niger State in the North-central part of the country.
“After we came out, he talked to the contact, telling them that they were approached by the Ansaru groups who told them not to trust me and my entourage; that we are democratic scholars and shouldn’t be welcomed. This is why I’m urging the government to intervene fast. No time to waste.”
According to the cleric, the gang leader replied to Ansaru that his group was knowledgeable and better vast about Islam and they would continue the mediation with Gumi.
Ansaru later ambushed the man’s uncle and killed him. The gang leader has given the Ansaru terrorists 10 days to vacate the bush, says Gumi.
It’s unclear if Sheikh Gumi was referring to Dogo Gide, a terror leader he met in February during a peace dialogue session held in Niger’s Dutsen Magaji forest. HumAngle had previously reported Gide’s suspected ties with Ansaru.
The airstrikes led to the destruction of the camp, killing and wounding scores of fighters. Dogo Gide was also reported to have been among the wounded during the airstrikes.
According to an International Crisis Group report published in May 2020, the conflict between Hausa farmers and Fulani herders has killed at least 8,000 people since 2011 and displaced more than 200,000, some of whom have moved over to the neighbouring Niger Republic.