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Department of English and Literary Studies Ahmadu Bello
University, Zaria, Kaduna state



Institute of Education, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria


This paper examines the poetic representation of themes of security challenges in Zamfara as a result of the activities of bandits, kidnappers and cattle rustlers in Echoes of Carnage (a collection of poems on Zamfara) edited by Ibrahim &Gatawa (2021); as an instance of deep analytical exegesis of the state of insecurity in the Northwest region and the country at large.The paper builds on the age-old premise that there is an organic affinity between literature and social happenings, especially those grave issues that always threaten the cooperate existence of a given social order. In this regard, social calamities such as famine, drought, war, violence etc that threaten security of existence hardly escape the probing eyes of committed literary artists. Going by the array of compendium of poetic renditions from across the diverse poets in the collections; the paper establishes that the people of Zamfara wallow in deep existential trauma, threat and uncertainty as a result of the ungodly criminalities of the armed non-state actors. While it is obvious that the Zamfara carnage has been apprehended from varied discourses, this paper contends that literature, perhaps more than other discourses, penetrates deeply into the human psyche and lived experience to interpret and liberate man’s seeming frailties and nuances, predicament and fears as exemplified in the sampled poems examined in the collection.

Keywords: Carnage, security, insecurity, bandit, kidnappers

DOI: 10.36349/zamijoh.2023.v02i01.003


It is obvious at present that Zamfara state, more than at any time in recent history, is facing serious existential challenges as a result of the nefarious activities of armed non-state actors marauding as kidnappers, bandits and cattle rustlers. The chain and nature of attacks on hapless and unarmed villagers by self-acclaimed bloodthirsty warlords operating separately from ungoverned forest spaces is, by all estimations, horrendous and barbaric. Their modus operandiis akin to the tactics of the operatives of full-scale war. In many instances, a whole village is massacred and set ablaze killing indiscriminately women and children after pillaging all their means of livelihood. Many a village people striding Anka, Maru, Dansadau, Zurmi, Shinkafi, BirninMagaji axes, for instance, have been displaced as they abandoned their villages and means of livelihood whilst they escaped death by whiskers.

While many factors could be attributed to the reasons behind the carnage such as farmer/herder perennial clashes over grazing land and cattle routes; poverty, unemployment and so on, the unabated attacks on gullible and helpless Zamfara people, as Liman claims, ‘is a testimony to the fact that the security apparatuses have failed . . .(since despite all concerted efforts) the insecurity is …escalating beyond proportion’. The spate of violence in the state, writes Hannatu (2022),‘is…the most tragic in the history of the state with brutal murders and sexual intimidation among women and children’. Although the case of rustling, kidnapping and banditry is not peculiar to Zamfara state taking into cognizance the same scenarios in Nasarawa, Katsina, Kaduna, and Benue states for example, the Zamfara case appears to be the worst-case  setting going by the slew of bloodletting exacerbated by the perpetrators. In a table of statistics provided by Hannatu(2022) on the cases of bloodbath and kidnapping in Zamfara between October 3rd 2011 to May 22nd 2022, a total number of 1655 (one thousand six hundred and fifty five) people were killed. This of course is official records disclosed by the Government. The actual figures could be far more than that!

 This paper therefore attempts an exegesis of the depiction of the condition of Zamfara people as a result of the nefarious activities of bandits, cattle rustlers and kidnappers through the critical lens of established and budding poets across the country that contributed to the collection.

Nigeria, security challenges and the figural response

 Nigeria at present is facing serious issues of security/insecurity challenges, the type that many social critics would argue threaten peaceful coexistence and corporate survival as a nation.The notion of insecurity in this paper is not only about the breakdown of law and order or being prone to danger and attack. It also implicates the disruption of not only social order but social relationships in form of foreboding suspicion, uncertainty, angst, ennui, anxiety and the erosion of self-confidence.

 As it has always been the case, security challenges always lead to the breakdown of law and order which naturally extend concentric effects on other areas of human endeavor such as the economy, politics and religious and social gatherings. The country now witnesses the vicious activities of armed non-state actors such as the Niger-Delta militants, Boko Haram insurgents, cattle rustlers, bandits and the now dreaded kidnapping gangsters. To this, we may add the politically motivated gangsterism of IPOB in Southeast and that of now behind- the-bars Sunday AdeyemiIgboho, the Yoruba nation activist. With the atrocious execution of criminality by the aforementioned in form of unabated destruction of lives and property and farm produce, the country now faces its most serious threat of cooperate coexistence and survival second to the 1967-1970 civil war.

The security challenges are ill-timed as they are happening in the face of the serious economic crisis in the country, especially in the Northern part where economic growth has failed to keep pace with soaring population increase. And thatas a result of shrinking of official economy battling with burgeoning parallel economies, the country’s export, and to certain extent food production, have declined and it has now resorted to borrowing at huge interest rates and strings to meet up basic infrastructural and social needs.It is apparent in this ill-fated condition, people would stake devious means to stay afloat in poverty. There is however, much more to it than the economic survival theory. The ungodly activities of the non-state actors beggar a simple causal explanation. The positions of the poets examined in the anthology herein reveal not only the interface of   politics, economy, religion but the intricate dynamics of power relations and shifting identities among others.

The Zamfara Carnage, security stake and the poetic interface

In this section, sampled analyses of the various dimensions of the carnage being unleashed in Zamfara have been elucidated to give insight into the nuances of the humanist trajectory of the predicament of the victims of Zamfara death trap.

Echoes of arnage (a collection of poems on Zamfara) is a recent anthology of poems published in 2021. The anthology was written by both budding and established poets across the country conversant with the gory happenings in the state. It consists of eighty-eight  (88) poems from almost the same number of poets. The opening poem in the anthology is entitled ‘Once upon a Land’ by Halima A Matazu. The poem seems to suggest a chronological accentuation of the peaceful state of Zamfara before the eventual mayhem. Once upon a time, as the poem echoes, Zamfara was ‘…a land of … enchanted melodies’ p.1 taking its pride of place as the hotbed of Hausa musical performance only to be shattered now by war and the strife of men/seeking gold and kinship….’ For anybody familiar with classical and budding freelance and court singers in Hausa speaking part of the country and beyond, Zamfara alone boasts of 60 percent or more of time cherished traditional singers. It is a melting pot of extant cultural practices such as boxing, wrestling, oral songs and music. As much as it stands out in rich cultural performances, so Zamfara is blessed with untapped abundant mineral resources foremost of which is the huge deposit of gold that has become the cynosure of all eyes for local clientele and the multinational gold merchants. It is apposite to surmise that Zamfara is at present the reservoir for cultural engineering and economic storehouse for not only the northern part of the country but Nigeria at large. Matazu’s opening poetic lines as such is a veiled reference to the heydays of the Zamfara verbal artists’ contribution towards entertaining and socio-cultural integration of Hausa/Fulani ethnic landscape.

Majority of the poems in the collection ranging from Attahir’s ‘Red-Blue-Red Zamfara’ Lian’s ‘A dirge for Zamfara’ p.5, Adamu’s ‘ How much blood is  Enough’, Imam’s  ‘The  Days of the  Vultures’ p.5 to cite only a few, convey this position in various metaphoric sheddings. And this explains why the dominant conspiracy theory put forward behind the Zamfara carnage revolves around economic-determinism rather than political. This explains why an end to the catastrophe is glaringly elusive. Matazu is vividly emphatic on the unimaginable scale of the atrocity committed in the state as if an evil spell is cast on it. She says:

                        Ever closed your eyes

                        And dreamed you had wings?

                        There is a curse laid out before my opening eye

                        Upon a land of once enchanted melodies (p1)

As outrageous and weird  it is to think of a human with wings, so it is to imagine the sudden melting of Zamfara from a peace loving state of verbal art to the theatre of bloodshed, the poetic persona fantasizes. The once burgeoning state has been shattered now by war and the strife of men/seeking gold and kinship, seeking control. The motivation by the armed non-state actors in Zamfara,as the persona further remarks, is not farfetched. It is simply the tripartite quest for economic benefits, identity and power. This explains why many critics and commentators on Zamfara carnage link it to the massive abundant mineral resources now being  exploited by the emerging elites at the corridor of power and their collaborators in business and manufacturing industries. In the end, the persona laments how the atrocity has now severed her affinity with Zamfara her home state since she ‘can not return/To a homeland forsaken by peace’(p1)

While many of the poets in the collection believe that the root of the Zamfara arson was economically-driven, Abdullahi claims that Zamfara butchery stems from ‘The heave of Jihadists’ hooves// (who)… declared sharia/ In which a hand is lost for hunger-induced stealing/while inside air conditioned rooms/big thieves decide the fate of the multitude’ p. 2 It is apparent here that  the persona did not contradict the  Shariah tenant in terms of adjudication of equal right but censures the sleight of hand of its execution in the state. Shariah in Zamfara, as the persona seems to imply, was operated in the famous Orwellian dictum: All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others. While the doctrine of the shariah system states that all are equal before the law only petty thieves are penalized while the big time executhieves stay at large.

But then, as the poet subtly insinuate, the proponent of shariah in the state are no lesser evils. This apparently elucidates why many political pundits and social critics argue that the declaration of shariah in Zamfara state by Ahmed Mohammed Sani, the first civilian governor, in the year 2000 was more political than religious. The persona clearly makes out that the carnage now in Zamfara may not be unconnected with the delusion, suspicion and mistrust created in the minds of the citizenry by the Shariah merchants. Although this theory is hard to connect to the bloodbath, raping and looting going on in Zamfara at present, it is equally hard not to contemplate its remotest possibility.

  While many of the poets attribute to the mayhem now taking place in Zamfara to personal aggrandizement and a lone voice to the failure of Shariah, an appreciative number of the poets in the anthology pin it to leadership ineptitude. These themes resonate In Yunusa’s ‘Rivers of  Tears and Blood’ p.4 Lian’s ‘A Dirge for Zamfara’ p. 5 Adamus’s ‘How much blood is enough?’ p.7 Alayes’s ‘Broken  Canvas’ p. 43 ‘Heat of  agony’ by Bashar p 40; Ahmad’s ‘Despairing  Echo’ p. 59, etc. Among these poems Adamu’s ‘How much  Blood is  Enough?’ seems to be more emotionally combative as the persona pillories the leaders who he designates as collaborators and accomplices in the predicament of Zamfara people, in plain often prosaic language. While Zamfara is the prime target of the entire poetic rendition in the anthology, In Adamu’s ‘How much blood is enough, we are made to understand that the whole of the northwest geopolitical zone is metaphorically sitting on the keg of gun power as a result of massive ignorance and penury intentionally entrenched and perpetrated by its leaders for political gains. The persona in the opening lines says ‘The land in the northwest is fragile/its people swimming in ignorance/willingly pauperized by its leaders, p. 7. While many zones in the country have their peculiar problems and are united to confront it, the case is hopeless with the northwest. The persona claims that ‘Each zone has its battle and is fighting/ Ours is almost a lost battle, we are doomed’ p.7.The persona’s outrage is couched in pessimistic tone and mood as much as they are in poetic lines. The persona was completely irked by the scale of anarchy unleashed on the people of Kaduna, Katsina and Sokoto by AK 47-trotting arsonists. As such, he resorted to name calling those leaders who shirk their responsibility: from political office holders to religious leaders and traditional office holders, in rhetorical terms unpalatable. The lines, acerbic as they appear, epitomize the peak of frustration foreboding the entire zone. The lines are worth quoting in full:

From the murderous spots of southern Kaduna, to Katsina and Sokoto

Innocent people already pauperized are being massacred

Their blood means nothing to those in power

What are those political office holders in Abuja doing?

What are they doing in our Government Houses and Assemblies?

What are traditional and religious leaders doing?

What are you doing to change the status quo? p.8


The persona indicts all and sundry as accomplices in the horrendous predicament of the crisis spots in the northwest with poetic fiat. Obviously, it will be out of place to dismiss effort made by those indicted above, but the underlining message seems to be that their efforts were not enough. The thematic concern raised above is further sustained in the next poem by Hafsat entitled ‘Heep of Horror’ p.9.  In the poem, the persona dares all and mighty to answer the burning question now on the lips of many: government’s preparedness to contain the butchery. It goes in the following lines: Our people are shoved in hasty graves//who will stop the devil, the minds made of evil/? whowill fight the devil…/ who will wipe the tears of the child? P.9 .Certainly not the government, the lines seem to suggest.

When the government, on whose neck the sole responsibility of protecting life and property of the citizenry squarely lies, has grossly shirked its responsibility, who would?  The poem depicts the very fact that Zamfara is at the precipice of collapse where ‘Sounds of gunfire have replaced Adhan rhymes’ certainly it ‘... is now hell on earth’ p. 9

It is however in ‘Dear  Government’ by Ibrahim Yusuf p.65 that we see a direct and sustained conversation with government. It is an unanswered letter read publicly to logically indict government’s failure to protect the lives and property of the populace. The poetic lines are enriched with rhetorical question asking government to state the instance it has fulfilled its utopian (hollow) promises of protecting its citizens who are ‘Tethered in austerity// our land stained in red’ as a result of the evil activities of the callous merchants of death.

We see in Ibrahim’s ‘A  Cauldron of  Skulls’ p.10  and Abdulwahid’s ‘A Fountain of Tears’ p.88 a picturesque depiction of Zamfara state as a theater of blood bath and especially for Ibrahim an instance of ritualized blood sucking fiesta by monsters. Although a three-line poem, Ibrahim’s  ‘A Cauldron of Skulls’ is metaphorically pregnant with poignant imagery of death and cannibalism. The whole Zamfara, as a result of the incessant killings, according to the poem, has been reduced to ‘A boiling cauldron/stirred with a blood-stained ladle/witches giggle as they crunch our skulls. p.10. This depicts the reminiscent of medieval witches and their cannibal ritual spree in the manner they symbolically devour their victims.

In Abdulhadi’s ‘A Fountain of tears’ Zamfara is depicted as an abattoir of human incivility where ‘men (are) slaughtered/women raped/children, fatherless’ p. 88. Zamfara, as the poets writes, is in ‘Embers of fire/…flame of sorrow. p.88. Ibrahim’s and Abdulrashid’s poems give a graphic representation of the state of anarchy and chaos let loosed in Zamfara.

 It is appropriate to surmise that one finds this pathetic empathy with the Zamfara people running in almost all the poetic lines in the collection proportionate to the individual poet’s emotional disposition.

One ominous recalcitrant tone pervading majority of the poems meanwhile, is not about the preparedness of the political office holders to contain the erring blood bath in the state but the atmosphere of tension of fear and frustration now in the minds of the citizenry. This has generated depression, pessimism and complete loss of hope on the capacity of the establishment to contain the menace. This is one major sign of how life seems brutish and short to the affected people. And obviously this is a premonition of anarchy where people have this tendency to become lawless and ungoverned.

In about ten poems in the anthology we see a torrent of rhetorical questions demanding who would be the savior to the pathetic condition of the affected people, since government has evidently failed. From NaseebaBabale’s‘Who will throw us rope of hope/pull us up from this sinking ships’ p. 25, Kudu’s ‘who will manage this blood bank ? p. 31, Mansoor’s‘who will gift them peace/those already torn to pieces ?” p.35; Malah’s‘who will convey these souls/To the land of peace and tranquility?’ p. 29, Alaye’s“who will give us reasons to live? / who will wipe these cascading tears ?’ / p.41, Yana’s ‘who will stand up/for the innocent souls ?p.49.In the respective poems, the emphatic personae have become wandering minstrels searching for the ever elusive savior to the Zamfara macabre. But it is not completely the case of the search for the messiah that seems to suggest the concern of the poets; but a definitive affirmation in rhetorical form that Zamfara is metaphorically a failed state!


Issues of insecurity in Zamfara state and the country at large have been extensively apprehended by many pragmatic discourses as sociology, political science, history,economics and the popular parlance of mass media. These discourses are pragmatic in nature as they undertake a quantitative interpretation of the insecurity tribulations tracing their roots, their proponents, scale of destruction, and modus operandi of the perpetrators among others and proffering solutions to the anathema in solid practical ways. But literature is a non-pragmatic discourse with no claim to the provision of facts on issues or proffering solutions in a direct one-to-one correspondence. Literature understands, very clearly, the complexity of human nature in the very way it empathizes with man’s emotions, sentiments and thought processes through the lens of imagination and embellishes them with artistic finesse in form of critical examination and sound judgment or what Longinus calls profound sensibility. In the collection so far, we examined the various shades and perspectives the poets address the Zamfara insecurity as perpetrated by cattle hustlers, kidnappers and the like. Going by the artistic disposition of the poets in the anthology; it is obvious that a pogrom of a large scale is taking place in Zamfara in the manner the perpetrators freely descend on innocent law abiding citizens with little or no rescue from the security apparatuses. It is also seen in the manner the citizenry wallow in anguish. Similarly, three propositions have been suggested by the poets to be the dominant roots of the carnage. They are  scrambling for  control of the abundant mineral resources, leadership ineptitude and the political roles the bandits play in the hands of politicians for their hold and or ascension to power.



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