By LUKA BINNIYAT, Kaduna
The atmosphere in the main hall of the State House Kaduna that Tuesday was that of an uneasy calm.
Reason? Traditional rulers, socio-cultural groups and community leaders from Southern Kaduna and their Fulani counterparts were seated in the hall awaiting the arrival of the Committee on Peace and Security led by Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIGP, Michael Zoukumor.
The Committee was set up to douse the animosity between the feuding groups following series of gory encounters that left in their trail the loss of several lives and property in the affected communities.
From all indications, it appeared that the Committee had given the two warring camps a few hours notice to converge for the meeting. Vanguard Features, VF, gathered that many of those in attendance did not have an inkling of what the agenda would be.
But after about three hours of waiting and with no assurance of when the committee members would arrive, some prominent indigenes of Southern Kaduna, including their traditional rulers, decided to leave the venue. They argued that it would be risky to travel late in the night.
When members of the Committee eventually arrived, DIG Zoukumor apologised profusely for coming rather late. But by this time, only a handful of those who came from Southern Kaduna were still in the hall.
A document was soon produced for deliberations on a “ceasefire”. The document also contained recommendations on ways of achieving an enduring peace between the two camps.
Dr. Ephraim Goje, President of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, SOKAPU, led the Southern Kaduna delegates, while Alh. Ahmadu Suleiman, Chairman of Mayyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, Kaduna State chapter, led the Fulani groups.
When news of the peace move filtered into Southern Kaduna, many of the indigenes rebuffed it as an unpopular venture.
As the two groups reconvened the next day at the same venue to continue the deliberations, a coalition of seven Southern Kaduna groups, including the powerful youth wing of SOKAPU, convened a press conference to reject the Zoukumor- brokered peace agreement.
The Coalition which was led by Zakari Sokfa, a lawyer and former Kaduna State Commissioner of Justice, included the leader of Southern Kaduna Tribal Development Associations, Dr. Bonnat Zwahu; Southern Kaduna Lawyer’s Association, co-chaired by Messrs Francis Kozah and Reuben James.
The Gurara Forum which has almost 10,000 online face-book members and prides itself as “Southern Kaduna 24 hour online- parliament”, was at the press conference. Also in attendance were Southern Kaduna Women Forum and Southern Kaduna Farmers Association.
They all came to express their resentment over the initiative of Zoukumor. They questioned the propriety of the agreement, arguing that native communities of Southern Kaduna that had come under the siege of alleged Fulani herdsmen, did not provoke the Fulani, and that it would be unfair to treat the two sides as having equal blames for the violence.
They went further to say that any Fulani man that could come out openly to represent the herdsmen, knows who the killers are, and should be apprehended for questioning and prosecution.
“We are aware of the meeting yesterday; that meeting dragged on because people waited and waited and the meeting did not take place.
The key stakeholders – the traditional rulers, our community leaders waited and were all humiliated after waiting for three hours. So they left. And somebody would now come up and say they held a meeting. And that SOKAPU president was there, and the Fulani were there.
“Are they telling us that the Fulani that were there, who purportedly signed a cease fire, have agreed that they are the ones that have been killing our people?
Those Fulani that signed the agreement, are they the ones killing our people? If they agree that they are the ones killing our people, did they explain why they are doing so? Because we never attacked them,” Bonnat said.
“ Government says ‘warring’ parties. That is not true! There is nothing like warring parties. We are not at war with the Fulani. The Fulani are at war with us.
Therefore the questions of signing any ‘ceasefire’ does not arise. It is just another round of politics as far as we are concerned. You don’t call a whole community of people and their respectable, first class chiefs to a meeting and keep them for hours, you frustrate them and they had to leave.
If anybody says he has signed a peace document, in as much as we crave and insist on peace, we don’t believe in what they signed.
Now, if the Fulani that purportedly signed such a document agreed that they have been attacking our people, then we demand that government should start taking legal proceedings immediately by arresting and prosecuting those that massacred our defenseless men, women, and children in their hundreds.
Where was the DIG when they were killing our people? So this issue is beyond anybody coming to Kaduna and getting people to sign a document to say that we have achieved peace in Kaduna. We are still feeling very vulnerable, and this has not given us any assurance for our safety,” he added.
Recalling past incidents, the coalition leader, Mr. Sokfa, said: “While we note that since the early 1980s there have been sporadic attacks on the peoples of Southern Kaduna, the present state of generalised warfare and genocidal attacks intensified from 2011 following the presidential elections that engulfed about 10 Northern states.
“The main characteristic of the on-going assaults on our communities is that they are carefully planned, organised and executed with heartless viciousness and on an incremental basis. Between 1981 and 2010, there were just 16 incidents of such attacks.
Law abiding communities
However, between 2011 and 2014, over a period of just four years, 37 such attacks have been launched against our hospitable, accommodating, peaceful and law-abiding communities by Fulani herdsmen and marauders. These planned, systematic and coordinated attacks have claimed the lives of over 4,000 innocent Southern Kaduna people, bona fide citizens of Nigeria,” Sokfa lamented.
He added that: “The Southern Kaduna peoples have at different fora and occasions cried out to both Federal and state governments for protection, petitioned the government and security agencies, participated in peace and reconciliation meetings and other numerous peace initiatives with a view to bringing an end to this wicked agenda aimed at wiping out the people of Southern Kaduna and indeed the people of the Middle Belt as a whole, all to no avail. The Southern Kaduna people have repeatedly drawn attention to the vicious wars being waged against them with the aim of taking over their rich and fertile God-given ancestral lands.