By Agaju Madugba
After several years of seemingly endless and mindless massacre of residents in a number of communities especially in the southern part of Kaduna state, Governor Nasir Elrufa’i last week announced his decision to probe the killings.
The development may further be justified because some three weeks into his administration, unidentified gunmen had in the early hours of June 18, launched murderous attacks on Katsak and Danborno villages of Jema’a and Birnin Gwari local government areas respectively, killing a total of 13 residents.
The attacks might have prompted the Governor to summon an emergency security meeting which resolved to raise the committee, headed by a former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, who incidentally hails from southern Kaduna.
With a mandate to identify possible socio-political and economic factors that promote the existing conflicts in southern Kaduna state, the committee is also expected to advise government on what measures to adopt in order to halt the incessant attacks on the communities.
Southern Kaduna, the people
The Kaduna population of about seven million people is one of the most heterogeneous in the country with the two main religions of Islam and Christianity predominant in the northern and southern parts of the state respectively. In southern Kaduna alone, there are reportedly well over 45 ethnic nationalities with equally different languages and varying cultures.
The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel apparently reflects the situation of the people of southern Kaduna who are not known to hold any consensus views on any given situation that affects the collective interest of the entire population.
With the people further sub-divided into ‘indigenous’ and ‘settler’ residents, peaceful co-existence has eluded the area in recent years as those who regard themselves as the original inhabitants are engaged in never-ending conflicts with the Muslim Hausa/Fulani community there.
Perhaps, the Zangon-Kataf crisis of 1992 brought the area into national limelight when a Tribunal handed a death verdict to a former Military Governor of Rivers State, Gen. Zamani Lekwot, who hails from southern Kaduna, over his alleged complicity in what later came to be regarded as the Zangon-Kataf massacre.
The level of destruction of human lives and property was so enormous that the then President Ibrahim Babangida equated it with the Nigerian civil war. There have been scores of other incidents in the area since then as residents either clash over farm lands and grazing sites or over alleged infringements on certain religious matters and some other frivolous reasons.
The killing fields, harvest of death
Although series of killings have taken place in recent times in Kaduna state and in the southern part of the state in particular, the March 14, 2014 attack on four communities of Manchok in Kaura local government may well be regarded as the most devastating thus far.
Unsuspecting residents of Maisankwai, Tyekum, Maikakpang and Angwan Kura in Bondong district of Manchok had gone to bed that evening but just before midnight, according to survivors, unknown gunmen invaded the communities in what turned out to be coordinated attacks and slaughtered a total of the 119 villagers in their sleep, a figure which the relevant authorities confirmed. Women and children and the aged were not spared in an operation that has defied reasoning.
The attackers did not just stop at either shooting or inflicting machete cuts on the victims, they also went ahead to mutilate the corpses and equally set some of them on fire, along with their houses. In one instance and to demonstrate the level of callousness barbarism of the act, a group of children and women had, in a desperate attempt to live, sought refuge in one of the buildings but the attackers swooped in on them and set the building ablaze, snuffing life out of 18 of them.
In January 2014, the Emir of Jere, Dr. Sa’ad Usman, husband of a former Minister of Finance, Senator Nenadi Usman, escaped death by the whiskers when gunmen said to be Fulani herdsmen attacked him, inflicting matchete cuts on his head which led to his hospitalisation for over six months.
The attack came barely 24 hours after reports that some 10 persons were killed in a separate incident at Bungel, Moro’a Chiefdom of Kaura local government area when persons also alleged to be herdsmen clashed with residents. Earlier in October 2013, gunmen overran a number of communities in Attakhar on the Kagoro Mountains, equally in Kaura local government and massacred some 50 residents of Mafan, Telak, Kirim, Danti.
Mayit, Zadian, Dajak, Tinga Mogwai and Dugurang. Even as the people were still counting their losses, the gunmen launched similar attacks on the Muyit and Sadn Zilan communities in the same area, a few days later. These incidents preceded an earlier attack of May 13 on the Zangan district in which about 15 people were killed and houses razed. Reports said that about 3,000 residents fled the area then.
There had been similar attacks on Bajju communities in Zangon-Kataf, in Gbagyi land and parts of Kagoro chiefdom. At the last count, according to the Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU), the ubiquitous gunmen said to be responsible for the attacks have launched a total of 40 campaigns of bloodletting in the area since 2011 with perhaps undetermined casualty figures and several property destroyed.
But another group from the area, Concerned Realists of Southern Kaduna, led by Dr. John Danfulani, believes that a total of 614 persons may have lost their lives with 1,200 others injured and 1000 houses razed.
The devil’s role
Even as widespread and devastating as the attacks have been, there have not been any reported instances of arrest of the perpetrators. Apparently disturbed by the development, the office of the Inspector-General of Police had, at the wake of the Manchok massacre, initiated a reconciliation committee headed by a Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Michael Zuokumor.
Expectedly, the peace moves hit the rocks but as Zuokumor had noted, “the devil entered the people since 2000 and they began fighting one another using small arms in private hands, leading to wanton destruction of lives and property.” However, in virtually all the attacks, surviving residents always finger “Fulani herdsmen” as responsible.
But a former Special Adviser to late Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, Malam Ibrahim Bayero, who is also a Fulani community leader at the Kachia Grazing Reserve, absolves the Fulani of any blame. As Bayero told Vanguard in an interview, “that is not true and it is unfair to say that the Fulani are responsible for attacks on southern Kaduna communities.
There has never been anything like that in the history of the Fulani and the people of southern Kaduna. The southern Kaduna people should look for a solution to their problem and stop accusing the Fulani.
The Fulani and the people of southern Kaduna live in the same communities and whatever happens to the southern Kaduna people also affects the Fulani. This spate of attacks started after the 2011 general elections. All stakeholders from that area should sit down and find solution to the problem.”
However, for Danfulani, the southern Kaduna conflicts may not be unconnected with what he describes as unfair treatment of the indigenous community, by successive administrations in Kaduna state. According to him, “our people are being wiped out with impunity and the casualty figures increase with every attack.
Everything points to the fact that our people are being used as sacrificial lambs only good at supplying votes and nothing more. It is also proof that our right as Nigerians in need of state protection from all threats to life is not the priority of government.”
Failed peace initiatives
The claims and counter claims may have made it virtually impossible to have sustainable peace in southern Kaduna in spite of efforts at reconciling the warring groups.
The Zuokumor initiative in 2014 had resulted in a peace pact between the Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU) and the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, the Mobgal Fulbe Development Association and the Moroa Development Association, representing the Hausa/Fulani and herdsmen communities in the area. The pact collapsed even before Zuokumor returned to his base in Abuja as the the people returned to the familiar path of bloodletting.
Earlier in November 2013, an international organisation, Cities in Transition, had converged in Kaduna and for five days deliberated on the persistent strife within the communities.
The deliberations, according to the organisers, were aimed at creating a platform for reconciliation between communities that have suffered from conflicts and are divided along ethnic or religion lines, in order to create dynamics that serve as catalyst for change. Again, the copious recommendations and proposals for peace did not yield the desired results.
As the Agwai committee begins its task, it is also worthy of note that in 2011, after the post-presidential election riots of that year, the Kaduna state government raised a judicial commission of inquiry to probe the killings as well as identity causes and propose solutions to the recurrent ethno-religious crises in the area.
But as it has always been the case, government may have decided to keep the panel’s report shelved permanently. However, it later set up a 60-member reconciliation committee to find ways of re-uniting the communities.
Again, instead of the situation abetting, the southern Kaduna conflict has tended to increase not only in frequency of occurrence but also in intensity and level of devastation. Perhaps, Elrufa’i may have unwittingly embarked on a quixotic search for peaceful co-existence among the various communities that make up southern Kaduna state. It is only time that will determine the turnout of events.