By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
Following the latest killings in Southern Kaduna and the protests that followed in Abuja and Kaduna, National President of Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, SOKAPU, Jonathan Asake, in this interview, gives insight into the continued bloodshed in the area. He reveals that some villages across the 12 Local Government Areas in Southern Kaduna have been invaded by suspected herdsmen, saying hundreds have been killed since January 2020.
Asake, a former member of House of Representatives, says the disposition of Kaduna State government and latest statement by the Presidency are the type of statements that embolden the attackers. He says the ultimate aim of perpetrators is to take over the lands of Southern Kaduna natives. SOKAPU is the umbrella body of Southern Kaduna indigenes.
As regards the spike in killings in Southern Kaduna, what is the true picture?
What I know is that lately, our communities across the 12 Southern Kaduna Local Governments have come under severe attacks. The communities are being attacked by herdsmen militia. The attacks have become more brazen in the sense that 11 people were killed last Tuesday with many wounded. The mass burial has not event taken place. It would take place tomorrow, last Friday. In the past eight weeks, Zangon Kataf Local Government Area, LGA, has been under a curfew. The locals cannot go to farms, they cannot conduct other business, yet the invaders found their way to the area to kill and destroy with impunity. No arrest has been made ever since the killings started. I can say that Southern Kaduna communities are currently under siege. We need help because what is happening there is ethnic cleansing.
Your version differs from the Presidency’s position on the killings…
Contrary to the statement by the spokesperson for the President, Mallam Garba Shehu that what is happening are gang wars and quest for vengeance, what is going on is genocide. And the narrative by Garba Shehu is very misleading. Truly, if Garba Shehu truly represents the President, they ought to have known more than this. They should have shown interest in stopping the genocide in Southern Kaduna, rather than bringing misleading narratives that suggest complicity on the part of government. It is very sad to see how women and children are being killed.
The massacre is too much in Southern Kaduna. It is happening as if we are not part of government. As far as we are concerned, government is not protecting us. Residents of our communities are being chased into Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camps without help from government. The government hardly mentions the happenings in Southern Kaduna. Apart from media reports that trickle in, government does not even want to acknowledge that the genocide is going on.
As the national head of the umbrella body of Southern Kaduna indigenes, you should be able to tell us the bone of contention. In Benue and most parts of the country, grazing on farmlands is at the centre. Is it the same in Southern Kaduna?
I want to clarify between the Southern Kaduna issue and the Benue issue. What is happening in Benue is better than what we have in Southern Kaduna in the sense that Benue has a governor, who is working hard to ameliorate the suffering of the people. He is working hard to stop the attacks. But in the case of Southern Kaduna, we have a governor who is working hard to inflict more pains on the people. Each time there is an attack on a community, he imposes a curfew on the community and it becomes double jeopardy for the people.
Even with the curfew, the invaders still return to kill more people. Their motive is clear. It is the land in Southern Kaduna. When people say it is herders/farmers clashes, it is a lie. The people that come to kill in Southern Kaduna do not come with cattle and they don’t kill people in their farms. They kill people on their beds while sleeping. They invade the communities at night or very early in the morning to kill women and children. Are the women and children farmers? Government knows more than what is going on. We know that the motive is to take over the lands. They want to sack the communities from their ancestral lands and change the demographics for their own interest.
When the herdsmen are invading, using force, supplanting the people and taking over the communities, government is bringing draconian policies that will subtly take lands from the natives and give it to the same invaders. For instance, places where the herdsmen have invaded and taken over the lands, there has not been any attempt by government to eject the occupants and return the lands to the rightful owners.
The rightful owners are staying in IDP camps in the cold while invaders have taken over their lands. The case of a community in Plateau is a good example. The invaders have taken over the land of the natives they chased away while government is building a school for them on the occupied land. The situation suggests complicity on the part of government. What we are seeing shows that herdsmen are not acting alone.
They have the support of superior authorities. Policies that embolden the herdsmen are being formulated. Statements that strengthen them are being made. For instance, the Laduga grazing reserve in Kaduna State has been increased from 33,000 hectares that were earmarked to 74,000 hectares by the state government. The reserve is not supposed to be used for any purpose other than grazing. Again, Laduga settlement has been expanded from Zangon Kataf Local Government Area to Kachia Local Government Area without making any reference to the National Boundary Commission. This was done in gross violation of the constitution. This is the impunity going on in the administration we have in the state.
They don’t want anyone to talk about it. If you talk they will come after you. The youths who defend their communities against attacks by herdsmen are the ones being arrested while the herdsmen are left untouched. The case of Adara leaders who were arrested last year is staring us in the face till date. When Adara natives were being killed, nothing was done. Their paramount ruler was kidnapped and killed in cold blood. The entire elders of that community were arrested on trumped-up charges. They were later released after being found to be innocent. This is the kind of injustice going on in Southern Kaduna.
Anybody that wants peace must have the peace built on justice, equity and fair play. But these ingredients are not present in the present circumstance. They are still talking about peace when they arrest youths who defend themselves against invading herdsmen. That perpetrators of these heinous crimes are walking freely, is unheard of in the 21 century. If anybody wants land, he should negotiate to buy the land and not to go and kill just to have land.
You are sounding as if the Southern Kaduna areas do not have the presence of security agents, but the Presidency said there is a special security arrangement in the troubled areas…
They have not been mobilised to do anything in Southern Kaduna. That is why all the invasions are happening unrestrained. I know the number of communities that have been invaded and displaced in Chikun. Many people were killed and abducted in the process, with thousands living in IDP camps in neighbouring communities.
No attention is being given to them in terms of Medicare. Many schools have been closed down in our communities. The same thing happened in Kajuru local government. The same thing happened in Kauru, Zangon Kataf, Jamma, and Sanga Local Government Areas among others. The police and army are not making any difference. The perpetrators are hardly apprehended. They may be apprehended but they would only be paraded on television, after that, nothing is done. No single prosecution has taken place with all the killings going on.
That is why the National Assembly called on the President to remove the Service Chiefs who have stayed for nearly six years. It has never happened in the history of this country for Service Chiefs to stay this long. Not sacking them means that they are doing something else. They are not working for the country. If they were working for the country, we won’t have these killings across the country. This is a representative democracy where powers reside with the National Assembly.
If the lawmakers, who are representing Nigerians, in their wisdom, said the Service Chiefs have overstayed their usefulness and need to be changed, especially given the security situation, the President should heed the call.
Since the Presidency is refusing to do what the National Assembly suggested, it means they have an ulterior motive. Keeping them is not in the interest of the country because the country has spoken through the National Assembly. What else are we looking for? Keeping them when the whole nation is saying they should go, means they are being kept for an interest other than the interest of the whole nation.
If it were for national interest, the killings would have stopped, but the killings happen unchallenged and brazenly. All the Presidency could say is that gangs have been formed. What proof do they have? Where are the gangs in Southern Kaduna? We have many ethnic nationalities in Southern Kaduna, including people from other ethnic groups in Nigeria. None of the ethnic groups are fighting each other, except the invasions by herdsmen that we are witnessing. The Presidency should come clean and tell the world what they mean.
If you were to count the cost of the killings in Southern Kaduna, can you put a figure to the number of those killed, wounded and displaced?
There is virtually no local government in Southern Kaduna that has not been invaded. And we have up to 12 local government areas in Southern Kaduna. None has been spared by the invading herdsmen. What I know is that from January to this time, we have lost lives in their hundreds. Within this month, in Zangon Kataf alone, we have lost lives in their hundreds. Kajuru has been in the eyes of the storm since 2016. We cannot even visit our farms anymore. We have lost properties worth billions. Life is almost coming to a standstill in Southern Kaduna. This is not the nation we prayed for. We are all citizens of this country, but we are being pushed to the wall.
There were protests in Abuja and Zangon Kataf today, last Friday. Beyond these, what other steps are the people of Southern Kaduna taking?
We are going to explore every legal action, even at the international level. We want justice. We can’t continue to watch our people being killed like rats and cockroaches and nobody registers any sympathy. We have not done anyone wrong. The fact that we are minorities does not mean we should be left to be wiped out by herdsmen. We didn’t put ourselves where we found ourselves. That is where God kept us. Unfortunately, the governor of Kaduna State is feeding falsehood to the world, saying the people of Southern Kaduna do not like visitors in their midst. It is not true. Government should call a spade a spade and go after the perpetrators of the crimes. Government should stop looking the other way. Their action is suggesting complicity in the whole affair.
Has the leadership of SOKAPU ever met with Kaduna State governor to find a solution to the killings?
They have never met him. Before I came on board, they wrote to see him many times, but he said he would not meet with the leadership of SOKAPU. In fact, there is a video of an interview he had on Channels Television where he said he considered SOKAPU as a group of bigots and does not want to have anything to do with them.
But don’t you think SOKAPU should press further to have an interaction with him on the issue?
This is somebody who said he doesn’t want to have anything to do with SOKAPU. It is like a husband saying he does not have anything to do with his estranged wife. The spouse would have to forge ahead. We can’t force him to like us. If it was possible to make legislation for someone or a group to be liked, we would have asked that the legislation be made for him to like us. We have to move ahead because he does not hold the key to our survival as a people. What we know is that he met the people of Southern Kaduna and would leave as governor while the people of Southern Kaduna remain where they are. Nobody has the power to decide whether we should exist or not. There were governors before him. After him, there would be so many other governors.
What do you think can bring an end to the killings?
Government must be sincere enough to allow the locals to join the civilian security taskforce. That would help prevent cases of mischief. They would keep vigil over the communities. Government should support the communities to be able to form vigilante groups. They will guard the communities against the invaders. It should be done the way it was done in Burkina Faso when the jihadists were killing, in the same manner, they are doing in Southern Kaduna. Government of Burkina Faso empowered the communities to have some little resistance.
They were minimally armed to be able to resist the invaders and it actually worked. Nothing stops government from doing that for our communities. The communities know the identity of the invaders. I have gone round many IDP camps and the IDPs I interviewed, know the conspirators and collaborators. The local herdsmen collaborate with mercenaries they invite to do the killings. There are criminal elements among the local herdsmen. They collaborate with outsiders to kill the natives.