…amidst growing spate of killings
By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
The Southern Kaduna crisis is fast snowballing into a major conflagration of a genocidal proportion. Like wildfires, it has the potential to plunge the country into far darker days that may threaten the unity and stability of the country to its foundation. But in the midst of this, there seems to be a conspiracy of silence on the part of the nation’s critical stakeholders not to make public statements about their concerns on the ongoing killings in Southern Kaduna.
The situation has continued for too longer that urgent intervention by public opinion leaders and statesmen seem to be baulking the challenge of addressing the issue and the danger it poses to national cohesion and peace. Most of the affected people of the region are feeling abandoned by the rest of Nigeria in their ordeal with the Fulani herdsmen and religionists who are threatening the lives and ownership of their land. People like Prof. Wole Soyinka, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, former military president Babangida and Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar etc. have maintained troubling silence over the issue.
However, Prof. Wole Soyinka told this newspaper that “I will soon make a statement on the crisis, I am watching the development, but for now I don’t want to say anything, wait for my statement.”
Just last week, Christians Association leaders met with Governor Nasir El-Rufai in Kaduna on the crisis. In the meeting, he told the leaders that government was making efforts to end the crisis. Yet people are wondering why it is taking the government so longer to do something. It was this apparent neglect or negligence by government that compelled Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria to cry out last prompting immediate action by the federal government to deploy additional troops to the region.
According reports, more people have been killed in the region than by Boko Haram in the North east. According to Civic Media Lab a total of 493 persons were killed in Southern Kaduna between January and June 2020, while 332 were killed in the North east over the same period. Yet little is being said about the conflict.
Fehintola Dada, President of Okun-Yoruba Collective, a socio-cultural group in his chat with BH said, “We must face the facts, we are all guilty of not speaking out enough on Southern Kaduna , but we should always remember that unless we condemn the killings in strong terms and put pressure on government to stop the killings, what is happening may engulf everyone of us, be in the South, East or West; we should all remember the immortal words of Reverend Martin Niemoller, the German anti-Nazi Lutheran pastor, said that the silence of most Germans when the Jews were being sent to the Concentration camp contributed to the holocaust.
Speaking with this newspaper, Barrister Kayode Ajulo, constitutional lawyer, and former National Secretary of the Labour Party said “it is not everything I get myself involved in until I am fully briefed. I won’t be able to say anything for now until I get full facts.” This can be surprising given Ajulo’s antecedent of acidic hatred of injustice and his espousal of advocacy of causes as to what is going on in Kaduna.
One of the outspoken Southwest Christian leader, Reverend Adetunji Adepoju, a radical clergy and president of the Eden Global Bible Theological Seminary, Lagos said the events in Southern Kaduna are deeply troubling. According to him “God has taken over, and I can tell you the days of the perpetrators have been numbered by God; for some of us leaders of the faith in this part, we just finished another round of prayer session. I can tell you those that trouble Southern Kaduna, and by extension, Nigeria, will inevitably come to judgment.”
Senator Smart Adeyemi, representing Kogi Central station at the Senate refused to comment on the Southern Kaduna crisis. When contacted on phone he kept mute on the matter, and also refused to answer a text message sent to his mobile phone.
Prof. Hassan Saliu, member of Kwara Elders Forum and former Dean, Social Science, University of Ilorin in his chat with this newspaper said, ” the crisis in Southern Kaduna is sad, we should learn to live in peace, it is the only condition that can secure development and prosperity. It is not as if people are not talking, some make interventions without noise; they quietly reach out to government with advice. As we can see more security operatives have been drafted to the area.”
Danjuma Sarki Bello, an influential elder and Southern Kaduna community leader told this newspaper that the Federal Government is not ready to put a stop to incessant killings in Southern Kaduna. He said “the causes of the incessant instability and bloodletting in the area have their roots in religion, politics, traditional power control, and land resources.” According to him, until the Federal Government is determined to end the crisis with sincerity, we will continue to witness crisis after crisis.
Barrister Ubani, a human rights activist told this newspaper that the problem will continue to linger “since the governor is more interested in blame game, blaming religious leaders as fuel to the crisis. “I believe the governor and the security architecture are not doing enough. If they want to end that nonsense going on in Southern Kaduna they can do it .But since the governor is benefiting because of politics, he has refused to put his weight down. They should draft enough security to the area.”
From Kakuri to Barnawa in Kaduna metropolis is a short distance, but inside the Toyota Sienna it looked like two hours journey, as this reporter was almost sweating and unease over arguments on crisis in Southern Kaduna. The commuters, including this reporter were caught in a frenzy of ethnic divides and layers of fault lines that have come to define the tensions in Kaduna state.
What happened was that as we traveled the short distance, the issue of the crisis in Southern Kaduna naturally came up among other burning national issues. Immediately, the passengers aboard the vehicle were polarized along spurious ethnic and religious lines, and the arguments were so heated, and so devoid of rationality and as well as emotions-laden that this reporter refused to partake to remain neutral.
As we made our journey of 60 kilometres (37 miles) to Kajuru, the heartland of the crisis, scars and atmosphere of the environment pointed to sombre feelings and sadness written on the faces of people of the territories. Continual killings have marked the relationship between Fulani herders and indigenous Christian farmers, who outsiders refer to as “Kaje” or “Southern Zaria people” but more widely referred to as Southern Kaduna.
However, as the journey progressed into Kajuru, there was heavy presence of fully armed security operatives, military and police checkpoints at short distances, which may have signaled a new beginning of government’s gradually waking up to it’s responsibility to protect lives and property.
The history of the conflict and its causes are already in public domain. This reporter had embarked on this journey to see how ordinary people of Southern Kaduna still manage to live their lives day by day in the face of grave danger. After two hours of breakneck speed, we arrived at Kajuru Local Government. One does not need a seer to decipher the tension in the largely agrarian communities. At Makyali, a sleepy village, this reporter disembarked into uncertainty into glaring eyes of curious looking villagers.
Luka Jonathan, one of the elders in the community was to be my host for the next two hours. He had worked in the state civil service and retired into farming since 1994. Aged 70, he said life in the entire Southern Kaduna, especially in Kajuru Local Government has become difficult since renewed wave of killings which started about five months ago.
“Though the media has done their best, but I can tell you as a witness that most times the atrocities of the Fulani herdsmen remain unreported. How many do we tell the public? Often, these people come in the dead of the night, shoot at us sporadically, raid our homes, take our property and burn down our buildings. We run into the forest, that’s if you are lucky not to be among the victims.”
Jonathan’s five children had been reduced to two, as he had lost three of them to incessant bloodletting. He said the three aged, 24, 29 and 35 respectively died defending the village against the Fulani invaders. “I don’t want to talk about it, their vigilante was overrun by Fulani, and about 14 of them were killed. That was in June.”
The remaining two children Alice, 17 and Dorcas, 17 are twins. They wore faraway looks, their eyes suckened as attempts by this reporter to speak with them proved abortive.
“Our farmland is gone, there are days we go to bed without food, we are poor, yet sleep will not come because herders can surface any time”, said the octogenarian.
As he narrated the community’s ordeal, which to him has become the new normal, the people began to gather and corroborate his stories of woes. They looked harried and deeply worried; there was little evidence of life in them. They believe the only crime they committed is being non Fulani and Christian in their native land. The only leitmotif that runs through their grievous lamentations is their insistence on culpability of the Kaduna State government.
Roda, 60, a mother of seven children told this newspaper that the day two of her children were killed was the saddest in her life. “We sighted them in our farm, their cattle were like locust on the farm. Everything we laboured for was gone. I begged my two children to let us return home since they were yet to see us, but my children out of anger would not listen to me. They confronted the three herders but they overpowered my children, knifed them to death in spite of my pleas to them to save their lives. Thereafter, they cut them in pieces, and three of them took turns to rape me.”
Another community leader, who is the choirmaster of the destroyed ECWA Church, Mr. Luther Haruna Samson said “there is no way outsiders can understand the full meaning of fear unless you live here, and have witnessed the horror of seeing the disemboweled pregnant woman, the charred bodies of our brothers, sisters, grandfathers and mothers littering every place. There is so much bloodshed. The day the Fulani herders destroyed our Church, they killed 22 people in this small village alone.”
The only church in the village, ECWA church was reduced to rubbles, ” that day, they robbed us of all our belongings-food, money, clothes and mobile phones”, a sad-looking middle aged man said .
Many of the people say the problem is the Kaduna State government as well as the federal government that has refused to act decisively. Jonathan says “it is not as if the government can not stop these killings, but if you look at the demographics of the victims, they are Christians. Whether the outside world believes or not, what is going on here is ethno-religious cleansing. Perhaps, when they finish us, they will take over our land.”
When asked the steps they have taken to appeal to the state government, he says “It is like talking to a man who has his own agenda. The whole world knows the truth about Southern Kaduna crisis, the Fulani want our land, and luck is on their side on account of the current political environment.”
It has become difficult to access their land according to them. “Look, I have six children, two were killed by these attackers, and I can tell you that some of them are Boko Haram. Before the killing spree, they often say they are determined to take our land, and wipe us out, that there is no place for our faith here.”
He says the attackers often come in convoy of motorcycles with heavy weapons. “There is hardly any family in the entire Kufeni District that has not lost a loved one”, Samson said. He further said that they have had occasions when they attacked us during burials of our people they killed in the previous day, most times during weddings”.
Jonathan says life has been very difficult, and feeding his family has become a major challenge. The indigenes are seen in melancholic mood in twos, threes and in groups. They cannot go to farm, since herders occupy their farmland by day and raid their village by night. Some of their crops and farm have been produce wiped out. In Kajuru, this reporter managed to visit other villages in Kufeni District.
These villages are about three kilometres apart, some more. At Afago, the story was the same. Here, this reporter encountered Abdul Jamiu, a mechanic, and farmer, an indigene of Iwo, Osun State. He has assimilated so much that there was nothing about him that betrayed his Yoruba roots, not even his accent. He claimed that even his own father was born at Afago.
He says what is going on is ethnic killings, and was emphatic that Boko Haram elements have mingled with herdsmen to kill Christians.
“To be honest, it is not as if the people in this Kufeni District just fold their arms and allow all this killings. They do retaliate and when we do, security operatives move in to stop us in the guise of bringing peace to the communities”.
One of the elders of the village, Timothy Maiyaki , who is in his eighties says “we suspect these attackers have powerful backers, if you observe their modus operandi. They come in the dead of the night, sometimes in the daylight and begin to shoot. Given the trend, we expected government ought to have provided enough security. He narrated how their farmland has been destroyed and their means of livelihood affected.
“Even, we can no longer send our children to school out of fear, and the situation has escalated poverty.”
At Iburu; Idon; Iri; Kufana; Maro; Rafin-Kunu; Unguwan villages visited, the same story of sorrow, tears and blood.
But Danladi Maro, a Fulani civil servant in the state civil service, who is from Maro told this newspaper that, “We live peacefully together here, Christians and Moslems, though there are attacks and killings but they are not carried out by Fulani of this village. There is more to be done to bring lasting peace. He says to be candid the El-Rufai administration has not done enough to bring peace and to allay fears of the people.
In all these communities, the heavy security presence may in the end de-escalate the tension.
Many families have been displaced from their homes, without any significant support. Some rich indigenes have provided temporary shelters for the displaced, but it will take much effort on the part of the governments both federal and state to restore peace, build hope and mutual trust.