…as fear, bitterness wreck communities
By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
From Kakuri, in Kaduna metropolis to Barnawa close to another campus of the Kaduna Polytechnic is a short distance, but inside the Toyota Sienna minibus, it looked like two hours journey. 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, no thanks to the protracted Southern Kaduna crises.
As we made our journey of 60 kilometres (37 miles) to Kajuru, the heartland of the crisis, where 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, the eerie feeling was palpable. However, as the journey progressed into Kajuru, there was heavy presence of fully armed security operatives, the military and police at short distances, which may have signaled a new beginning.
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.”
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. The only leitmotif is their insistence in the culpability of the Kaduna State government.
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.”
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.