The Southern Kaduna killing fields


Olusegun Adeniyi

The resurgence of killings in Kauru, Zango-Kataf, Kaura, Kajuru and Jema’a local governments in Kaduna State is not altogether surprising. My column, ‘Mass Murder on a Market Day’, followed the orgy of violence that led to the death of no fewer than 55 persons at the Kasuwan Magani weekly market in Kajuru local government in October 2018. That intervention highlighted many buried issues and how emotions around them have for decades undermined peace and progress in Southern Kaduna as well as other locations in Nigeria. I also spoke to the trust deficit that fuels the animosity on all sides and the spiral of revenge killings for which our country has now become notorious. Interested readers can read the piece again HERE.

In 2017, I argued that in many respects, the violence in the area mirrors the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum. My reasons included: Territorial claims on which each side touts its own history; insufficient land whose ownership is always contentious; and finally, economic and political survival in a plural society. Each side also exploits religion in an attempt to draw external support. And because emotion rather than reason drives positions of these external supporters, their actions only help fuel the fire by compounding problems when the leadership cannot rise above its own biases and prejudices.

At the centre of the current violence is contention over a piece of land which has for decades been at the heart of the dispute between the two principal ethnic groups in Zangon Kataf local government. But for us to properly situate the tragedy, we may need to go back to the 29th September 2019 attack in Chawai Chiefdom, Kauru local government, where a female farmer was butchered to death over a disagreement about destruction of her crops. That crisis appeared contained, but on 23rd February this year, a herder was beheaded in the same general area of Kauru local government, in what was suspected as a reprisal for the September 2019 killing. What followed was a peace of the graveyard that lasted until 10th June, when another farmer from the Chawai ethnic group resident in Kibori-Asha Ahuce, Zangon Kataf local government went missing. His corpse was found a day later near a river bank, and youths who associated the killing with the lingering farmland disagreement were sure who to hold responsible. What started as a civil protest soon degenerated into violence with casualties on both sides. In Zonzon District, three persons were killed with 17 huts burnt. In Gidan Zaki District, four persons were killed. No fewer than 11 huts were also burnt. In Ungwan Gaiya District where 15 huts were razed, there were two fatalities, both members of the same family. In Gora District, three persons were also killed and eight huts razed.

From that point, hell descended on Southern Kaduna with intelligence reports indicating mercenaries may have been hired from the folds of armed bandits operating from Zamfara, Katsina and Niger States. At approximately 11 PM on 10th July, there was a major attack on Chibob village. Nine people were killed, six injured, 19 houses were burnt as well five motorcycles and a vehicle. A day later at midnight, Sabon Kaura in Zangon Kataf local government was attacked by assailants who set ablaze a house, killing 14 inhabitants, and injuring five others. In all, eight houses were razed. On the same day, Kiffin, a settlement in Kauru local government was attacked. An 8-year old boy was killed. Twenty houses and one motorcycle were burnt. On the night of 13th July, a man who had refused the entreaties of his relatives to leave with them and was the only one left in the village was killed in Mashau.

Around midnight on 20th July, a gang of gunmen on motorcycles invaded Kukum Daji community, Kagoro Chiefdom in Kaura local government. They opened fire on young people who had gathered for a wedding party. By the time they left, 17 persons between the ages of 16 and 24 were dead. Twenty four hours later, on 21st July, another gang of gunmen invaded Gora Gan community in Zangon Kataf local government, killing 11 persons, including the village head, Akut Dauke. Ten persons were injured and four houses were razed along with four motorcycles in the attack that occurred around 4.30PM. On the same day, troops recovered three dead bodies at Fari in Kauru local government. A day later, on 22nd July, gunmen attacked Kizachi community in Kauru local government and killed a family of five. On the same day, a man from Dangoma village went missing. His decomposing body, exhibiting machete cuts, was found on the outskirts of Ungwan Yashi, Jema’a local government. Also on that day, another community leader from Dangoma was killed around the Takau area of the local government.

On 23rd July, there was an attack on Agwala Magayaki in Doka Avong, Kajuru local government that claimed eight lives. Since then, there have been other attacks in Takau Gida, Takau 1 and 2 and Ung/Masara in Jama’a local government, Bakin Kogi Chawai and Sarapang Kizachi in Kauru local government, Asha A-wuce, Kurmin Masara, Ung/Zaki, Zangon Hausa, Ung/Wakili Madakiya, Wawan Rafi, Manchon and Samarun Kataf in Zangon Kataf local government as well as Kagoro and Zunukun in Kaura local government. Although I have a list of those killed in Southern Kaduna in the past ten months, and they cut across ethno-religious divides, I have decided not to publish their names because it will not advance the cause of peace.

Having spoken to many people on both sides of the Southern Kaduna tragedy, what is apparent is that a cycle of revenge killings has led to a situation of mutual assured destruction. I have also read many of the reports by the police, the army and the State Security Service (SSS). For instance, a recent security report on factors responsible for the crisis identifies longtime animosity between the Hausa/Fulani and the Katafs over land disputes, loss of control of youths by elders on both sides, criminal elements hiding under ethnicity and religion to sow mistrust among inhabitants and the disposition (by both sides) to avenge any previous attack which claimed family members. There are also grievances arising from relative economic differences in the area. One group is seen as more prosperous than the other. This, rightly or wrongly, is perceived as being based on identity.

The Southern Kaduna Christian communities complain of being oppressed by the Hausa/ Fulani Muslims and the emirate system. This engenders deep feelings of resentment. However, in the peasant communities whose inhabitants are homogeneously Hausa and Muslim, they also complain about the very same acts of oppression from title holders of the emirate. “There is hardly any type of injustice suffered by Christians in Southern Kaduna that is not suffered by the Hausa peasantry in their own communities,” according to a 1979 report of the Kaduna State Land Commission that is now being looked into among other reports. Constituted by the Second Republic government of Alhaji Balarabe Musa to investigate issues around land ownership, allocation, disputes, compensation etc., the commission was chaired by Dr Yahaya Abdullahi, the current senate majority leader with the late Mr Patrick Yakowa—the first and to date only Southern Kaduna man to be elected governor of the state who died in office in the December 2012 helicopter crash in Bayelsa State—as secretary. Southern Kaduna Christian communities believe their plight results from “the ethnic and religious differences between themselves and the Hausa/Fulani while the Hausa peasantry view them as part of an oppressive class system that has exploited them for generations. So the facts may be the same in the two contexts, but the perception is different. We need to deal with this issue if the conflicts in Southern Kaduna are going to be addressed,” the report concluded.

Many have also argued that the problem persists because reports from all the commissions of enquiry have never been implemented. That may be true. My disagreement is with those who tout the Justice Benedict Okadigbo Tribunal as a benchmark for resolving the crisis. That for me, is actually one of the factors that makes peace difficult in Southern Kaduna. I watched the proceedings as my first assignment outside Lagos as a reporter. Following the May 1992 violence between the Hausa and Kataf communities over the relocation of a market in Zangon-Kataf local government during which several people were killed, the then military president, General Ibrahim Babangida constituted a tribunal headed by Justice Okadigbo to try Major General Zamani Lekwot (rtd) and 16 other alleged culprits. I recall that on a visit to Kafanchan—where the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), the late Alhaji Aliyu Mohammed lost family members to the attack—Babangida said that all the people arrested in connection with the violence would be deemed guilty until they prove their innocence. It was in that atmosphere of seeking vengeance rather than justice that Lekwot and others were tried by the Okadigbo panel. If that sort of ‘justice’ were to be applied in the present circumstance, we know the people who would be deemed guilty and similarly convicted. But it would not resolve the crisis just as the Okadigbo tribunal never did.

It is unfortunate that after almost 60 years of independence, we are yet to manage our delicate fault-lines, not peculiar to us as a nation. And it is tragic that there seems to be no solution in sight to what has now become an epidemic of violence and bloodletting in theatres across the country. If there is going to be peace in Southern Kaduna, it is important to understand that making divisive and incendiary statements at a time like this is most unhelpful, however popular that may be with the various audiences to which we play. More than ever before, this is the time for all men of goodwill to work for the return of peace to the area. Now, it’s either ‘there is genocide against Christians’ in Southern Kaduna or ‘there is ethnic cleansing against Hausa/Fulani people’ depending on who is pushing the dangerous narratives that have compounded problems for the traumatised people in that part of the state. We must find solutions that will encourage people to embrace their differences and find accommodation with one another.

Fortunately, even in the midst of the current madness, the Gora District traditional leadership offered refuge to Fulanis who escaped from neighbouring Bakin Kogi District in Kauru local government. The District is also seeing to the maintenance of the destroyed residence of the Ardo who is currently taking refuge in Fadan Kamantan. The Atyap and Fulani communities in the District are also engaging on a Memorandum of Understanding to assure mutual peace and security. A copy of the draft MoU that I sighted agreed on “attitudes of social interactions based on integrity and honesty that would promote mutual respect, neighbourliness, peace and security without which there cannot be any meaningful development and progress.” The stakeholders further recommended, among other solutions, that whenever there is a breach “No one is to take the law into his own hand, rather the matter shall in the first instance be referred to the relevant ward head for settlement and where it fails, to the village head and thence to the district head but at each level in the presence of the Ardo or his able representatives.”

Chaired by the District Head, Mr Elias Gora and co-chaired by Alhaji Suleiman G. Gora and Mr. Justus E. Buhu, other committee members who drafted the agreement are Mr. Zakariah Gregory, the Counsellor for Gora Ward and the Ardo, Mallam Abubakar Ja’afaru. It was also subscribed to by representatives of village heads and the Fulanis as well as representatives of youths, women and religious clerics. Aimed at “achieving lasting peace with our Fulani Hausa brothers and all other tribes resident in any part of the district”, the MoU particularly states that “all persons involved in raising livestock shall do so devoid of any deliberate action or careless abandon that can lead to injury or destruction of crops and property” and that the herders “shall desist henceforth from the practice of sending underaged youths all by themselves for grazing but rather shall endeavour to entrust such responsibility to matured and capable persons.”

Sadly, that path to peace is now being threatened. When I contacted the District Head, Mr Elias Gora, he lamented that recent events in the two communities of Chibob and Sabon Kaura have resulted in a setback but pledged his determination to ensure that the peace deal is eventually consummated. Gora, a former Secretary General of the Nigerian Olympic Committee (NOC) and respected sports administrator shared with me insights into what has happened in recent weeks and stated that he still could not understand where all the violence is coming from. “I have strong suspicion that it is being instigated from outside. Some of us were born to meet the parents of these Fulani people here and we have lived together in peace so we don’t know what has changed that would make a young Fulani man (that we all know) to be leading gunmen from house to house, asking people to come out so they could be murdered,” he said as he highlighted efforts being made to bring stakeholders together for the peace initiative within his domain.

The Ardo Gora, Mallam Abubakar Jafaa’ru who confirmed losing four family members, two brothers and two women to recent attacks, was also reconciliatory in his tone when I spoke with him. “When we were attacked with all our houses razed, not a single of our cattle was taken. We lost no animal which indicated that the mission was to kill but I have forgiven our attackers. In the situation we are in today, there will be no peace if we do not learn forgiveness”, said the Ardo who added that for any enduring peace in Southern Kaduna, the efforts must be collective with all stakeholders coming together to admit that everybody loses in what is going on and that there is enough blame to go round. “It is also important that all the people who have fled the communities on both sides be allowed to return to their places of abode”, the Ardo said.

However, the Ardo also made a plea for assistance. “Our people are suffering from deprivation and the crisis makes it difficult for any meaningful economic activity. You will feel sad to see what many of the Fulani families that have been forced out of their homes are now going through. We need support, though the suffering is on both sides because farmers have also deserted their farms”, said the Ardo who painted a picture of humanitarian crisis that the authorities will do well to deal with. The Ardo also argued that outside forces exploiting the tragedy on both sides do not help the people of Southern Kaduna. “Ultimately, we need to restore law and order to Southern Kaduna. Nobody should be attacking other people for any reason and even when attacked, nobody also has a right to take the law into his own hands for revenge so we need to stop the culture of attacks and counter-attacks. But we appeal to those outside do-gooders fueling the fire to leave us in peace”, the Ardo told me.

Meanwhile, even when some of the reckless things he has said in the past may have come back to haunt him, Governor Nasir el Rufai has done quite a bit in the past few weeks to deal with the crisis. In addition to working with the military, police and security agencies to ensure deployment of sufficient personnel to flash points, the governor has spent considerable time engaging critical stakeholders from affected areas in a series of consultations. He has met with elected representatives, paramount traditional rulers, Fulani Ardos and others, and held daily sessions with all heads of security agencies on the ground. The governor has also set up a White Paper Committee on the 1992 Zangon Kataf crisis in order to comprehensively resolve the land tussle which caused the recent orgy of violence. While these efforts are commendable, I hope the governor has also learnt to be even handed in the distribution of political opportunities in a diverse society. Besides, as important as the rule of law may also be to the peace of a society, its selective application could also be a source of problem which is why I advocate the release of many of the Southern Kaduna young people languishing in detention on account of the crisis.

The question now is whether there is a pattern to the killings. If it is random and indiscriminate, it becomes more of a general insecurity issue arising from casual criminality gone viral. And the solution becomes a crime and punishment matter. Unless we want to deceive ourselves, this is not the case. What is clear is that southern Kaduna might just be a metaphor for the mix of factors that have led to violent clashes in different parts of the country. There is ugly history of internal colonization. There is unfair and inequitable appropriation of land and other factors of economic sustenance. There is the fact of unsettled residue of cultural diversity. There is a perception of marginalization by one side. Of course, there is the ever present fact of a religious divide. This copious mix of combustible factors has been complicated by the politicization of the area to produce vicious factions that now perceive themselves as being in a war of mutual annihilation. Illustrious sons of the conflicting factions who live outside have often fueled the crisis by throwing in cash and weapons, knowing that they may not be in the line of fire and theatre of hate.

The political challenge is one of how to manage diversity in a rural poor environment. There is also a challenge of land policy and the overall development of Southern Kaduna. Both are not beyond the capacity of Governor el-Rufai if only he can be less belligerent in his rhetoric and more broad-minded in his choices. Most importantly, the state will need to mobilize community leaders to attempt a hearts and minds approach to finding peace and harmony in that troubled part of the country. But with Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) officials as well as socio-political associations joining the fray, resolving the Southern Kaduna crisis is made even more complex. Yet, there must be an end to reprisal and counter-reprisal killings that stem from mutual distrust and suspicion between different groups who have lived together for centuries and even intermarried. Southern Kaduna deserves peace. That will not happen if those who are far removed from the area and cannot appreciate what the people lose in an atmosphere of acrimony and blood-letting continue to fan the embers of war.


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