The massacre of 809 people by armed herdsmen in Southern Kaduna creates tension between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria but the deployment of the military to the crisis zone raises hope normalcy will soon return to the area to enable thousands of displaced person rebuild their lives
By Maureen Chigbo *
YOHANA Gandu Chawai, national public relations officer of Chawai Development Association, will not forget Sunday, November 13, 2016, in a hurry. It was the day he escaped death by the whiskers but lost his bossom friend, who was hale and hearty, slept in his room the previous night after they had discussed business and believed everything was okay. It was also the day his three relatives; five classmates and 43 others in Angwa-Magari in Kauru Local government in Southern Kaduna, Kaduna State were murdered in cold blood. They were all massacred by the rampaging herdsmen who besieged the villages at 3pm on that fateful day shooting and butchering human beings like goats, and burning more than 100 houses.
Among those who lost their lives was Clever Kusah, a big time farmer and a grains trader, who was killed along with his wife and three children, leaving only one son who escaped because he went to visit his grandparents. The herdsmen numbering more than 200 were on a revenge mission after a farmer, his son and friends chased away one Alhaji Haruna, a Fulani man and his cattle from their farmland which they had cleared for cultivation and sprayed with herbicides.
According to Chawai, who escaped because he was in the ECWA Church where they were doing fund raising, the case was reported to the police. While both parties were at the police station, fight broke out which the police settled, asking Haruna to pick up the bills. When they departed the police station and returned to the village, Haruna, who had an AK47 rifle, shot sporadically into the air to prevent villagers from coming to attack him while his family packed their belongings and retreated outside the village near the boundaries of Kaduna near Ghanawuri in Riom local government of Plateau State in anger. Afterwards the youth went back to the village to burn his hut.
Consequently, Haruna threatened to return to deal with the villagers. First, he allegedly ambushed four villagers who were returning home oblivious of an earlier scuffle in the village. The cattle rearer allegedly killed three of the villagers while the fourth person escaped to alert the villagers who went after Haruna and his family in the hills where they had fled. The villagers not seeing them killed a cow and a calf in retaliation.
This action further enraged Haruna who vow to deal with them and their neigbhours. As Chawai narrated, the carnage could have been avoided if the police took serious the intelligence villagers gave them that Haruna, who migrated from Plateau state to the area four years ago, had hired mercenaries to attack them. He said that the policemen detailed to protect the village left to eat at 2pm and the armed herdsmen struck at exactly 3pm as intelligence report had stated. Within two hours of the invasion, the mercenaries inflicted untold havoc in the village before the police returned to their duty post.
“The experience is sorrowful. It has not been easy. What we have was a collateral damage. Some of the victims were young and very promising. We cannot quantify our feelings. For us, it is as if the world has come to an end. We saw how human life was reduced to nothing. It was like the end of the world has come; an experience we cannot wish on our enemies. They burnt all the houses in Kigam, and the ECWA Church and after burning it, also pulled it down,” Chawai painfully told Realnews on January 5.
The carnage in Chawai’s Local government is one of the series of raids that took place in Southern Kaduna villages recently. It culminated in the December 24, Christmas Eve massacre of residents of Goska village and other surrounding communities in Jemaa Local Governement Area of Kaduna state. Suspected armed herdsmen stormed the villages in a commando style, shot villagers dead and burnt houses.
Ibrahim Auta, a native of Goska, who witnessed the attack, said the gunmen numbering more than 100, invaded the village at about 6pm on that fateful day when the people were preparing for Christmas and opened fire on them. “The shooting and burning down of houses sparked pandemonium in the area. Those who were lucky to escape the gunfire, fled their homes to neighbouring communities and are still there till date. Others, who do not have anywhere to go, are currently camped at a primary school by the State Emergency Management Agency.”
Prior to this, killings in Southern Kaduna have been on since 2014 but worsen in August 2016. In November 2016, scores of people were killed in Godogodo and Ninte villages when the same suspected herdsmen invaded the villages. The bandits also razed down houses and farmlands. Up till now, the villages still remain a ghost town as the natives are yet to return for fear of a fresh attack.
Residents of the affected villages are still counting the cost of the mayhem, which forced Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, to visit the area three times in two months. Mourning, anger and hopelessness can best describe the mood of these people who have been sacked from their ancestral homes by the gunmen. Women, men, children and even the aged ones have become refugees in their own land over what they described as man’s wickedness against humanity. The attack also affected socio-economic activities in the communities as children are out of school while farming activities have been brought to a halt.
Presently, four local government areas namely Kaura, Jemaa, Kauru and Zango Kataf were affected by the attack while about 10,000 people were reportedly displaced. The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, put the number of those killed at 809, a figure Ibrahim Idris, inspector general of police, IGP, dismissed during his visit to Kafanchan, headquarter of Jemaa LGA.
Reverend Father Ibrahim Yakubu, vicar general of Catholic Diocese in Kafanchan told journalists that 53 villages have so far been attacked and 57 people injured. The church also accused government and security agencies of not doing enough to protect the people of the area from being attacked by the armed bandits.
Yakubu said, “Four local government areas have been attacked with 1,422 houses, 16 Churches, 19 shops, and one primary school destroyed. Unfortunately, our government both at the centre and State levels have failed woefully”. The church has demanded for an immediate end to attacks in the area and compensation to all families that lost loved ones or property. It has also called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate the causes of the crisis.
“We call on Southern Kaduna indigenes to remain steadfast in prayer, united, strong and never to cave in to the antics of our adversaries. Tribe and denominational differences shouldn’t put a chasm between us,” he said.
Reacting on behalf of his people, Reuben Turbi, president general of the Town Union, lamented how the herdsmen have been terrorising them and destroying their farmlands in recent time, He appealed to both the federal and state government to come to their rescue. Among other demands, they want a police station and military outpost to be located in the area in order to repel future attacks.
The state government had also imposed a 24-hour-curfew in three LGAs , Jemaa, Kaura and Zango Kataf in the aftermath of a violent protest by indigenes of southern Kaduna. The natives had during the protest accused the state government and security agencies of not doing enough to stop the attacks against their people.
Sequel to the attacks, Governor El-Rufai was constrained to make a statement on the potential consequences of reprisal attacks and the effort to pacify aggrieved parties. This include tracing the aggrieved herdsmen to neighbouring West African countries and the assurance by the state government to compensate the herdsmen whose animals were killed in the post-election violence in southern Kaduna.
The communities visited by the governor include Chawai Chiefdom in Kauru Local Government area of the state. The governor, who was accompanied by heads of security agencies in the state and top government functionaries during the visit, condemned the act in its entirety and however, appealed to the residents of the communities to bury their differences in the interest of peace and security. He also vows to prosecute anyone or group found to be involved in the wanton killings. The governor had previously said that he begged and paid his Fulani herdsmen who are his kinsmen to stop the killings.
Nonetheless, Agyelo Abeh, Kaduna State Police commissioner, said the crises situation in the southern area has been brought under control. He told journalists that the police and other security agencies have deployed enough personnel to contain any form of lawlessness. According to him, the police command is adequately prepared to maintain law and order not only in Southern Kaduna but in other parts of Kaduna State, adding: “Security is everyone’s business, it cannot be achieved by the police alone, but through collective efforts. Traditional rulers, religious leaders and other citizens must help to ensure peace in Southern Kaduna. The best way to resolve crisis is through dialogue”. He, however, dismissed figures of casualties bandied by some groups on the Southern Kaduna crisis, describing the figure as highly exaggerated. “The government has institutions charged with the responsibility of going in to find out the true positions of things and give the figures,” he said, adding, the police would release details of its investigation on the crisis as soon as it was concluded.
This notwithstanding, prominent Nigerians have criticised the federal government for remaining silent while the killings in Southern Kaduna persists. The recent clashes between farmers and herdsmen have also pit Christians and Muslims. Unlike the previous butchery of human beings by criminally minded herdsmen in Enugu and Benue, the Southern Kaduna fiasco have also pushed Christian clerics and government officials into a war of words. These have made pundits to think that if the crisis is not well handled it could degenerate into a religious war. No doubt, this could spell doom for Nigeria, a country already bedeviled by Boko Haram insurgency in the North East and Niger Delta militancy.
This must be why Abdulrahman Dambazzau, minister of interior, railed at Christian clerics for their sharp criticisms that the federal government did little to prevent the wave of ethno-religious crisis in the Southern part of Kaduna State. The national leadership of CAN and the Catholic Church in Southern Kaduna had accused Islamist herdsmen of trying to wipe out the Christian-dominated and largely agrarian communities in the area. “True religious leaders do not fan the embers of hate, but ensure that communities live in peace and harmony,” Dambazzau said in a statement by his press secretary, Ehisienmen Osaigbovo, last week.
The statement urged all well-meaning Nigerians not to allow themselves to be dragged into religious conflicts. The minister said there were people who were always looking for ways to further create division along religious or ethnic fault lines for their selfish interest, with the aim of creating instability in our internal security. He said that “economic growth and development will remain a mirage for Nigeria, with over 500 ethnic groups and multiple religions, unless we resolve to live amicably as a people with common destiny.”
According to him, criminals, who perpetrate violence against innocent, law-abiding citizens, do not discriminate along religious and ethnic lines, citing examples of how communities in Zamfara, Katsina, Taraba, Enugu, Lagos and Niger were victimised by those violent criminals. He said that a criminal should be treated as such, whether he is involved in armed robbery, drug trafficking, homicide or cattle rustling, and that people should avoid honouring criminals with religious or ethnic attachment. He advised “opinion and religious leaders to refrain from giving the crisis between herdsmen and sedentary farmers in Southern Kaduna a religious connotation, rather attention should be focused on the real enemies of our society, who illegally acquire weapons to terrorise Christian and Muslim communities alike.”
But CAN, Kaduna State branch, swiftly reprimanded Dambazzau for his insinuations against Christian leaders in Kaduna State, urging him to: “Shut up if he has nothing to say.” Similarly, Musa Asake, general secretary of National CAN, described the minister’s statement as unfortunate, insisting that saying things the way they are does not amount to fanning embers of hate as he suggested. “How can somebody be talking like that? We do not exaggerate or say negative things like some people.”
Agreeing, Sunday Ibrahim, secretary of CAN, Kaduna State chapter, said: “The statement attributed to Dambazzau came to us with the least of surprise because of his antecedent on matters like this. If Dambazzau has no interest in solving our security problems, he should shut up, just like President Muhammadu Buhari has kept mute also. Why should Dambazzau not wait for the much talked about investigation into the massacre and bring out a conclusion that may rubbish our claim? What do you call continuous killings and destruction of Christian communities with gunmen chanting Islamic slogans all the time? In areas where there are Muslims, such as Godogodo, Akwa, Golkofa, Gada Biyu, in Jema’a LGA, the homes of Muslims and the Muslim residents there were not touched. But not a Christian home or church is standing in the other areas. What do you call that?”
Also, he pointed out that in Chaiwai Chiefdom, Kauru, LGA, where five villages were sacked and 45 people killed in November, the survivors said the gunmen were chanting Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar. “They shot and killed pigs in the villages, also stole goats and grains and burnt the churches and houses there. We have visited some of these places and the evidence is on ground. ECWA Church addressed a press conference in Kaduna, last October or was it November, and said that all their churches in affected towns and villages had been burnt.
“The Catholic Church knows its casualties, so do Anglican, Baptist Church and the rest. The statement of Dambazzau is either to cover his shame for his refusal to stop Jihadist herdsmen or he is out to intimidate CAN not to reveal to the world the atrocity that herdsmen are doing at cleansing Christian communities in Southern Kaduna.
He then asked whether as the minister of interior has visited Southern Kaduna to see things for himself. He observed that first time the minister commented on the crisis was to cast aspersions Christian leaders instead of saying comforting words to them. “Islamists want to destroy Christianity in Southern Kaduna and occupy the land. And right now, they are occupying 16 villages in Southern Kaduna with their cattle and families after terrorising out the Christian natives. Let him come and see with his own eyes if CAN is lying. We are still waiting for the same reaction of the federal government in Zamfara and Katsina just a day or two after gunmen killed several people there. We are happy they got the killers and have secured these states.
“Since April last year, we have been shouting hoarse and pleading. All we get from the inspector general of police and now the minister of Interior is that we have no right to describe the killings in its true form, while the two just sit and watch on,” he said.
Despite the war of words between the Christian clerics and the federal government, Bukola Saraki, senate president, has said that the Senate would commence investigation into the latest killings in southern Kaduna State once the National Assembly resumes January 10. Saraki made the announcement in a statement by Bamikole Omishore, his special assistant on New Media issued in Abuja, last week.
Omishore said the senate president made the disclosure while responding to a tweet posted by one Chimeze Ukoha on the Kaduna killings. The statement quoted Ukoha as saying that “About 800 Christians were massacred in Southern Kaduna and nobody is talking about that, very bad… Every Nigerian life matters and the senate will work to ensure that rule of law is always upheld as prescribed by the Nigerian Constitution.” The statement explained that Saraki is already in touch with senators from Kaduna State and that he is constantly getting updates on developments.
On his part, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, Sultan of Sokoto and president-general of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, has condemned the Southern Kaduna killings. He said fundamental Islamic law forbids the unlawful destruction of lives and properties except for a just cause, calling on the authorities to put an end to the violence.
This may be why Brigadier General Sani Usman, director of Army Public Relations, last week, informed journalists in Abuja, that: “The Nigerian Army is fully on ground in the southern part of Kaduna State. It is our hope and prayer that the problem that requires this will be nipped in the bud. The Nigerian Army has made provision for military establishment in that part and any moment from now, we are going to have it.”
But leaders of Southern Kaduna do not have absolute confidence in the security agencies who allegedly looked the other way while the carnage took place. They also accuse not only Buhari but other past presidents of the country of a conspiracy of silence while their people perish in the hands f Jihadists. Isuwa Dogo, former chairman of Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, who traced recent killings to have started in 2014, added that the jihadists now plan total annihilation of the locals which he prayed will not happen. He told Channels Television on Friday, January 6, that the killers are hiding in the bushes and that helicopter was being used to drop arms and ammunition to them in the night by their sponsors who could be government officials.
Contrarily, Ibrahim Abdullahi, assistant national secretary of Myetti Allah traced the crisis to the post-election crisis in 2011 which affected pastoralists moving their cattle through the stock route which some farmers decided to cultivate. According to him, the stock routes are recognised and supported by international conventions and laws which Nigeria is also a signatory to. He recalled the previous government of former Governor Patrick Yakowa, who is from Southern Kaduna, set up a peace committee which led to a memorandum of understanding to end the hostilities between the farmers and the herdsmen.
Unfortunately, the peace agreement did not work as the attacks have continued leading to another committee led by General Martins Agwai which came up with its own recommendation to foster peace in the area. Clearly, this also has not worked.
However, the silver lining right now is that President Buhari broke his silence on the Southern Kaduna Killings. In a statement issued by Garba Shehu, media aide to the president and made available to journalist on Thursday, January 5, said Buhari had over the past week given instructions for decisive measures aimed at bringing to an end the recurring violence in the Southern part of Kaduna State. It was because of the directive that the IGP visited the area on Saturday and Sunday to assess the situation first hand. The statement said that in addition to the conventional policemen deployed in the area, a squadron of mobile policemen has now been stationed there while the military continues to carry out air surveillance across flash points in the area. Buhari has equally directed the National Emergency Management Agency to carry out a joint assessment of the situation with sister agency in Kaduna, SEMA, to determine the level of response required for urgent aid to the victims of violence. “These measures should ensure the return of normalcy to the region, while the Kaduna State government continues its peace building efforts,” the president said in addition to condoling those who lost there loved one in the violence.
It is, however, pertinent to state that Kaduna state is not new to conflicts and violence. Its history of religious riots dates back to 1987 with that in Kafanchan in the College of Education. The state has also witnessed civil disturbances in Kasuwan Magani, Kafanchan, Zangon Kataf, the 1999 installation fights, the ‘Shari’a’ riots, ‘Miss World ‘riots, the ‘Cartoon’ riots, 2011 post-election riots, and that which followed the church bombing by Boko Haram in 2013. There was also the Shiite Islamic sects clash with the military in 2016 where more than 300 people were killed. Except for the jailing of some prominent elite from the region by a judicial commission of inquiry following the attempted ethnic cleansing in Zangon Kataf, not one citizen anywhere has been punished by the State for the killings and arson.
It is hoped that the deployment of the military to the crisis zone, the palpable tension still hovering in the air there will give way to normalcy so the dead can rest in peace and the living can rebuild their battered lives. As Abdulaziz Ibrahim, lawyer and native of Southern Kaduna noted: “It is a good thing that the government is trying to set up a military formation there; a welcome development and we hoped that when they come they will be able to enforce peace. I think the military will do their best. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt because I know they will not go into the communities and start to antagonise them.”
*Real News.Reported by Anayo Ezugwu and Chimezie Enyiocha.