Haruna Usman, the chairman of the Kaduna state chapter of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), recently made the allegation that soldiers killed 17 herdsmen in Daile Alkario village in Southern Kaduna Jema’a local government area. The incident, he said, happened on Monday 20, March, 2017.

According to Usman, trouble started after a farmer was attacked by some persons believed to be herdsmen. “The Soldiers were invited to settle the situation. When the security personnel arrived they started to kill our people. As I speak to you now, about 17 of our members have been killed and 47 houses burnt. Why should this happen for God’s sake? It is not the indigenes of the area that killed our people, it is the military that killed them,” he said.

However, the Nigerian Army spokesman, Brigadier General Kakasheka Usman has counterpoised the claim made by MACBAN as ‘untrue’. “The allegation is most unfortunate and it is not true. It is most uncharitable and irresponsible of any one to say so. Our soldiers have been selfless, professional, and impartial in the discharge of their duties. The extent of our sacrifice and determination to bring peace and security is unquestionable. They (herdsmen) should not in any way drag us into their propaganda,” explained Kukasheka.

But is it thinkable that soldiers could have killed 17 people and burnt 47 houses as a result of been called upon to resolve friction arising from the killing of one farmer? Has there been any prima facie evidence to support such claim? Where are the pictorial testimonies? And unless MACBAN buttresses its accusation with more convincing claims, many would say that perhaps another frontier of propaganda has been opened.

So much have been said and written on the tragic and horrendous killings in Southern Kaduna. Not long ago, two Fulani herdsmen were reportedly killed at Angwan Yashi in Jema’a Local Government Area; then the killing of four indigenes of Mallagum in Kaura Local Government Area as well by suspected Fulani herdsmen followed. But, oddly enough, those responsible for the killings of the two Fulani herdsmen have been arrested while no one has ever been arrested for a pattern of killings – that became consistent and sustained – of many Southern Kaduna indigenes since 2011.

For instance, seven lives were lapped up and many houses torched on February 18, 2017 at Bakin Kogi in Goska District of Jema’a Local Government Area when purported Fulani herdsmen attacked the community at about 5pm. Then another attack followed the next day February, 19 at about 6am in which 15 lives were eliminated and about 50 houses burnt at Ashim, Nissi, Zilan in Atakhad District of Kaura Local Government Area. Two policemen were also killed, as confirmed by the Police authority.

According to news reports, so surprising the killings were as they did not happened in a hurry. Also, the attackers were said to have carried on without a nervous sense of being caught and operated for hours at a time roaming ruthlessly. Again, these latest brutal attacks followed the same pattern with the earlier ones unleashed on several Southern Kaduna communities starting from 2011.

As a matter of fact, killings in the area resulting from the 2011 post election violence that ravaged many states in the northern part of the country became a recurrent decimal. Meanwhile, Kaduna has been a tinder box of violence with a 30-year old history of bloodletting. Discord often arises between Hausa-Fulani and the indigenous tribes of Southern Kaduna. This is traceable to the 80s, with the outbreak of the Kasuwan Magani crisis between the Adaras and the Hausas in 1980; then the 1987 Kafanchan crisis. There was also the renowned Zangon Kataf crisis of 1992 which recorded a high level of destruction of human lives and property so enormous that the then President Ibrahim Babangida compared it with the Nigerian Civil War.

There had been a number of other incidences in the state since then, often camouflaged as religious, and sparked mostly by petty issues. Such clashes could be alleged infringements on certain religious matters and some other frivolous reasons. The killing of innocent people because of the hosting of a beauty Pageant; and the killings as a result of a newspaper article, which some Muslims claimed disparaged their faith readily comes to mind. There was also the crisis over the implementation of Shari’a Law in the state in 2000; a crisis which has polarized the state more than anything else. However, most of such violence would be over after a few days with the people returning to normal lives while a cause for another schism germinates. It was therefore under such scenario that the 2011 general elections were held. And the uprising after that elections came and go like all other crises preceding it.

But immediately after the 2011 post election violence, surreptitious attacks on communities in Southern Kaduna began. Since the attack in April 2011 at Anchuna in Ikulu Chiefdom, and the ones meted out on Bajju communities, and in Gbagyi land, the tempo of the attacks kept increasing. It rose in crescendo and became pervasive. However, so appalling were the attacks: the attackers killed and escape; there were neither arrests nor casualties on their side. The area became vulnerable, leaving the people at the mercy of such attackers, believed to be Fulani herdsmen.  And as it gets worse and worse, the depressing legacies of such attacks stick out in the mind’s eye of the people from the region: maimed, dismembered, and charred human bodies that can best be described as horrible.

The current violence has occurred in several separate episodes over a period of time much longer than any other prior incidents. A case in point was in October 2013, when gunmen overran a number of communities in Atakhad on the Kagoro Mountains, in Kaura local government and massacred many residents of Mafan, Telak, Kirim, Danti, Mayit, Zadian, Dajak, Tinga Mogwai, and Dugurang. But even as the people were still counting their losses, the gunmen launched similar attacks on the Muyit, and Sadn Zilan communities in the same area a few days later. These incidents preceded an earlier attack of May 13 on the Zangan district in which about 15 people were killed and houses razed. Reports said that about 3,000 residents fled the area then.

Another instance was the violence unleashed on the night of Friday March 14, 2014 on unsuspecting residents of Maisankwai, Tyekum, Maikakpang, and Angwan Kura in Bondong district of Manchok in Kaura local government. The inhabitants had gone to bed that evening but just before midnight, according to survivors, unknown gunmen invaded the communities in what turned out to be coordinated attacks and slaughtered more than a hundred villagers in their sleep. Women and children and the aged were not spared in an operation that defied reasoning. The attackers did not just stop at either shooting or inflicting machete cuts on the victims, they also went ahead and mutilate the corpses and equally set some of them on fire, along with their houses. In one instance and to demonstrate the level of callousness of the act, a group of children and women had, in a desperate attempt to live, sought refuge in one of the buildings but the attackers swooped in on them and set the building ablaze, snuffing lives out of many of them.

Since then the circle of guerrilla attacks on villages and settlements in the region continued. And the attackers, like evil spirits always ready to wreck more havoc, had been on the prowl leaving behind imprints of sorrow, tears, and blood on communities. The number of those killed has been a bone of contention. Nevertheless, it is indisputable that many villages in the area have been attacked resulting in the death of many; not to mention properties worth millions of naira destroyed. In spite of several measures put in place by government and other stakeholders, the killings remained; leading to an unhealthy state of affairs where mutual suspicion and hatred is heightened.

Such was the unwholesome scenario when Mallam Nasir el-Rufa’i assumed the mantle of the governorship of the state. So, undoubtedly, the genesis of the on-going blood-letting predates his administration.  He became the governor of Kaduna state on May 29, 2015 to inherit a state that was already sharply divided along ethno-religious fault lines. It was, perhaps, in conscious of this obvious problem that Gov. el-Rufa’i, upon his assumption of office in 2015 immediately instituted the Gen. Martin Luther Agwai (rtd.) led Peace and Reconciliation Committee charged to probe the incessant killings in Kaduna, especially in the southern part of the state. The Governor described the committee as part of government multi-dimensional approach in finding lasting solution to the killings in the area dating as far back as 2011. The committee was mandated to identify socio-political and economic factors that promote existing conflicts in Southern Kaduna and advice on measures to be taken by government to address them; and explore ways of finding mutual solutions that engender reconciliation amongst and between communities in Southern Kaduna and to advice on how the villages and communities of Southern Kaduna would be free from the attacks bedeviling it. The Governor said he was confident that the committee “will make far-reaching recommendations to bring peaceful co-existence back to our state as a whole.”

It is not, however, known yet to what extent the recommendations of the Agwai-led peace committee have been put to use in resolving the lingering southern Kaduna conundrum. But Gen. Agwai, who incidentally hails from Southern Kaduna, had while handing the committee’s report pleaded with el-Rufa’i to assist and give equitable funds to victims of the 2011 post election violence and to also embark on the reconciliation projects in order to restore confidence and trust to the generality of the people of Kaduna state.

However, the tempo of the killings in Southern Kaduna would increase in an atrocious and audacious fashion. Since August, 2016 when the town of Godogogo in Jema’a Local Government was attacked by alleged Fulani herdsmen leaving 11 people death, scores injured; and several buildings torched, there has been no respite from the fear and tension that has pervaded the area. Like the previous attacks, the killings that took place on November 13, 2016 at Ungwan Magaji, Kigam, Ungwan Rimi, and Kitakum – all villages in Chawai Chiefdom, Kauru Local Government in the same Southern Kaduna was also typical of the familiar tragic sights in the area. The scenes were a picture-perfect example of massacre. Several corpses were strewn around; killed by daylight attackers. As always, Fulani herdsmen have been accused for the attacks.

But perhaps the zenith of despair of the Southern Kaduna people was the attack on Goska, a settlement not far from Kafanchan town. The attack occurred on December 24, 2016 around 6pm. Even the imposition of curfew as a peace building measure proved counter-productive as the same herdsmen broke the curfew to attack others who had been deceived to let down their guards. This happened, unfortunately, on the community on Christmas Eve, resulting in killing of women, children including the 14-year-old daughter of a former chairman of the local government council. DailyTrust editorial of December 29, 2016 aptly captured the scenario thus: “it is indeed worrisome that the attack in Goska village, few kilometers away from Kafanchan, Jema’a local government by suspected Fulani herdsmen occurred despite the heavy presence of security forces and under a 24-hour curfew.”

Such untoward developments must have weighed heavily on the minds of the people from the region who have come out seething. Their sense of grievance is compounded by a growing distrust for government. Many of them are of the view that the government has not done enough to stem the killings of thousands of its people by suspected Fulani herdsmen. Nothing has demonstrated this more aptly than their perception that the governor has always shown aloofness whenever tragedy befalls them. This is further thickened by the claim that he uses the leverage of power to advance the territorial ambition of the Hausa/Fulani. They claim that the governor’s actions, statements, and policies have ethno-religious connotations.  This is first and perhaps most dangerous challenge.

First and foremost, the unhappiness of the people of Southern Kaduna is glaring, especially with their perception of government’s handling of their plight. Hence, they are unanimous in their grievance against a government that they say ‘appears distant and indifferent’.  They believe they are left vulnerable, and the government failed to demonstrate that it cared for them. They also alleged that the Governor applies the principle of “double standards” in his dealings with the component parts of the state. For example, they are of the view that cattle rustlers and criminal gangs that hitherto operated almost unhindered in the forest axis of Birnin Gwari had their activities curtailed no sooner than el-Rufai became governor. According to them, “it didn’t take long for the government to figure out what to do when Fulani came under attack by cattle rustlers in Birnin Gwari. Within the shortest possible time, soldiers were deployed and many of the cattle rustlers and bandits were either killed or arrested and cows in their hundreds were rescued.”

Mr. Waje Goska Williams, Chairman of Kaninkon Development Association, accused the government of ‘indifference’ in addressing the security challenge in the area, adding that the “attacks were meant to wipe out communities in Southern Kaduna.” For Rev. Chawangon Nathan, Secretary of the Christian Asssociation of Nigeria (CAN), Godogodo Zone, “the problem degenerated due to nonchalant attitude of those in authority.” And the reaction of the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan is that “there is a hidden agenda targeted at the majority of Southern Kaduna. If anything, government has shown outright partisanship in favour of the herdsmen.”

Maj. Gen. Zamani Lekwot, Chairman of Southern Kaduna Elders Consultative Forum said “the sudden turn of events where herdsmen have abandoned the long mutually-beneficial relationship by taking up arms against their host communities is giving us a very serious cause for concern. The people have been displaced from their homes, their farms destroyed and occupied by armed herdsmen. A situation where none of the attackers has ever been arrested has created suspicion in the minds of the people;” While Hon. Jagaba Adams Jagaba representing Kagargo/Kachia Federal Constituency delivered the clincher: “If something happens in the northern part of the state, government will act fast. But when it happens in Southern Kaduna the government turns it eyes the other way,” adding that “government should end the killings in Southern Kaduna the way it tackled cattle rustling in the northern part of the state. Cows cannot be better than human lives.”

Curiously, in the face of the often unprovoked attacks meted out on the people of Southern Kaduna, Governor el-Rufa’i was reported to have declared that government would prosecute people who call on locals to defend their communities. “There are people that are sending a message, defend yourselves, we will get them; defend yourself is hate speech. You can’t defend yourselves if there is government. We are going to arrest and prosecute all those that pass that message,” he said. The statement by the governor was made amid the call by both the Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU) and the Senator representing the Southern Kaduna senatorial district at National Assembly, Danjuma Tella Laah, for self-defence.

Meanwhile, the group Southern Kaduna Lawyers Forum expressed regret that instead of the state governor to reassure the people of Southern Kaduna of his government’s determination to ensure security in their communities, he has vociferously threatened them with arrest and prosecution positing that any call for self-defence was a hate speech. In the words of Barrister Reuben James, spokesman of the group, “it is the failure on the part of government to provide security to the people that necessitated the call for self defence. It is unfortunate that due to the reasons known only to the Governor, he has closed his eyes to the fact that the right to self-defence is a fundamental and basic human right guaranteed under Section 33 (2) (a) of the 1999 Constitution. Therefore, we shall encourage our people to defend themselves within the permissible purview of the constitution. A dead man cannot defend himself.”

On many circumstances, victims claimed they had alerted security agencies of imminent attacks, but little or nothing was done before the assaulters unleashed havoc on them. “Nigerians cannot accept a situation whereby criminals invade communities, kill innocent persons, destroy properties, but security agencies throw up their arms helplessly, and saying they could not arrest the perpetrators of such violence. It is for this reason that the people feel let down, embark on revenge killings and similar self-help measures,” says the October 23, 2016 DailyTrust editorial. This position has a supporter in Cardinal John Onaiyekan who said that, “I foresee a situation where those who have been badly damaged and who are being killed daily will be saying, ‘I cannot sit here and be killed’ and they will organized themselves, not because they are Christians but because they are human beings who cannot sit down and allow themselves to be killed.”

It was in the face of such apparent negligence, incompetence, or indifference by the government and security forces that a clash erupted in Ninte in Godogodo Chiefdom and spread to other surrounding towns of Goska, Pasakori, Missisi, and Gidan Waya all in Jema’a local government. According to reports, the crisis which started from Ninte was as a result of an argument involving a farmer, named Mr. Ango, and two Fulani boys, whom he accused of trespassing into his farm, while the Fulani boys insisted that the land had been a cattle route from time immemorial. The altercation led to a fight in which Ango overpowered one of the boys and inflicted injury on him. This infuriated the other boy who in turn inflicted cuts on Ango with a machete.

However, a press statement read in Kaduna on November 7, 2016 signed by Abdulhamid Musa, Zonal Chairman, Miyetti Allah; Ahmad M. Yande for Mogbal Fulbe Development Association, and Abdullah Hassan Mohammed for Jema’a Foundation stated that the father of the injured boy was one Alh.Idi Bali, the Fulani Chief (Ardo) of Ninte village. Part of the statement reads: “Unfortunately the son of Mr. Ango and some youths set the house of the Ardo on fire, pounced on him, murdered him gruesomely and burnt his corpse.” This they said vexed the Fulani and they responded “appropriately.”

The Hausa-Fulani community has also pleaded the case for being the ‘victim’. The groups, Jema’a Foundation, and the Muslim Youth Foundation of Southern Kaduna (MYFOSKA) gave a different perspective of the state of affairs in Southern Kaduna. In a statement circulated and signed by Muhammad M.K. Qaseem and Dabo Abdullahi, Chairman and Secretary respectively they say “Muslims of Southern Kaduna have been facing serious existential threats on their continued survival on account of their believes, social, political and cultural values in the hands of Christian ethnic groups who have arrogated to themselves the sole right and ownership of the geographical space called Southern Kaduna.” The group says more than fifty Hausa-Fulani communities have gone extinct through attacks and annihilation by the Natives of Southern Kaduna. They listed Zangon-Kataf, Zonkwa, Matsirga, Unwan Rimi Bajju, Kwoi, Jaban Kogo, Gidan Mana as examples. They said what has been reported and published by the media is “one sided, and partisan.” They also accused SOKAPU and CAN of “ethnic chauvinism and impudence.”

However, despite this different narrative, what is not in doubt is that the people of Southern Kaduna had been under siege from the killer herdsmen, somehow encouraged by the inaction of the state establishment. It is also important to note that these are attacks, while the earlier ones were clashes. And if an amalgam of Hausa-Fulani associations would owned up to “responding appropriately,” and the mastermind of the Chawai attack identified as one Haruna, then they have indeed unwittingly unmasked the idea of ‘aliens being the perpetrators’ as mere falsehood. Many of such associations have corroborated the point being made that the killings by herdsmen were reprisals for the post-2011 election crisis. “When did Nigeria become a place where we take the law into our hands? You say people did something wrong to you in 2011, let us presume, does that justify the killing of innocent women and children six years after? That worries me because in a situation like this, you need responsible leaders,” Cardinal Onaiyekan querried.

Meanwhile, a report released by SBM Intelligence, a strategic intelligence analysis firm, showed that the current crisis had dragged for much longer than all unrests between 1980 and 2011. The group also said all the previous crises that broke out in Southern Kaduna 1981, 1987, 1992, 1998, 2000, and 2011 lasted only a week on average. It said, therefore, that its findings showed that the current killings in Southern Kaduna dragged almost unabated. According to SBM “the latest killings occurred as a result of deliberate attacks unlike in the past when communities used to take on each other in the region.”

As yet, there is no agreement over the number of lives lost to the crisis. But when the National President of SOKAPU, Barrister Solomon Musa spoke in August, 2016, he said an estimated 10,000 Southern Kaduna Natives from 24 villages have been killed since the invasion of their communities started in 2011. SOKAPU further regard as national shame and an indictment of the state government’s commitment to security issues in Southern Kaduna that many villages were completely deserted after being ransacked, burnt and the people killed. “More nauseating is the added facts that in villages like Ninte, Akwa, Ungwan Anjo, and Antang – the people have been sacked from their villages, the armed herdsmen have permanently taken over the villages and boldly grazing their herds on the farm of the villagers,” he said dejectedly.

And, according to Barrister Musa, “in spite of these ‘nefarious acts’, no person has been arrested and charged, instead youths who put their lives at stake to protect their communities are always arrested by the police, and soldiers and locked up.” Wondering about these selective arrests, SOKAPU recalls the statement credited to the Kaduna state chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Dr. Haruna Usman in August, 2016 that the killings and destruction by herdsmen in Gada Biyu, Akwa, Ungwan Anjo in Godogodo were in “retaliation of the killing of an Ardo in the area.”

Nevertheless, the immediate past President of SOKAPU, Dr. Ephraim Goje, noted in March 2014 that “over 40 attacks had been recorded in Southern Kaduna communities since 2011.” Also, a report of the assessment of the crisis in the area conducted by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Kaduna State Management Agency (SEMA) done between January 9 and 12, 2017 says 376 people were killed between May and December 2016. And if the barbaric and brutal massacre of about 114 people, including children, women and the aged by herdsmen could happened in just one incident, then it makes it easier believing the figure given by Barrister Musa, notwithstanding the killings that were perpetrated between September, 2016 and the time of writing this report.

Written By: Ishaku Yohanna