Noah Ebije, Kaduna
On Thursday, July 23, women in communities collectively known as Southern Kaduna came out en masse in a march against the horrific killings going on in the area.
The woman took off their clothes and went round the streets naked, condemning the attacks on their communities by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
The women, displaying their breasts, staged a peaceful protest to the palace of Atyap, the paramount ruler of Zangon Kataf Local government Area of Kaduna State. They described the attacks as genocide.
It was not the first time that such a protest would be held. Such naked protests had been held before even though some Nigerians had faulted the strategy.
In 1992, during the bloody Zangon Kataf riots, which led to the arrest and trial of former Military Administrator of Rivers State, General Zamani Lekwot (retd), and other indigenous sons of Southern Kaduna, the women from that area equally protested naked.
Communal crisis broke out in Zangon Kataf in 1992 between the indigenous Kataf people and the Hausa, leading to the killing of many residents and destruction of buildings and personal belongings during the administration of former military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
There was a similar protest in the year 2000, under the administration of the then Governor of the State, Mohammed Ahmed Makarfi, when the introduction of Sharia law in the state sparked a bloody crisis, particularly in Southern Kaduna.
The recent protest by the Southern Kaduna women was the second in the tenure of the present administration of Governor Nasir El-Rufai. There had been an earlier one in the early years of his administration over the incessant killings of residents by bandits in Sanga Local Government Area.
Many socio-political observers have noted that seeing women protesting naked is an international embarrassment, apart from its original purpose as a curse on whoever was behind the agony of the people.
“It is a bad omen. It is a curse on the state and the country, and an embarrassment before the international community to see women protesting naked,” a women leader who pleaded anonymity said.
A human rights activist from Southern Kaduna, Dr. John Danfulani, said: “The protest was plotted and executed in tandem with our rich cultural norms and values. In our pre-colonial history, when calamities of gargantuan magnitude descended—and end was not in sight—old and young women would stage nude protests at the palace of the king. What transpired on July 23 was a repeat of history.
“There is nothing new or strange in it. There are salient spiritual dimensions to the protest. It was for termination of internal conspiracies, and liquidation of satanic jinns invoked by perpetrators. Nothing more, nothing less.
“A survey of reactions demonstrated that some ignoramuses spewed incendiary comments on the nudity of our protesting mothers. They based their sentimental judgements on their religious beliefs. But they couldn’t even support their positions with cultural norms or values. Again, they made no effort to cite constitutional provisions where protesting like that was outlawed.
“But that was a protest that was planned in line with our cultural mores. It wasn’t staged in the office of any political leader or Government House. It wasn’t staged in any religious centre. It was executed at the palace of the custodian of our culture.”
Interestingly, Governor El-Rufai has blamed all the parties in the crisis. He said people should not conclude that, because the bandits were Fulani, their kinsmen living with the people peacefully should bear the brunt of their compatriots who are criminals.
Similarly, the governor said, instead of the Fulani to report the reprisals unleashed on them to community leaders and government, they resorted to taking the law into their hands by killing perceived enemies in retaliation.
El-Rufai, who stated this at a media chat, added that his government had taken major steps to secure the area. He said his administration ensured that a military base was opened in Southern Kaduna, along with two mobile police squadrons, answering a decades-long demand for enhanced security presence in the area.
He said, in addition to the security presence, everyone should obey the rule of law and avoid self-help. He noted that, ultimately, “peace depends on the willingness of people to live in harmony and to settle their differences peacefully.”
“These criminals attack people irrespective of their religion or ethnicity and they have been perpetrating their reign of terror in Giwa, Birnin Gwari and parts of Igabi Local Government.
“These bandits operate mostly in Katsina, Zamfara and Niger states and their attacks in those states are seen and reported as criminal activities. But these same attacks are perceived differently when they occur in Southern Kaduna and are invested with ethno-religious colorations.
“When bandits attack in Southern Kaduna, security reports show that youths from the affected communities have often responded by mobilising to attack Fulani communities in their area whose members share the same ethnicity with the presumed bandits, even though many Fulani communities are also themselves victims of the bandits, in Kaduna State and elsewhere.
“The problem is worsened by the response of Fulani communities who often resort to self-help when they are attacked, neglecting to report to traditional authorities or security agents to resolve the matter. Instead, they opt for revenge. This is how the cycle of attacks, revenge and reprisals occurs in Southern Kaduna,” El-Rufai said.
The governor, who expressed sadness at the killings and the loss of lives, said the community leaders needed to emphasise adherence to the rule of law, to avoid the persistent attacks and reprisals in their respective communities.
Meanwhile, representatives of the people of Southern Kaduna elected on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are saddened by the spate of the attacks, killings and kidnappings in the area.
The leader of the PDP representatives, Emmanuel Bako Kantiok, from Zonkwa Constituency, noted: “It is on record that, since the inception of this administration in 2015, Southern Kaduna has not known peace as a result of incessant attacks by armed militia, with the resultant consequences of loss of lives and property.
“The communities that have suffered this senseless attacks and killings in Southern Kaduna are too numerous to mention and the victims, both the living and the dead, are too numerous to count.”
He expressed dissatisfaction with the response of the state and federal governments to the attacks. He insisted that the response was passive and nonchalant, noting that neither the attacks nor their perpetrators were condemned.
“We equally call on the people of Southern Kaduna to remain vigilant, calm, law-abiding and avoid taking the law into their hands. Every citizen has a responsibility to cooperate with the law enforcement agents and to provide information and report any suspected miscreant.
“Our hearts are with the bereaved families, the injured and those that have lost their property in all these senseless attacks on the people of Southern Kaduna. May God Almighty console the bereaved and grant the injured speedy recovery in Jesus’ name,” he prayed.
Southern Kaduna, with its cultural and traditional headquarters in Kafanchan, is about 200 kilometres from the state capital, Kaduna. It is predominantly inhabited by Christians.
With the outbreak of the latest killings, a body comprising Christian leaders in Southern Kaduna, under the auspices of Southern Kaduna Christian Leaders’ Association, also expressed worry over the seemingly unending heinous killings and kidnapping in the area.
Chairman of the group, Bishop Simon Peters Mutum, explained that: “As Christians and Christian leaders, we are worried over the state of things, the state of our people and the nation at large. Southern Kaduna area has suffered economic, political and social marginalisation from the period of the colonialists, pre-Independence as well as post-Independence eras.
“A careful study shows that the factors of religion, land and ethnicity are the tools used in the past, and still being deployed, to the disadvantage of our people in Southern Kaduna.
“We have demonstrated the virtue of patience since the emergence of the Nigerian state. For instance, at both the Ahmadu Bello University and Kaduna State University, certain courses are considered special and no-go areas for our sons and daughters.
“This is totally absurd and inconsistent with a federal, secular and plural society. As it is, we have exhausted our patience and now demand immediate redress to this barbaric and sponsored apartheid.
“We are bona fide citizens and equal partners in the state-building project. The land-grabbing mission is not hidden in the midst of these oppressions. Once a Christian community is attacked, the regular pattern is to displace the inhabitants and occupy the area with sophisticated weapons. This has continued with a vicious cycle of propaganda that floods the media with a new brand of history about Southern Kaduna, claiming that the aboriginal people are the settlers.
“The Hausa-Fulani have refused to accept their historical status as settlers among us; rather, they prefer to concoct these ‘new’ histories. For us, this is revealing, since every time there is a crisis, the Hausa-Fulani Muslims have always responded with a substandard history of the region.
“The crises are definitely wars of expansion in both words and deeds. The United Nations, however, recognises that certain people are aboriginal to certain geographical locations. This is a fact that the Hausa-Fulani uphold in the far north, but deny in Southern Kaduna and all of the Middle-Belt region. Of course, the government’s action, particularly with the issue of indigenes, seems to have widened the space for this kind of posture.
“Till date, painfully for us, the murderers are roaming about freely, while the villagers, numbering over 1,000, are now taking refuge with relations in nearby towns, under tough conditions, in this grim period made worst by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“In the midst of these barbarism against us as a people, which has been systematic and unabated, we have finally come to a point of holding government accountable and responsible. Being the sole regulator for security services, we have keenly observed a pattern of deliberate delay or refusal to deploy security personnel to the flashpoints.
“We have no logical reason to believe that government is overwhelmed by these terrorists. Rather, she has only chosen to play it down. Without mincing words, we call on Governor El-Rufa’i to use his position as the Chief Security Officer of our dear state to confront the killers hiding in our bushes with equal zeal that is being demonstrated in containing the novel coronavirus.
“As we speak now, the truth is that we are under siege. Kaduna State government should stop pretending about this. Besides, those arrested in all these areas are always Christians, the helpless victims, who come out in anger to appraise the situation after the attacks. This is not only illogical but also a clear show of government interest and complicity.
“There is an urgent need to establish internally displaced persons’ camps in Southern Kaduna, where victims would live and be taken care of. As we write this, thousands of Christians, who have been displaced from their homes, are in Zonkwa and other places, based on the Christian spirit of good neighbourliness and the cultural family solidarity and care. Farmers should be protected from armed Fulani militia who destroy our crops with impunity.
“The changed narrative that what we are passing through is purely ‘farmers-herdsmen’s clash’, ‘banditry’ and ‘reprisals’ ought to stop, and it should be properly stated as it is, attacks, terrorism, genocide and unprovoked killings. This is because our people are always attacked and killed, not in their farms fighting, but in their homes while asleep; when it is in the farms, they are definitely just looking for means of survival and unarmed.
“There is the need for proper investigations into these killings. A fact-finding committee should be inaugurated with members comprising people of proven integrity from both religions. They should go to the affected areas, not only to hear the accounts of the victims, but to record every information so received, for the public to know the truth of all that is happening. This will complement the efforts of the Kaduna State Peace Commission.”