Sola Ojo, Kaduna
Since the maiden crisis took place in Zangon Kataf Local Government area of Kaduna State in 1980, the state has survived several other religious, political, ethnic and socio-economic crises.
But even now, all is not well in the state. Religious, ethnic and political distrust between the Muslim majority in the northern part and Christian majority in the southern part are turning the state into Nigeria’s capital of chaos and carnage.
Kaduna is to the North what Lagos is to the South-West, experiencing an influx of seekers of greener pastures daily. In fact, the current administration abolished the indigene dichotomy in its employment opportunities.
Places like Igabi, Birnin Gwari, Giwa and Lere local governments in the northern part of the state have also experienced deadly attacks by bandits, leading to loss of lives and livestock, with communities deserted. In fact, due to activities of bandits and bad road, motorists plying the Kaduna-Niger-Kwara-Oyo road have abandoned the road. There have been accusations and counter-accusations, while people keep losing their lives, homes and personal belongings to what they know nothing about.
Since the return of civil rule to the country in 1999, successive administrations have developed different strategies to address the lingering unrest in the southern part of Kaduna State.
Over time, security operatives have identified the difficulty of the terrain and limited manpower as major gaps hindering their operations in bringing enduring peace in the area.
Just recently, troops of Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) in charge of maintaining peace in Plateau State, parts of Bauchi and Southern Kaduna arrested eight suspects in connection with the killings in Southern Kaduna.
Speaking to journalists in Kafanchan, Jema’a Local Government on the arrest, Colonel David Nwankonobi said the suspects were arrested with various weapons.
He explained that troops of the special task force, acting on credible intelligence, arrested six of the suspects in Lere LGA of the state while two others were arrested in Chawai community which lies between the boundaries of Kauru and Zangon Kataf Local Governments.
He gave the names of those arrested to include Abubakar Ali, Ali Ahmadu, Bawa Idi, Umar Dikko, Garba Damina, and Muhammed Ibrahim.
“The suspects had in their possession one locally fabricated pump action gun, two locally made pistols, machetes, and two motorcycles.
“In Chawai, a community which lies between the fringes of Kauru and Zangon Kataf LGA, one Adamu Joseph and one William Barnabas were arrested with a locally made out-of-action gun, cartridges, mobile phones, and dagger.”
This development appeared okay with a Fulani socio-cultural group called Gan Allah Fulani Development Association of Nigeria (GAFDAN). The body, which spoke through its secretary-general, Ibrahim Abdullahi, said it vindicated its earlier position on the killings in Southern Kaduna.
A Southern Kaduna resident, Eli Dangana, had told this correspondent that those arrested were not Fulani pastoralists living or known in the area.
“These Fulani men that were caught are not living with us and we don’t know them or where they came from to attack us. We live in peace with Fulani and Hausa among us. In fact, some of our people are married to Hausa men and women, and we have been here living together in peace for a long time,” he said.
Abdullahi, who corroborated Dangana’s position, gave some background to what was likely he root cause of the Southern Kaduna crisis.
His words: “A lot of factors are responsible for the crisis in Southern Kaduna. The crisis has been going on for so many years, and the previous governments have failed to find a lasting solution to it.
“Of recent, there was the introduction of political, religious and ethnic perspectives to the narrative. People are exploiting how to gain political relevance from the crisis. There is also a total failure of leadership, especially from the traditional and religion angles – failing to control their people and lead them in the right way.
“There is also the issue of people committing a crime and denying the same which is the main thing triggering the issue of retaliation and what have you.
“There is no way a Fulani man will come and live in your backyard and then start causing trouble. This is because he knows he is a minority in that place. He also knows that all he has are his cows and his family, which are at your mercy. So, when a Fulani man is settling in your backyard, what he’s telling you is that he trusts you and that is why he is entrusting his family and his wealth in your care.
“But we need to move forward. If the crisis should persist even if it lasts for 100 years, all the stakeholders are the losers. No one will gain anything. For us to move forward, both sides must accept they have committed offences against humanity and against everything that is good. The time of blaming one another should be over by now. We should accept that there have been mistakes and we need to sit down and address those mistakes.
“For example, if you go to a place to retaliate because somebody has killed your brother or your father, there is no guarantee that it is the person that killed your brother or father that you are going to attack. In essence, both parties have committed mistakes against God, their religion, their environment and humanity.
“With the arrest of those people, new facts are coming out. I said earlier that people from outside Kaduna State were attacked during the 2011 election crisis. These people have not been included in all the processes of dialogue and reconciliation that have taken place, which is the reason, in most cases. Even when people reconcile and sign a peace pact, there could be attacks afterwards and people start doubting the sincerity of another party they have signed a peace pact with.
“I hope this time around, when we start the process of discussion and dialogue, we should be able to broaden that to people outside Kaduna State and possibly, outside the country that we are going to include in the process of dialogue and reconciliation.
“I just hope that whoever is found wanting will be brought to justice. Enough is enough. We are tired of losing human lives, irrespective of religion or tribe. We want to see to the end of it this time.”
President, Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU), Jonathan Asake, was not too enthusiastic about the latest arrests. To him, nothing serious had been heard done to those arrested after previous crises.
Said he: “It is not the first time these killers are being arrested, either by the natives or the security personnel. But, all we witness after such arrests is that they are paraded on television and the rest becomes history. No prosecution, no conviction.
“The real issue in Southern Kaduna is that unprovoked attacks are going on in our communities where Fulani herdsmen’s militias continue to invade communities across the local governments with impunity.
“Right now, there are over 52 communities that have been displaced and are in neighbouring communities or camps. Yet the state and federal governments appear to be in sync with the misleading narrative that the attacks are reprisals or communal clashes.
“This is far from the truth because most of the victims are women and children and these cannot be part of any gang or communal clash. After all, if it was a clash, both sides will have casualties and not just one-sided killings as it is presently the case.
“The way forward is to first ensure justice for everyone. Secondly, all displaced communities must be returned to their homes and be rehabilitated. The aggressors must be apprehended and made to face the full wrath of the law.”
The Commander of Operation Safe Haven (OPSH), Major General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo described the killings in Southern Kaduna as the activities of criminal elements from both the natives and Fulani settlers.
“What we have been experiencing are attacks on some communities and reprisals and both sides of the conflict have been attacking each other. But the reports are not balanced. Perhaps, most of the media houses don’t know that both sides are actually involved.
“You have Kataf youths, Fulani militias and the criminal elements on both sides. Some people are also leveraging on the security situation to perpetrate their criminal activities, aside from communities involved in the crisis.
“Any incident is enough to spark off a crisis in that area. There have been lingering disputes and animosities, banditry and cattle rustling there. The military and other security agents will re-strategise and we will deploy as much as possible to shorten our response time,” he assured.
On Thursday, August 13, the Defence Headquarters deployed more troops in the area.
The man at the centre of the security in Kaduna, Governor Nasir El-Rufai, has restated the commitment of his administration to the security of lives and property of people residing in the state. He said much had been done within his constitutional powers to bring peace to all parts of the state since his inauguration as Kaduna’s 22nd governor.
“We answered the decades-old demand for a permanent military base by working with the Federal Government to deploy a forward operating base of the Nigerian Army in Kafanchan.
“Our government purchased an estate to provide accommodation for a permanent mobile police squadron in the area. Also deployed in the area are troops from Operation Safe Haven and Nigerian Army Special Forces, complemented by two mobile police squadrons.
“The best guarantee of peace is the willingness of communities to live in peace and harmony, and a resolve to settle differences through exclusively lawful means.
“We established the Kaduna State Peace Commission to engage communities and nudge them towards accord and conciliation as a better alternative to the breaking of bones and the shattering of lives.”
“We will continue to support the efforts of the security agencies as best as we can. We will also continue investing effort in the urgent necessity to create and sustain a constituency for peace by persuading elected officials, traditional rulers and community leaders in the affected areas to live up to their responsibilities, respect diversity and the rule of law.
“We have nudged stakeholders in Kauru and Zangon-Kataf LGAs on this path and will continue to do so. We have also resolved to address lingering issues from the 1992 crisis in Zangon-Kataf by producing a White Paper on the recommendations made by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry and the Reconciliation Committee,” El-Rufai explained.
Some have said that the government and other stakeholders should consider the revelations by Eli Dangana that people attacking residents of Southern Kaduna could be strangers, and the suggestion by GAFDAN that government should extend the reconciliation efforts to Fulani outside the area. This, they noted, could offer a fresh path to peace in the troubled state.