This Christmas there will be no big cheerful parties and gatherings, there will not be any “Goron” (traditional Christmas gifts of cash or kind) Christmas distributed to both the old and young ones, no big barbecues, not many “Christmas dresses” will be bought, sown or worn in my region the southern part of Kaduna state. Even the traditional Kagoro day, an annual mega cultural and dance festival (which holds every 1st day of January and has done so for over 30 years) that brings tourists from all over the country to witness the rich cultural heritage of the region is not likely to hold this year.
And no it’s not the recession…. though it’s affected my people, like it has other Nigerians. Rather it’s the genocide that has pervaded the peace-loving and harmonious people of Southern Kaduna. You see these are not happy times for us because too many of our fathers, mothers, youth and children have been slaughtered over the years. In 2016 alone, we lost over 325 people to Fulani herdsmen attacks not to mention over 4,000 displaced families and communities! Today, images of poor villagers slaughtered in the dark of night, with their houses and households burnt and looted, farmers killed on their own farms in broad day light are no longer strange but seem to have become the new normal.
It is so bad that even the policemen don’t venture beyond the highways in the area for even they understand the fear of the Fulani herdsmen is the beginning of a slightly prolonged life.
According to SBM intelligence report “Nigeria’s Pastoral Conflict Report, December 2016” in 2016 alone over 1,340 people were killed From Fulani herdsmen related attacks with the bulk of the casualties from Benue and Kaduna in that order.
Take the story of Retired Sergeant Ishaya Salisu, a patriotic Nigerian who dutifully served his country for over 20years before he retired to Godogodo his hometown a few years ago. Godogodo, is an old peaceful, colonial mining semi-urban town, about 250 kilometers south of Kaduna metropolis situated in Jema’a Local Government Area, LGA, of Kaduna State. The town itself is a mini hub of commercial activities where traders, farmers and other businessmen converge weekly to trade. Like the rest of the region of Southern Kaduna, the people of Godogodo are predominantly farmers – both men and women are engaged in this business which puts food on the table as well as affords them a means of livelihood.
The usual peace enjoyed by the people of Godogodo was shattered on the evening of the 15th of October 2016 when a series of gunshots rang out. Rtd Sergeant Ishaya was in his house when the attacks started. In his words “The first shot came from somewhere around the eastern side of my house, I came out of the house and there were more shots. There were eight people in my house, mostly women and children. I rushed inside the house and told them to get into a room and lock themselves up. I picked my dane gun and came out. I have a neighbor who had been away and left his wife alone at home. I got there and brought her to my house. Then I saw the first set of Fulani walking into an adjacent street shooting. Some were burning homes, because you could see fire and smoke that evening”
“I rushed back to the house and opened the rear door, came outside and positioned myself. I took aim at one of them, but my gun snapped! No shot! I took a good aim again, the gun did not answer. As I stood up to get into the house, a bullet passed through me”.
Luckily, the bullet passed through his lower abdomen cleanly and didn’t hit any vital organs. As he ran back into his compound he herded the women and children with him, locked the front door and hid them in the outer wall of his compound, which luckily was covered with grass. This singular act saved their lives as almost immediately the Fulani came into the compound and started pouring petrol into the house, thinking they were inside and set the house ablaze. They laid quietly in the same position till morning broke. The Herdsmen left in their wake burning of human flesh everywhere, razed houses which were looted and dead women and children!
And no this is not a scene from Hotel Rwanda the movie, this happened in Kaduna State …in 2016!
It’s been like this for Years…but not this bad.
Sadly, Southern Kaduna is no stranger to these sort of ethno-religious crises, especially between the Southern Kaduna residents and the Hausa- Fulani inhabitants of the northern part of the state. In the past it was about religion, Sharia or elections. Today the battle is over land and cattle.
In 1980 for instance in a town called Kasuwan Magani in Kajuru Local Government Area Hausa traders tried to take over Adara owned land (located in Southern Kaduna), claiming that the land belonged to them which led to attacks, burnings and killings. Or even recall the infamous Zangon Kataf crisis in 1992, which erupted due to a disagreement over the siting of a market. The natives wanted the market at a particular place without the interference of the Hausa tribe who claimed to be settlers. The crisis in Zangon Kataf spread to other parts of the State and neighbouring States where places of worship were burnt, hundreds of lives lost and property worth millions of naira was destroyed.
In 2000, at least 2,000 people were killed in sectarian clashes, which were sparked by Christian protests against the proposed introduction of Sharia law in the state. The fallout of the clashes saw many Christians relocating from Northern part of Kaduna to the Southern part and vice versa- so Kaduna a once peaceful and cosmopolitan settlement of Nigerians from all tribes soon became very polarized along religious and ethnic lines.
In 2011, there were post-election attacks on Southern Kaduna and other Christians in Zaria, Kaduna, Zonkwa and Kafanchan, following incendiary comments and incitement by political party leaders as the result of the loss of the CPC candidate Muhammadu Buhari (now President Buhari) during the 2011 presidential election. This crisis started in Zaria and Kaduna, where hundreds of churches and houses were burnt, the Kafanchan market was burnt, pastors and other innocent persons were killed, injured and rendered homeless. In Kafanchan, the Christians in retaliation also burnt mosques and also killed Hausa- Fulani Muslims.
In 2014, over 200 people were killed and another 4,000 people were displaced in separate attacks in the Southern part of Kaduna, Kaduna State. According to data from the National Human Rights Commission most of the affected victims of the Southern Kaduna killings were women and children.
According to records made available by the Human Rights Commission, 16 separate Southern Kaduna attacks happened from 1980-2010, while 39 of the recent attacks occurred in four years – 2011 to 2014. Since 2010, suspected Fulani herdsmen are alleged to have burned down over 500 houses and killed more than 4,000 people in the region alone!
THE IMPORTANCE OF SOUTHERN KADUNA
This matter is important and not just because I am from that region but this matter should be important to all well-meaning Nigerians too because if some of us are not safe, then all of us eventually will not be safe. But this aside there is the socio economic importance of the region to our country. The Southern part of Kaduna popularly referred to as Southern Kaduna or SK is comprised of about 12 local governments, which include Jaba, Jama’a, Kachia, Kagarko, Kaura, Kauru, Sanga and Zango Kataf etc and has a population of about 5million people. But like I said it’s not simply about the numbers:
TOURIST AND HISTORICAL SITES: THE NOK CULTURE
The world acclaimed Nok terracotta and Nok civilization was first found and located in Nok Village of Jaba Local government in the same region. The Nok sculptures and ceramics date back to 1500-900 BC according to radiocarbon and thermoluminiscence tests and are regarded as one of the oldest and priceless art forms in Sub Saharan Africa. The works continues to attract global interest from archaeologists and tourists from around the world- this makes the region a tourist haven if the right resources can be deployed as well as adequate security.
THE LAND IS GREEN… FOOD BASKET OF THE NATION
In this part of the Nigeria, practically anything can be grown; from maize, rice, Groundnuts, to Ginger, cassava, millet, mangoes, potatoes, turmeric, and beans.
The Southern Kaduna people are predominantly farmers and produce crops like ginger, maize, rice, hungry rice, millet, turmeric, palm oil, honey, Soya beans, etc. in commercial quantities. Needless to say with the destruction of the homes and settlements, most of the farmers cannot safely and freely go to farm without fear of being attacked by the Fulani marauders! The Fulani herdsman rampage is not peculiar only to the people of this region but to quite a few communities across the middle belt region of the country which is popularly referred to as the “Food basket of the nation” because the inhabitants are predominantly farmers and are responsible for the production of about 56% of the food consumed in Nigeria.
There is also the threat of looming loss of investments. Just recently the Kaduna State Governor Mallam Nasir El-Rufai commissioned a potato farm and processing factory worth $120 Million dollars in Marwa, located in the Southern Kaduna region probably one of the largest single investments in agriculture in the state in recent times but the viability of the factory will be deeply affected by the insecurity of lives and property in the region –further eroding potential investors confidence in sustaining much less increasing investments in the area.
The need for increased security and resources to forestall and keep the peace in the region has never been more dire especially at a time when the Federal and state government(s) is trying to diversify its revenue streams to non-oil sources with agriculture primely positioned as the key driver for economic growth for Nigeria over the next 3 years or so.
THE LAND IS GOLD, SAPPHIRE AND RUBY TOO
In terms of natural resources, Gold, Sapphire, Kaoline, Clay, Tantalite, Amethyst Kyanite, Graphite, Silhnite, Mica (Traces), Aqua marine, Ruby, Rock, Crystal, Topaz, Flospe, Tourmaline, Gemstone, Tentalime are found in commercial quantities all around the region. Indeed only recently, huge deposits of Nickel were discovered in Dangoma, in Kaura local government area. According to Hugh Morgan, a mining industry veteran, “The discovery is unusual because the nickel is found in small balls up to 3mm in diameter of a high purity in shallow soils in what could be the surface expression of a much bigger hard-rock nickel field.
“The nickel balls, rumoured to grade better than 90 per cent nickel and thought to be a world first given their widespread distribution, offer the potential for early cash flow from a simple and low-cost screening operation to fund a full assessment of the find that has exploration circles buzzing.”
So clearly, the ongoing crises affect not just the residents of the region, but the whole country on both social and economic levels. So the question that remains is why has there been such a slow and lackadaisical response to this humanitarian crisis by both the Federal and the State governments? Why hasn’t a state of emergency or similar been declared in the region? Why are there ongoing conversations by the Federal and State governments about the creation of grazing reserves in the same region, when clearly the antecedents of the region have shown that land ownership and related issues between both parties have never ended well and this will not change anytime soon? Is the President unaware of these killings? And if he is, why has no official statement been made? Why did the Governor pay compensation to the Fulani herdsmen without making a commensurate payment to the affected communities, where people didn’t only lose material possessions but lives were lost and families were displaced and people traumatized by the rampant cold blooded murders with no respite in sight? So many unanswered questions but the greatest need is taking much needed action right away.
THE WAY FORWARD
Section 14(2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 which states that: “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
According to the above provision the Federal and State governments have failed to adequately provide for the much needed security and welfare of the people of Southern Kaduna. This is the PRIMARY duty and nothing else matters as much!
I know the Governor has great vision for Kaduna and see the great possibilities, these visions will not be useful or meaningful without people being alive and well enough to enjoy these dividends of democracy. So there is a need to do more than has already been done.
In fact no Government can achieve any meaningful development without the security of lives and property, this instance is no different.
As can be gleaned from the Boko Haram scourge, a motley assortment of brigands with guns can become a regional menace over time if left unchecked. At the rate at which the herdsmen have been allowed to run amok all the way to the eastern part of Nigeria, indicates that it’s only a matter of time before they pose a serious national threat.
WHAT MUST BE DONE…AND IMMEDIATELY
Firstly, the Federal and/or the State government should set up a 24 hr Military taskforce in the region and across the Middle Belt to combat the killer herdsmen. This alone will repel and/or reduce any further attacks in the region.
Secondly, The Nigerian Military forces also need to be better trained and equipped with superior weapons and vehicles to ensure that they can effectively secure and protect the people. A situation where the herdsmen are brandishing AK47’s and other sophisticated weaponry, is real cause for concern, especially since they seemed better armed than our security forces.
Thirdly, even though the victims of the pogrom have made no request for compensation, compensation should be paid for the loss of lives and property. The State government should negotiate this as a matter of urgency, especially in light of the admission that they paid the Fulani herdsmen compensation and also in line with global best practices. Related to this is the convening of conciliation meetings between the State government and the affected communities to broker some sort of peace treaty.
Fourth, Mr President as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria should directly address the matter with not just words of empathy but also back it with urgent action. The situation affects most of the Middle Belt region popularly known as the “Food basket of the nation” for the sole reason that the region does produce majority of the food Nigerians consume, so it’s a matter of food and security for the country and not the region alone.
Fifth, any discussions about the establishment of grazing reserves by the Government should be immediately halted; the herdsmen in the course of their quest for food for their cattle, destroy plants and crops- a situation that has led to most of the conflicts in the area. Statistics show that violent conflicts between farmers and herdsmen in the Middle Belt region alone cost Nigeria an estimated $13.7 billion annually! Instead of grazing areas, the focus should be on ranches where the cattle can be kept, this not only increases the yield but also eliminates the regular incursions into farmlands that frequently cause the clashes with crop farmers.
Finally, I call on the local media to help sensitize and educate the public and the world on the ongoing humanitarian crises in the region, as little seems to be known about the ongoing in Southern Kaduna and the seriousness of the situation. While the world seems pre occupied by the Boko Haram crises in the North East, another potentially huge crisis looms in the North West and the battle here is not much different – it’s a battle based on ethnic and religious vendettas, which are further fuelled by the scramble for scarce resources.
Failure of the Government to take urgent action to arrest and quell this situation will only lead to the affected communities resorting to self-help. A situation that cannot bode well for our country.
This is a plea for help, for action and a prayer for peace for SK, Kaduna and all of Nigeria.
We will try to have a Merry Christmas and hopefully a promising New Year!
Audu Maikori is a Nigerian lawyer and entrepreneur from Kaduna State.