What started as a dispute over farmland between the majority Hausa tribe of Zango Urban and the Atyap people, both in Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State on June 5, 2020 soon escalated into full-scale mayhem that led to the loss of several lives and destruction of property.
From June 11, 2020, attacks and counter-attacks between the two communities spread quickly like wildfire from one community to the other, sweeping many innocent lives, destroying property and leaving thousands homeless and in disarray.
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For decades, the crisis in southern Kaduna has taken a toll on residents and sometimes travellers who are caught in the web of the unrest.
Many lives have been cut short and thousands reduced to internally displaced camps in neighbouring communities.
With the main theatre of the violence being Kaura, Kauru, Jema’a, Sanga and Zangon Kataf local government areas, a 24-hour curfew earlier imposed on Zangon Kataf and Kauru did little to de-escalate tensions until eventually, the Kaduna State government included Jema’a and Kaura LGAs, making four southern Kaduna LGAs presently under a 24-hour curfew.
Though the history of the violence in the area goes decades back, the recent round of violence followed tensions over farmland disputes between the Hausa and the Atyap who had for years lived in perpetual suspicion of each another, often times leading to perennial clashes over farmlands.
Our correspondent gathered that shortly after the land altercation of June 5, one Moses Yusuf Magaji who went to cultivate a disputed part of the land was found dead, a situation which angered some Atyap youths who accused the Hausa and Fulani of killing him.
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the Atyap people allegedly led a reprisal by setting ablaze one Shehu Ahmad, a Hausa man. On June 11, Fulani residents said suspected Atyap youths launched coordinated attacks on several Fulani communities within Zangon Kataf and neighbouring Jema’a LGA.
The state chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Alhaji Haruna Usman Tugga, said at least 89 people were killed and 139 others were missing.
Abdallah Ismail Abdallah who survived the attack on Ugwan Jaba in Unguwan Gayan district of Zangon Kataf said he was returning from a shop after charging his phone battery when he sighted dozens of Atyap youths who barricaded the highway to unleash their anger on Fulani people.
“I took a diversion on my bike and sped off to a hilly bush where I hid. I watched in horror from the hill where I spent three days hiding from the attackers. I later learnt that they moved to our village, set it on fire, killed many people including two of my friends and a relative,” he said.
Abdallah said after the attack, they learnt that the attack on their village was in connection with the land dispute between the Atyap and people of Zango Urban.
“Why then should a land dispute between two communities warrant such a barbaric attack on us who have lived here for years and have no issue with any tribe?” he queried.
Following the June 11 killings, Governor Nasir El-Rufai imposed a 24-hour curfew on Zangon Kataf and Kauru LGAs to prevent escalations and reprisals, but the die had already been cast as several reprisals followed, leading to tit-for-tat attacks and counter attacks.
Though the Atyap Community Development Association (ACDA) in a statement by its National President, Prof. Lucius Bamaiyi, described the claim of the attack on Fulani as a misrepresentation of facts aimed at portraying them as victims, he admitted that Atyap youths had embarked on a peaceful demonstration following the killing of Magaji but said security forces drafted to the area had opened fire on the youths, killing one.
Alleged reprisals by suspected Fulani had in July claimed nine lives in Gora Gan village of Zangon Kataf as well as 17 lives at a wedding in Kukum Daji and 10 others in Zikpak in Jema’a LGA.
According to the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), attacks on their communities have continued despite the curfew imposed by the state government. He added that the invaders had burnt houses, destroyed farmlands and looted foodstuff and other property.
Ishaku Moses Bitrus, who witnessed the July 24 attack on Zikpak, said the attackers stormed the area around 7pm.
“When I heard the first shot, I didn’t think much of it because I thought it was our vigilante members but when I went out to confirm, I saw the attackers shooting sporadically and eight people died on the spot while two others later died,” he said.
Bitrus wondered why his community would be attacked when they had lived peacefully with their neighbours for years.
“We later learnt that one Fulani man of Dangoma in Jema’a LGA was killed somewhere at Takau, but if that is the case, why should we be the victims, why can’t the attackers take their vengeance on the people that killed their brother?” he queried.
With several media publications portraying the violence as ethnic cleansing on the Atyap people, Operation Safe Haven commander, Major General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo who is in charge of maintaining law and order within the volatile area, within the week accused both sides of harbouring criminal elements who carried out the killings.
“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 perpetuate their criminal activities, aside communities involved in the crisis,” Okonkwo added.
Innocent lives bear the brunt
Musa Sallau, a Fulani from Dangoma, who was a secretary to the former district head of Dangoma in Kaninkon chiefdom of Jema’a LGA, is suspected to have been ambushed and killed in Takau-one on July 22, 2020. An eye witness who narrowly escaped the same attack said Sallau left behind two wives, 12 children and relatives.
Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, Rahmatu Shu’aibu, one of his wives, said the former secretary told them he was going to the fertilizer distribution centre in Kafanchan, the headquarters of Jema’a LGA, but never returned.
“While in Kafanchan, there was a rumoured attack and he personally told some of our people to be careful on the road. Later, when he was informed that the road was safe, he hopped on a motorcycle from Kafanchan on his way to Dangoma but some youths attacked him and we suspect he has been killed as his remains were never found,” she said.
An elder in Dangoma community, retired Warrant Officer Idris Wazobia, said late Sallau Musa was the sixth of such killings within Takau axis and pleaded with representatives of the neighbouring communities to caution their youths against such evil acts.
The next day, gun-wielding youths attacked and shot at Muhammadu Gidado, 32, near Ungwan Masara in Zikpak of Jema’a LGA while he was rearing cattle with his brothers. Having survived the assault, Mohammed said; “I just found myself at Kafanchan General Hospital where I was receiving treatment but the health workers told us that they couldn’t remove any of the bullets because they lacked the facilities so we were moved to another hospital,” he told Daily Trust on Sunday.
Before then, armed men suspected to be Fulani had on July 10, attacked Chibob village in Zangon Kataf in which Rose Timothy, 30-year-old mother of three, was shot on the hand because she failed to disclose the whereabouts of her husband.
“They asked if we were the ones that killed their brothers and I said no. So they warned us and set our homes on fire saying they do not kill women and children,” she said.
Agnes Manasseh, a 25-year-old mother of three from Warakan community in Zangon Kataf, said the invaders knocked on her door, and then barged in enquiring about her husband. Like Rose, Agness said they let her go when they couldn’t locate her husband but set the house ablaze.
According to Samuel Amai, a former councillor of Kukum Daji in Kaura LGA where 17 people were killed at a wedding party on July 19, said he lost 13 members of his extended family while 16 people were buried in a mass grave after the attack.
Decades of contentious farmlands triggering bloodshed
Concerning the disputed land that led to the 2020 Zangon Kataf crises, the Secretary General of the of Zango Urban Development Association, Muhammad Umar in a statement accused Atyap people of taking over their farmlands after the 1992 violent riot that led to the killing of hundreds and displacement of thousands.
“Our lands have never been returned to us. As usual, verbal assurances had been made to us by their traditional ruler but in reality, nothing has been done to hand over our farmlands to us. Our people who have attempted to use the farmlands annually are being attacked with guns and cutlasses,” the statement said.
Because of the land dispute, the state government in July set up a committee to draft a White Paper on the two reports of the Justice Rahila Cudjoe Commission of Inquiry into the Zangon Kataf riots of February and May 1992 which spread to other parts of the state. The White paper drafting committee according to Governor Nasir El-Rufai is to also consider the 1995 report on the Zangon-Kataf Reconciliation Committee chaired by Air vice Marshall Usman Mu’azu.
According to the state government, the land dispute between the Atyap and people of Zangon Urban is specifically mentioned in the 1992 and 1995 reports in which a White Paper is to be drafted.
But soon after the pronouncement, the Atyap Community Development Association (ACDA) described the setting up of the committee as suspicious, saying nearly all the recommendations of the panels had either been fully implemented or been overtaken by events. The ACDA in a statement by the Secretary General, Sule Tinat Bodam in July stated that recommendations had been fully implemented while a White Paper from the AVM Mua’azu reconciliation committee had been produced and implemented since 1995.
Residents accuse southern Kaduna politicians of taking sides
The MACBAN chairman for Southern Kaduna, Alhaji Abdulhamid Musa Albarka, lamented how politicians in the area have failed in their responsibility by taking sides in the violence.
He said the killing of more than 80 Fulani and destruction of their homes and property in June did not receive the attention of any political office holder from the area at the state and national legislature.
“No member from the state or National Assembly have visited or sent a delegation to the Fulani that lost dear ones or to the officials of any of the Fulani associations,” he said.
Also, the National Chairman, Muslim Youth Foundation of southern Kaduna, Muhammed Kabir Bello on July 24, said many of their people had been killed in guerrilla-style attacks while on transit but never received condemnation from political or traditional leaders from the area.
In a statement, Bello said, “Whenever there is a rumour of crisis in the area, illegal roadblocks are mounted to ambush and kill our people on transit. It is disappointing that whenever Hausa or Fulani communities in southern Kaduna are attacked traditional rulers, religious elders and political elite keep mute and ignore the crime as if our lives are valueless. But the slightest provocation on their people is received with exaggerated comments and press conferences and submissions at the state and national assemblies.”
Abdallah who survived the June 11, 2020 attack said he personally called the members representing the area at the state and National Assembly to request for relief materials on behalf of the over 2000 displaced Fulani living in Zango Urban but said except for the local government chairman, other elected politicians did not respond to their plea.