In less than three months, a deadly wave of attacks and reprisals that engulfed four local government areas of southern Kaduna has claimed more than 100 lives and rendered thousands more homeless.
The spate of killings began after a dispute over farmland between the Hausa ethnic group of Zango Urban and of Atyap ethnic stock leading to bloodbath in Zangon Kataf local government area (LGA).
Since then, the killings had snowballed into tit-for-tat spreading to several communities in Zangon Kataf, Kaura, and Jema’a LGA of Kaduna state.
The violence reawakened historical ethnic and religious tension and fault lines that have persisted in the last four decades which has made Zangon Kataf, in particular, notorious for bloodbath ground.
Dozens of villages have become shadows of their past; soaked in the blood of the innocent with survivors stranded at various Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in the state.
While a majority Christian Atyab survivors are taking refuge at the Mercy IDP camp in Zonkwa, Zangon Kataf, the Fulanis and Hausas who are mostly Muslims have relocated and taking refuse in Mariri camp in Lere LGA and Ladduga, in Kachia LGA.
Recounting their experiences to Daily Trust on Saturday, several IDPs, across religious and ethnic divides narrated how they fled their communities in disarray and walked for several kilometres on foot to safety.
Murna Emmanuel, mother of six who has so far spent some 47 days at the Mercy IDP camp in Zonkwa, said she was eager to return home. The attack on her village in Kigudu had claimed the life of her pregnant sister and two children. The traumatic experience, Murna said continues to haunt her.
“I cannot forget the day the attackers stormed our village in Kigudu. They appeared from nowhere and started shooting, killing everyone in sight including women and children. My pregnant sister with her two children was locked in their home and the house was set ablaze,” she said.
“We are comfortable here (IDPs camp) because the coordinators are taking care of us from the donations they have been receiving from associations and other good spirited people, but as you know, there is nowhere like home.”
Murna also called on the government to rebuild their homes and ensure security is adequately restored so she can return home to farm.
Like Murna, 18-years-old Julius Christopher who survived gunshot wounds in his hands said his village in Gora Gan in Zangon Kataf was attacked within the week and so he is new at the IDP camp.
His 60-year-old mother, Regina who is nursing him is equally eager to return home even though she would have to live with the pain of losing one of her sons during the attack.
“It is the responsibility of the government to rebuild our homes and provide us with the necessary security so that we can return to our normal lives. They killed my brother and shot me but I thank God I survived and now, I want to return home,” Julius said.
For Salamatu Jafaru, a 47-year-old mother, narrated how for two days, she clutched two of her young children while the other two trailed behind her, as they walked through the forest surrounded by other fleeing villagers to reach Ladduga in Kachia LGA after their village in Gora, Zangon Kataf was attacked.
“We were over 100, scattered and walking on foot, there was no water, no food. We slept in the forest and the children cried a lot, but there was nothing we could do,” she told our correspondent.
In Ladduga, she narrated how they made tents from leaves to protect them from the elements. But there is still no food and she said they often go to bed hungry.
“My father in-law relocated from Gora to Ladduga many years back because of the crisis in Zangon Kataf but he died about 12 years ago. That was why we thought of coming here, but life has been difficult. Except for the one measure of rice, two noodles and a small tin of palm oil we received from a good Samaritan, no one has offered us anything,” she said.
At the Mariri camp in Lere local government area, Yari Umar, the Ardo of Gidan Zaki district in Zangon Kataf owned houses in Gidan Zaki (Zangon Kataf) and Akoliko (Kauru LGA). He now has nothing and barely made it out alive.
The 60-year-old Yari now sleeps in a Mosque in Mariri, with other survivors of attacks from other communities.
Recounting his ordeal, Ardo Yari said, “They came on motorcycles, some on foot, armed with guns, sticks and machetes on a Friday morning. We heard their gun shots from a distance and we asked our wives and children to run for safety while we trailed behind them. But soon after, they arrived at our village in Akoliko on the border of Zangon Kataf and Kauru and started burning and killing. I lost two brothers.”
Yari said his home in Gidan Zaki was burnt down during the violence of 2011 and so he had relocated his family to Akoliko, only for history to repeat itself.
“We want to return home but we are scared. Oftentimes, the government deploys security and we are asked to go home and once we are settled, these youths will come and attack us again. It has been a vicious circle for 20 years,” he said.
“They claim we are settlers but we are not, more than five generations of our people were born here. We cannot simply leave our homes just because some people are the majority,” he argued.
Government, religious leaders suggest ways to end hostilities
Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai has maintained that beyond the deployment of security agents, the only means of guaranteeing peace is for communities to resolve to settle their differences through lawful means.
The governor, in July also 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 El-Rufai will also consider the 1995 report on the Zangon-Kataf Reconciliation Committee chaired by Air vice Marshall Usman Mu’azu.
Even though the Atyap people have expressed suspicion in the White Paper drafting committee, El-Rufai insisted it was the only way to create a road map to achieving a permanent solution to the crisis in southern Kaduna.
On his visit, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend Olasupo Ayokule had called for a halt in provocative statements and implored that for hostilities to end, the government must bring the killers to book.
Rev. Ayokunle argued that the crisis in southern Kaduna is being tagged “a religious or ethnic crisis” because it has lingered and given people room to make such conclusions especially since the attackers are tagged as ‘unknown gunmen.’
The CAN president’s suggestion received a nod from the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria who went further to insist that the government must punish all past leaders whose hands had been soiled in the blood of the innocents.
To do this, the council suggested a revisit of the late Justice Pius Okadigbo tribunal on the 1992 Zangon-Kataf riots that found Retired General Zamani Lekwot and 16 others guilty of the killings in southern Kaduna.
It maintained that the solution to ending the persistent violence in southern Kaduna was to execute Lekwot and others to serve as deterrent to others, even though Lekwot’s death sentence was exchanged to jail sentence and in 1995, he received a state pardon by the regime of late General Sani Abacha.
The council’s state secretary, Engineer Abdulrahman Hassan maintained that the 1992 Zangon kataf crisis was what opened the floodgate of violence, mayhem, upheavals and total breakdown of law and order in southern Kaduna which has continued to feaster till today.
Major General Zamani Lekwot, (retd) on his part said he was not afraid of death but cautioned that what Nigeria needs at the moment is genuine tolerance, regardless of ethnic or religious affinities and not hatred.
He said all past and present killings in Zangon Kataf were unfortunate, adding that “those that are reverting to it are clever by half. What we need in our country is genuine tolerance; we have lived together for a very long time, now, by what they are saying, they are now giving the reason some armed foreign bandits are imported to destroy the country.”
Will deployment of Special Forces end the feud?
In 2017, the Defence Headquarters extended the mandate of Plateau based Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) to four local government areas of Jema’a, Kaura, Sanga and Zangon Kataf in the southern part of Kaduna state.
Subsequently, a sector 7 command of OPSH was established to maintain law and order in the area. However, with the latest wave of killings proving challenging to security agents, the DHQ last week deployed an undisclosed number of its Special Forces Team to augment the capacity of OPSH in the area.
Their deployment was further reinforced on Sunday with the deployment of 32 Special Forces operatives of the Nigerian Air Force to join the contingent of the defence headquarters.
Despite the gloom that continues to envelop the southern Kaduna axis, the arrival of the security team had ignited a ray of hope that the killings and counter killings would likely come to an end.
A similar scenario had played out in June 2018 when 33 men of the Special Forces team were deployed to Plateau’s Barkin Ladi LGA to boost the capabilities of OPSH after over 200 people were killed. Their arrival had suppressed internal security challenges on the Plateau since then.
It is hoped that the troops will bring lasting peace to southern Kaduna but they must respond to communities promptly, said the Youth Wing Secretary of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) Augustine Baye.
“Unless those deployed are ready to respond regardless of distance or the risk involved in the operation, their impact won’t be felt by the communities,” he said
“My fear is that some of them might intimidate and extort villagers in the course of discharging their duties rather than protecting them as some of them don’t carry human faces,” he added.
The Secretary General, National Youth Council of Nigeria, Jema’a LGA, Nehemiah Madugu, while commending the deployment of the team urged communities to work with them by providing information.
Madugu urged the security agents not to compromise their mandate adding that; “anyone found wanting no matter his political, social and religious affiliations should be treated accordingly. I am hopeful that the end of the evil being perpetrated in Southern Kaduna has come to an end and we will enjoy relative peace.”
The Secretary, Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) in Southern Kaduna, Alhaji Iliyasu Musa on his part said the Muslim community was happy with the deployment of the forces but urged the troops to work with traditional and religious leaders and be mindful of rumour mongers.
While urging the communities to provide useful information as well as report suspicious movements, the JNI implored a spirit of forgiveness regardless of religious and ethnic differences.
The Youth Wing Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kaduna State, Joel Adegboyega also said it is hoped that the presence of the security forces will not only stem insecurity but also create fear in the hearts of those who may want to join banditry.
“We also believe that the presence of security forces will help curtail reprisal attacks on innocent people and also help stimulate the economy of the area and human activities,” he said.
He however said unless small and sophisticated arms are mopped up from the hands of individuals and communities, the security agents may face a daunting task in restoring peace in the area.
Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), in southern Kaduna said they are ready to give peace a chance and work with the security agents.
The MACBAN chairman for southern Kaduna, Alhaji Abdulhamid Musa however said, Peace must be found within the communities not from external forces. “If a farmer or herder has an issue with the other, he has to look for a possible way of resolving the matter without taking laws into their hands,” he added.