For one week now, our family has accommodated a close relation and her two teen-age daughters. They arrived from Kafanchan in the dead of the night, clearly traumatized.
Her husband works with one of the federal agencies in Abuja, and had phoned her to leave town and their home because rumour had it that the town was going to be attacked.
Since their arrival, we have both followed developments in and around southern Kaduna very closely. We have never really been distant from developments and politics of a region that flows deep in our veins.
I am Fulani married to a Fulani, with close relations scattered in five local government areas in the southern part of the state and a few other locations in the state where they were forced to make home as a result of the 1992 Zangon Kataf killings.
Our guest and relation was born and grew up in Zonkwa, but the bulk of her relations lived in the old Zangon Kataf. Until she was 18, she had only visited Kafanchan and Kaduna once.
She went to School in Zonkwa, went to visit relations in Zangon Kataf with Bajju and Atyap friends; visited homes of friends who were non-Muslim, attended Islamic school next to huge clusters of Almajirai schools, and had feast on Sallah and Christmas.
She tells stories of a near-idyllic life with strong bonds of friendship with girls from Samaru Kataf, Kamuru Station, Kachia, Crossing, Ladduga, Gora and Zangon Kataf.
They were Christians and Muslims, spoke each others’ languages, ate each others’ food and slept in each others’ houses.
As they grew older, some will become detached after picking hints from adults that there are boundaries built by faith, historical grievances and pressures to affect changes in the manner communities lived in the area.
Adults whispered more, and churches and mosques became more popular as places where you were told what was coming and what to do.
In 1992, eight of her close relations were killed in Zangon Kataf. Many others moved to Lere, Kaduna and Zonkwa.
After many noisy and traumatic arguments around staying on in Zonkwa or moving out, the head of the family decided that they were to stay.
A few members of the community and relations sold their stalls in the bustling Zonkwa market and left.
The Hausa-Fulani community was depleted. Relationships built over decades were poisoned.
People began to drift apart, and with every round of killings in the state over Miss World, over cartoon, over introduction of Sharia, Zonkwa will catch the heat, and families and communities will retreat and assume fighting postures.
My relation got married and moved out of Zonkwa where she started a family. But her heart was in Zonkwa.
In 2011, virtually her entire family was wiped out in a single day as the Zonkwa Hausa-Fulani Muslims were rounded up and massacred by neighbours. She has not been to Zonkwa since then, and she has no relation in Zonkwa or Zangon Kataf.
We all know she has changed, and it is still difficult to get her to speak about the past. I know she is intensely interested in what goes on in southern Kaduna, and I try to drag her opinions out of her.
These last few days she is a bit more relaxed, so we speak a bit more. She has refused to be part of a network of many groups that have sprung up around causes and the fight for justice and restitution from all sides, although she is one of the few Hausa-Fulani females from the area who has two university degrees and holds down a senior position in public service.
When she does speak, she offers insights that are rare and sentiments that are profoundly touching. I will share a few of them, with her reluctant consent.
Conflict in parts of Kaduna State are unavoidably endemic, although sensitive governance and a willingness to move on can substantially reduce intensity and frequency of inter-ethnic and religious conflicts.
You have to go way back to pre-colonial periods when small, isolated ethnic groups were victims of predatory neighbours, particularly Zaria.
Christian missionaries found an ideal setting for large scale harvest of souls with the combination of available non-Muslim communities and evangelisation that was fueled by the inculcation of a strong anti-Islam background, represented by a strong Hausa-Fulani that preferred to plunder and enslave, rather than convert local communities.
Colonialism gave non-Hausa Fulani communities Christianity and Western education, but refused to allow it to improve their status among other Northern communities.
They were made to retain their appendage status. Their small elite was confined to public service and the military.
The church has been the most decisive political influence in Southern Kaduna.Some people even referred to the area as the ‘Bible belt’ of the North. Until the 70s and 80s rivalries between communities tended to weaken unity.
A strong presence of influential military officers from the region in military regimes and the emergence of an assertive church supported by rural-based women began to draw attention to the need to right historic wrongs and improve a desperately poor region.
In four decades, the region had reinforced a religious identity with a political one, using both to acquire a lot more concessions than its size and population entitled it to.
Significantly, the impression began to be created that Southern Kaduna was pre-eminently Christian territory ‘owned’ by communities other than ‘minority’ non-Hausa-Fulani.
These were ‘settlers’ who lived entirely at the pleasure of other indigenous communities.
Gradually, the large Hausa-Fulani indigenes in Jamaa, Kachia, Kajuru, Kagarko, Sanga and many other locations lost out to a more aggressive emerging elite of other Southern Kaduna communities in competitions for public service and elective positions.
When the governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasiru el-Rufai laments that killings have been going on in most parts of the North, and it is only in Kaduna that it is given a religious colour, he seemed not to understand the centrality of the church in local politics.
The church has led the resistance against Hausa-Fulani/Muslim dominance against the region.
It shapes consciousness more than all other factors that do. It led the resistance against him and his politics to date.
It leads the outrage against killings and will not accept that the same criminals that kill in Zamfara and Katsina are at work in Southern Kaduna. In this region, the enemy is never far away, and every retaliation is self defence.
Too much blood has been shed in Southern Kaduna, much of it needlessly. Faith has been abused and elevated to the most destructive weapon by all the communities.
Bandits and rustlers are setting fires in the most dangerous part of the nation. Killing these fires will involve the willing and self-interested participation of all elites and the church in all its ramification, as well as all communities. It can be done.
No, it must be done. No one is going anywhere, and any people pushed to the wall will fight back, sooner or later.
No community in Southern Kaduna can live in peace unless all communities live in peace.It is in every group’s interest to join in the search for killers, or they will create many more killers among people who need peace.