My most enduring impression is that while discussing with ordinary people, it sturck one forcefully that they really want dialogue and conflict resolution so that they can return to their farms and normal lives. The elite also talk of the imperative of dialogue but I have a feeling that they do not really mean it.
This week, I was invited to join a large delegation of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on a fact-finding mission relating to the terrible violence in Kaduna State. The NBA president, A. B. Mahmoud, led the mission and members of the delegation included the first national vice president and general secretary, accompanied by dozens of senior lawyers from all over the country. The purpose of the visit was to express solidarity with the people of Kaduna State who have suffered from high level violence for so long, engage with leaders and communities in the State to seek a better understanding of what is happening, and to explore avenues for ending the violence and bringing peace back to the State
The mission started with a visit to Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai on Tuesday. He told us that cyclical violence has affected the State for 35 years, and over the period between 10,000 and 20,000 people have lost their lives in the various crises that had rocked Kaduna State since 1980. El-Rufai explained that the root cause of the persistence of cyclical violence has been the lack of accountability over the period, with no one ever getting punished for killing and harming others. The only exception, according to the governor, has been the Justice Benedict Okadigbo Tribunal on the Zango-Kataf Religious Crisis of 1992, which former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida established to investigate those implicated in the 1992 Zango-Kataf crisis and ensure that they face the law. Since then, subsequent killers have not been made to face the law. Governor El Rufai also made the point that there is great exaggeration of the scale of the killings, especially in the social media, and that some people are deliberately amplifying the scale of the killings for political purposes. The governor also informed the delegation that the crisis is not all over southern Kaduna but is localised in three out of the eight local governments in Southern Kaduna. El Rufai asserted that he is determined to bring an end to the killings in Kaduna State and promised that henceforth, the law will be fully applied without fear or favour. Already, significant arrests have been made and the law will take its course, he added.
In his response, the NBA president drew the governor’s attention to the complexity of the crisis in Kaduna State and emphasised the importance of pursuing multiple tracks in the search for peace in the State. A. B. Mahmoud also made a passionate appeal to the government and people in Kaduna State to exercise moderation, tone down on belligerence and seek the path of mediation and compromise. He emphasised that his own community of lawyers in Kaduna State have been urged to be mediators and not partisans in the conflict. He promised to return to the State after analysing the findings from the mission and formulating advice for the various stakeholders.
The delegation then went to Kafanchan to interact with communities that have been affected by the violence. The first thing we observed was the massive deployment of security forces. The police commissioner in charge of the Mobile Force in Abuja has been deployed to Kafanchan since December 24, and has deployed his forces in virtually all the affected areas. It is for this reason that the level of reported violence in the area has declined considerably.
The great number of violent communal conflicts leading to the loss of life, at least 35 since 1970, has reinforced memories of bitterness. The conflicts have taken the unfortunate dimension of dividing the people along ethnic and religious lines.
We started our engagement with affected communities in Goska, which was attacked by gunmen at 5pm on December 24, with about thirty houses destroyed and five people killed. We asked them who the attackers were and they responded that they did not actually see them, but suspect that they must have been the Fulani from the nearby village of Dan Goma. I asked some of the people what the root causes of the conflicts were and the response was that some people were after their fertile land and access to nickel, which has just been discovered in the area. The latter sounded speculative, as it has not even been confirmed if the mineral is available in commercial quantities. The most important point they made, however, was there are strong political undertones to the crisis as southern and northern Kaduna have different political affiliations.
We then proceeded a few kilometres to the accused Fulani community of Dan Goma. They denied implication in the attack. The Fulani pointed out that they are not settlers, as they had lived in that community for at least 500 years, and peacefully with their neighbours. In the district, there is one Muslim Fulani community and fifteen Koninkan communities, so as a minority, it would be foolhardy for them to start a fight. They argued that there is indeed a conflict between some other Fulani and Goska village, but they were certainly not part of it. We then went to the District headquarters at Bakin Kogi, where the District head confirmed that there has indeed been a long history of peaceful relations between their people and the Fulani in Dan Goma. He argued that there is a new generation of youth that is angry, unemployed and often on drugs, who are behind the crisis.
We then had a town hall meeting in Kafanchan with community leaders, the Christian Association of Nigeria, and the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union; a federation of indigenous ethnic associations made their presentations. They expressed their concern about the repeated killings and cried out of being tired of burying their dead. They strongly criticised Governor El Rufai, who they said is intransigent and has refused to dialogue with them.
What struck me about our various conversations are the long memories of conflict between northern and southern Kaduna starting from the trans-Saharan slave raids to the political control of the zone by the Zaria Emirate under colonial rule. The great number of violent communal conflicts leading to the loss of life, at least 35 since 1970, has reinforced memories of bitterness. The conflicts have taken the unfortunate dimension of dividing the people along ethnic and religious lines.
Let no one doubt it, everyone has an interest in halting this destructive violence in southern Kaduna and indeed in all parts of this country and we should all work towards peace.
One key word that emerged during the various discussions during the mission was politics and the activities of violence entrepreneurs. It appears that some politicians have a stake in fanning violence in the area. The other keyword is reprisal or revenge. Killings occur and the next round is revenge killing, so the process becomes self-perpetuating.
Bitter memories and reprisal killings create difficulties for taking a law and order approach. The governor vowed that all those found to be behind the recent killings in Jema’a, Zangon Kataf and Kaura local government areas of the state would be fished out and prosecuted. He disclosed that a number of arrests had already been made, adding that more people would soon be arrested in connection with the crisis. The question that arises is how far back you can go. When you punish current perpetrators, questions are then posed about the previous ones. The narratives of the two communities about who is the perpetrator and who is the victim is also diametrically opposed, with each side seeing itself as the victim. The situation is delicate and needs a lot of caution.
I was also struck by the widespread rumours and fake news, as well as fake photographs, circulating about the crisis in southern Kaduna. As is all violent conflicts, truth is one of the first victims. My most enduring impression is that while discussing with ordinary people, it sturck one forcefully that they really want dialogue and conflict resolution so that they can return to their farms and normal lives. The elite also talk of the imperative of dialogue but I have a feeling that they do not really mean it. Let no one doubt it, everyone has an interest in halting this destructive violence in southern Kaduna and indeed in all parts of this country and we should all work towards peace.