Tsonje, a village in the heart of Kaura local government of Kaduna is the latest victim of attacks by unidentified gunmen in the Southern senatorial zone. They attacked last Saturday and engaged local vigilante and policemen in a gun battle, at the end of which two men identified as Ephraim Ezekiel and Joshua Ladi lay dead. Village Head Adamu Abbah said five people were killed, and that it happened while they were on their way to their farms. The attack unsettled villagers greatly, as it had seemed all necessary security measures were in place.
Following the incessant violence in the area, both the state and federal governments took a number of measures. The state government declared a 24-hour curfew in three of the local governments where the attacks are prevalent. Southern Kaduna has eight local governments. The state government later relaxed the curfew in Jema’a and Zangon Kataf to 12 hours, but retained that of Kaura.
The state government also sent hundreds of policemen to the zone, while the federal government sent Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who in turn deployed more policemen to the zone. The Nigerian Army is also in the process of setting up two battalions in Southern Kaduna, while the Air Force continues to carry out air surveillance across flashpoints.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reported yesterday that 204 people have been killed in the crisis, marking the first time a government agency is providing a figure of the attacks since they began last year.
Before the attack on Tsonje, gunmen said by locals to be Fulani herdsmen under similar circumstances of heavy military presence and under a 24-hour curfew launched an attack on Goska village, about 5km from Kafanchan, Jema’a Local Government Area, killing five women and burning several houses. The attackers were said to have targeted homes of local community and youth leaders.
Senator Danjuma Laah, who spoke on the attack, alluded it to a possible collaboration between what he called Boko haram elements and herdsmen in the area.
The Nigerian Army recently cautioned Nigerians about possible attacks from Boko Haram elements who it said were fleeing the sacking of their operational base at Sambisa Forest.
Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, said some of the masterminds of the attacks and killings have been arrested. Some of the suspects include one Saleh Sabiu, Auwwal Madaki, Bashir Yusuf and Idris Iliyasu.
But the suspects denied the charge saying they were arrested under different circumstances. Sabiu said: “I was accused by my uncle of snatching his son’s motorcycle in Soba Local Government Area of Kaduna state three months ago. He reported the matter to the police and I have been in detention for over 20 days.”
In December, the General Officer Commanding the 1 Mechanised Infantry Division, Major General Adeniyi Oyebade said his troops intercepted two men carrying live ammunition in Kagoma Chiefdom. He said the middle-aged men were driving in a maroon-coloured Volkswagen vehicle, passing the front of the Sarkin Kagoma’s palace when they were nabbed. “They’ve been arrested,” he said.
Before that, 17 suspects were arrested in cases of arms dealing in different parts of Kaduna State. They include one Nelson Kpok and Yakubu Dangana. But most of the residents of Southern Kaduna believe that Fulani herdsmen are responsible for the attacks, believing they want to sack them from their villages so they can have access to grazing routes.
One of the community leaders at Anguwan Anjo, Mr. Samuel Auta blamed the attacks on Fulani herdsmen. But he made a distinction between the Fulani resident in the area and those coming from outside. “We are being attacked by those herdsmen that come from outside, not the ones living with us here,” he said.
Then Thursday, portions of a release from the Muslim Youth Foundation of Southern Kaduna (MYFOSKA), jointly signed by Alhaji Muhammad MK Qaseem (Chairman, Jama’a Foundation Kafanchan Chapter) and Malam Dabo Abdullahi (National Secretary, Muslim Youth Foundation of Southern Kaduna) read: “Muslim communities in the area have been living in difficult conditions due to the persistent state of provocation and insecurity including intimidation, premeditated violence and bloodletting which resulted in the mass killings and total displacement of Muslim communities in Zangon-Kataf, Zonkwa, Matsirga, Unguwan Rimi Baju, Kwoi, Jaban Kogo, Gidan Maga etc have been witnessed in the last three decades.”
The release added that the recurrent violence has received widespread publicity in the media, including the most recent disturbances in parts of Kaura and Jama’a LGAs, which was tabled at the National Assembly by the partisan elected representatives from Southern Kaduna, and is full of distortions. “Ninte is a settlement in Godogodo chiefdom, Jema’a LGA. On 25/05/16, some herdsmen were grazing their cattle in the area when a farmer accused them of destroying his crops this resulted in disagreements. The pastoralists’ leader (Ardo) of the area intervened and initiated a peace move. He went to the District Head office to assure the community of their desire to pay compensation to the aggrieved farmer. Unfortunately, he was attacked and killed by irate youths in the presence of the District Head and other community members. Immediately afterwards, the youths from the farming communities proceeded on rampage, burning all Fulani settlements in and around Godogodo attacked and killed every herdsmen on-sight.” The release said this forced the herdsmen to respond in self-defense. It also listed a number of incidents of killings and other forms of violence.
The release also said: “Fulani have been part and parcel of Southern Kaduna for over 400 Years. It is on record that they founded Jama’a Emirate circa 1804. We appeal to media houses, the National Human Rights Commission and NGOs such as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project among others to always verify facts before coming to conclusions on critical issues like this. We strongly condemn the taking of innocent lives and support all Government efforts aim at restoring peaceful co-existence.”
The group went on to make the following recommendations: “Governments need to consider the payment of compensation to victims and support the resettlement of displaced persons affected or displaced from such from 2011 to date. There is the need for increased security surveillance on the highways and community roads to checkmate the ambush and killing of innocent travellers,” among other recommendations.
The group also appealed to Senator Shehu Sani, Femi Fani-Kayode and Asari Dokubo, and all other politicians, not to politicize the killing of innocent Muslims and Christians of Southern Kaduna. “The sanctity of life need to be protected and all efforts should be geared towards building consensus among the communities, rather than fuelling sentiments that will spark further killings and destruction of properties,” it concluded.
Malam Yakubu Gambo, a resident of Ninte village, confirmed the village was sacked by herdsmen last year. He said it is only two weeks ago that people started returning to their homes, after soldiers were deployed there. Returnees prefer to make their homes close to where the soldiers are stationed. Ninte, Akwa, Golgofa, Gada Biyu, Anjul are some of the villages attacked last year. Others include Passakori, Mile, Unguwan Missisi Kirim, Zakum, Mayit, Agwom, Zakai Gira, Telak Tunga and Magwot.
Leader of the Jonde Jam Fulani Youth Association, Alhaji Saidu Maikano, however blamed the crisis on the attacks launched against Fulani residents, adding that it is because the perpetrators are not arrested that leads to reprisals and escalation of violence. He added that the non-prosecution of the culprits after the Zangon Kataf crisis has also led to further strains in the communities.
Traditional rulers in the area have equally expressed concern, and have suggested ways of attaining peace. Emir of Jema’a, Muhammadu Isa Muhammadu, said the presence of the army in the area will reassure the people of government’s concern and pledged to continue to talk to his people.
The traditional ruler of Bajju, Malam Nuhu Bature, on his part appealed to the security agencies to do their best. “We use to live in peace, but now things have changed; We cannot continue this way,” he added.
The Agwatyap, a traditional ruler in Zangon Kataf, Dominic Gambo Yahaya, said he has been making efforts on his part to ensure peace in the area, recalling a time he had to call a meeting with Fulani, Hausa, and other residents, particularly the youth and urged them to be law-abiding, adding that without peace there can be no development.