Unguwan Gankon, August 18, 2020. After she was forced to strip, pregnant Hanatu Kefas, with her three-year-old girl, was locked up in a piggery and made to roll on the stinking floor, with a ruthless gunman barking out commands.
“He now told me to drop my baby on the floor and I dropped my baby on the floor,” began Mrs Kefas, recalling her ordeal to PREMIUM TIMES. “He now told me to undress and start rolling on the ground, with this animal, pig, and I started rolling on the floor.”
She was not raped that day as she feared. But that severely distressing experience and the emotional shock caused by the killing of her husband, Maliki Kefas, the same moment, left her with traumas, which she is being helped to deal with at a local public clinic in Zonkwa, Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
While she was being humiliated in the piggery, her husband was shot dead by another gunman and she heard his dying moans. “I could not go out (of the piggery),” she recalls, her eyes swollen with tears.
The gunmen, suspected to be Fulani attackers on a reprisal mission, invaded Unguwan Gankon, a Kataf village, that August evening, in return for an earlier killing of their kinsman, a distraught Mrs Kefas said. “In truth, one of them had earlier been killed by our people,” she said. “But I don’t know who killed him because I was just coming from Kaduna.”
In the reprisal attack that led to the killing of Mr Kefas, the gunmen did not target women, but only men, who they suspected killed their kinsman. Two other persons were killed at Unguwan Gankon that day, Mrs Kefas said.
That attack is just another bloody incident in the intractable conflicts that have for long defined Southern Kaduna, which, eco-climatically, is part of the Middle Belt, a sub-humid transition zone between Nigeria’s semi-arid north and humid south.
“It is about indigene-settler dichotomy”
Southern Kaduna is ethnically plural, comprising predominantly Christian groups – among them, Kataf, Adara, Takad, Fantswam, Ikulu, Chawai, Ham – who form the majority on the one hand, and on the other hand, Muslim Hausa/Fulani, whom the former commonly regard as “settlers” and “usurpers”.
However, the current Nasir El-Rufai administration in the state is insisting on common citizenship and urging residents and visitors to eschew actions capable of fueling the age-long indigene-settler divide that has often triggered violence in the state.
There are non-Hausa/Fulani indigenes of Southern Kaduna who are Muslims. A former military governor of the state, Usman Muazu, is an ethnic Ham and Muslim. Also, the current Deputy Governor, Hadiza Balarabe, is an ethnic Numana (from Sanga Local Government Area) and Muslim. However, the majority of Southern Kaduna groups, apart from the Hausa/Fulani, are predominantly Christians.
The Hausa trace their presence in Southern Kaduna back centuries, possibly 1650, when their forebears started settling at Zangon Kataf as a resting place or a trading post, according to a historical account given by Kataf witnesses before the Cudjoe Commission of 1992 and referenced by an Ahmed Makarfi-era panel report of July 2001.
Apart from the itinerant Fulani pastoralists who exploit the area seasonally, the Hausa/Fulani community would not accept they are not indigenous to where they have lived for centuries. But the other groups, whether Kataf or Fantswam, would disagree. “Let us respect one another and accept this place does not belong to you,” one local Christian leader and ethnic Kataf, Gambo Waziri, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Yes, it is about indigene-settler dichotomy. If I have lived in Enugu for 300 years, it doesn’t mean the land belongs to me,” Mr Waziri, who coordinates a displaced persons’ camp at Zonkwa, making a similar argument as such given during a group interview with ethnic Fantswam leaders in Zikpak, Kafanchan.
“Indigeneship is strong, territorial and genealogical,” said Luka Binniyat, the spokesperson for Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU). “We have no problem with Hausa/Fulani, who have settled (in Southern Kaduna) but they are not natives, not indigenes and they have no land. Land is everything.”
Mr Binniyat, a journalist, is currently being prosecuted by the state government for a piece of fake news he wrote for Vanguard Newspaper, which allegedly inspired a cycle of killings.
“Our land is our ancestral inheritance,” said Saidu Umaru, an ethnic Fantswam leader and district head of Zikpak, Kafanchan, in Jema’a LGA, echoing Mr Binniyat and several other Christian natives.
Mr Binniyat alleged a “grand plan to annihilate our people and take over our land” and blamed Mr El-Rufai for taking side with the Hausa/Fulani. “By his actions and utterances, he is culpable. His actions and utterances are emboldening the Fulani,” he said.
Muyiwa Adekeye, spokesperson for the Governor, however, said, “what is cast as bias is basically that this man (Mr El-Rufai) has refused to be boxed to drop his insistence on equal rights and citizenship. Some people want a focus on indigeneity instead of citizenship but we can’t condone that in the 21st century.”
The issue (indigene-settler dichotomy) echoed loudly in virtually all Local Government Areas,” found the August 2015 Martin Agwai report on steps to “stamp out” Southern Kaduna attacks. “Cases bordering on this issue include denial of admission into schools, indigene certificate, and scholarship.”
The violent attacks are an expression of this problem and that of land ownership as well as self-determination struggles, which are at the roots of the mutual distrust, hatred and tension between the two groups, a PREMIUM TIMES reporter found as he travelled around Southern Kaduna for days.
Gaining rare access to the tensed landscape, our investigation included on-the-ground reporting in villages across the area, extensive review and analysis of reports of government panels and graphic pictures obtained from communities and security sources, and interviews with officials, victims, locals and leaders representing both sides.
The attacks are targeted, having to do with values and resources such as land, self-determination struggles, political power, religion, manipulation of information and mutual hatred, our analysis of scores of incidents from security records and complementary interviews show. But there also non-discriminatory attacks, which have to do with pure criminalities, including kidnapping and banditry.
“The narratives baffle me”
Until now, accounts of the violence have been dominantly a single perpetrator-victim narrative. However, PREMIUM TIMES found that both sides have suffered human and material losses over the years and are equally engaging in targeted attacks on one another, creating a cycle of reprisals.
“The killings are usually reprisals,” commented the police commissioner in Kaduna State, Umar Muri, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES. “When one man is killed, his people assume it his neighbour. Instead of reporting, they take the laws into their hands.”
On September 3, this year, Christian and Muslim leaders signed up for an inter-faith peace initiative inaugurated by Mr El-Rufai at the Government House in Kaduna. At that event, one of the series of recent peace-building efforts, an official presented details of the attacks since last year, evoking horror as photographs upon photographs of brutally murdered human beings were shown. Eyes reddened and emotions soared as images of the horrific killings hit those at the venue.
“The narratives baffle me,” said Timothy Yahaya, the Bishop of Kaduna Diocese of Anglican Church, commenting after the presentation, which provided cases to build evidence against one-sided aggression construction. “We tend to take sides. It is like this war has been focused on one group. We must correct this narrative.”
Adding an emphasis, another cleric, Matthew Ndagoso, Arch Bishop of Kaduna Catholic Diocese, said if “everybody puts the blame on just the other side, nothing will change.”
PREMIUM TIMES witnessed the September 3 programme as a participant-observer. A similar presentation was said to have been made to the national leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Two CAN leaders did not comment for this report when contacted.
Also speaking at the programme, the Chief Iman of Kafanchan Central Mosque, Mohammed Kassim, said, “Christians and Muslims must be on the same page,” citing Quranic verses to stress the imperative of common understanding and peaceful co-existence.
Kafanchan is one of the earliest trouble spots in Southern Kaduna, with purely religious mayhem that later spread to other parts of the state in 1987. According to the 2015 Martin Agwai report, that marked the genesis of violence as a method of expressing grievances triggered by religious differences.
While the troubles in Southern Kaduna are chiefly rooted in land disputes and the related indigene-settler issue, Islam and Christian religions as well as ethnic divisions provide the main lines of division and dominant instrumentalities of mobilisation.
In one case, a Fulani settlement at Iburu, Kajuru LGA, another hot flashpoint, where the 1980 Kasuwan Magani violence happened, was attacked on March 26, 2020, by some youths, whom the Fulani alleged were of ethnic Adara stock, leaving over two dozen persons dead and a number of others injured.
PREMIUM TIMES collected horrific pictures of decapitated bodies, including those of children and women. The community released 29 names of persons said to have been killed.
But findings, based on interviews with security and community sources, showed the March 26 attack was in return for a wave of violence the Fulani had allegedly perpetrated against Adara communities between March 23 and 25, killing nine persons at Gidin Dutse, Kujeni, and Bakira villages.
Then, more grisly crimes, between April 25 and June 3 followed. From records obtained from security and government sources, 11 attacks at Gonan Rogo, Makyali, Ungwan Rana, Idazau, Ungwan Araha, Ungwan Dantata, Agwala Dutse, Tudu Doka Avong and Ungwan Magayaki left at least 70 fatalities on their trails. This newspaper is in possession of the names and grisly pictures of those felled in the attacks.
Some of these pictures captured mass graves and disembowelled and savagely hacked men, women and children, mostly ethnic Adara. In one of the attacks, that of May 30, the Fulani suffered losses – their settlements were razed at Agwala Dutse but there was no fatality. That was a sequel to the March 23 attack on Fulani homes after they allegedly killed one person at Gidan Dutse.
The attacks have precipitated humanitarian emergency, forcibly uprooting people, possibly in thousands, from their villages. Surviving Christian Kataf victims of the recent attacks across Zangon Kataf LGA, are now in an ECWA school, converted to a displaced persons’ camp, in Zonkwa, which the coordinator, Mr Waziri, a cleric, said registered 3,455 IDPs, 90 per cent of them Kataf.
Only about 100 people remained in the camp when PREMIUM TIMES visited, but a divisional secretary of the Red Cross in Zangon Kataf, Joseph Ishaya, confirmed 3,455 IDPs were registered and also that another camp opened in Kamoru, also in Zangon Kataf, for Hausa-Fulani displaced persons from Lisuru and Boto villages.
The Kamoru camp only opened for three days in August and had more than 200 persons from 38 households, Mr Ishaya said, corroborated by a spokesperson for the Hausa-Fulani community.
Mrs Kefas, dehumanised and widowed following the August Unguwan Gankon attack, is one of the displaced persons but she had to be transferred to the clinic to help deal with the trauma she is experiencing.
“This is genocide”
Around the same time Unguwan Gankon was attacked, a wave of violence swept through other Kataf villages, including Kibori, Kurmin Masara and Unguwan Doka, now laid in ruins, after days of assaults by people the surviving victims called Fulani, some of whom they could identify by names.
Patience Peter, a teen girl, was thought dead after her Kurmin Masara village was attacked by gunmen, who shot her thrice. “It was when soldiers were packing dead bodies that they discovered she was still breathing and took her to hospital,” Patience’s mother said.
She said 20 persons were killed, including her father-in-law who could not flee the attack as he was aged and suffering from chronic liver disease. Another person in the community, Jeremiah Gandu, whose expansive modern home was burnt, said 14 persons were killed.
At Kibori, which was attacked in the late hours of August 5 just before Kurmin Masara, PREMIUM TIMES saw relics of razed houses and the villagers said seven persons were killed by assailants they said were Fulani.
“This is genocide, I don’t have doubts,” said Mr Waziri, the Zonkwa camp coordinator, blaming the Hausa-Fulani, whom in a separate interview, SOKAPU’s spokesperson, Mr Binniyat, accused of a campaign that “perfectly fits genocide and ethnic cleansing.”
“Who is ethnic cleansing who?” queried Ahmad Yandeh, Southern Kaduna Muslims’ leader, in an interview for this report. “All the sides have suffered losses. All have suffered carnage. All have killed. All groups go on reprisals.”
While Mr Waziri and Mr Binniyat, respectively, said “I don’t know if any Fulani was killed” and “our people have the right to self-defence” when asked if the attacks on the Kataf villages were unprovoked, most locals, who survived the attacks, categorically denied any earlier anti-Hausa/Fulani offensive.
These claims, however, are contradicted in essential parts by PREMIUM TIMES’ findings.
Tensions that started simmering on June 5, 2020, over a land matter that has been contentious since 1992 between the Hausa and Kataf, blew into full troubles on June 11 with the recovery of the mutilated body of a young man, Yusuf Magaji, who had been missing since the previous day.
The June 5 clash had caused three persons – Jerry James, Maniru Danladi, and Gadaffi Mohammed – injuries and led to the razing of a Fulani settlement belonging to one Alhaji Shagari at Tunkunre village, multiple sources, including witnesses and security agents said.
Mr Magaji, whose apparent murder triggered the latest wave of violence in Zangon Kataf, was ethnic Chawai in the neighbouring Kauru LGA, but resident in Zangon Kataf. He had gone to his farm, the subject of contention, on June 10, but gone missing. With the recovery of his body on the bank of a river at Bakin Kogi in his native Kauru LGA, Kataf and Chawai youth from Zangon Kataf and Kauru LGAs blocked the road on two ends and embarked on a deadly violent campaign, multiple witnesses, including a Chawai district head, said.
A combined team of Operation Yaki and Operation Safe Haven operatives deployed to end the road blockade, mounted by weapon-wielding youth as pictures and interviews showed, caused 14 persons bullet wounds, according to one account, and caused the death of one Chawai man, identified as Bamaiyi Peter.
“Some Kataf and Chawai youth crossed into our own kingdom to destroy Fulani rugas,” the Chawai district head, Joshua Ahmadu, said. “No killing.” But in Zangon Kataf, the Hausa-Fulani also suffered human losses in addition to having vehicles and Fulani settlements destroyed.
In a group interview with Hausa leaders in Zangon, they said they lost three persons, namely Adamu Barinje, Shehu Ahmadu, and Hassan Yahaya. They provided two graphic photographs describing the apparent murder of Mr Barinje on his farm and burnt remains said to be of Mr Ahmadu in a vehicle set ablaze during the roadblock at Unguwan Wakili.
“They surrounded Zangon and attempted to banish us but luckily the security intervened,” Siraju Yakubu, the Wakilin Hausawa, said “They started burning Fulani huts, forcing them to flee. Over one thousand Fulani refugees came to Zango for refuge. They killed so many Fulani.”
The Hausa leaders during the interview said they feared a repeat of the May 1992 violence following which they exhibited a list of 1,528 killed persons before the Rahila Cudjoe Commission.
But SOKAPU’s Mr Binniyat rejected the two Cudjoe reports and said: “they started the attack. They have guts. They are the minority. Yes, they are still bitter about 1992 because they are shocked that those they had regarded as slaves could resist them and cause them losses. “We reject any demand to go back to the 1992 issue,” he said.
But for the Hausa leaders interviewed for this report, every conversation about resolving the Southern Kaduna crisis must start with addressing their 1992 losses.
Back to 2020. A review of names and photographs disclosed by the Hausa-Fulani community and security and government sources suggested that at least 12 Fulani may have died in the violence of June 11 and 12. Not less than 36 Fulani homes were also razed at Gidan Zaki, Zarkwai, Takanai, Kigudu, Makwakwu, Bakin Kogi, Shilliam, Gidan Gata, Gidan Avong, and Gora villages.
“They (Kataf) claimed that we killed the boy (Yusuf Magaji) without any investigation,” said Mr Yakubu. “They mounted roadblock and because of one person they killed many people and destroyed houses.”
“Unrestrained vindictive violence”
The Chawai chief in Kauru LGA, Mr Ahmadu, said having realised the participation of his youth in the violence targeting the Fulani, “we reached out to the Fulani for reconciliation and even paid them for compensation. So, they did not attack us.”
The pastoral Fulani are often reputed for their capacity to effectively mobilise for attacks and counter-attacks, especially reprisals when wronged, one senior security official at Zangang in Kaura LGA explained, agreeing to speak only without his name published.
That was what manifested when assailants, whom locals, government and security authorities reported to be Fulani, started attacking Kataf people in their villages, starting on July 10 from Chibob where seven persons were killed and July 11 in Sabon Kaura, where another 13 were murdered. Photographs taken after the attack and shared with PREMIUM TIMES show at least two children killed, and one of them was buried in one grave with an elderly woman.
And by August when other villages such as Kibori and Kurmin Masara, among others, were attacked, suspected Fulani armed men may have killed many in counter-attacks, an analysis of records disclosed by surviving victims, security and government sources showed, far more than what they had suffered in June from suspected Kataf youth.
But amid the reprisals they were accused of, the Fulani were also recording losses in suspected Kataf counter attacks. For instance, after the attacks on Chibob and Sabon Kaura on July 10 and 11, Fulani settlements at Kiffin in Kauru LGA and Mashau in Zango Kataf were attacked resulting in the deaths of an eight-year-old boy Usama Abubakar and a man Umaru Dada, on July 11 and 13 respectively.
A score of houses and a motorcycle were also said to have been burnt at Kiffin. PREMIUM TIMES obtained photographs depicting remains of the two victims, brutalised and blood-drenched.
Also, after Gora Gan was attacked on July 20 with 11 Kataf killed and photographs showing about six bodies in a shallow grave, soldiers on July 21 recovered at Fari village in Kauru LGA three bodies of Fulani pastoralists, one of them said to be seven-year-old Mujahid Musa, who had his head and genitals severed. The severed parts were placed beside his remains, according to a photograph shared PREMIUM TIMES.
At the same time, similar violence was playing out in other places across Southern Kaduna. It was the arrival of a combined team of military, police and civil defence operatives in the vastly grassy ethnic Takad village of Zangang in Kaura LGA that inspired a return to that slumbering village, near Plateau State in August.
Attacks by people, whom the villagers and security operatives described as Fulani pastoralists, had forced villagers to flee and sought refuge in neighbouring Manchok. The village’s only school, only clinic and nearly all houses were razed and 11 persons, all men, were said to have been killed.
“We have never fought back and we always seek peace with them,” one villager, a man, who did not agree to be identified by name, said. But as it happened in other places, the attacks were provoked, two security authorities separately said, narrating two incidents that may have triggered the Fulani reprisals.
One, a truck of woods with two Fulani and a Marwa in it passing through Zangang was attacked in March and the three persons were killed. Two, a pastoralist was killed and his cows rustled by suspected Takad villagers. Two photographs obtained by PREMIUM TIMES capture the killings of two pastoralists in the second attack said to have happened March 29.
“We are on the ground, both sides are involved,” one security source, a military officer deployed to Zangang, said. “None will tell you the truth. But both sides must accept each other and come together.”
“Need for land has increased”
The 19th century Othman Dan Fodio Jihad may have helped clear the way for the expansion of the Fulani pastoralists into the Middle Belt, including Southern Kaduna, for seasonal exploitation of the vast grasses but some also made the area permanent homes, a review of widely cited British Anthropologist Roger Blench’s work on pastoralism in Nigeria suggests. Interviews and Blench’s work show the earliest relationship between the Fulani pastoralists and the indigenous farming communities was harmonious, marked, for instance, by the exchange of dung and cereals.
But that changed with population growth and increased need for land for expanding crop farming, causing competition – now commonly violent – for resources. This competition is worsened by ethnoreligious differences and enduring history of distrust, being an effect of the 19th-century Jihad, which makes other ethnic groups, including those in Southern Kaduna, remain fearful and suspicious of an alleged Fulani domination and expansionist ambition.
But regardless of the framing, neither the pastoralists nor the farmers are concerned by any religion; it is always about survival and resources.
“The need for land has increased unlike before when the land was freely available for grazing and they (Fulani) should leave us with our land,” said Nicholas Billie, a Fantswam community leader, echoing an apparent common resolve to resist the Fulani pastoralists. Mr Billi’s community, Zikpak was on July 24 attacked by people suspected to be Fulani. 10 persons died in that attack.
Eighty-year old Waje Daruna, the Dakaci Galadinma of Dangoma, a community of Fulani, whom the Zikpak community accused of the July 24 attack, rejected the claim his group is not indigenous to Southern Kaduna, saying, “we have been here for over 500 years.”
He said his community had “recently” lost seven persons including “our secretary”, blaming the Fantswan. Asked if that caused the Fulani to attack Zikpak on July 24, he said, “well, maybe we are annoyed. Two people were killed in the same area in 1992, and seven recently. Enough is enough.”
He also mentioned the 2011 post-presidential election violence in Southern Kaduna, which the Human Rights Watch said led to the death of more than 500 persons, majority of which were Hausa/Fulani Muslims.
In Zangon Kataf LGA, the Kataf said in 1920 when Southern Kaduna was still a district under the Zazzau Emirate, the then head, Ja’afar Isiyaku, confiscated their farmlands and gave them to his Hausa kins. When the Hausa exited the town following the two 1992 violent incidents, the Kataf took over the controversial farmlands, the July 2001 Ahmad Makarfi-era panel reported.
But on August 11 1995, according to the July 2001 panel report, the state’s then military administrator, Jaafaru Isa, brokered a peace deal in the town. The deal, according to the report, resolved that the farmlands be returned to the Hausa community, “while the cropped areas be enumerated and valued with a view to compensating the original owners (Hausa/Fulani) (and) the Atyap (Kataf) owners would be allowed to nurture their crops to maturity and vacate the farms thereafter.”
But successive administrations have not settled the said compensation, just as the agreed payments for parcels of land acquired for the “buffer zone” separating the Hausa/Fulani community living in Zangon Urban and their neighbouring Kataf villages, namely Magamiya, Kibori, Unguwan, Unguwan Wakili.
Struggles by both sides to possess the controversial farmlands continue till the present day, causing the June dispute that precipitated the latest rounds of violence in Zangon Kataf. Similarly, the Martin Agwai report documents the bitterness of the landowners who have received no compensation after their land was converted into grazing reserves and pasture reserves as provided in the Grazing Reserve Law and the Grazing Reserve Regulations, 1987.
The incumbent El-Rufai administration has set up a White Paper committee on the Rahila Cudjoe reports of 1992 and Usman Muazu report of March 1995. The Rahila Cudjoe committee was inaugurated following the February and May 1992 Zangon Kataf violence.
Soft peace efforts
The historic government failure to resolve land matters, ensure the defined property rights and stop the pastoralists from treating land as a common resource and deep-seated animosities rooted in the era Southern Kaduna was under the Zazzau Emirate and the past large-scale killings, whose perpetrators are yet to be punished, have combined to create an atmosphere of intolerance, tension and mutual hatred.
There is now heavy-armed response to the troubles, with the presence of Operation Safe Haven, Operation Yaki and the pouring in of Special Forces, the latest effort to contain violence in the area.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt the state government is bankrolling the sustenance of these deployments, a commitment, which Mr El–Rufai, during the launch of the September 3 inter-faith peace initiative, said was affecting his government’s fiscal capacity for human and infrastructural development.
But armed response is not enough. Soft approaches that would see interests of the communities converge towards peaceful co-existence, to forget the past wrongs and resolve to live together is also important, as is the government’s readiness to create a system that guarantees justice, inclusion and defined property rights.
“No matter the efforts of the security agencies and the government, the communities have to be one and embrace peace and report matters to the police and live within the law,” the police commissioner, Mr Muri said. “If the reprisals continue, there won’t be peace.”
Apart from the September 3 launch of the inter-faith peace initiative, facilitated by the Kaduna Peace Commission, there have been two peace pacts committed to by warring communities in Zangon Kataf and Jema’a LGAs.
How far these efforts go in enthroning peace in Kaduna remains to be seen, peace advocates say.
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