Three community leaders have been missing for over a week following an attack in Southern Kaduna‘s Zangon Kataf area, a development that came atop a series of violent events that have claimed multiple lives and provoked fears since February.
PREMIUM TIMES‘ findings, based on disclosures by official and community sources, revealed that a Fulani delegation had, on Sunday, March 21, visited the Gora District of Atyap (Kataf) Chiefdom in Zangon Kataf, to pay compensation to secure the release of their cattle, which had destroyed crops – a typically common occurrence in Nigeria’s outdated open grazing system.
On their return to Zonkwa, also in Zangon Kataf, in a car driven and owned by an Atyap local leader, Ayuba Bungon, they were apparently attacked by armed persons. “The car (in which they were travelling) was later found vandalized and empty,” said Samuel Aruwan, the commissioner for internal security and home affairs.
The location of the attack was Masat, an ethnic Bajjul area, said John Bala, the chairman of the Atyap Chiefdom Community Peace and Security Partnership Committee (CPSP), which has been working towards peace and common understanding among the Hausa, Fulani, and Atyap communities.
Three persons were separately found within 24 hours of the attack – Mr Bungon and two Fulani men, namely Yusuf Dauda and Gomma Audu. But three Fulani leaders are still missing, said Mr Aruwan. This information was corroborated by Mr Bala.
“Troops on search-and-rescue missions later that night (on Sunday, March 21) found the secretary, and handed him over safely to the police,” Mr Aruwan said, referring to the secretary to the district head of Gora, Ayuba Bungon, who owns the car that was attacked and found vandalised.
“Moreover, two other leaders, who went missing, were reported to have escaped from their captors on Monday (March 22) and were also found by troops conducting search operations. They were identified as Yusuf Dauda and Gomna Audu.”
The three Fulani leaders, still missing, are identified as Pate Usman Kurmi, the Wakilin Fulani of Atyap Chiefdom; Muhammadu Anchau, an Ardo from Bauchi State; and Yakubu Muhammadu.
Police spokesperson for Kaduna State, Jalige Mohammed, told PREMIUM TIMES the police had deployed cops from two units of the mobile force to join in the search for the missing persons and stop escalations. He said the police had been engaging with the Atyap and Fulani sides “but unfortunately they are not on the same page.”
PREMIUM TIMES understands tensions are high in the area and the authorities fear further attacks may erupt.
“It is unfortunate that the relative peace we have experienced since last year is now threatened,” said Mr Bala. “However, we reckon that peace is a process. When you move forward some factors will drag backward but we’ll keep working.”
An intelligence source deployed to the area told PREMIUM TIMES, “I fear further reprisals, further attacks are imminent.”
But police spokesperson, Mr Mohammed, said, “we are working to nip further attacks in the bud.”
Trouble over ginger
The case of missing persons involving prominent individuals only deepened the renewed violent crisis in Zangon Kataf. Recently, there had been prior incidents of deadly violence that claimed at least seven human lives and scores of cows. All followed several months after some relative peace in an area historically notorious for extreme tit-for-tat violence between the Hausa-Fulani and the Atyap.
On February 28, some assailants attacked Kakwa village under the Gora District, killing five persons and leaving the village almost entirely razed. The five persons killed were identified by community sources as Ishaya Abut, Regina Ishaya, Goodluck Dauda, Joseph Adamu, and Hassan Joseph.
The attack, suspected to have been carried out by the Fulani living in the area, followed the inability of the Fulani to access their ginger farm, which they abandoned when they fled attacks last year.
A Fulani source said the local Fulani believed their Atyap neighbours denied them access to their ginger farm in order to sell the produce and raise funds for weapons.
For context, the Fulani (as well as the Hausa) and the Atyap (as well as other non-Hausa/Fulani Southern Kaduna groups) constantly live in mutual suspicions, usually expressed through attacks and reprisal attacks, an August 2015 report of the Martin Agwai–led “Committee to Stamp out Attacks on Southern Kaduna Communities” found.
Elias Gora, an Atyap leader in the Gora District, told PREMIUM TIMES that the Fulani were not denied access to their farm but a rogue, “whom we could not identify harvested the farm.”
“They had not only ginger but also corn farm,” Mr Gora said. “They were allowed to harvest the corn and they sold the corn in Zangon Kataf market. I was told there was a problem with ginger and they were supposed to harvest it but they wanted to sell the farm to someone, Amos Akau, within the Atyap community. But before the person could pay, we understand someone else had harvested the ginger, though we could not establish who harvested it.”
“I stepped in to find out who harvested the farm but while that was happening the two Fulani men who actually owned the ginger farm were arrested for having killed a Plateau boy, Danchimo Gyang, by the police. But they were released and then there was an attack of February 28.”
Reprisal attack on the Fulani
By the beginning of March there had been an apparent reprisal attack on the Fulani and their cattle at Mabuhu, Zonzon District, also in Zangon Kataf. Two herders were killed, namely Mustapha Hamidu and Yusuf Bako, the Fulani community said.
For several days, they were searching bushes for their missing cattle following the Mabuhu attack.
“There is deep anger,” said one Fulani source, asking not to be named because he appeared to be issuing threats. “Our people are angry. Cows are missing. Cows are killed. We found dead cows everywhere in the bush. Our people may destroy farms when the rains start and the Atyap plant.”
But in the past week, several cows were again attacked in the Atyap Chiefdom, the Fulani community said, sharing photographs that depict animal brutality.
“We are trying to get control of the situation involving missing people, then this happens,” said Ismail Abdallah, a youth leader and assistant secretary of the CPSP, who is known in the Southern Kaduna area for his peace activism.
He sought the interventions of the government and security agencies to assuage people, who have been hurt, as a way of preventing escalations.
Mr Bala, the chairman of CPSP, said the police “should do much more than they are doing and be fair to all sides.”
“The government has directed security agencies to take drastic actions to forestall a reoccurrence of violence,” Mr Aruwan said.
“Search-and-rescue operations by troops and police are in progress to protect lives and properties, rescue missing citizens, and apprehend perpetrators of violence.”
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