SPECIAL REPORT: After attacks, Kajuru villagers tell tales of pains, sorrow

Three people were killed in this household
Three people were killed in this household

The first gunshot, piercing through the mid-section of his aluminium door, came without warning. Then the second. Third. The sound of gunfire rent the air. Only then did it dawn on Abbah Danmori that his neighbourhood was under attack.

It was 11 p.m. in Ungwar Barde community in Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State. Having performed his pastoral duties for the day, Mr Danmori, a Chaplain of St Bernard Parish in the Idon neighbourhood had retired for the day, only for his peaceful rest to be truncated.

The coordinated attacks started in his compound comprising three plastered mud structures, which house his immediate family and relatives.

At the next ruga, the Hausa name for settlement, the onslaught was at its peak.

When the dust finally settled, six members of the family had been murdered, including an unborn child.

First to be killed by the bullet was Mr Danmori’s brother, Gomina Abbah, 45, a farmer and father of eight. The gunmen also killed his 27-year-old son, Philemon Gomina, and six-year-old Marvelous Daniel. Then Mairo Daniel, a heavily pregnant woman in the compound, was shot.

Perceiving an environment of chaos, the family matriarch, Maria Abbah, opened her door to see who was causing the mayhem. The attackers did not spare the 90-year-old blind woman as she was shot dead. There and then, a once lively compound became a shadow of itself.

Saraya Kaka, her sibling, who was on a sympathy visit when PREMIUM TIMES visited, described the murdered nonagenarian as ‘somebody who was full of fun.’

As the incursion continued, Mr Danmori still hid in his room, hoping that calm would return.

But it did not until five more people were murdered in cold blood.

After the raid on the Abbahs, the gunmen shifted their target to about 150 metres away from the compound. There used to be the abode of Samaila Jatau, 60, Samaila Ladi, his wife and their son, Tankifa. The gunmen killed the three, leaving patches of blood on their mattress. Then they set a part of the house on fire.

The story was the same for Moses Kabiru, 32, and Kasham Stephen, 27. They fell to the bullets without much resistance.

The ten people and seven-month-old foetus of the Abbah family were buried on Monday, February 11.

The attacks

The attack on the Adara community of Ungwar Barde was one of six attacks which left scores dead in communities in Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State.

Also attacked were Rugan Salihu, a Fulani community in Iri Axis, and three other Adara communities; Karamai, Ikirimi and Dogon Noma.

Ungwar Barde was attacked twice.

On Friday, February 15, a day to the initial date set for the presidential and National Assembly elections, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State announced that 66 people died from attacks in Kajuru area of the state. That was the first time the attack was heard of.

 

After an extensive meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari and service chiefs on February 19, Mr El-Rufai said the death toll had risen to 130.

The initial announcement was greeted by criticisms especially on the timing and casualty figures rendered by the state government. But life seemed to move on eventually, only for a short while.

Two weeks after, the attacks resumed in Karamai community claiming 29 lives according to the police. A few days after the attack on Karamai, Ungwar Barde was attacked again, leaving at least 16 dead.

The following Monday, Ikirimi and Dogon Noma also fell under attacks. Casualty figures in these communities are not known yet.

Tales of sorrow from Adara

Mr Danmori arguably lost the highest number of persons in the attacks and was still in grief when PREMIUM TIMES visited.

His brother was the first victim of a crisis that has now set a large conglomeration of Fulani and Adara hamlets against one another in suspicion.

The attacks started in the Christian-dominated Adara axis of Kajuru local government area leaving 10 dead, including a foetus. Precisely, at Ungwar Barde, an agrarian community with less than 500 residents. That was on the night of Sunday, February 9.

On Monday, in what was reported as a reprisal attack, some Fulani communities in the Iri axis were attacked.

It all started around 11 p.m. on Sunday, February 10, Mr Danmori recalled.

“After I had eaten, I laid on the bed. After that, I heard shots of gun on my door around 11 p.m. I woke up and asked who those were? I never understood what was happening. I just stayed in my room with my wife to see what God would do.

“Then I heard a noise. The noise signified that they (perpetrators) were Fulani. It seems they were chasing somebody and they had not caught that person and they were saying ‘ande ande’ that’s to show that they were Fulani men.

“Some people coming from a party at Ungwar Para, they never knew that something was taking place. Those Fulani people rushed them with guns. They too ran away. They entered the village.”

While the attack was going on, Mr Danmori managed to fasten the lock behind his door and fortunately, the perpetrators could not gain entrance. But this did not work for five of his family members.

“Within my house, five people have been killed including a pregnant woman. They shot at my door with a gun. If you go to my house now you’ll see how the bullets penetrated. What helped me was that I locked the door on myself. That’s why they didn’t penetrate. They burnt my brother’s barn.”

Even though Mr Danmori claimed there was never a quarrel between the Adara people and the Fulani, he and other villagers were convinced their long-peaceful neighbours carried out the attack.

Jacob Maikarfi, one of the teachers sacked by Governor El-Rufai in 2018 participated in the burial. He said they have evidence to back their claims.

“They first called the DPO, he didn’t come. He was called again and then he came and said we should bury the dead. We picked six sticks (belonging to the Fulani) and he (DPO) saw them. The sticks they used to beat some people who ran away. The sticks fell from their hands. Early morning, we picked them and handed them over to him. There was no government official during the burial.”

The residents no longer sleep in their homes. By 6 p.m. of every day after the attack, residents gather at an agreed location to trek to neighbouring communities where they feel relatively safe to pass the night.

Village head flees

When the attackers invaded Ungwar Barde on Sunday, there was little the village head, Daniel Audu, could do to help his people. In fact, he had to take to his heels.

“On the 10th February, in the night. From 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., I was lying in my room,” Mr Audu began.

“I slept around 8 p.m. because the weather was cold. When I was asleep all of a sudden they knocked at my door. I rose to check but I didn’t see anybody. They knocked again, I came out but I did not see anybody.

“Immediately I returned to the room, I heard gunshots, I came out again. Again I didn’t see anybody. Returning to my room, I heard another gunshot. Then I now came out and moved to this very place (front of his house). Then I saw a woman running towards me, she was crying and saying that everybody should wake up, the Fulani have stormed the community, they will finish us.

“I asked her who are you? She introduced herself then I discovered that she is a member of this community. Already members of the community were aware and they came out. From there, I ran into the bush. I remained in the bush until everything was calm.”

When the village head returned from his hiding, 11 members of his community had been killed in cold blood. His next action was to order that the injured be taken to the hospital, the closest which is more than an hour away on a torturous ride on a bike as the community has no motorable road.

Then the police came in.

“I now went to search for a network to call the District Head. The District Head now called the DPO. The DPO came on Monday. When he came, we showed him all that happened. He now gave us permission to bury the victims.

“We don’t know anything like retaliation. Even when we invited the DPO, he saw everybody here. There was no retaliation.”

Mr Audu said there were some other people in the hospital (five). Two had been discharged.

He also confirmed that there was no rancour between them and their Fulani neighbours and that the Fulani only move on their land when they are migrating. They don’t live close.

The village head is pained that his community was abandoned after the attack.

“No government official or representative has ever come here,” he said.

Fulani hamlets deserted

Rugan Salihu, the Fulani community that was attacked in the reprisal, is about an hour ride from Ungwar Barde.

While Ungwar Barde is only accessible by motorbike on a bumpy, dusty road, Rugan Salihu can be accessed by car starting from the rail line at Idon, though inconveniently.

By 6 p.m. on Wednesday, February 20, PREMIUM TIMES journalist embarked on the journey to the Fulani axis. But the trip was soon cut short by operatives of Operation Yaki who asked to know where the journalist and his colleagues were heading to.

The Operation Yaki operatives were just coming back from the Fulani troubled community and were giving security cover to some of the Fulani residents who went to pack their belongings.

Four Hilux vans, with three marked Óperation Yaki’, were deployed for the mission.

After several minutes of conversation with the team, two of the Fulani survivors, Ibrahim Adamu and Samaila Adamu, were asked to accompany journalists to the scenes of the attack.

The first port of call was the riverine area where the General Officer Commanding One Division of the Nigerian Army, Faruk Yahaya, said 37 people were ‘slaughtered’ and buried in a shallow grave.

“I spent five days burying dead bodies before the governor’s visit, and I can tell you that 131 Fulanis were killed,” said Mr Ibrahim. “We are yet to know the whereabouts of seven of our brothers or their bodies which made the figures 131.

“37 people were buried here in the presence of security agencies who took the pictures. I was the one who gave the figures of the people killed to the governor when he visited us.”

Mr Ibrahim believed the killing of the Fulanis was a reprisal by the Adara people.

“We have been living in peace with Adara people over the years. I am now 39-year-old and I have been living in this community since my childhood.

“We cook together and sometimes they do cook for us during celebrations, that has been the tradition. I grew up to meet that and I don’t know the motives behind this tradition, the only thing is we don’t marry ourselves. We suspect that the killers are Adara people,” he said.

The two brothers showed journalists a heap of sand, about 15 metres long and 10 metres wide where they said 37 people were said to have been buried.

An offensive odour oozed from the grave just beside two abandoned motorbikes believed to belong to some of the Fulani people attacked.

The brothers said 18 others were buried in other locations but could not point to any other grave when asked where. They also could not mention where over 70 other bodies were buried, which would make the figures add up to 130 or 131 as claimed.

Away from the riverine area, the community has become a ghost of itself. All of the residents are now taking refuge in several communities, especially in a community called Crossing, well-populated by the Fulani.

Nothing was spared at Rugan Salihu where the major attack on the Fulani occurred. What is left of the once-bustling community were ashes, tattered roofing sheets, shattered muds and crop wastes.

On a count by PREMIUM TIMES journalist, seven mud houses, 11 rafts, and several barns were destroyed by the attackers.

The two brothers are not sure of what life would look like in the coming days but they still want to live peacefully with the Adara people.

“Amidst this, we are ready to return to our community to live in peace again. We have no home except this place,” Mr Ibrahim said.

Life ‘unbearable’ for Fulani survivors

For some of those attacked in Rugan Salihu, life will never remain the same without their kinsmen, cattle and properties.

Zule Adamu, in her 60s, now lives with ‘some good Samaritans’ in Crossing.

She is still traumatised as the attack took away people most dear to her. Her daughters, Zainab, Rahamatu, Hafsat and granddaughter, Zainab, all died during the attack. That was how far her memory could take her.

“I never knew what happened at first. I was at the farm when I saw people running and I also ran,” she started teary-eyed. “They attacked us and didn’t leave anything behind. They burnt all our properties. In our house alone, they killed about 50 people. It’s only those who ran and was able to escape that are remaining.

“I don’t have anything again, no property. Some of our cows are stranded inside the bush but nobody dares go there to search for them. Up to 100 cows.”

Her story is not different from that of Habiba Umar who lost her son, Uba Usman, and two brothers-in-law, Maa and Sani, to the attack.

“We just woke up and found out that people started burning our houses, killing our children. We ran into the bush and the attack continued from five in the morning till evening.”

After the attack, Habiba and some other lucky ones trekked through the bushes and the following day, arrived at Crossing. But life has been tough since then.”

She is convinced the attack was perpetrated by their Adara neighbours.

“I’m not doing anything now. Even the rain that fell the day before yesterday ended on our body. No shelter.

“There is no other person, it was the Adara people that attacked. More like a rumour, they had been telling us that they would attack.”

Ibrahim Jubril, 40, now lives at Crossing. He lost ‘more than 100 cows’ and also suspected the Adara people.

“We are suspecting that it is these people that we have been living with since (Adara people),” he said.

The attack on Karamai

It is usual for women of ECWA Church, Karamai, to hold bible study early morning on Tuesdays. It is also usual for the service to hold peacefully. But the experience of Tuesday, February 26 was an exemption.

The women were in the middle of the bible study around 6.30 a.m. when gunshots rent the air. Everyone scampered for dear life.

“One man just rushed into the church and told us that the village had been attacked. We also heard gunshots, that was how we started running,” said Paulina Irimiya, the women leader in the church.

The church, now deserted, was defaced by the attackers. Shattered windows, burnt chairs, and vandalised instruments gave it a new look.

Mrs Irimiya was lucky to escape. But six members of her household were killed. One of them was her aged grandmother, Kananziri Papele, 90, who couldn’t run like others. The police said 29 people, including a policeman, died.

Majority of the houses in the community were either in ashes, still burning or already fell due to the impact of fire.

Apart from this, most of them now have one, two or more graves, apart from a few sites where mass burial was conducted.

The village is not entirely deserted but the few remaining are living in fear. By evening, they all gather in a large classroom in Karamai Primary School where they sleep under the watch of soldiers deployed to provide security for them.

Titus Abdallah was picking what could be useful of the debris his household, Ungwar Usman, had turned to when this reporter visited on Tuesday, March 5.

He never left the village since the attack not because he did not want to but there is nowhere to go.

Four people died in his household in the attack on Karamai. Two aged men; blind Usman Agewo, Ashavura Abdallah, Tanimu Masara his uncle and Kankani Danladi, his brother’s daughter. But he is one of the luckiest; none of the members of his nuclear family fell to the attack.

“Before the incident, we heard a rumour that the Fulani wanted to attack us. We heard that they had been coming in numbers and entering through the other road. When we heard that, we decided that children and women should be sleeping outside the villages and we men should stay to secure the houses.

“That morning, the women and children had returned home when they entered the village and attacked people. We saw them. They wore black clothes and they were in uniform.

“I went out to check a land I wanted to farm on. Once I reached that primary school (about 500 metres away), I heard gunshots and cries. I looked at my house and it was already in smoke. I could not come to the house again, I had to run.”

Ungwar Usman is about 400 metres from the family house of the Danjuma’s. 18-year-old Marcus Danjuma could not still come to terms with life without his father, mother and brother.

Danjuma Malmo, 60, his wife, Elizabeth Danjuma, 50, were buried in a single grave in front of their room. Ashes from their room were still spiralling with flames even after it rained in the community.

Their first child, George Danjuma, 30, who used to work in Abuja had come for a visit when the incident happened. He was buried somewhere close to a river, survived by a daughter, Miracle Williams, just three.

“I was not in the house. We had heard the news that they would come so we went to sleep in the bush. I came back to the house the following morning.”

After the attack, it was another task finding the corpses of the deceased.

“I did not see their corpses. It’s my elder brother that went to look for them. They found their corpses in the bush.”

By ‘brother;’ Danjuma meant uncles. In reality, he has been left to fend not only for himself but for poor Miracle who seemed to have understood the situation as she cried while the interview with his uncle lasted.

The village head of Karamai, Micah Musa, lost his grandmother named Araseh, 80, to the attack.

He would not outrightly point fingers but said the attackers came in the appearance of Fulani.

He said, “Those who are doing this, they came in the appearance of Fulani people. I heard what they were talking about. They said they will make Karamai, Maro and the entire Adara to become Kofe. They want to make sure they destroy the entire Adara land.

“Since I’ve been alive, I’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve never fought with any people.”

Other attacks

While the people of Ungwar Barde, Rugan Salihu and Karamai were still counting their losses, the attackers have launched a series of onslaughts on others.

On Sunday, March 10, Ungwar Barde was attacked again. Police said 16 people were killed.

A day after, Ikirimi and Dogon Noma, both in Kajuru Local Government Area, were also attacked.

“It started around 7 a.m. this morning,” an indigene of Dogon Noma who simply wanted to be identified as Hon Stingo told PREMIUM TIMES.

“All of a sudden they (villagers) heard gunshots. When they began to come out of their houses, some were being shot dead. They divided themselves into three batches. One batch was standing strategically in the bushes surrounding the village. Two groups went in.

“The first group was the one firing. When people began to scamper for their lives, the second group entered and began to set the houses on fire. Then those who ran into the bushes, those that were standing there were waiting for them.”

The police or state government is yet to give a casualty figure.

Police react

In a question and answer session with journalists, the Kaduna State Commissioner of Police, Ahmad Abdurrahman, reacted to security-related issues and allegations arising from the trip.

He countered the claim that policemen were on the ground and took pictures while the Fulani buried their dead.

“The assertion of the Fulani that policemen were there and they took pictures, there was a mix-up. That hamlet where they talked about 37 corpses was discovered by the military. The terrain was terrible, you could not know where and where was affected on the first day.

“That area, in particular, no policeman went ahead of the military. It was the military that went there first to probably assist the Fulani and help them bury their dead.”

He said his men only went to the scene days later when they were informed of the incident during a patrol at Kasuwa Mangani.

“That was when we saw the first person you interviewed. He said his parent, wives and relations were there and we believed him because the whole hamlet was cleared.”

Dole Muhammad, the spokesperson of the Nigerian Army in Kaduna, did not respond to calls and text messages seeking clarification on Friday.

The commissioner debunked allegations that only Adara people were arrested in connection to the attack.

“The Fulani (people) that came and attack the neighbours and left, we are still pursuing them. We have one suspect arrested and we are still working. Though he denied, he’s giving us cooperation. To say that it’s only one side that is being investigated or arrested is not true.”

On general security, he said his officials were constantly on patrol in the area. He also dissociated the police from figures announced by the governor.

Miyetti Allah demands investigation

On Friday, February 22, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) released a statement containing names of 131 herders either confirmed dead or missing after the attacks.

Out of the 131, the association said 66 had been buried while 65 persons were missing since the attacks. The association said the attack was perpetrated by the Adara people.

“It is by now an undeniable fact that in the early hours of Monday ninth February 2019, a militia group from known villages dominated by the Adara ethnic group unleashed one of the most heinous and brutal exterminations of Fulani pastoralists. As recounted by the survivors of the brutal murder, in just a period of less than three hours, misguided youth used sophisticated weapons, cutlasses, axes, knives and sticks to murder entire households settlements of the Fulani Pastoralists,” the statement reads.”

The association said most of the Fulani survivors are now living in distress with no hope as their livelihood, in terms of herds, has been wiped out.

MACBAN also lashed out at those it described as ‘rented vocalist external to the affected areas.’ These vocalists they mentioned to include Chido Odinkalu, Southern Kaduna People’s Union {SOKAPU) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

“We are constrained to present to the public the names of the victims of this barbaric massacre because it appears those that want to deny this atrocity committed on the Pastoralists community in Kajuru local Government of Kaduna state ever took place are not abating in their desperate attempts to misinform the public by politicising the killings and downplaying the number of casualties in spite of all the evidence provided by the security agencies, including photographs and videos.”

While calling on the government to set up an independent panel of investigation to probe the attacks, MACBAN appealed for aids from people and government to make survivors recover well.

Corpses must be exhumed to douse doubts – SOKAPU

In an interview with journalists, the National President of Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU), Solomon Musa, insisted the governor must prove the numbers he announced.

“The question I will ask is when someone comes out to say five people were killed and another person said five people were not killed, the onus is on he who asserts to prove. The onus now is on His Excellency, the governor to cause the bodies to be shown.

“Why was the grave not exhumed? We are in this age where there are processes and procedures. All that is required is to go to court, get an order and let this grave be exhumed and to prove clearly. And if it is proven, the world will know. This is the standard minimum that should be done.

“What should have been done is to move there with journalists, international observers, religious associations…if you exhume fresh grave, people will know. The NMA will be able to prove. We will not be drawn into whether it is 66 people, 130 people. Tomorrow El-Rufai can wake up and say it’s a thousand. Assuming it is even a thousand, just prove. We have seen the corpses of the Adara people.

“And up till today, the governor has not deemed it fit to go to Adara land, Ungwar Barde. There “has been no IDPs camp, no single relief material from Kaduna State government.

He said the purpose of the governor’s reaction was political, to portray southern Kaduna people as violent, while rendering some hard words for Mr El-Rufai.

“Somebody is acting a script. Mallam Nasir El-Rufai is the greatest security threat to the whole of Kaduna State. I look at the camera and I say it. We call on the federal government to act on this man.”

State government, agency begin peace moves

Meanwhile, the Kaduna State Peace Commission said it has started engaging the affected communities to find a lasting solution to the perennial problem.

The commission, whose delegation has been visiting the troubled region since the announcement, is focused on peaceful and harmonious co-existence of residents of the state.

“As a commission, we have made efforts to engage that community. We are of the informed opinion that Kajuru Local Government requires very deep dialogue so that we can be able to talk through the grievances that exist which every now and then escalate.

“We are engaging that community. We know that as soon as the community stabilises, as a commission, we have the plan to go and begin a dialogue process,” Priscilla Ankut, Executive Vice Chairman of the commission told PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday.

On its part, the Kaduna State Government said it would set up a judicial commission of inquiry into the killings in Kajuru and part of Kachia Local Government areas of the state.

Mr El-Rufai while visiting the Karamai and Sakiya communities said the commission, to be chaired by a senior high court judge, will investigate the root causes of the crisis.

He said the committee would comprise security experts who would also look into the killings and investigate those behind it.

Mr El-Rufai said the committee would further look at what could be done to address the issues, how many people were arrested and under investigation over the killings and their states, and why none had been convicted by the courts.

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