The Commander of Operation Safe Haven, Chukwuemeka Okonkwo, has described the killings in Southern Kaduna as the activities of criminal elements on both sides and not ethnic cleansing as it is being claimed.
Mr Okonkwo, an army major-general, who briefed journalists after the high level security meeting which held at the council chambers of Government House Kaduna on Tuesday, said ‘’what we have were attacks on some communities and reprisal attacks.’’
According to him, both sides of the conflict have been attacking each other but ‘’the reports are not balanced. Perhaps, most of the media houses don’t know, both sides are actually involved.’’
‘’You have Kataf youths, Fulani militias and the criminal elements of both sides. Some people are also leveraging on the security situation to perpetuate their criminal activities, aside communities involved in the crisis,’’ Mr Okonkwo added.
The commander said that ‘’any incident is enough to spark off crisis in that area, there have been lingering disputes and animosities, banditry and cattle rustling there.’’
The commander promised that the military and other security agents will re-strategise and ‘’we will deploy as much as possible to shorten our response time.’’
Mr Okonkwo assured that there is going to be improvement because ‘’we have reviewed our operations. We are going to close ranks. We are going to be more robust in the days to come.’’
Contrary to the allegations that the military and other security agents were not doing enough to contain the attacks, he said ’if one or two attacks took place, three were prevented.’’
The commander said that although there have been some gaps in their operations, he listed the difficulty of the terrain and limited manpower as constraints, adding that in spite of those challenges, they are committed to bringing peace to the area.
‘’If you know the area very well, the communities are far and dispersed, they are several kilometres apart from each other. The terrain is difficult to access with vehicles. And we have limitations of manpower but of course you know that we are committed.
‘’But be that as it may, we are going to get more troops. We are strategising, we will deploy as much as possible to shorten our response time. Perhaps, we used to respond a bit late but if we had not responded, we could have had more casualties,’’ he explained.
Mr Okonkwo said that there is need for the communities to embrace peace, adding that ‘’we will create the conducive environment for them to meet, dialogue and resolve issues so that they can continue to live together as they have been living together.’’
The commander promised that ‘’community leaders and other stakeholders will be carried along in the search for lasting peace because it is not entirely a military issue.
‘’’The leaders have to embrace peace and we will give them the conducive environment to have peace parleys, meetings and mediations, to bring the crisis to an end,’’ he added.
The general said that the military and all the security forces were working closely with the state government, adding that Governor Nasir El Rufai ‘’has pledged to support us.’’
We ‘re committed to peace in southern Kaduna—El Rufai
Governor El Rufai said that his administration has done everything within its constitutional powers to bring peace in Southern Kaduna and all parts of the state for over five years.
In a welcome address to the high-level security meeting, the governor was specific to the peace-building efforts in Southern Kaduna.
‘’We answered the decades old demand for a permanent military base by working with the Federal Government to deploy a forward operating base of the Nigerian Army in Kafanchan.
‘’Our government purchased an estate to provide accommodation for a permanent mobile police squadron in the area. Also, deployed in the area are troops from Operation Safe Haven and Nigerian Army Special Forces, complemented by two mobile police squadrons,’’ he added.
The governor however said that in spite of these measures, ‘’the best guarantee of peace is the willingness of communities to live in peace and harmony, and a resolve to settle differences through exclusively lawful means.’’
Mr El Rufai recalled that his government ‘’established the Kaduna State Peace Commission to engage communities and nudge them towards accord and conciliation as a better alternative to the breaking of bones and the shattering of lives.’’
According to him, the current crisis is as a result of ‘’the tragic aftermath of events of June 5 when youths from two communities clashed over farmlands in Zangon-Kataf and the upsurge of violence in the same area that started on June 11.’’
‘’Like an unwanted virus, the violence has spread to and has necessitated extraordinary measures in four local government areas in southern Kaduna,’’ he added.
The governor said he called the security meeting ‘’ to hear from you the leaders of the security agencies deployed in the area what further measures can be taken to end the agony.
‘’On our part, we continue to support the efforts of the security agencies as best as we can,’’ he added.
Mr El Rufai promised that his government ‘’will also continue to invest effort in the urgent necessity to create and sustain a constituency for peace by persuading elected officials, traditional rulers and community leaders in the affected areas to live up to their responsibilities, respect diversity and the rule of law.
‘’We have nudged stakeholders in Kauru and Zangon-Kataf LGAs on this path and will continue to do so. We have also resolved to address lingering issues from the 1992 crisis in Zangon-Kataf by producing a White Paper on the recommendations made by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry and the Reconciliation Committee,’’ he added.
The governor lamented that ‘’so much unhelpful narrative is being spun, but the priority is to stop the bleeding and encourage communities to live in peace.’’
The governor warned that ‘’no one should be allowed to get away with crime just because they can hide it under an ethno-religious veneer.Respect for the rule of law compels us to prosecute anyone indicted for involvement in the wanton violence.’’