The renewed interest in the crisis that continues to rock Southern Kaduna would be helpful if it produces a genuine effort at resolving the problem and ensuring lasting peace in that part of the country that remains troubled, divided, and to all intents and purposes, a killing field. It was reported that between July 21 and July 24, about 43 persons were killed across communities in Southern Kaduna, and over a period of seven months, about 178 persons lost their lives. What makes the situation tragic is that the killers often served notice of the impending attacks and carried out their threats, for hours on end in many cases, unhindered, unchecked, unrestrained. Even when the state government imposed a 24-hour curfew, the killings still continued. Homes were often burnt down. Women were raped. Innocent children were caught in the cross-fire. Farmlands were razed to the ground resulting in economic hardship. The Southern Kaduna question is an open-ended story of a people’s unending search for peace. The area known as Southern Kaduna is both a geographical and political category, but the context of the perpetual crisis is rooted in history. It is the story of a people, living together for more than a century and yet unable to find accommodation as a result of historical rivalries, politics of ownership, identity, ethnicity, economy, and religion. What we are dealing with basically is autochthony: politics of origin, identity, and space, linked with a crisis of belonging that serves as a catalyst for conflict and violence. Conflicts are not an African creation; they are a global phenomenon. But what matters is how each country addresses its ontological uncertainties through the application of peace-building, conflict-resolution, as well as vertical and horizontal, inter-communal, integration mechanisms.
During the colonial era, the area known as Southern Kaduna was part of the Zaria Province. It was not just home to over 30 ethnic nationalities, the people were predominantly non-Muslims, but with the seat of power in Zazzau (as Zaria was formerly known), it meant that the various ethnic nationalities: Atyap, Adara, Agbiri, Kagoma etc. found themselves under the control of the Hausa-Fulani, the majority group in the Northern part of the province. Over the years, the Hausa-Fulani hegemony established an emirate system to which the indigenous people of Southern Kaduna paid taxes, and to whose rules and directives they were subjected. Non-Muslims were marginalized, forced into hard labour and expected to convert to Islam. Their lands also provided good grazing fields for Hausa-Fulani herders. The British authorities conveniently took advantage of this situation, but the marginalized people of the South, who now had the Hausa-Fulani living among them and occupying a higher rung of the social ladder, and gradually taking control of space, began to resent the new reality. When missionaries began to arrive in the area in larger numbers, the indigenous people embraced Christianity with great fervor, a kind of revolt against the Emirate system which they had come to view suspiciously as a symbol of oppression.
In May 1946, the Atyap of Zangon-Kataf rebelled when the Emir increased taxes. They also began to agitate for control over their own affairs. In 1967, they got their own District Head. Like the Atyaps, the other indigenous ethnic nationalities also resisted the dominance of the Hausa-Fulani. A major source of conflict has been ownership of farmlands and the right of access to land. The Hausa-Fulani in Southern Kaduna, over the years also enjoyed better patronage from the colonial and post-colonial authorities at regional and federal levels. With regard to land, the indigenous people never accepted the argument by the Muslim Hausa-Fulani that “Everything belongs to Allah. Every piece of land belongs to Allah and not you, it is not for you infidels but for Allah” that is “Komai na Allah ne. Ko wane fili na Allah ne ba naku ba, ba na kafirai ba, na Allah ne.” This definition of real property by Muslim members of the community did not appeal to the Christians. Africans generally have a fanatical attachment to land, the reason the possession of it or the outright ownership of it is a potent source of conflict across the continent. In Kasuwan-Magani (1980) and Gure-Kahugu (1984), conflict arose over land.
There is an existing rich literature on the various causes of conflict in Southern Kaduna, but central to it all is the politics of division, them vs. us, your own vs my own, that has kept the people divided. Oftentimes, the main cause of the conflict is an attempt by one group to dominate the other or resist the other. In 1987, the Kafanchan riots began in a College of Education and the main problem was religion. The riot in the Zangon Kataf area in 1992 was all about disagreements over the location of a market. In May 2000, the riots spread from Southern Kaduna to other parts of Kaduna State. In virtually every incident, religion is always a major issue as seen in 2011, 2015, 2016, 2019, and now in 2020, and as further evidenced by the number of churches that are burnt and Christian leaders that are killed. It has been argued that the Hausa-Fulani seem to have an upper hand in the various conflicts because they receive the support of herdsmen from across the Sahel, Niger, Mali, Chad, and other places, who at certain seasons migrate to Nigeria to graze cattle. It is more of the truth however that the Southern Kaduna narrative is complex. Like the British colonialists, modern-day politicians – first the military and later civilians have exploited the situation for their own narrow gains. Intellectual hegemons on both sides of the divide have authorized sectional and jaundiced narratives to protect their people’s interests. Muslims insist for example that they have also been victims in the hands of non-Muslims, and that no one should complain about revenge killings. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and the Pentecostal Bishops Forum of Northern Nigeria insist that the attack on Christians in Southern Kaduna amounts to a violation of the right of Christians to enjoy the freedoms of belief and association, and that the Nigerian state is complicit in this regard. Ethnic nationalists protest about what they classify as genocide or ethnic cleansing in Southern Kaduna. In the wake of the last round of killings in the area, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria declared a period of mourning and prayers from August 22 – September 30, 2020. Christian stakeholders have petitioned the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UK Parliament and the US Congress.
What seems certain perhaps is the fact that there are no saints in the killing fields of Southern Kaduna. It will be recalled that the 1987 Kafanchan riots began when a Christian group decided to put up a provocative banner: “Welcome to Jesus Campus” at the Kafanchan College of Education! The Southern Kaduna question is, as I see it, a reflection of the national question as much as it is a dimension of the dilemma of “religion, politics, and power in Northern Nigeria”. It further speaks to the crisis of state failure and capture. Successive administrations have set up panels of inquiry on killings in Southern Kaduna. White Papers have been issued and despite the fact that the trend remains the same, the various recommendations are never implemented. Political leaders take sides in the conflict, thus failing to show leadership. They make inflammatory statements which embolden the criminals they claim are behind the killings. When the night raids occur, the security agencies usually fail to show up, and when they do, great havoc would have been committed, with tragic consequences. Those who lost their loved ones and property in fact allege that security agents openly encourage and assist the bandits. The effect is that many communities in Southern Kaduna are now contemplating taking up arms to defend themselves.
The reign of impunity and the failure of the state to act, when replaced by a resort to self-help, is a prescription for anomie. The people of Southern Kaduna, particularly the Christian communities are losing interest in the Nigerian state. They see their present travails as a re-enactment of the oppression, marginalization, and abuse that they suffered under the old Emirate system. The international community has expressed concern about the human rights implications of the insecurity in various parts of the country. Many families have been displaced across the North. The Internally Displaced Persons camps are over-stretched. The Southern Kaduna People’s Union, SOKAPU, the umbrella body of the people of Southern Kaduna, has received great support and solidarity from other ethnic groups in the country including the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, the Southern and Middle Belt Forum, Ohanaeze, and the Afenifere, with each group stressing the national implications of the reign of violence in different parts of the country.
The incumbent Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai has been blamed by some critics for mismanaging the crisis in the Southern part of the state he governs. As we have seen, he has a lot more to do. He is dealing with a century-old problem, fed by memory, mutual unwillingness to embrace peace, ego, class, religion, and ethnicity. Following the latest round of conflicts, Governor Nasir el-Rufai summoned a State Security Council meeting and has also met with a delegation of the Christian Association of Nigeria. He has expressed his government’s willingness to work together with the security agencies to ensure peace in Southern Kaduna. Other Governors before him made similar promises. He has also asked the leaders and the people of the area to make up their minds to live together in peace, and seek to resolve their differences through lawful means. As Governor, he must take the lead in that regard. In 2016, he offered compensation to members of the Hausa-Fulani community who lost property in a similar incident. He must take steps to also assist non-Muslims. How many churches, or markets is the Governor willing to help rebuild? How much compensation would the state offer those who lost their farmlands and other properties? The people do not trust the state government. Concrete steps should be taken to gain their trust.
As if in response to the Governor’s call for unity, however, a Peace Summit was held the other day by Atyap, and Hausa-Fulani communities in Zangon-Kataf Local Government where the community leaders agreed to end hostilities. They agreed to set up a Standing Peace Committee. They also signed a 14-point resolution. It is not often that Muslims and Christians in Southern Kaduna sit together at a round-table for peace talks, so that is a welcome development. A similar meeting should be held in every local government in the region. The ordinary people: the farmers, the herdsmen, and others should be part of that conversation. The major problem we often have in our communities is the lack of vertical integration. The elites are so high up, so class conscious. Even when they claim to be representing the people’s interests, the people believe that they are just representing themselves or the class that they belong to. Most of our so-called Nigerian big men are so alienated from the people, they have no idea what the people want. To build peace, there must be trust. To build trust, there must be a meeting of minds. The people who are targeted for attacks are not necessarily the men in high places who collect sitting allowances even when they attend Peace Summits, they are the farmers on whose farmland a herdsman grazes his cattle and destroys the crops, they are the market women who are raped, the young men and women who are abused. They must have a voice in this conversation.
One other latest development in this connection is the statement made about the Southern Kaduna situation by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo at the 60th Annual General Conference of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). It was good to hear from the Vice President. The Presidency has so far been too bureaucratic and academic about the security situation in the country. But Professor Osinbajo spoke from the heart. He apologized to the people of Southern Kaduna and empathized with them. He pointed out that as far back as 2001, he had been involved in the peace-building process in Kaduna State through the Macedonia Initiative, a Non-Governmental Organization. He disclosed that the Federal Government is setting up a military base in Southern Kaduna. A combined team from the Army and the Navy has also been deployed to check the reign of impunity in the affected areas. “We won’t sweep underlying issues under the carpet”, he promised.
It is good to hear someone so high up refer to the underlying issues at the centre of the Southern Kaduna crisis. Those underlying issues are hydra-headed as the drift of this commentary, should by now indicate, but one major issue is the deployment of security personnel. Many of these security agents have become part of the problem because they identify with camps in the conflict. No bandit has ever been prosecuted for causing mayhem in Southern Kaduna because the security agent who has been deployed to apprehend, or stop him, identifies with him and his ideology. What is the point in sending a Hausa-Fulani Muslim soldier or policeman to arrest a Hausa-Fulani bandit? That is one underlying issue that needs to be addressed. The Nigerian State, by its own omissions, promotes impunity. The Southern Kaduna is not a peculiar problem that is beyond human solution. Nigerian leaders should focus on the structural basis of ethnic conflicts and the stress factors associated with internal colonialism under a democratic dispensation. Why should anyone ever feel like the other, the outsider, the marginalized in their own space under a democratic dispensation? Lessons can be learnt from disputes in other parts of Nigeria: Ijaw-Itsekiri in Delta State, Nupe-Yoruba in Kwara, Ife-Modakeke in Osun, Jukun-Tiv conflicts in Benue/Taraba States, and the many recommendations of various panels of inquiry on Southern Kaduna which no one has ever bothered to implement.
Reuben Abati is a host of the Morning Show on Arise Television. He was the spokesperson and special adviser, media and publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 – 2015). A former chairman of the editorial board of The Guardian, Dr. Abati is one of the most respected columnists in Nigeria. He writes his syndicated column twice a week. He tweets from @abati1990.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer.