The Killing Fields of Kaduna State and the Maikori Affair, By Jibrin Ibrahim
Kaduna State is a microcosm that tells the narrative of the larger Nigerian State. Nigeria is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society, which accepts differences among its peoples and has a fairly large consensus of agreeing to live together… Kaduna State is an important litmus test of our ability to succeed as a federal democratic society. We all have a responsibility to work towards this positive outcome.
Kaduna State is characterised by a marked identity pattern in which there is a polarisation between two groups. On the one hand, the Hausa-Fulani community, mainly from the Zaria Emirate to the North, which has over the past five hundred years had “implantations” in the area now known as Southern Kaduna, previously known as Southern Zaria and once under the authority of the Zaria Emirate. In Zangon Kataf, Jere, Kachia, Kasuwan Magani, Saminaka, Gwantu and Godogodo, there are significant Hausa-Fulani minorities, some of which have been there for hundreds of years. The other community is referred to by historians as the Confederation of Kankuma or Kwangoma, which historically had similar cultures of ancestral worship, carrying the legacy of the famous Nok Culture that is dated at about 3,000 years B.C. It is composed of numerous ethnic and linguistic groups and is today characterised by a strong Christian identity.
The historical relationship between the two groups has been conflictual and go back a long way. During the pre-colonial period, the area was subjected to slave raids emanating from the Zaria Emirate. With colonialism, the zone was placed under the administrative control of Zaria Emirate, which sent district heads from Zaria to administer the area. Over the period, conflict-generating mechanisms developed as the people of Southern Kaduna developed resistance to what they considered to be domination and subordination by a Muslim authority over them.
As in other parts of Nigeria, Kaduna State has a high level of transhumance pastoralism practiced by the nomadic Fulani, who move seasonally with their animals in search of fodder and water. There are also many settled Fulani communities with cattle in the zone. Conflicts between pastoralists and farmers in Southern Kaduna have grown as a result of several factors. First, the destruction of farmlands and crops by Fulani cattle. Second, the blockage of traditional cattle routes and water points due to the development of large farms and encroachment by farming communities on grazing areas. Third, the rapid decrease in land availability for livestock rearing with population growth, as more land is being brought under cultivation. Given the growing rise of cattle rustling and rural banditry in the country, Southern Kaduna finds itself in the vortex of the violence.
While the cyclical violence is very real, the point must also be made that the situation is being exacerbated by the spread of widespread rumours and fake news that have played an incendiary role in stoking the flames of crisis. As in all violent conflicts, truth is one of the first victims. This can be illustrated with the example of the Audu Maikori story. On January 23, 2017, one Audu Maikori went to town with tweets claiming that his driver’s younger brother and five other students of the College of Education, Gidan Waya were ambushed and killed by herdsmen. The tweets appeared to be a factual account of what had happened to someone who is known. The tweets and Facebook accounts explained that the story broke because the driver carrying the students was Fulani, and since he was kith and kin to the killers, his life was spared. The same day the story broke, the school issued an immediate denial saying none of their students had been killed and that the school had no department of Mass Communication as claimed by the storytellers. The rebuttal by the school received very little coverage.
Audu Maikori retracted his story on Twitter and Facebook with an apology. He explained that his driver had confessed to making up the story… It is interesting that while the main tweet with the fake news was retweeted over 1500 times, the tweet with the link to the Facebook retraction was retweeted less than 500 times.
What happened next was an escalation of the story by Vanguard newspaper. Their reporter, Luka Binniyat, acting on the story posted by Audu Maikori on Twitter and Facebook, produced a report entitled, “5 College of Education students killed in Southern Kaduna”. In the report, which was published a day after the denial of such occurrence by the school, an elaborate story was told and names were mentioned of one of the victims, James Joseph, his age, department in the school, his native town, as well as a detailed description of the fatal journey. The writer went further to claim to have spoken to a management staff of the College on condition of anonymity. This lent the story credibility and caused the outcry on “murderous Fulani herdsmen” to gain more traction. The story became concrete “evidence” of mass killings.
On February 4, 2017 however, Audu Maikori retracted his story on Twitter and Facebook with an apology. He explained that his driver had confessed to making up the story so that he, Maikori, would develop sympathy and give him money to travel home for the alleged funeral of his brother. It is interesting that while the main tweet with the fake news was retweeted over 1500 times, the tweet with the link to the Facebook retraction was retweeted less than 500 times. On Monday February 6, 2017, the Vanguard reporter who fabricated the detailed fake report, Luka Binniyat was invited by the SSS in Kaduna and was charged to court by the police. Audu Maikori himself was arrested on February 17 in Lagos and transported to Abuja but was subsequently released. Those who were happy with the fake news spread by Audu Maikori have been complaining bitterly about his arrest and are alleging that his constitutional right to free speech is being violated. Does free speech mean one has a right to spread fabricated fake and dangerous news that was leading to more violence and killing?
There is a strong dimension of partisan politics in the Southern Kaduna crisis. Traditionally, since the emergence of the Northern Nigerian Non-Christian League and subsequently the United Middle Belt Congress in the 1950s, Southern Kaduna has frequently found itself in a party in opposition to the party supported by the northern zone. Currently, the Southern Kaduna zone has a strong presence in the PDP, while the North is in the control of APC. In the 2011 post-election violence, Southern Kaduna witnessed the highest level of atrocities as revealed by the Sheikh Lemu Commission of Inquiry, which said that over 800 people were killed. Governor El-Rufai has argued that the current violence is in part a carryover of reprisal killings linked to the 2011 events.
The Southern Kaduna crisis is being transformed into a national one and it is important that all necessary efforts be made to bring peace back to the State. All stakeholders need to work together and create synergy for peace building. It would not be easy because the conflict has been on going for the past thirty-five years.
The governor of Kaduna State has also expressed his determination to end the impunity enjoyed by people who engage in atrocities in the State. It is indeed important to impose State authority and return the zone to law and order. Law and order in itself cannot, however, be the only pathway to peace. Conflict resolution mechanisms leading to dialogue and peace making are essential. It is interesting that unknown persons have already destroyed the foundation for an army barrack in Unguwar Yashi in Zangon Kataf laid by the Chief of Army Staff and the Kaduna State governor in early February. Many people are apparently against the return of peace.
The Southern Kaduna crisis is being transformed into a national one and it is important that all necessary efforts be made to bring peace back to the State. All stakeholders need to work together and create synergy for peace building. It would not be easy because the conflict has been on going for the past thirty-five years. It is very complex and emotional and multiple narratives have emerged on its drivers and actors. The best strategy is to go beyond the political actors that might be enflaming the narratives and get the communities themselves to talk and work out an enduring settlement.
Kaduna State is a microcosm that tells the narrative of the larger Nigerian State. Nigeria is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society, which accepts differences among its peoples and has a fairly large consensus of agreeing to live together. Often however, political and violence entrepreneurs intervene to promote what divides rather than what unites the people. Conditions in the country including the rise of religiosity in society, economic crisis and competition for power allow such actors to promote discord and violence. Nigeria is however resilient and conflict resolution and peace building efforts tend to succeed in bringing an end to the politics of discord. Out of this flows what we can call the Nigerian project. There is an authentic overriding Nigerian project; that it is possible for us to live peacefully together in spite of our differences. This requires the deepening of the two political values we all accept as Nigerians – federalism and democracy. These values must be translated into lived practices. Kaduna State is an important litmus test of our ability to succeed as a federal democratic society. We all have a responsibility to work towards this positive outcome.