Nasir-el Rufai

Governor Nasir El-Rufai has the option to prove his leadership by putting an end to the unremitting campaign of terrorism and needless genocide in the north. His sort of urbane disposition, education, enlightenment, exposure, and experience – hardly seen among the current crops of northern governors – is needed to stamp out sustained religious and ethnic bloodbath in a secular country like Nigeria.

The recent senseless killings in Southern Kaduna, prior to and on Christmas Eve, were despicable to say the least. As merchants of “pure evil”, the ferociously murderous Fulani herdsmen vaguely claimed they were avenging the killing of their cows some two years before. The killings clearly emphasised the well known coordinated and systematic religious and ethnic cleansing orchestrated by the Fulani pan-Arabists who took it upon themselves to kill perceived ‘infidels’ on behalf of their ‘God’ who cannot kill for himself.

Fulani herdsmen across the country have a multitude of sins to their names: the violation of ancestral neighbourhoods, robbery, torture, rape and the killing of Christians. Fulani herdsmen have become another frightening version of ethnic cleansing and are among the cruellest and most ruthless of Islamic fundamentalists.

Whatever the pretense or self-confessed reasons for the latest sordid acts of brutal and animalistic aggression against the Christian communities in Southern Kaduna who believe God should be worshipped differently, the acts readily reflect how deeply divided we have been as a people and nation.

The Crocodile City has been there before, and the tragedy predates the present administration of Governor Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. Between February 21 and May 23, 2000 there were violent riots following a proposal to adopt the Sharia law in the State. The proposal led to bloody clashes between Christians and Muslims. In the end, it was estimated that 2,000 were killed in the month of February and 5,000 people died in May, respectively.

On November 22, 2002, another round of religious-induced bloodbath enveloped the State. The Miss World Beauty Pageant claimed the lives of more than 200 people.

The controversial Miss World pageant, which was meant to be held in Kaduna, was relocated to London after the violent clashes between Muslims and Christians, caused by what some Muslims deemed to be a “blasphemous” article in a Christian newspaper about the event. The Miss World riots were part of the Sharia conflict, which started in 1999 when several predominantly Islamic states in Northern Nigeria decided to introduce religious legal code.

On June 17, 2012, yet another massacre took place in Wusasa and Sabon Gari areas of Kaduna where 38 people were butchered on the ground of religious intolerance. The year 2015 was not left out. Between December 12 and 13 that year, 700 to 1000 people paid the supreme price on account of religious and ethnic differences.

If ever there was any issue that tended to burst Kaduna State and the nation at the seam since the civil war – which constitutes one of the “Triple Pillars of Nigerian Nemesis” – it is mindless religious extremism by which some northern citizens of the country perpetrate acts of hatred and violence against other religious faith, especially Christianity. It is the product of relentless elite conspiracy set out to turn the mass of the Nigeria people against each other, so that they can remain in perpetual servitude.

Nigeria would have been a more peaceful nation if the political leadership had not been primitively exploiting the people’s religious ignorance, or if the people truly realised that religious extremism is antithetical to nation building.

Basically, religion would seem to have little to do with hate. Nearly every religion seems to preach love, peace, and tolerance. But in truth, we know differently. People often hate people of other religions. Hate is a cancer. It destroys people, churches, mosques and nations. If you hate, your hate may destroy someone. But it will also destroy you, and those people who you love. Boko Haram’s bloodthirsty militias, the Fulani bloodcurdling group, and other head-chopping gangs are ready examples of religious intolerance gone berserk.

Do we remember a crime that shocked the whole world as well as Norway in July 2011? Anders Behring Breivik, who called himself a “Christian crusader”, bombed government buildings in Oslo, resulting in eight deaths. He then carried out mass shooting at a camp of the Workers’ Youth League (AUF) of the Labour Party on the island of Utoya, where he killed 69 people, mostly teenagers. Breivik justified his behaviour by saying that they were “cruel but necessary” to protect Norway from becoming overrun by Muslims. It’s said that he smiled as he was sentenced to 21 years in prison. Even he apologised to militant nationalists for not killing more people.

The more horrible fact is that there are people who have been inciting hatred for other religions. They identify some particular religions as heresies and present unauthentic documents at “so-called” cult seminars, web-sites or online cafes as if they were true. They distribute vicious and false information as if these were also true. Some of them include: if you were engrossed in such religions, you will be cursed, your family will be disrupted or your life will be ruined, and you will not make Paradise, etc. Those who do not know such religions are often deceived by such false claims.

A religion must not be a target of removal simply because of doctrinal differences.

Those who have been accusing Governor Nasir El-Rufai of not tut-tutting at the frightfulness of the Fulani herdsmen on the Kafancha massacre missed the point. Only last week, I interviewed one of the very first Christian families to flee a part of Kafancha while the Fulani herdsmen’s siege lasted. “We appreciate the efforts made by the governor to protect the Christian communities from the invading Fulani herdsmen terrorising us, but he should do more by sending more security operatives to the area. After all, we gave him our mandate regardless of his faith”, they said.

Frustratingly, Governor Nasir El-Rufai actually sniffed out the problems early enough. He told journalists a few months into his administration that, “One of the challenges we are facing in this state is that everything seems to be politicised or ethnicised or religionised. A very simple problem that can be discussed and resolved by logic and facts becomes converted into issues of ethnicity and religion, and so on. So, these are some of the challenges we have to face but we are doing the best we can.

“Our religion is our personal business. Most people in this country believe in one God. We believe we are worshipping the same God in different ways. The moment I got elected, the number of people that came to me who wanted to be the secretary of Muslim Pilgrims Board showed to me that there was a problem. Nobody wanted to be commissioner of finance and so on. That means there is something happening there in the name of religion. But honestly, one of the legacies Arch. Barnabas Bala Bantex and I want to leave behind in this state is the complete separation of religion from governance and hypocrisy associated with it.

“I say hypocrisy because the same person that preaches and incites people against a Christian has no problem going to the hospital to see a Christian doctor if the doctor is good. He would not remember that the doctor is a Christian then. In my opinion, they are just blowing this thing to cause problem and distract ordinary people, while they take advantage of the situation and system. We want to eliminate that in Kaduna, we want everyone to feel that in this state you can practice your religion without hindrance and your religion and ethnicity would not be a factor in getting government services and appointment. It must be your capacity and competence to deliver; that’s all.

“The problem that we found in Kaduna State is that ethnicity and religion come first, competence and capacity last. We want to reverse that; because we believe that those who work, those that are competent, those that can deliver benefit to everyone. I don’t need to have someone from my local government if the government is working. But if the government is not working and then everybody is stealing, then I would want to have a representative there. This is what has turned our heads. I am appealing to you as our partners, as those that communicate with the general public to help us in our effort to make this state better. When a government works, it works for everybody. Government cannot choose to have schools for one ethnic group or one religion alone. That is what we want to move away from and you can help”.

A word for Governor Nasir El-Rufai. The governor has the opportunity to rebuild the people’s confidence in the Kaduna and Nigeria projects or ruin it permanently. The reason being that the same religious extremism that has tamed and arrested peace and development in virtually all the Northern states terrorises Kaduna State alike.

Governor Nasir El-Rufai has the option to prove his leadership by putting an end to the unremitting campaign of terrorism and needless genocide in the north. His sort of urbane disposition, education, enlightenment, exposure, and experience – hardly seen among the current crops of northern governors – is needed to stamp out sustained religious and ethnic bloodbath in a secular country like Nigeria. TO BE CONTINUED.

Erasmus Ikhide, a social activist, writes from Lagos. Follow me on twitter @IkhideErasmus1