By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
Events in Southern Kaduna are once again the focus of national attention and concern. Home to roughly one-fourth of a State that captures and reflects the basic essence of northern Nigeria, many of the residents in this area spent the Christmas in partial lockdown following days of protests and clashes. The tipping point were the attacks on the Governor, his Deputy and members of the State Security Council who had decided to hold a meeting in the largest town in the area, Kafanchan, to find a way out of the killings and reprisals that had become almost endemic in and around many villages in many parts of the region in the last few years.
These killings had created problems which had become more pronounced with the persistent mention of Fulani as attackers and the prominence of partisan politics as a factor in responses and mobilization of passions. Villagers will now confront a new reality: hundreds of soldiers, policemen and an assortment of security personnel, who will be part of their lives for a few weeks or for much longer, depending on the state’s perception of the threat which villagers and herders pose to each other and to national security.
Significantly, this very presence will give a large part of the population the comfort and assurance it seeks from a state that had appeared too distant and indifferent. While security agents attempt to keep citizens from taking on each other and anyone else identified as the enemy through sharply-defined prisms of faith, ethnicity and relationship with the state government, Kaduna State government will labour to convince the world that it is not punishing naked women and youth who defied a curfew to attack Governor el-Rufai and show utter contempt for laws of the land.
The Federal government will watch to see if it has to design a new security outfit for long-term stay, similar to the one next door in Plateau State. New frontiers in propaganda will be opened. Some communities will say they are being occupied while the real culprits, the Fulani herders and their political backers roam free, planning new attacks. Some will urge the state to lean hard on citizens from communities and politicians who encourage them to believe they have earned the right to ignore the state completely while they go for their pounds of flesh or when they design their own protection.
Churches and mosques and the social media will take up battles, making all faiths part of this fight between historical oppressors and victims. Regional politics will be prominent as a factor as APC’s opposition raises its voice to reinforce the fact that this region has been a solid PDP supporter since 1999. APC itself will not abandon one of its very own, particularly one who will flash deep involvement of PDP politicians in encouraging defiance and violence.
Today’s conflicts in Southern a Kaduna have deep historical and cultural roots, giving every group many good reasons to successfully plead the case for being a victim. From the 1970s, competition for political and territorial space, egged on by faith institutions and urban-based elite began to create conflicts in parts of the region that would reverberate across the entire state or the country every time they occurred. Kasuwan Magani, Kafanchan, Zangon Kataf, the 1999 installation fights, the ‘Shari’a’ riots, ‘Miss World ‘riots, the ‘Cartoon ‘riots, 2011 post-election riots, the riots that followed the church bombing by Boko Haram in 2013 have been etched into history as horrific blood-letting occasions that made the state at a time the most dangerous place to live in because you could live or die in the hands of mobs only on the basis of your faith or location at the time.
Except for the jailing of some prominent elite from the region by a Judicial Commission of Enquiry following the attempted ethnic cleansing that was Zangon Kataf, not one citizen anywhere has been punished by the state for killings and arson. Killers melted into communities, victims cried and sulked at a state that begged pained hearts to forgive, and life became cheaper with every bloodbath. Communities built arsenals for the next conflicts. Towns and cities became virtually segregated along religious and ethnic boundaries.
Trust between communities broke down completely, and was worsened by partisan politics that reflected the hue of religious and partisan character. PDP’s brand of politics gave the Christian communities a prominence and a share of the spoils that belied their actual aggregate strength. They in turn stood by the party with unwavering loyalty, refusing to budge even when much of the northern Christian communities in other northern states switched sides and supported the APC.
The gradual spread of killings of villagers by suspected Fulani herders that began from the southern part of the state introduced a relatively novel element in the geo-politics of the region, and confronted the state with a very complex problem. History and ecology have combined to create an elaborate tapestry of communities, cultures and economies that were impossible to isolate from each other. Changing patterns of land use and a politicized land ownership epidemic were pitching herders and farmers across most of the north in skirmishes.
Long-term solutions required a stable political environment, enlightened policies and strong political will to craft. None have existed in the last decade or so. Communities and groups therefore designed their own protection and defined the enemy. As villagers died in greater numbers at the hand of killers that seemed impossible to arrest or stop, more and more villagers lost faith in the state to protect them. Respect for authority plummeted, demonstrated more graphically in the humiliation of the late Governor Yakowa in Zonkwa, the retreat of former Governor Yero from protesting elderly naked women in Sanga Local Government Area and the series of events culminating in the attacks on Governor el-Rufai.
Governor el-Rufai’s personality and brand of politics have not prepared him well to deal with the daunting cumulative legacy in Southern Kaduna State. The voters from the region rejected him, preferring to stick with the sinking PDP. He has been unable to build political bridges with the region, choosing to operate with politicians without any weight in their communities. Prominent politicians and elders from the region who would have been inclined to work with and for him have been alienated by his tendency to believe that all past is a liability, and he can create his own world. He has accumulated massive hostility from a Christian community from many sources going as far back as a re-tweet some years back which some say insulted their faith, to the plan to regulate religious preaching, to plans to demolish ‘Gbagi Villa’, a high-brow, largely Christian location in Kaduna he insists is illegally built and must be demolished. PDP politicians in the state have made massive political capital out of the Governor’s travails with Christians and Southern Kaduna communities, in many instances specifically and openly urging disobedience to authority in the name of resistance.
Yet, Governor el-Rufai needs support to pull the state from the brink of a long-drawn crisis that will suck in a lot more than the rest of the region, the state and the nation. He is already deeply engaged in the trenches with the Shia, a group with rich credentials in building strategic alliances with religions and sects that would further its cause. This is the time to advise that the mobilization of law enforcement agents must be accompanied by serious thinking over exactly what it is to accomplish. At all cost, it must not stay in place of peace and security that does not require soldiers and police to enforce with boots on the ground.
Communities need to be assured that they are safe, and this will involve the elimination of the threats from attacks as well as attacks from other communities. The Governor should engage key clergy, community leaders, politicians and elders from the region and other parts of the state to help identify possible solutions in the long term, and to bring down tension in the short term. It will be a serious mistake for the Governor to believe that events in Southern Kaduna State are about him. They predate him, and will in all probability outlive him. Today, it is his lot to deal with a very serious and complex manifestation of an old problem. If he is unable to mobilize a lot more than his officials and security agents and re-examine his do-it-all-alone philosophy to get over this challenge, it will be about him. And that will be an even bigger tragedy, because a major part of the problem sees him as the problem.
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.