Even while in the grave, the dead in Kaduna rarely find the luxury of resting in peace. Years ago, after over 300 Shiite Muslims, including women and children were extra-judicially murdered by the Nigerian Military in Zaria, Kaduna State, the fury and storm of death still followed them to the grave. Unsettled in the shallow, unmarked mass grave, the victims were to later be exhumed from the indignity of their burial under a flurry of international controversies and contention.
Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of the North Western state of Kaduna, a stormy petrel in the political space and remarkably imbued with corrosive energy was in the midst of the ignoble, premeditated campaign against the Shiites. Working hands-in-gloves with the Military authorities, he excoriated the Shiites, advocated a false equivalence in which the battle-armed battalion of soldiers was framed as victims of the verbal adversarial impulse of faithful worshippers massed in the sacred temple. It needs re-emphasizing that it took over 300 lives of Shiite faithful sacrificed in brutal ignominy, without the dignity of body bags to appease the hounds baying for blood.
Last week, on the eve of the now rescheduled presidential elections, El-Rufai elected to serve his audience with yet another drama. Versed in the intricate plots only him is capable of weaving he announced in a broadcast that a massacre had been visited on the Fulani communities of Maru Gida and Iri in Kajuru Local Government Area of the state. A nation already at edge from electoral tension was alarmed. The Nigeria Police Force, and indeed other security and paramilitary formations appeared to be totally in the dark about this. Most stakeholders were familiar with an earlier killing on 10, February, 2019 against the communities in Adara. This particular killing was feared to have been masterminded by some elements within the Fulani communities.
It elicited instant intervention by security agencies, including the Police in the Local Government. Humanitarian agencies including the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Red Cross and the Catholic Church mobilized to bring things under control. The Kaduna State government reportedly dispatched a delegation a few days afterwards to calm down nerves in the affected communities. With Governor El-Rufai’s alarm on the eve of the postponed elections conceived and sold as a totally unconnected attack, stakeholders familiar with the delicate and repeated hostility defining relationship among ethnic groups in the areas were distraught, expecting the very worst. The governor’s narrative concealed every connection in terms of motive, timing and sequence with the attacks that occurred nearly a week earlier.
The Zonal Coordinator of the North West office of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Ishaya Chonoko set out to local communities but did not receive testimony or any confirmation of such incident from the villagers. The local Red Cross reached out to local leaders in the communities to verify and offer assistance but received no confirmation of such incident. The senator representing the district in the Nigerian Senate, Comrade Shehu Sani reached out to his constituents to verify but finding no evidence of such incident was indignant. “What the people of the area told me was that the issue happened since Sunday (10, February, 2019) and that security agencies waded in and resolved it immediately,” reported Senator Sani.
The state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) described the Governor’s claim that killings occurred in the Fulani communities as ‘intentional false alarm.’ The Violent Incidents and Election Atrocity Fusion Centre (VIAFUC), a social monitoring and intervention group on violence in Southern Kaduna equally found the governor’s claim worrying. “We have trawled all possible sources… we report that the alleged attack and killings claimed by Governor El-Rufai did not occur.” The group affirmed that there was indeed an attack on 10th February, 2019.
With the governor’s claim steadily coming under intense scrutiny and outright dismissal from members of the public he began to take even more bizarre steps. The Government House in Kaduna started circulating ghoulish, gory images of dismembered corpses, some incinerated beyond recognition. He reinforced his media outreach. But most significantly he got the Army led by the General Officer Commanding One Division of Nigerian Army, Faruk Yahaya and the Kaduna State Commissioner of Police, Ahmad Abdurrahman in a delegation to the village. After touring sites of what was supposed to be the mass grave, the GOC, Yahaya was expected to give the weight of authority to the evidence on ground.
Yahaya’s trajectory of report failed to bring evidence derived from personal encounter. Speaking to the reporters ferried in the governor’s delegation to the community, Yahaya said: “We have shown you the other area in that village, where according to information, the residents were lured to that riverine and were slaughtered. A total of 37 were said to have been buried there. You have seen the grave there and you have also seen elements of their materials that were on the ground, including some traces of blood…” Not sure the GOC had adequately delivered as envisaged, Governor El-Rufai asks him what the casualty figure was. He says: As far as we are concerned, what we reported was 66, comprising male, female and children. Defying established protocols of suppressing casualty figures the GOC has dragged the Nigerian Army into ethnic motivated overdrive on casualty figure. As bad as this is, it is further worsened by posting a personal opinion of an officer as the official position of the Army.
Abdurrahman, the Police Commissioner, was careful to avoid the boobytraps of casualty, mass grave and ethnicity. He announced that six people had been arrested in connection to the incident, assuring that suspects would be charged to court as soon as possible. Meanwhile back in his official fold, the Police Commissioner has issued a damper, distancing the Police from the casualty claim and associated wild goose chase. Fixated with a desire to force through a narrative that some Fulani communities were attacked, Governor El-Rufai is too eager to sweep aside the more complicated, even depressing context of the incidents. A factcheck by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) established that attacks occurred in Adara, a non-Fulani community and a possible retaliatory attack on the Fulani community days afterwards. There are disturbing casualties on both sides.
So why is the governor alarmed about one and not the other? That’s really the elephant in the room that is not receiving attention. El-Rufai’s policy of changing chiefdoms to emirates may be at the root of the heightened attacks and killings in the area. The non-Fulani communities have been resisting the policy. Amid the tension the chief of Adara community was summoned by the government to Kaduna. On his return journey from meeting government officials in Kaduna, he was abducted and later murdered. With tension escalating, words began to go filter that government planned to install an emir for the community.
With question mark over the murder of the Adara community chief and rumor of installing an emir as replacement government may have been the one stoking the mistrust and violence. It has equally shown by the pattern of the arrests and threats following the recent killings. A more urgent step to be taken by government ought to be to address the primary concerns of the various communities and ethnic groups particularly where the concerns are derived on fears of cultural domination and official intimidation.
Salkida is a conflict reporter based in Abuja.