INVESTIGATION: Horror in Southern Kaduna: Untold Story of Endless Massacre, Plunder by Suspected Fulani Militia (Part III)
In the first part of its four-part series, The NEXT EDITION had revealed how 136 persons were slaughtered in coordinated attacks by suspected herdsmen from June 10 – August 21.
INVESTIGATION: Horror in Southern Kaduna: Untold story of endless massacres, plunder by suspected Fulani militia (Part I)
However, in the second part of the report, heads of Fulani ancestral groups and victims insisted that indigenous Southern Kaduna individuals and communities are the aggressors.
Indeed, they related accounts of similarly ruthless assaults, including that between June 11, 2020 and August 2020, a total of 85 Fulani people were murdered in bloody attacks by "Atyap youth and their allies."
INVESTIGATION: Horror in Southern Kaduna: Untold story of endless massacres, plunder (Part II)
But indigenous, Southern Kaduna people, groups, neighbourhood associations and activists insist that it was the herders who unleashed mayhem on more than 24 villages across eight local government areas of the zone.
Investigation by our reporter shows the invasions and killings have been so repetitive to the extent they are seen, talked about and treated as normal occurrences.
Observers believe, maybe, that is why the state governor, Nasir El-Rufai and Nigeria's President, Muhammadu Buhari, have failed to put an end to the killings and bring the culprits to justice.
Apart from critics and some victims of the crisis who have been arrested and prosecuted by the Kaduna State Government, no perpetrator of the Southern Kaduna killings has been arrested and prosecuted by the government.
In any case, the majority of people, who have suffered long periods of the grisly savagery, presently long to carry on with their lives in peace and without assault.
In this report, 10 persons from indigenous Southern Kaduna communities that survived attacks in the area have chosen to give accounts of what happened just as 10 Fulani casualties recounted their story in the second part of this report.
All those who spoke to our reporter insisted they didn't offend their Fulani neighbours; neither did they choose to be victims of the unending savagery.
To get these accounts out, our reporter made daring visits to some Southern Kaduna communities just as attacks were going on.
He also visited the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Zonkwa, where survivors told awful stories.
It should be noted that all the victims openly chose to talk about their encounters and also gave assent for their photos to be taken and their accounts to be published by our correspondent.
While many were so traumatised and could not open up on their encounters, those who decided to speak said they need the world to share the truth of their situation and, maybe, assist them to get justice.
Chilling stories from casualties
It was rumoured that the town would be attacked by herdsmen, but nobody believed it because Chibob and the neighboring villages never had any misunderstanding with the Fulanis, so the people thought.
Harajatu, who spoke to our reporter at the IDP camp in Zonkwa, said she lost her husband to an undisclosed sickness in 2018 soon after giving birth to her last child and has been battling to bring up her kids.
But on July 10, her world came apart when bloodthirsty herders woke her community up at midnight and pitilessly butchered men, women and children.
"We were informed that Fulani herdsmen were planning to attack our village but we didn't believe the story," she said.
"Be at about 12.am on July 10, we heard heavy gunshots and we thought our neighbourhood vigilante were responsible for the shooting.
"It was, however, when we heard the shooters yelling, 'Allahu akba' that I understood it was the Fulani herdsmen and I fled from the house with my children.
"Not realising what to do, we rushed to my neighbor's home. However, we discovered they had fled and in disarray, we ran back home and took cover inside the kitchen.
"My children asked whether the shooters were coming to kill us and I assured them God will protect us just as we heard people shouting and begging for their lives.
"It was then I told my children we need to flee from the village. I realized we would be killed if we wasted more time but I didn't have a clue on how we were going to escape," she said, shaking.
As they headed out to the open with her baby tied to her back and the two others coming behind her, she said flickers of light from flying bullets were seen all over the place.
While running towards a hilly part of the village, she said they saw many houses on fire and met other villagers trying to run away but the situation turned out to be more dreadful when the shooters spotted them and gave chase.
Continuing, she recounted her dreadful experience:
"By then we were so confused and started running in different directions and I was separated from my two children. My heart sank yet I was unable to return to search for them.
"I kept running with the child on my back until I got to the river bank and I braved myself to cross it. I had no choice.
"Near the bank, the river wasn't deep and the wave wasn't fast but as I moved towards the center, the water got deeper and the wave was so quick it seemed I would drown with my child.
"I cried but couldn't open my mouth so I wouldn't swallow water. Aside from the sky, everything around me was dark and the water was so cold and frightful. I prayed to God to spare my life and that of my child as the water got deeper and faster.
"I wanted to go back but the idea of the killers in the village wouldn't let me. I lost control and went under the river and my child held me firmly as I battled up once more.
"The water had gotten to my neck and my infant pulled up so her face might be out of water while she held firmly to me.
"Out of nowhere, I slipped and went under the water the second time and I battled with all my energy to come out. My child was still on my back.
"I cried alone inside the water as the waves and shrubs tore my clothes to pieces. At the point when I thought I was out of risk and moving toward the bank on the opposite side, the waves pulled me under the water again and I took a few gulps and breathed in so much water.
"I battled the waves with everything left in me and discovered my legs slipping deeper inside the water. When my legs hit the ground, the wave took me up again and I found myself at the bank of the river but my baby was no longer on my back.
"I looked for her and called her name but I was unable to find her. It was so dark and I didn't have the faintest idea what to do. It was so difficult for me.
"I believed I ought to have died with my child as I stood by the river bank crying all alone. I thought of my other two children and I cried more. It was the sound of gunshots near the opposite side of the river that shocked me back to life and I began running," she said wailing softly.
Harajatu said she walked practically naked for more than 30 minutes before she got to Yagbak village.
On arriving at the village, she knocked on the door of an unknown family and they opened, took her in and gave her clothes to cover her nakedness.
The widow said she cried all night not just for her baby who drowned in the river but also for the other two who ran away when they fled Chibob.
"God answered my prayer and I found my two kids who separated from me when we fled in the night. They were fleeing with different villagers, who later brought them to the ECWA camp in Zonkwa town.
"It was when I got to the camp that I discovered them among other children who had escaped the attack in Chibob. However, we have not found the body of my baby fourteen days after I lost her in the river. We have looked all over the place yet her body has not been found," she mourned.
He dropped his implements and rushed to the village market to get some refreshments.
After taking a meal of porridge, he and a couple of individuals from his church went to see his pastor over a forthcoming church event.
It was while he and his friends were still at the parsonage that word came that heavily-armed men had attacked the village and were slaughtering people and burning houses.
"Before I could warn our neighbours to run, I began hearing ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta and we all ran inside the bush," he said.
While he, the pastor and church members fled in different directions into the bush, Yashim said they called out people who were still inside their homes to run.
After a group of youth from Zonkwa showed up and pursued the invaders away, they went round and picked 11 bodies including women, children and the aged, he recalled.
According to him, the killers didn't spare a mentally disturbed man who used to live in the market square.
"We know the Fulani boy who masterminded the invasion and killings in our town. His name is Yakubu Arua," he told our reporter.
"Yakubu Arua was conceived in my farm. He grew up in this town and knows everybody and everywhere here (Gora Gan)."
Asked how he knew that Arua masterminded the attack, Yashim answered, "Our people saw him. I was not around. I was in the bush but those who were around saw him. He met one of our mothers.
"He warned her to go inside or they will waste her life. She is the mother of Haruna, whose house was torched."
In spite of the village's pleasant and exceptionally peaceful climate, a bleak atmosphere loomed over it like the sword of Damocles, when our reporter visited.
The local guide had taken our reporter to a compound in the outskirts of the village to meet one Usman Danlami.
After a brief introduction, Danlami took our reporter through a bush path to a large farmland with three huge concrete slabs.
Pointing to the slaps, he said "We are standing on the mass grave of our people who were slaughtered on March 11, 2019 by Fulani militia."
On that very day, he said the people were jolted from sleep by the shouts of "Allahu Akba! Allahu Akba."
Allahu Akba is an Islamic citation, meaning, "God is great."
"When we came out of our homes, we saw Fulani men wearing dark clothes and others in white caftans and some others with military camouflage; wielding weapons including AK 47 assault rifles and locally made guns," he said.
"Some others carried cutlasses and sticks and they surrounded our village. When we discovered that we have been surrounded, we started running helter-skelter.
"As we ran into the bush, lo and behold, many didn't know the invaders had laid ambush for our people.
"That was how many of our people met their waterloo in the bush; some were shot dead in their homes, some were macheted and the sick and old people who couldn't run were wrapped in their mattresses and set on fire," he recalled with anger and hopelessness.
Aside from murdering people and mutilating their corpses, he said the invaders burnt down houses, food yields, and home furniture while bikes and other valuables were looted.
"What amazed us more than anything else is that the assault was unprovoked. Dogon Noma and the whole of Ungwan Gamu never had any quarrel with the Fulani which would have justified the assaults on our people," he said.
Giving account of the brutal attacks in Kajuru Local Government Area in 2019, Danlami said Angwan Barde was attacked on March 10, and the following day, Dogon Noma was attacked.
"Karamai was attacked before Dogon Noma and Angwan Barde. At Ungwan Barde, 11 persons were killed at the first invasion which was on February 10 and the subsequent attack took place March 10.
"Before the attack on Ungwan Barde, they had hit Karamai on February 26, 2019, killing 45 people and when they attacked Ungwan Barde the second time, 26 people were killed.
"On March 11, 2019, Dogon Noma was attacked and 71 people were slaughtered," he said.
Pointing to the slabs, he said, "On this mass grave, 66 persons were buried. We have photos of the dead bodies. We have photos of the burial procession. Five persons were buried in the small mass grave not far from here."
"We have been hearing stories by the state and federal governments that the Fulani are going on reprisal attacks and we have attempted to understand the meaning of reprisal but we don't know what it is about.
"We don't have any history of quarrel with the Fulani or some other tribes. So, we have been shocked on why anyone should claim any attack on us was a reprisal.
When reminded that many people, including Miyeti Allah and Governor El Rufai, have accused Adara people of killing and displacing Fulani pastoralists, his response was instant.
"As I speak, I don't know where any Fulani person was murdered and buried in any part of Adara land. But here we are, standing on the mass grave of our people that were slaughtered on March 11, 2019.
"I challenge them to show the pictures of their people killed in Adara land. Let them show the videos of the burial and who they were and where they lived.
"If you go to Karamai, there is a mass grave. If you go to Ungwan Barde, there is a mass grave there. If you go to Banono-Angwaku you will see a mass grave there. Go to Machali, there is a mass grave. Go to Tudu-Doka, there is a mass grave. Go to Agwalama Gayaki-Doka, there is a mass grave. Go to Gunra Doka, there is a mass grave.
"All these places are saturated with mass graves and up till now, we are yet to find answers to why the attacks happened so that the reprisal came on us."
"I was still bathing when my wife yelled, 'Fulani herders have come. Everyone run oo and I hurried out of the bathroom just as my wife and three kids and I ran out of the compound.
"The herders had already surrounded us and I dropped to the ground and began crawling. They started shooting at us from various angles.
"I was able to escape with one of my little girls and a niece who lived with us but my wife and child were not fortunate.
"She was shot from the back while attempting to flee. When my wife fell down and let go of my child, they shot the little boy in the head as he attempted to run.
"My wife and child died on the spot. I couldn't stop to help them. I can't explain how I escaped with the two children who ran with me because the Fulani herdsmen were shooting at us from every direction."
Kaduna is yet to recover from the trauma of seeing his wife and child murdered and he was unable to defend them as the man of the house.
He strongly wished the government would do something to stop the ridiculous attacks and bring the culprits to book.
Reality, however, dawned on them when people he described as "armed Fulani herdsmen," stormed the village at about midnight during a heavy downpour on July 10.
"It was at midnight and it was raining heavily when I heard movements close to my house and I came out and pointed a torchlight to see what was happening," he began.
"As soon as they (armed invaders) saw the light from the torch, they opened fire from every direction and I ran inside and took cover by a wall close to the door.
"They called out my name and asked me and members of my family to come out and that they were going to kill us. I refused to open the corrugated zinc door.
"As they were shouting my name, one of my wives, who was inside the bedroom ran to the parlour and stood opposite the door. Before I could signal her to move away, they sprayed bullets on the corrugated zinc that served as a door and my wife fell down.
"My other wife who was in a different room had escaped with my children through the backdoor while they were shooting into my palour.
"They continued shouting, 'Monday your own is finished. We are going to kill you today and you cannot escape.' I watched helplessly as my wife struggled in pain and died," he recounted.
Continuing, Adamu said the gunmen fired more bullets into the room and one of them got him on the hand.
Faced with a choice between life and death, he jumped out of the house from the back window and slipped into plantain shrubs with blood dripping from his hands.
A neighbour, Adamu, who had sneaked back into the village from the IDP camp, said all members of Samson's family had fled leaving him at the mercy of the rampaging invaders.
When the gunmen met the old man who also had a bad leg hiding in his room, they did not show him any mercy.
"He begged them for his life but they wouldn't listen. They first shot him pointblank on his only good leg and he attempted to crawl under the bed," Adamu who said he was hiding in the plantain shrubs told our correspondent.
"One of them pulled a cutlass and cut him several times before they poured a can containing a flammable liquid into the room and set him and the house ablaze.
"I heard him crying as the flames covered him and later he stopped crying and died in a most agonizing way," Adamu said.
A farmer and a herder, Bako said the gunmen who attacked the town on July 20 are his tribesmen.
"I had gotten calls from some unknown individuals who said they will wipe out my family for changing over to Christianity. I was also told they will attack the town but we didn't believe it," he told our reporter.
"My home is the last compound before the river. It was the first compound they visited but I saw them from afar, alerted my neighbours before escaping with my family.
"When they didn't see anybody at home, they burnt a part of the house and moved to the next compound where they killed Pamela Jonathan who was bathing at that time.
"Her dad, Jonathan Isaiah, and her nine-year-old sibling were shot but they escaped with bullet wounds and were later taken to Jos for treatment," Bako recalled.
He confirmed that the community was told they will be attacked but they did not believe the story.
The disbelief, he said, stemmed from the fact Chibob people never had a misunderstanding with the Fulanis.
He said that Fulani people have cohabited the village for quite a while before they suddenly decided to relocate to another area.
Weeks after the Fulanis moved their families and animals out of the village, he said the gunmen came and unleashed terror on the people who were already sleeping.
On the night the village was attacked, Luka said most locals had slept when gunshots were heard from far away.
"Before we could understand what was going on, people were shouting in pains as the gunmen shot and cut them up with cutlasses," he narrated.
"We were confused and didn't know whether to run into the bush or stay inside our homes. When it became obvious they were using a form of explosive to blow up houses, I ran into the bush with my family members.
"The worst was that it was raining so heavily and both the young and the old ran out into the cold night and some even fell inside the river and were struggling with the high tide to cross to the other side," he said.
By the time the gunshots subsided and the shooters withdrew, he said the village's skyline was lit up by the flames from burning houses and grains.
"A total of eight people were killed that night including some members of my church," he said.
Reminded that other members of the community had put the number of casualties at seven, he responded, "The eighth was a two-year-old baby who drowned as the mother was trying to cross the river to escape the killers."
He said he ran back to the village and mobilised able-bodied men to proceed to repel the gunmen.
Obviously sensing a resistance, he said the armed herders changed course and crossed the river from an alternate route and marched covertly on Gora.
"I saw them coming from afar. Most of them wore military camouflage while others wore black and had bandanas on their heads," he recounted.
"I ran away and alerted our villagers and some able-bodied men mobilised and rushed to the riverside to stop them.
"While our people were searching for them towards the river, they had used another direction and entered the village and started killing people.
"They surrounded our house and met my stepmother and my young siblings trying to escape. They shot her first and then macheted her to death. They also shot and macheted to death, Shepherd, my four-year-old brother," Shedrack recalled with misty eyes.
"From our house, they moved to our neighbour's house and killed Ahji Monday and Eppa, her five-year-old son.
"They shot her three-year-old son, Eli and Kezia, a 12-year-old girl, who was living with the family but the two survived."
Shedrack said the herdsmen executed 11 people including a mentally deranged man who lived at the market square.
Nonetheless, things changed at around 11 pm when they began hearing gunshots and screams from the home of Raymond Adam, a member of the community.
Before anybody could do anything, the gunshots were heard from every direction and the sky lit up as the gunmen ignited houses and grains.
"The shooting started at about 11 pm. They first attacked Raymond Adam's compound but before we realised, they had surrounded the community," he recounted.
"We started calling our neighbours to run into the bush. I ran with my family but many of our people couldn't make it out alive.
"For instance, Bitrus, a retired military officer and 10 other members of his household were wiped out that night. The Fulani herdsmen, who were shouting 'Allahu akba' blocked the gates to his compound with a motorcycle and set it on fire.
"They waited outside and shot anyone that tried to escape from the compound. When the family members would not run outside again, they threw a certain chemical into the compound and it exploded and burnt down houses and people inside.
"The old man and his wife were burnt to death inside their room. A total of 11 persons were killed in that family alone. The four children who survived were rushed the next morning to hospital in Zonkwa and Jos.
"Our lawmaker brought the police to see what happened before the Catholic and ECWA priests came to burry all those who were killed in the village."
He said the town with a population of more than 400 people has been abandoned and without a doubt, only a few men were around to search for corpses and missing persons in the bush.
Oje said Sabon Kaura people have lived with Fulani pastoralists for more than 50 years without any crisis, adding that was why they did not believe when they were told the community was going to be attacked by their former neighbours. .
He insisted, the pastoralists who had lived with them moved out barely three weeks before the village was attacked.
"Three weeks before they came and killed and burnt our houses, our Fulani neighbours who have lived with us for over 50 years packed and moved out of the village.
"When we asked why they were leaving, they said they just wanted to move to other places. But some of those who left our village were among those who attacked us. Our people heard their voices and saw some of them," he said.