INVESTIGATION: Horror in Southern Kaduna: Untold story of endless massacres, plunder by suspected Fulani militia (Part I) — 12mins read
A massacre too many
Killings in the Southern Kaduna have been going on for years, but the recent attacks have been more vicious and deadly than ever before. Ibanga ISINE reports that the Nigerian government at federal and state levels appear to have abdicated their responsibility to protect the lives and properties of the people who look up to the state for protection.
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NIGERIA’s government and that of Kaduna State have done very little to halt the killing, maiming and plundering of communities in Southern Kaduna, North-west Nigeria.
As far back as 2017, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in its report had indicated that Kaduna State is currently enmeshed in a humanitarian crisis.
OCHA had labelled Southern Kaduna as the epicentre of deadly violence with “most of it inflicted by herdsmen on farming communities.”
But the situation in Nigeria’s headquarters of deadly violence is worse today than when OCHA published its report in 2017.
From June 10 to August 21, survivors, community leaders and rights groups said a total of 136 persons have been murdered in unprovoked attacks.
Amnesty International in its August 24, 2020 report said at least 366 people have been killed between January and July 2020 in Southern Kaduna.
“Amnesty International has documented an alarming escalation in attacks and abductions in several states in the north-west and north-central Nigeria since January 2020.
“Worst affected are villages in the south of Kaduna State, where armed men killed at least 366 people in multiple attacks between January and July 2020,” the report stated.
Southern Kaduna is an area predominantly occupied by Christians, although tribally and linguistically diverse.
In bloody attacks many have described as “unprovoked and callous,” the herders have brutally sacked and plundered 24 communities in Kajuru, Kachia, Kaura, Jema’a, Kauru, Chikun and Zangon Kataf local government areas.
With the COVID-19 lockdown and a 24-hour curfew imposed by the state government, Southern Kaduna people are holed up in their homes in a move that has made it easy for marauders to have free access to unleash terror on them.
Just like OCHA, survivors, tribal groups, activists and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) have strongly blamed the attacks on armed Fulani herdsmen.
But the Nigerian Presidency and Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai have openly admitted the bloody attacks are partly revenge killings.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu on July 21, said the “evil combination of politically-motivated banditry, revenge killings and mutual violence by criminal gangs acting on ethnic and religious grounds,” are responsible for the crises in Southern Kaduna.
On his part, Mr. El-Rufai had on December 3, 2016 said he has traced some violent, aggrieved Fulani to their countries and paid them to stop the killings of Southern Kaduna natives and the destruction of their communities.
The governor, who was addressing journalists in his office, said the Southern Kaduna crisis was triggered by the killing of Fulani herders and the stealing of their cattle in the past.
“So many of these people were killed, cattle lost and they organised themselves and came back to revenge,” Mr. El-Rufai had said, adding that compensation was paid to some of the affected persons so they could stop the massacre of Southern Kaduna people.
But during weeks of investigation by this newspaper, it was found the ongoing attacks were triggered by an incident which happened on June 10 in Kiboro village, Zangon Kataf.
On that day, a young school teacher, Yusuf Magaji, was killed by suspected Hausa/Fulani youth, who had earlier vowed to end his life.
The distraught father of the deceased, Musa Magaji, told our correspondent, his son was slaughtered on a piece of land he bought from his Hausa neighbour in 2010.
Mr. Musa, 78, is a retired pastor with the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA).
He said the deceased was returning from the farm on June 5, when he met some Hausa and Fulani youth having a spat with Atyap youth over the ownership of land.
Atyap is an ethnic group that straddles part of Zangon-Kataf, Kaura and Jema’a local government areas of Kaduna State.
“The Hausa youth were not comfortable with his (Yusuf) presence in that place,” Rev. Magaji narrated.
“So, some of them from Ungwar Achikaikai warned him to leave the place because he wasn’t an Atyap man.
“The issue was finally settled and my son came home. He did not go to the farm until on June 8.
“However, while coming back, the same boys met him and asked him to inform me they will kill him if he doesn’t stop going to the farm.”
Not taking the death threat lightly, Mr. Magaji said he immediately reported the matter to Mallam Goma, the village head of Ungwar Achikaikai.
According to the elderly pastor, Mallam Goma witnessed and signed the purchase agreement when he acquired the land the youth ordered his son to vacate.
“After I told him what happened, Mallam Goma said those boys are just stubborn but they will not do anything since my son has no land issues with them.
“I insisted that what the boys said was serious and that he should call them and find out why they threatened to kill my son but he assured me nothing will happen.”
Mr. Magaji said he did not report the death threat to his son to the police or any security agency.
On June 9, Yusuf went to the farm but did not return till nightfall.
Worried about his safety and given the threat he earlier received, Mr. Magaji said the family immediately went out in search of Yusuf but to no avail.
The mutilated body of Yusuf, aged 30, was later found on June 10, at the bank of River Kaduna near Barkin Kogi.
“He was shot, his head mutilated with a machete and his body dragged on the ground for about 10 kilometres to the boundary,” the pastor recounted as a drop of tear fell on his cheek.
“The corpse was brought home around 10am and that was what sparked the protest that same day.”
Rev. Magaji said he was surprised when some people started alluding to the fact his son was killed because of the Zangon Kataf crisis of 1992.
More shocking to him was that after the divisional police officer from Zonkwa visited and obtained his statement days after his son was killed, nothing was done to those who threatened to kill him.
“I had told the DPO my son had issues with some Fulani boys who had deliberately grazed their cattle on his plants,” he said.
“There were also the children of Alhaji Baje, Alhaji Shagari and the son of Likita.
“I was invited by the state CID and I told them everything but I am yet to hear from them.
“To the best of my knowledge, the security agencies have not taken any action against those who threatened to kill my son,” Rev. Magaji said looking utterly helpless.
Investigation by this newspaper showed none of those who threatened to kill Mr. Yusuf has been arrested or questioned by security agencies.
Deadly attack on protesters
The discovery of the mutilated body of Mr. Yusuf sparked outrage among Atyap youth, his ethnic stock. Locals then took to the streets to demand the arrest and prosecution of the killers.
As the protest, which many claimed was peaceful went on, the Kaduna State’s Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, arrived the area.
Mr. Aruwan was accompanied by heavily-armed security operatives consisting of the Army’s Special Forces, anti-riot police and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
Witnesses said when Mr Aruwan arrived at the barricade mounted by the protesters; the youth stood their ground and refused to give way to his convoy.
Angered by the audacity of the youth to block Mr. Aruwan’s convoy, the soldiers who came on power bikes opened fire at the protesters, killing one and injuring 13 others.
Residents said the youth killed by the troops, whose name was given simply as Zakaria, was not a part of the Atyap youth protest.
He was said to be an itinerant farmer who had gone to Zango to find a job and happened to be at Unguwan Wakili, where the protesting youth had set a barricade.
Anguwan Wakili is a village located close to Zango town in Zankon Kataf Local Government Area.
“Suddenly, we saw a convoy with many security operatives coming,” Anthony Augustine, one of the youth who protested that day, narrated the incident to our correspondent.
“We were still shouting and calling on them to arrest those who killed Yusuf and would not remove the barricade. But without any of us attacking them, the soldiers on power bikes opened fire on us.
“I felt something hit my stomach and I fell down and managed to crawl into the bush as the soldiers continued shooting at us.
“Everybody ran into the bush and the soldiers cleared the barricade and Mr. Aruwan drove away to Zangon Kataf,” he said.
Witnesses and community leaders said the convoy was that of Mr. Aruwan and that neither he nor the security agents who shot at the protesters stopped to convey the wounded to hospital.
A medical doctor at the Bode Hospital, Zonkwa, who pleaded not to be named for safety reasons, said bullet perforated Mr. Augustine’s intestines and ruptured a part of his lungs.
“His survival was very unusual because of the gravity of his injuries,” the doctor told our correspondent.
The Wakili Hausa (Head of Hausa) in Zangon Kataf, Sirajo Yakubu, told our correspondent, Yusuf was killed by unknown persons.
He said shortly after the corpse of the deceased was found, Atyap youth started a protest in Zango town.
“We the Hausas don’t know who killed Yusuf Magaji,” he insisted, adding that Atyap youth mobbed three members of his community during the June 10 protest.
“There is one boy called Shehu who was killed and his car burnt at a roadblock on a bridge after Unguwan Wakili.
“There was also an old man, Adamu Barinje, who went to the farm and was attacked and killed on the same day. One other boy was attacked on the farm on the same day. His name was Hasan Dansani,” he said.
Continuing, he said, “We have been living together and a dead body was found and without any investigation, they started attacking us.”
When reminded that Rev. Magaji reported threats against his son to the leadership of the Hausa community, Mr. Yakubu said, “You should ask the father of the boy who he reported to because he did not report it to me.”
On his part, the Wukili Fulani (head of Fulani) Ardo Zangon Kataf, Pate Usman Kurmi, said what has been happening is beyond his understanding.
In an interview with our correspondent, he said the Fulani and Atyap people have been living together for ages without any problem.
“We have been living peacefully with the Kataf people including our fathers and forefathers and nobody could separate them,” Mr. Kurmi said.
“The current problem started between Hausa and the Kataf. It is an issue of land.
“But we all know that the cattle routes that existed before which Fulani from different parts used to traverse are now blocked and in most cases Fulani who want to pass by are killed and only a few survive. This has brought confusion in the land.
“I live in the midst of Kataf and I’m still there as I am talking to you now. My house is here and my family is with me,” he explained.
However, he said there are allegations the Fulanis are killing Atyap and vice-versa but insisted on the need for unity among the two ethnic groups.
“We pray God will help us all in this sad moment we have found ourselves. But you journalists have a greater role to play towards restoring peace to the state,” Mr. Kurmin said.
Killings, killings, and more killings
To douse the tension over the killing of Mr. Yusuf and the shooting of the protesters, the state government declared a 24-hour curfew in Atyap Chiefdom of Zangon Kataf and Chawai Chiefdom in Kauru local government areas, respectively on June 11.
A statement released by Mr. Aruwan indicated the action followed the inability of community leaders to ease escalating tension in the affected communities.
“Kaduna State Government has imposed a 24-hour curfew in Atyap Chiefdom of Zangon Kataf Local Government and Chawai Chiefdom in Kauru Local Government Area with immediate effect,” he said.
With the prolonged lockdown to check the spread of COVID-19 infection and the 24-hour curfew, it was thought further hostilities would be stemmed.
Unfortunately, the reverse happened as heavily-armed persons which the locals identified as Fulani herdsmen, freely and consistently unleashed mayhem on helpless people from one community to another.
Not even the deployment of soldiers, policemen and NSCDC operatives to the affected areas could stop the bloody assaults.
About a week after the government declared a 24-hour curfew, some farmers in Kukum-Daji in Kaura Local Government Area sighted over 600 heavily-armed Fulani militia on Zangzang Hills.
Afraid their community may come under attack, the people raised the alarm and requested the state government and security agencies to dislodge the gunmen.
Many newspapers in the country published the report including The Vanguard;
The state government debunked the report on June 22, saying there were no gunmen on the Zangzang Hills.
In a statement signed by Mr. Aruwan, the government said military units had combed the entire hills and found nothing.
“The fighting patrol stretched up to the Kagoro Hills and other suspected hideouts. Troops did not encounter any group of armed bandits throughout the extensive fighting patrols.
“Furthermore, not a single bandit camp was found in the area and there is also no evidence of human activity in and around the hills,” the government said.
The government showered praises on military commanders as well as the officers and men for a job well done and warned communities to stop raising a false alarm.
But on July 10, exactly 30 days after the killing of Yusuf, the son of Rev. Musa Magaji in Kiboro, armed men identified by witnesses and survivors to be Fulani militia struck Chibwob, an Atyap village and killed 22 persons, injured six, razed19 houses and stole cattle and foodstuff.
The next day, July 11, the agents of death descended on Sabon Kaura and after a bloody encounter that lasted hours, 14 innocent persons were left dead, four others were critically injured and many houses were burnt and properties looted.
On the same day, the militia invaded Kiffin, another village in Kauru Local Government Area but the villagers had fled except an eight-year-old boy.
The herders brutally shot and hacked the boy who might have wandered back from where his parents were hiding, before razing down 20 houses with properties inside them.
On July 13, the marauders stormed Masahu village, Kauru but discovered the villagers had fled except a sick man who could not run with the others. He was also shot, butchered and roasted like an animal.
The killing spree continued on July 16, as the dreaded herdsmen marched in their hundreds through Mai-do, Chikun Local Government Area.
During the invasion which lasted hours, four persons were killed and 33 abducted for ransom.
On July 17, one person was murdered while working in his farm in Doka Avong, Kajuru Local Government Area.
On the same day, the notorious militia laid siege to Efele, a settlement near Doka Avong and wiped out a family of five including the father, mother and three children.
A pastor, who was shot and left for dead miraculously survived the brutal attack.
After taking a two-day break, the herdsmen on July 20 went for an expedition, apparently to punish Kukum Daji people who raised the alarm about their presence on Zangzang Hills.
When the killers arrived; the village was bustling with people who had come from far and near to attend a wedding celebration.
Bent on exacting maximum damage, they moved straight to where scores of youth were having an after-wedding party and surrounded the venue before opening fire.
When the smoke from their blazing guns settled, 18 youth were dead and over 30 escaped with injuries.
Two of those who escaped and were rushed to the hospital later succumbed to death, raising the number of fatalities to 20.
The next day, which was July 21, Gan Gora was invaded and a total of 11 villagers were killed, 10 others were injured and four houses were burnt.
On the same day, the Nigerian Military recovered three dead bodies in Fari village in Kauru Local Government Area.
Kizachi village in Kauru Local Government Area was attacked on July 22 and a family of five was wiped out.
It was the turn of Doka Avong on July 23, as the marauders who stormed the village killed seven villagers and withdrew almost immediately.
On July 25, the killers moved to Zipak in Jema’a Local Government Area where they eliminated 10 villagers and burnt scores of houses.
On August 6, a coordinated attack was carried on five Zangon Kataf villages of Apiashyim, Kibori, Apiako, Atakmare and Magamiya.
A total of 33 persons were killed and several houses were burnt in the five villages.
On August 16, Bugai, a village in Kachia Local Government Area was invaded in the night and the village head, two siblings and aged mother were murdered and six others were injured.
The attackers looted homes and burnt down scores of houses before they withdrew.
The same day, four persons were killed after gunmen ambushed a commercial vehicle along Unguwan Madaki road, Kajuru Local Government Area.
On August 17, Bulus Joseph (48) was decapitated in his farm in Sabon Gida along Kaduna –Kachia road in Kajuru.
Mr. Joseph was said to have been cut into pieces for confronting the herdsmen so his wife and three children could escape alive.
The next day, August 18, Unguwan Gankon in Zangon Kataf LGA was invaded and two villagers were murdered and seven houses burnt.
While the massacres have persisted for over two months, no official report has been made of an attack on a Fulani settlement in Southern Kaduna either from the people or security agencies.
Conspiracy of silence
Our correspondent made attempts to speak with the Commander of the Special Forces in Zangon Kataf, Captain Chinda on the telephone.
Mr. Chinda who picked the first call, however, said he was driving and advised to be called again in 20 minutes.
He never picked further calls and would not respond to a text message sent to him.
A similar situation played out when our correspondent called the head of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps in Southern Kaduna, Mohammed Pam.
Mr. Pam, who picked the initial call by our reporter, said he was driving and advised to repeat the call in 30 minutes.
He did not, however, pick calls or respond to SMS by our correspondent days before this report was filed.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the State, Ali Janga, told our correspondent he was on transit when asked to speak on the killings.
“I am on transit and will call you when I arrived,” Mr. Janga has said on the phone.
He too did not return the call or pick subsequent calls or reply SMS from our correspondent.
The Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr. Aruwan did not pick several calls or respond to text messages that sought him to speak on the matter.
Special Adviser (Media) to the Governor, Muyiwa Adekeye, would not also pick his calls or respond to text messages from our correspondent.
But a top official of the government who cannot be quoted because he is not authorised to speak on the matter said the Southern Kaduna crisis is very complex.
“The government provides vehicles, logistics and other support to security agencies. They are encouraged and supported to do their work,” the source said.
“I am not going to publicly criticize security agencies because that is what we have. If one goes about bad-mouthing the only thing you have, it is not a reasonable thing to do.
“But that is the situation. Anybody that is wondering why Kaduna State has not arrested or prosecuted anyone, I tell them that it is those that the security forces arrest that can be prosecuted.”