By Ibanga Isine
THE Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai and the media have twisted the slaughter of 11 Catholic faithful in Kajuru by Fulani herdsmen against the victims, The NEXT EDITION can authoritatively report today.
While El-Rufai and a section of the media have reported the alleged recovery of 66 bodies of slain Fulanis, a claim that lacks proof, very little or nothing has been said about the murder of 11 Christians in Angwan Barde on Sunday, February 10.
Angwan Barde is a far-flung farming community lacking in every basic amenity and surrounded by hills, large chunks of rocks and lush vegetation in Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
The area is wholly inhabited by people of Adara stock, who belong to the Catholic, Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) congregations and traditionalists.
Apparently, because of its largely sloppy and rock-strewn terrain, residents said Fulani herdsmen rarely bring their cattle to the area for grazing.
Leaders of the community and youth who spoke to this newspaper said they have never had a misunderstanding with the Fulanis and there had never been a cause to fight.
However, that changed on February 10, when an unknown number of armed herdsmen surrounded the community and woke the residents from sleep.
The invaders did not go to Angwan Barde to graze hungry animals, they went prepared to kill and destroy and they did just that.
The unreported massacre
That Sunday evening, the people of the quiet farming settlement had eaten their dinner and retired to bed while some young men and women went for a party in the neighbouring village.
At about 11 pm, the young men and women returned to their homes and were about going to bed when sounds of sporadic gunshots and shrill war cries rented the air.
One of the youth, Jaafau Samaila, 21, who lost five members of his family in the attack, recounted their ordeal to our correspondent on Tuesday.
“Not long after we returned from a celebration with my wife and friends, we started hearing gunshots and my wife and I ran inside and locked the door,” he recalled.
“A few minutes later, the gunmen surrounded our compound and were shooting and shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ and I heard someone opening the door to my father’s room just as several gunshots rang out.
“After the shoots, I heard my father and brother who were in that room begging them (herdsmen) and later a cry from my father as they cut him and my brother with cutlasses. They broke into another room in the compound and shot another brother of mine and the wife.
“I was crying and praying with my wife that they should not come to my room and God heard our prayers and they went away almost immediately,” he said as tears streamed down his cheeks.
About 10 minutes after the shooting and war cry ceased, Samaila sneaked out of his room and was confronted with the corpse of his mother, who was shot in the head while trying to run away.
Turning to the open field in front of the compound, he saw the invaders gathered, apparently taking a headcount with a torchlight ray pointed from one person to the other while they talked in hush tones.
Although he could not tell how many the invaders were, Samaila said they might have divided themselves into three groups and each group assigned to attack a targeted compound.
He said the operation lasted less than 10 minutes before the killers came face-to-face with another set of youth from the community who were returning from the same party he attended.
The youth fled in different directions and the Fulani herdsmen became agitated and gathered briefly in the open field and counted themselves before fleeing the area towards Iri village.
The village head of Angwan Barde, Daniel Audu, 48, said the killing of his people was unwarranted because the community never had a misunderstanding with any Fulani person.
“There are no Fulanis in this community and we have never had any misunderstanding with them. I don’t know why they killed ten of our people in their sleep.
“One of the victims was pregnant and expecting a baby in a few days before she was killed. It was the unborn baby that made the eleventh person killed here,” he said through an interpreter.
Audu said only five persons survived the attack while the Fulani herdsmen fled leaving one of their sticks which the community immediately handed over to the police.
According to him, the incident was officially reported to the divisional police officer and the chairman of the local government area before the Catholic priest in charge of the community, Rev. Fr. Donatus Okoye, led other clergymen to bury the dead on Monday, February 11 at about 4 pm.
Confirming the incident to our correspondent in his parish house in Idon Gida, Fr. Okoye said his parishioners were murdered in the most brutal manner and called on the Federal Government to launch an investigation into the matter.
The angry priest argued that if the government would not assuage the pains of the Adara tribe, whose people were slain in their sleep, El-Rufai and the Nigeria media should not turn the crime against the victims.
The priest challenged the governor and a section of the media that reported the alleged recovery of 66 Fulani corpses in Maro and Iri to produce the bodies to prove such dastardly act indeed took place.
After the burial of his parishioners, Fr. Okoye said the leader of the Fulani community in the area paid him a visit and sued for peace among the people.
After the visit, he said the Fulani leader went around the neighbourhood to speak to some of his people, who were already packing their properties and about running away to shelve the idea.
“It is unfortunate that the governor has not said anything about the killings of my innocent parishioners in Angwan Barde,” the clergyman said.
“I personally led other priests to bury ten persons and a baby who was killed in her mother’s womb and I am ready to take the world to where we buried them and the corpses can be exhumed and DNA test carried out to show they were from Angwan Barde.
“But I challenge Governor El-Rufai and the Nigerian media to do the same. I challenge them to show us the corpses the governor said were recovered by security agencies in Maro and Iri.”
Fr. Okoye said the governor has changed the narrative of the alleged massacre of Fulanis several times that the world should begin to question the credibility of his claims.
He gave the names of the slain parishioners as John Abbah, Moses Kabiru, Philemon Gomna, Samaila Jonathan, Maria Abbah and Ladi Samaila.
Others were Mairo Daniel, Marvelous Daniel, John Samaila, Joseph Samaila and one unborn baby.
The Dean of Rimo Deanery of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kaduna, Rev. Fr. Joseph Kwasu, corroborated Fr. Okoye’s account of the killings in Angwa Barde and also challenged El-Rufai to show the corpses he claimed where recovered.
He questioned why the governor never mentioned the alleged killings of Fulanis when he visited St. Bernard Hospital where those who survived the Angwan Barde attack are being treated.
“I can tell you that the governor visited St. Bernard on Tuesday to see some of the victims of the Angwan Barde attack but he never mentioned it to the media and the story was not carried.
“Those killed were our members and they were buried by our priest. I was surprised when on Friday; El-Rufai said 66 Fulani corpses were recovered because when we called our members in the areas he mentioned, they said nothing like that happened.
“Remember the governor initially said 66 corpses were recovered but when he was asked to show the corpses, he changed the earlier story and said 36 were buried in a mass grave but still would not get the bodies exhumed for proper identification.
“When everyone said no fighting occurred on the Friday before the postponed elections, he again changed the story and said it happened on Tuesday. We challenge El-Rufai to show us the corpses he said were recovered by security agencies.
“He cannot play down the killing of our parishioners while crying foul over a story he has not been able to substantiate,” Kwasau lashed out at the governor.
The priest said some of the parishioners recovering from the wounds at the mission hospital told him how El-Rufai only paid the bill of one of them who promised to vote for him and President Muhammadu Buhari.
The priest criticised the governor for failing to show genuine compassion to the wounded persons, saying El-Rufai did not behave as a good leader.
In search Fulani settlements and 66 corpses recovered by security agencies.*
In an attempt to locate the communities which El-Rufai claimed were attacked in a statement issued by his media aide, Samuel Aruwan, our correspondent read the names of the communities and asked random passersby in Kajuru whether they know or heard of any attack in such places.
All those who spoke to our correspondent denied knowledge of the existence of Rugan Bahago, Rugan Ori, Rugan Haruna, Rugan Duni Kadiri, Rugan Shewuka and Rugan Shuaibu Ya’u.
After every attempt to confirm that Fulanis were killed anywhere in Iri and Maro areas failed, this reporter headed out on a torturous journey to Rugan Daku.
The guide, who had earlier led the reporter to Angwa Barde in a journey that lasted over 30 minutes in an extremely rocky and zigzag footpath, insisted we engage armed security operatives before going to the Fulani settlement.
According to him, the governor earlier on Tuesday sent armed security operatives and vehicles to evacuate the remnant of Fulanis in the area, adding that we would not meet anyone to speak on the matter.
He also cautioned we may run into an ambush by Fulani militia and be killed without having an opportunity to publish the report.
After a protracted argument between the guide and the fixer, we finally set out for Rugan Daku on a very rocky and winding path.
On the way, our correspondent found a deserted Fulani settlement which the governor had earlier allegedly evacuated.
The deserted settlement is located about 15 minutes from Ruga Daku where our correspondent met about a dozen burnt small houses and huts and food dump.
For close to 10 minutes, our correspondent searched the entire location for a mass grave but found no trace of it.
What looked like fresh earth at the far corner of the settlement was a food dump where residents of the area kept food before the alleged attack on them.
However, on the way back, we ran into a Fulani man in the settlement said to have been evacuated by the governor and approached him for an interview which he politely declined saying they have been advised not to speak to journalists.
The lone Fulani man had returned to remove zincs from the roof of his house and to feed the starving dog he had left behind.
An Iri community leader who pleaded not to be named said the alleged attack on Rugan Daku might have been a self-inflicted move to give the governor an opportunity to arrest and torture Adara people.
“I think the killings in Angwan Barde might have been perpetrated to provoke Adara people to fight their Fulani neighbours. Our people refused to fight because we knew they will use that to stop us from voting,” the source said.
“When we refused to fight and rather waited to vote, the governor decided to appoint a Fulani man as the next Agom Adara still to provoke our people. The nominee fled and would not accept the appointment.
“Angry that all his attempts to provoke us to a fight failed, he went on air to claim that 66 corpses of Fulanis were recovered but has failed to show the recovered corpses.
“He has arrested our tribal leaders but we are not going to fight. We are waiting to vote and we will not allow anyone to provoke us to a fight,” the Adara community leader said.
Army denies recovering corpses as alleged by the governor
Repeated attempts to speak with the Chief Press Secretary to the Kaduna State Governor, Samuel Aruwan, failed as he would neither pick calls nor respond to our text message.
But the military spokesperson, Dole Muhammad, a Colonel, said the Nigerian Army did not recover corpses as alleged by the governor, adding the military was only called in to offer protection and enable the Fulanis to bury their loved ones.
“We were physically there with the governor and journalists from five to ten media organisations. It was not hidden. If you want evidence of the killings, meet those who were affected,” he said.
“They are now being camped at Kasunwan Magani and they will take you to where their people were buried. I was physically there with my GOC and the commissioner of police, the governor and the director of the SSS (State Security Service).
“It was shown on NTA (Nigeria Television Authority), TV Continental, Channels and many others. They all showed it.
“It is not a fiction. If you go there, they will direct you to that place. After you pass Irir Station, the next settlement is the only one you have occupants. All the other villages up to the other Fulani Rugans that were burnt, you won’t find any single soul. That is what I am telling you.
“And from the last village that is not deserted, you will have to trek more than a kilometre before you reach where houses were burnt. We went there. We saw the grave and burnt houses and animals. It is not fiction, please.
“And let me correct one impression, our soldiers did not go there to recover corpses. The people came to seek for protection to bury their loved ones. And we went there and saw what happened and then they buried their loved ones.
“There are pictures to show as they did the burial and those that were burnt to ashes. So our soldiers didn’t recover any dead body. They were counted and if you are privileged to see the pictures you can as well know they were up to that number,” Col. Muhammad said.
When reminded that if security agencies recovered corpses as the governor said, they should have carried out proper identification and record before burial, Mr. Mohammad interjected, “Listen to me, we didn’t recover any corpse. We went to assist them to bury their loved ones that were killed and that is all.”