Violence in Kaduna as Nigeria bleeds

On Tuesday, Governor Nasir El-Rufai addressed a high-powered meeting on the violent crisis in parts of southern Kaduna. He expressed his sadness at the needless pain several communities have been enduring in the cycle of violence that has been recurring in the state. He outlined the government’s engagement in seeking to improve the security situation in the state. A forward operating base of the Nigerian Army has been established in Kafanchan, where a permanent mobile police squadron has been set up as well.

Kaduna State has also established the Kaduna State Peace Commission to engage communities and nudge them towards accord and conciliation as a better alternative to violence. These initiatives have not succeeded in making a difference to cyclical violence. The current cycle of violence started in early June over youth groups from two communities clashing over farmlands in Zangon-Kataf and quickly spread to cover four local government areas in southern Kaduna.

The State Government has decided, following the current crisis, to address lingering issues from the 1992 crisis in Zangon-Kataf by producing a White Paper on the recommendations made by the Cudjoe Judicial Commission of Inquiry and the Reconciliation Committee that worked on the matter almost two decades ago. The last major cycle of violence in Southern Kaduna was in 2016/2017. I had joined a Nigerian Bar Association Fact Finding Mission in January 2017 to seek better understanding on the recurrence of the violence over such a long time and to explore avenues for ending the violence and bringing peace back to the State.

We had visited the governor at the time and he explained that the cyclical violence has affected the state for 35 years at that time and over the period, between 10,000 and 20,000 people have lost their lives in the various crises that had rocked Kaduna State since 1980. El-Rufai explained that the root cause of the persistence of cyclical violence has been the lack of accountability over the period as no one ever gets punished for killing and harming others. The only exception, according to the governor, has been the Justice Benedict Okadigbo Tribunal on the Zango-Kataf Religious Crisis of 1992 when former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida established the Tribunal to investigate those implicated in the 1992 Zango-Kataf crisis and ensure that they face the law.

We live in the age of social media so such killings are immediately reported and spread – often with loads of gory photographs of hacked and mutilated bodies. Some of the photos are true, others fake and both are instrumentalised to create maximum emotions of fear, anger and inspire the need for revenge, which keeps the cycles of violence active. As this happens, events are often amplified, exaggerated and placed within the context of narratives of hegemony, domination and discrimination. The history and the long memories of conflict between northern and southern Kaduna starting from the trans-Saharan slave raids to the political control of the zone by the Zaria Emirate under colonial rule through to military rule always come up.

This narrative of the long history of war and subjugation is then projected into the coming envisaged outcome of Armageddon and genocide. The perpetrators of the genocide are said to be Hausa-Fulani Muslims while the victims are Christian indigenes. The reality is more complex. The killings go both ways. Maybe the largest massacre in Southern Kaduna is that of Hausa-Fulani Muslims following the post-election violence of 2011. Politics and religion have become tightly interconnected in the state over the years and violence entrepreneurs have emerged in both communities. As these killings have been on-going for forty years there is enough memory of hate, hurt, reprisals and revenge to keep it going.

One of the difficulties of accountability for the killings is the question of how far back you can go. If today the decision is to find and punish the killers of 2020, then the question is what of those of 2017, of 2015, of 2011 and so on. There have been about forty major incidents spread over forty years to seek accountability on. There has to be a consensus on where to draw the line. The narratives of the two communities about who is the perpetrator and who is the victim is diametrically opposed with each side seeing itself as the victim. The situation is delicate and needs a lot of caution. Kaduna State is a microcosm of Nigeria. Following thirty years of a fissiparous process of state creation, the political map of majorities and minorities has been complexified by the creation of numerous new majorities and minorities.

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