The bloodshed in Adara land in Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna has often made headlines, with the recent claim by Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai over death toll of Fulani rising tension that is fueling reprisal attack on Adara natives alleged to have killed 130 herdsmen. SIMON REEF MUSA was one of the reporters who visited the area fraught with trail of blood and got the sights and sounds of a crisis whose ripples is yet to be over.
Even before February 15, 2019 when Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai announced that 66 Fulani were killed by Adara natives in Kajuru Local Government Area, Kaduna has been a state that has often attracted national and global attention for the wrong reason: Thousands of lives have been incinerated through the activities of criminal elements, with the Birnin Gwari Area in the central zone and southern axis as worst hit. While cattle rustlers and other criminal elements have wreaked havoc on some Birnin Gwari communities, activities of herdsmen in the southern part of the state have decimated communities and reduced life into a tragic horror. Before now, el-Rufai had accused Southern Kaduna as peopled by crisis entrepreneurs who are used to cyclical violence during elections.
When the Kaduna State Government announced on February 15 that Adara natives had murdered no fewer than 66 Fulani in eight settlements in Maro town, the news sent shock across the country. Senator Shehu Sani, who is the senator representing Kajuru, quickly countered the claim, insisting that he was unaware of any attack on Kajuru, apart from the February 10, 2019 that culminated into the death of 10 persons, including a pregnant woman at Ungwar Barde. Both the Chairman of the Kaduna state chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), headed by Rev John Joseph Hayab, and former boss of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Professor Chidi Odinkalu, debunked the death toll and advised el-Rufai to stop playing politics with the lives of Nigerians.
On Saturday February 16, 2019, the governor, in company with the General officer Commanding (GOC) 1st Mechanized Division, Brigadier-General Farouk Yahaya, and the Kaduna State Police Commissioner, Mr. Ahmad Abdulrahman, among others, visited the shallow grave and some burnt Fulani settlements where he confirmed his earlier allegation that 66 Fulani had been murdered. The grave site where victims were buried was shown, with GOC corroborating the death toll figures as claimed by the governor.
With the governor maintaining that the death toll had risen to 130 as at Tuesday February 19, 2019, the controversy over the figures became troubling. The swift arrest of prominent Adara people by the security forces for alleged complicity in the murder, including the President of Adara Development Association (ADA), Mr Awemi Dio Maisamari, revealed that government must have stumbled on concrete evidence to prosecute them. Despite the claim that Fulani had killed in large numbers on February 11, 2011, the Adara people declared they were unaware of any attack that culminated into the frightening Fulani death figures. Based on the need to get to the bottom of the matter, 10 reporters journeyed to the area of conflict to speak to all sides in the crisis.
We’re Not Aware of Any Attack On Fulani – Fr. Okoye
Rev Fr. Donatus Okoye, who is the parish priest of St Bernard’s Catholic Parish, Idon Gida in Kajuru LGA, recalled the tragic event of Sunday February 10 that led to the death of 10 persons, including a pregnant woman, at Ungwar Barde. Displaying pictures of the burial that he personally conducted, the priest said he was only aware of the 10 Adara members that were killed by suspected Fulani.
In his words: “I have a good relationship with the Fulani. We celebrate Christmas and Sallah together. On the issue of killings, it started on the 10th of February, 2019. On Sunday, at about 11pm, Fulani herdsmen invaded Ungwar Barde I under Kajuru Local Government Area and killed 10 persons, including a pregnant woman.
“The next day, being Monday 11th of February, we were able to get the corpses and sent information to the police in Kajuru Local Government Area. We requested the Division Police Officer (DPO) to come and see what was happening and he came with some of his men.
“After our investigation, we discovered that 10 persons were murdered by suspected Fulani herdsmen. They left their sticks before retreating into the bush. The Police Divisional Officer (DPO) later went with the sticks. The police confirmed that it was indeed Fulani herdsmen that carried out the killings.
“On the 11th February, we saw Fulani moving out of the area to Crossing-Katul and other towns in Kachia Local Government Area. After the police investigation, they sent a message to the Kajuru Local Government Chairman who confirmed that everything was true and that the Fulani had carried out the attack.
“Later in the evening, we organised mass service for the burial of the 10. We have pictures to confirm that these 10 people were killed. The same day, in the night at Maro town, some unknown gunmen invaded the town. We have been trying to trace where the attackers came from, but we are yet to establish their identities.
“They came and continued to shoot gun and injured some Fulani and Adara people. Some of the injured ran to Iri and some assistance was given to them. Some were taken to the police at Idon Hanya and hospital. Many Christians were injured and also many Fulani.
“The issue of killings, as stated by the governor, that Fulani herdsmen were killed, numbering about 100, is not a true story. When the governor came on the 16th of February, that was around 4pm, he came here and passed through Iri. He mentioned earlier that there was war at Iri, but it was not a true. At Iri, the governor and his convoy passed and saw children still playing on the street. They went to Barkira.
“I asked the Fulani why they were parking, and they said that they were afraid of the killing of Christians at Ungwar Barde 1 and feared that unknown gunmen may also attack them. Even on Tuesday and Wednesday (February 12 and 13) some of the Fulani slept in my house.”
We live peacefully as Christians, Muslims – Iri Village Head
Village Head of Iri, Mr. Sunday Patrick, said there was no crisis in the village, as both Muslims, comprising largely Hausa traders and the Adara natives, were living in peace. He said Governor el-Rufai only passed through the town on his way to Maro town as his visit was not targeted at Iri.
According to him, “Nothing happened in this community, nobody was killed in this community, honestly. Maybe they misplaced the name of the place. In Iri, we are peaceful. The governor did not visit here, but he passed to Maro. The Christians and Muslims here are peaceful, we have been living here for many years and nothing has ever happened.”
80-minute bike return trip to Ungwar Barde
Determined to access Ungwar Barde 1, where the February 100 attack took place, the reporters risked the 80-minute bike return trip to a far flung settlement that is devoid of basic infrastructure. Surrounded by some hills, the village comprises 75 households. Reporters were taken to the graves of the 10 victims, including 90-year old blind grandmother, Maria, whose son and grandson were also among the dead. Also, two boys, aged 6 years, were also killed by the attackers
According to the Village Head, Mr. Daniel Audu, the attack on his people was unprovoked and disclosed that his community had never experienced any form of misunderstanding with Fulani whom he said don’t live in his domain. He lamented that life in the village has become frightening, as his subjects have now deserted the town for fear of the unknown. He said that after a visit by the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the Kajuru Division to verify corpses of people killed in his community, the police chief gave permission for them to bury their dead.
In his words: “On the night of 10th February, I was laying in my room. I slept around 8pm because the weather was cold. While asleep, I was awoken by a knock on my door. I woke up to check, but I didn’t see anybody. They knocked again, I came out but I did not see anybody. Immediately I returned to the room, I heard gunshots, I came out and didn’t see anybody.
“Returning to my room, I heard another gunshot and now came out and moved to this very place (pointing at a spot near his house). I saw a woman running towards me, she was crying and saying that everybody should wake up, and that Fulani have stormed the community.
“I asked her, ‘who are you?’ She introduced herself. Then, I discovered that she is a member of this community. By that time, members of the community had become aware of the attack. I ran into the bush and remained there until everything was calm. When I came back from the bush, I met my family members. They had also returned from hiding. Then I asked them, what was really happening? So, I went to the houses that were attacked. When I got there, I discovered that there are some that were shot by guns and others were cut down by the machete. We checked those that were dead, they were eight in number. I called the youth to carry the injured to hospital. Two of them later died on the way to the hospital.
“I now went to search for network to call the District Head. The District Head called the DPO who came on Monday. On his arrival, we told him what had happened and showed him the corpses. Thereafter he gave us permission to bury the victims.
“About reprisal attack, we don’t know anything like retaliation. Even when we invited the DPO, he saw everybody here. There was no retaliation. There is no Fulani living here as they are migration by nature. No Fulani was attacked. If the attack took place; it was outside of our domain. No government official or representative has come here to commiserate with us. We have not received any form of relief material from anyone agency of government.”
Burial site for Fulani victims
After a visit to some of the attacked homes in Ungwar Barde, the team headed for the shallow grave, near Rugan Salihu. The media team ran into three vans of a police team evacuating properties of Fulani victims. When asked if the Fulani in the vans were survivors of the attacks, the leader of the evacuation team and member of the Kaduna State Peace Commission, Dr. Saleh Momole, said most of Fulani were volunteers who had turned up to assist in the evacuation of animals and properties of victims. Two victims of the victims were detailed to join and assist the media team visit the shallow graves where the Fulani had buried loved ones. The two victims were Malam Ibrahim Yusuf and Malam Lawal Adamu who spoke to Governor el-Rufai when he visited the grave penultimate Saturday. After passing Ungwan Doruwa where a corpse of a native, Maiwasa Sunday Atta, was discovered on February 11 and buried same day, the reporters parked their vehicles and commenced a 10-minute walk to the grave site. At the grave site, the putrefying smell made breathing an uncomfortable exercise. Two carcasses of burnt motorcycles, said to be owned by two of the victims, were seen at the grave site. Asked if there photographs of the buried corpses, he said the police and soldiers took pictures of each of the corpses as they were being buried. Lawal blamed the Adara people of killing his people and further corroborated the rising death toll to 130. Asked why the Adara natives whom the Fulani had lived with peacefully for decades would resort to such a killing spree in cold blood, he responded: “I don’t know the reason for their action,”
I Spent Five Days Burying Corpses – Malam Lawal
On record, Lawal told reporters that he, with the help of about three of his brothers, buried 37 corpses, including that of his parents, his (Lawal’s) two wives and grandchild. According to him, it took him and others about five days, beginning from Wednesday, to complete the burial of the victims whose number he put at more than 130 in various graves. At a certain stage when he was questioned how he survived the emotional stress of burying such large number of corpses within five days, he broke down in tears and wept. He was later to lead reporters to Ruga Salihu where he alleged Adara attackers had a field time killing their helpless victims, including women and children. When asked where other victims of the attack were buried, he pointed at a distant hill and said 18 of the victims were buried there. Again, for the second time, he broke down in tears.
In his words: “They came to attack us early morning on the day of the attack. We had been living on peace with Adara people over the years. I am now 39-year old and have been living in this community since my childhood. We cook together and sometimes they do cook for us during celebrations; that have been the tradition. I grew up to meet that and I don’t know the motives behind this tradition. The only thing is we don’t marry ourselves.
“We suspect that the killers are Adara people. I spent five days burying dead bodies before the governor’s visit, and I can tell you that 131 Fulani were killed. We are yet to know the whereabouts or seven of our brothers or their bodies which made the figures 131.
“37 people were buried here in the presence of security agencies who took the pictures. I am the one who gave the figures of the people killed to the governor when he visited us.”
Police Have No Pictures of Victims – CP Abdulrahman
The Kaduna state commissioner, Mr Ahmad Abdulrahman, debunked claims by Lawal that the police were there during the burial of Fulani victims. He also revealed that he had discouraged the governor from going public with the casualty figures, as investigation into the matter was at an “embryonic stage”.
According to him, “the assertion of the Fulani that policemen were there when he was burying the dead and taking pictures was a mix-up because that very hamlet where they said that they buried 37 corpses or so was discovered by the military. The terrain was very terrible and it is difficult to know where and where were affected on February 11th when it happened.
“No policemen went to the area ahead of the military. It was the military that went there first to assist probably the Fulani that were affected and help them to bury their dead. We policemen came along with the GOC whose men discovered the place and we went together.
“Until we fully conclude our investigations, we cannot come up with a figure. You may come up with a figure now and then later, you have to come and say it again. As far as police is concerned, we are investigating and investigation is still in its embryonic stage. As I speak with you now, my men are in the bush, plus SEMA and other civil society organisations and volunteers who felt the need to assist in finding out the actual happenings in the areas.”
On the propriety of the state governor releasing death toll on the attack, the Kaduna state police boss added: “Right now, if the governor tells you even 200, he is just quoting figures. It may be more than that or less than that. For example, the areas you have visited where we were told that 36 bodies were buried, it was not under the purview of the security at the beginning of the investigation until when the Fulani victims themselves came out crying after we have secured all the places with our military counterpart. They now approach the military that come and escort us to come and bury our relations. That was when it was uncovered
“As I told the governor himself, I said figures in a crisis of this magnitude should be left until all investigations have been finished. All those areas we are getting information are covered. You cannot come up with a figure. You will come and say a figure and later; you have to come and say it again. And this is what is happening As far as police is concerned we are investigating and investigation is still at embryonic stage. By the time we reach all areas…as I’m talking to you now, my men are still in the bush, plus SEMA and other CSOs. That’s why professionally, we don’t come out with figures until when we are sure and concluded our investigation. So, you see that there is no reason to say this one said this figure or that one said this figure.”
From interviews conducted from both sides in the conflict, certain posers, questions over the Kajuru killings still trail the matter. It is true that Ungwar Barde was attacked on February 10 and the incident was reported to the police. Why did the state government deem it not proper to issue a statement on the attack? Why was the state silent on the death of 10 citizens in Ungwar Barde that took place earlier than that of the Fulani which took place on February 11 as a reprisal to the previous attack? After the police were told of the February 10 attack, was there any security measure taken to forestall any breakdown of law and order? Could the inability of the security to wade in and take charge of the situation responsible for the reprisal attack that claimed the lives of 66 or 130 Fulani?
The team of reporters were informed that after the attack on Ungwar Barde, unknown gunmen launched an attack on Maro town where they injured Fulani and the Adara natives living in that town. What efforts did the police deploy to get the real identities of the attackers?
Why did the state government find it expedient to release casualty figures of the Fulani victims when it was clear that investigation into the matter, as rightly stated by the police commissioner, was still at an embryonic stage? What was the motive behind identifying the Fulani as victims of an attack on the eve of postponed national polls, while neglecting the attack on Adara community?
According to Lawal’s account, he spent five days, (beginning from Wednesday) in burying no fewer than 130 victims killed by Adara people. If he commenced the burial on Wednesday as he said, then, it was obvious that he concluded the burial on Sunday February 17. The need to ascertain the time and date of attack could assist in throwing light on the alleged killings spree that now threatens the peace of the area.
Were there Killings in Kajuru?
It is tragic that the state government’s handling of the issue has not helped matters in assisting security personnel unearth the death toll without some form of pressure. While there are pictures and witnesses to attacks on Adara communities in Kajuru, gory pictures depicting murdered herdsmen in Kajuru have inundated the social media. Some pictures have been shown to some of reporters, but the veracity of these pictures are yet to be ascertained. However, that is not in any way denying that Fulani were killed. The death toll as declared by government is horrific and may open a floodgate of reprisals from herdsmen to avenge this heart-wrenching toll. Those in possession of these photos depicting these horrific murders, especially the army authorities that were at the burial, should save the day. To bury Nigerian victims of violence without profiling their identities amounts to a violation of their citizenship.
To resolve the toll from Kajuru killings, President of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), Barrister Solomon K. Musa, said there is need for a transparent process to unveil the truth of what actually happened in order to forestall reprisal attacks from herdsmen. The need for a commission of inquiry, he added, comprising Nigeria’s security agencies, international forensic experts, community and religious leaders, civil society groups, media, among others, should be set up by the government in order to avert the gathering but frightening clouds of reprisal attacks. When these clouds dissolve into flood of bloodshed, the little smoke of mutual hostilities plaguing Adara communities may turn into raging fires that may stoke unending ethnic conflagration.
Just yesterday, in the early hours of Tuesday February 26, 2019, Karamai in Maro town came under reprisal attack. According to a statement by the Kaduna state Government, no fewer than 20 persons were killed, with dozens of houses reduced to rubbles. The Kaduna state police boss had told reporters last Thursday after a visit to Kajuru that he had it from unconfirmed sources that herdsmen were mobilising their members from various states for a massive reprisal attack. Yesterday’s reprisal that resulted to deaths and destruction of property has lend credence that without adequate efforts to stave off rising tension, some communities in Kajuru may soon turn into an island of ethnic warfare.