We may never understand why it has not been officially declared as such, but the killings, abductions for ransom, privations, destruction of lives and property, all handiworks of men government security agencies often describe in very shifty terms, qualify as genocide, writes NICHOLAS UWERUNONYE.
If there is any ordeal that Mercy Maisamari will always remember with terror, that would be her abduction, along with her mother, Comfort, Caiphas Yohanna, a cousin and Paul Makama, relative, sometime November 2017. Ten men, armed with assault rifles stormed their Kilometer 38, CDI Quarters, Maraban Kajuru, in Kaduna, North West of Nigeria, asking for her dad.
“Mum had only her wrappers tied across her chest” like African women do, when the gunmen barged into their homes that midnight, narrated Maisamari. But the dad, Awemi Dis Maisamari, leader, Adara Development Association, a pressure group of what may well be the second largest tribal unit in Kaduna State, had managed to escape through the back door. Maisamari couldn’t afford to be taken by the men.”
There had been intermittent killings in Kajuru by men often referred to as ‘unknown gunmen’ by government security agencies. At the time, nearly 20 people had been killed, allegedly, and three communities sacked.
But not being able to capture the head of the Maitamari family that fateful day, the assailants settled for the trio of Mercy, Comfort and Caiphas. They were rounded up, herded together that midnight and made to walk more than 25 hours through pathways and bushes that Mercy says she never knew existed in Kaduna. They kept walking until they arrived at Rijana, an obscure border settlement between the state and Abuja, the nation’s capital.
“It was a horrible experience. But from the conversation we heard from our captors, we knew that the siege on Kajuru would not end soon.”
They narrated that they have operated in Minna, Benue and are now in Kaduna. They explained why. “See this,” one of the bandits said to her, holding a bullet between his thumb and forefingers. He claimed that it came from people in police and army. By her account, the abductors said that the siege on Kajuru would not end unless government compensates them for what Fulani men have suffered while grazing their cattle. They claimed, as their grouse, incessant harassments while on grazing routes; they alleged that their members are routinely arrested and their livestock rustled.
After four days in captivity, the four were released after N5 million was allegedly paid as ransom to the abductors. Mr Maisamari, who brought the ransom money to free his family was held and tortured for another four days before they were all released.
But the Maisamari family ordeal did not end with freedom. Killings have continued in Kajuru, and so kidnapping for ransom like the bandits promised. But perhaps more disturbing is their realisation, as they claim, that their abductors were regular people within Kajuru.
Members of the family on different occasions have spotted two members of the gang on occasions around Kajuru because they weren’t wearing mask when they came on hostage taken nearly two years ago. According to one of the accounts on the sighting, one of the suspects who abducted them was spotted along an area called ‘Crossing’, a junction point leading to Laduga, an expansive grazing community estimated at 72, 000 hectares in size. 23 communities, principally herdsmen, reportedly live in the area which, according people familiar with the history of the place was principally set aside as grazing reserve. “But there are permanent structures there now and the residents in the area guard it as their original home. It is now designated a district and their plans to make it an emirate,” explained Lukas Banniyat, a Kaduna based journalist, activist and litigious customer of the state governor, Nasir el-Rufai, over matters bordering on ethnic conflict in the state. According to him, Adara residents suspect that the so called unknown gunmen terrorising Adara people find refuge in Laduga, and that police are not doing much about it.
Between November 2017 when the family of Maisamari was kidnapped and this week, Kajuru, like some other communities in Kaduna other states like Zamfara, Kastina and others have become killing fields where gunmen routinely attack isolated communities butcher men, women, children and burn down homes belonging to their victims. According to Coalition Against Killings in Kajuru, CAKK, the latest death toll among Adara people now surpassed 130. “Several communities have been reduced to rubbles, setting the stage for a major humanitarian crisis that has so far displaced no fewer than 10,000 persons now living in four camps,” explained Rev. Father Williams Kaura Abba, coordinator of CAKK.
Putting a timeline on the more recent carnage, Kajuru killings began on Sunday February 10, 2019 when men believed to be herdsmen militia, allegedly attacked Ungwar Barde in Maro ward of Kajuru LGA. In the said attack, 10 persons, including a pregnant woman, were killed. Other sources averred that there were more people killed.
In St. Gerrard’s Hospital in the area, for instance, an eyewitness account recounted to Sunday INDEPENDENT that no less than 50 corpses were deposited in a mortuary after one of the killings. “More than half of these corpses were children below the age of 10 – some of whom had their necks slit with knives, some had their skulls smashed and others, shot at close range,” narrated the witness.
Leaders in the area accuse the state governor of being the instigator of the crisis when a few days to the general election, had claimed that Adara men killed and buried 66 Fulanis, even when he had been mute on the initial killings in Ugwan Barde. The state governor, five days after the attack, on February 15, 2019, on National Television disclosed that security agencies had recovered bodies of 66 Fulani killed by Adara natives. He was later to increase the death toll to 130.
The coalition alleged that the allegation by El-Rufai over killings of Fulani set the stage for reprisal killings and weaved the labyrinth of insecurity over the besieged Adara communities “The governor’s allegations over killings of Fulani is still an allegation that is yet to be proven, as he has neither shown the world the pictures of recovered Fulani corpses nor commenced investigation to prove his allegation.
The Kaduna State Police commissioner, Ahmad Abdulrahman recently debunked the death toll as announced by the governor, insisting that investigation into Fulani killings is still at ‘embryonic stage.’
“Within the space of one month, we have been horror-stricken at the barbaric attacks carried out by these merchants of death against children, men, women, including the aged. Communities have been reduced to rubbles and insecurity now stalks these towns and villages unchallenged,” added Kaura Abba, coordinator of CAKK.
The coalition, earlier in the week, took their grouse national and international, when they staged a peaceful rally at the Unity Fountain, Abuja, the nation’s capital. According to Abba, the coalition’s leader, the world must be made aware of the killings in Kajuru and why men of good will must prevail on the state governor, Nasir el-Rufai, and the federal government to take more than passing interest in the welfare of people affected by the carnage, allegedly wrought by militia herdsmen. “We are saddened by events in our dear state, Kaduna, we have gathered here in Abuja, our nation’s capital, to bring to the attention of fellow citizens and the international community the horrendous attacks on many Adara communities living in Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State by herdsmen militia,” added Abba.
Interestingly, Adara already has a presence in the global community as a people persecuted. And from the purview of Open Doors International, ODI, a religious support group based in Netherlands, but operating globally, the suffering of Kajuru and by extension Adara communities is traced to the choice of religion predominantly practiced in the area. On ODI’s platform, Adara is assigned number 12404, and ranked as one of the top 50 places where there is religious persecution.
The group ranks countries and places based on the World Watch questionnaire. The questionnaire contains 49 questions covering various aspects of religious freedom, differentiating between the legal, official status of Christians and the actual situation.
Attention is paid to the role of the church in society and the current situation facing individual Christians. Factors that may obstruct the freedom of religion in a country are also taken into account.
The aim of the list is to paint a realistic picture of religious persecution in a country. A point value is assigned depending on how each question is answered. The total number of points per country determines its position on the World Watch List. Areas without significant persecution do not have a ranking.
But Nigerians are at a loss over the seemingly ineptitude of governments to the plight of the citizens, more so that el-rufai, despite all odds, has won the governorship elections. The ruling APC got majority votes from Kaduna, among others from the North West region.
They say with the kind of cordial relationship existing between president Muhammadu Buhari and el-rufai, the killings in the southern part of the state should have been brought to an end and perpetrators apprehended.
In a practical demonstration of his relationship with Buhari, el-rufai had boasted in January during one of the electioneering campaigns that he was indifferent to the outcome of the gubernatorial elections as he claimed to have a job already with the victory of Buhari.
“I have no fears if I win or not because the president has already won his re-election . The worse thing that could happen is for me to lose the election. But since the president has already won his reelection bid, it means I already have a job in Abuja.
“Only my staff are jittery if I win or not and I usually share this joke with them. But the security in the state has improved because everything has been orderly and from the information I am getting, polling units opened early,” he said.
“Now that he has won, the governor should be told that he has a job in Kaduna, and part of the job is to bring the wanton killings in his state to an end,” says an analyst who preferred to be anonymous.