Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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Last week a significant development took place in Southern Kaduna. But as has become our practice in the media – not only in Nigeria – but all over the world, this development was not given the attention it deserved. When there is a tragedy or ugly occurrence, we give it maximum publicity; but when something positive happens, we treat it in the media with some form of ennui.
As reported by the Vanguard newspaper, and a few other newspapers, a truce was reached by leaders of Atyap, Fulani and Hausa communities in Zangon – Kataf Local Government area of Kaduna state. There the leaders of the warring ethnic groups met and unanimously agreed to end hostilities. They committed themselves to peace and forgiveness of each other while at the same time condemning the killings and destruction of property that has taken place in the area in the past and even recently.
In a 14 point resolution, the leaders pledged their support to the efforts of the state government and security agencies to end the crisis in the area. According to the meeting, “they appreciated the fact that all Nigerians have the fundamental or constitutional right to move and reside anywhere in Nigeria, including Atyap Chiefdom, without any fear, molestation or harassment from anybody or any source whatsoever.”
This is the heart of the matter, not only in Kaduna State but all over the defunct Northern region of Nigeria. Wherever you find inter-ethnic conflict, the likelihood is that one ethnic group is claiming exclusive rights to be indigene of the area in exclusion of other groups. Kaduna’s case is the worse because every northerner has emotional attachment there. Kaduna was the headquarters of the giant northern region and it was here that the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto demonstrated his dexterity in statecraft by welding all the ethnic groups – over 300 of them – into one united north, under one God with one destiny shortly before and immediately after independence in 1960. When in these days, the people of this state start killing themselves the rest of the north scatters in commotion.
But the problems of inter-ethnic relations in the state predate its current travails maybe even predate the Sardauna’s glorious days. They even predate days of colonial conquest and rule. It began with the pre-colonial days of slavery and slave trade when raids were frequent in the quest for slaves to be traded off at Lokoja the slave port where local tribesmen were captured and traded off. Then the Othman Dan Fodio Jihad which took place in 1804 worsened things when followers Dan Fodio conquered a vast area and established themselves at a place they called Jemaa. After that, relations between the Hausa Fulani Muslims and the minority ethnic groups were further complicated with the coming of Christianity and colonialism. All these historical events did not help relations and tensions were always there. These tensions exploded in 1987 when a misunderstanding at a Christian public meeting between Christian and Muslim students at the College of Education in Kafanchan resulted into a statewide orgy of religious violence. Another misunderstanding over the sitting of a market in Zangon Kataf in 1992 resulted in a similar violence with a lot of killings and massive destruction of property. And just before the handover of power to civilians in 1999, there was another round of killings in communal violence.
These complications have never been fully studied and understood by government. Often after every round of rioting and killings, the government makes a pretense of investigating the causes and proffering solutions. This does not go beyond setting up panels of inquiry whose recommendations are thrown into the waste paper bin. For instance, the government of el Rufai in this year, 2020 set up a panel to write a white paper on the recommendations of the committee that investigated the killings in the 1992 rioting. This was a report that was sub mitted to government immediately after the violence occurred in 1992 but the government never considered it or wrote a white paper on it. In the absence of serious government attention, the squabbling local communities have consequently dug in and taken hard positions. It is agame of tit for tat. One group launches an attack against the other; the attacked group waits in ambush to stage its own reprisal killings. The governments both federal state and the local governments have been reduced to benign observers.
I hail the patriotic efforts to stop the bloodshed and destruction of property led by AVM Stephen Shekari and Dr Salim Umar who helped in organizing the peace summit and co-chaired it. Given the recent happenings in Southern Kaduna, it is no mean achievement to have brought His Highness, the Agwatyap, Dominic Gambo Yahaya and leaders of the squabbling communities to sit down and hold a peace summit with far reaching resolutions like they did.
Still, the peace efforts must go much deeper. In a third world country with a deep state, the governments must be involved. It is a good thing that the communities have voted to keep the peace for without this, the government with its arms, no matter how massive they may be, cannot maintain such peace. But without government’s active involvement and active participation, the hope for peace in the troubled area may end up as a pipe dream. Additionally, such credible non-governmental actors like the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, should play a role.
Finally, this is the time the people of Atyap must forget their persecution complex and set themselves free. They must listen and imbibe the message of Jimmy Cliff, the Reggae singer who sang that, “a slave remains a slave if he can’t think independently.” Alternatively, they should listen to Bob Marley who sang that “emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind”. When I meet minority men from southern Kaduna answering such odd names as “Kwado”, meaning frog; “Bili” meaning monkey or even “Bawa” meaning slave, I begin to wonder about the mental status of those who give such names to their children. These are Hausa names that are so demeaning that even the Hausa people do not give their children.