Over the last 37 years, Kaduna State has witnessed numerous violent conflicts, most of which are ethno-religious in nature.Contest for domain controls, resources and religious supremacy has led to the burning of places of worship, homes, markets and public property.
Institutions of higher learning, which ought to be immune to the irrationality that fuels these conflicts, have many times been the theatres of war, as the College of Education riots of 1987, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria crisis of 1988, and the Federal College of Education violence of 2000 indicate.
Notable places like Zagon Kataf, Kanfachan and Zaria, among others, have become flashpoints where contestation for identity recognition often results in blood-shedding and wanton destruction.
More unfortunately, attempts to permanently lay these recurrent conflicts to rest have failed, largely owing to half-hearted attempts by the authorities to implement enduring decisions identified as capable of bringing lasting respite.
It would seem that the political class benefits from the exploitation of the fault-lines of the highly heterogeneous state for personal benefits.
Granted that some of the lingering disputes have roots in colonial meddlesomeness that arbitrarily redrew districts and political domains, there has been little or no effort by the political leadership over time, to find lasting solutions.It is for this reason that the recurrence of violence, though sad, has not been surprising. It is within that brief overview that one must situate the ongoing conflicts in southern Kaduna.
The current conflict, said to have claimed close to a thousand lives, has exposed the fragile, distrustful relationship that exists between the different ethnic, religious and occupational groups in the state.Government, at both the state and the federal levels, has conducted itself in a way that aggravates rather than check the crisis. Incumbent Governor Nasir el Rufai didn’t help matters when he, without recourse to verifiable facts, attributed the recent conflict to non-Nigerian Fulani herdsmen who, according to him, suffered losses while grazing, in the aftermath of the 2011 elections.
The implication of this is that while the governor acknowledged the killings in Southern Kaduna, he exonerated the indigenous Fulani community and held foreigners responsible for the numerous coordinated attacks on lives and property within his domain.By so doing, el Rufai has added a new, more frightening, dimension to the issue, as it means that Nigeria is under attack from aggrieved bandits who come into the country at will, wreak havoc, recoil and spring again as the nation watches helplessly.
The implication of such an account wasn’t lost on any of the security agencies who have refrained from conferring credibility on the governor’s claim. El Rufai goes ahead to say that he knows the perpetrators of these crimes, has sent emissaries to them, and has offered huge monetary incentives to stop the destruction.Evidently, the governor did not consider as grievous and counter-productive, the use of unappropriated resources of the state to pacify a party to an ongoing conflict, to the exclusion of the other sides whom the governor himself acknowledges to have suffered great human and material losses.
While the governor’s ‘foreign invaders’ thesis is unconvincing, seeking to buy peace from a party to a conflict without a proper mechanism of mediation in a way acceptable to all the stakeholders takes the mismanagement of the Kaduna crises to a new height of incompetence.
Already, the attack on the residents of southern Kaduna a few weeks back, leading to the reported massacre of over 800 persons in the middle of a 24- hour curfew, has been interpreted in some quarters as the tragic outcome of the governor’s handling of the issue. Some have insinuated outright connivance.
While we at the New Independence Group (NIG) may not be able to affirm the connivance of the governor with the Fulani side of the Kaduna crises merely on account of ethnic affiliations, the shoddy handling and management of the situation is evidently complicit.
Granted that the country’s federal structure gives the governor little control over security agencies, his self-explained use of the instruments of his office in bringing about peace falls far short of an objective, peace-oriented approach to the conflict.
Yet, more worrisome is the apparent indifference of President Muhammadu Buhari to the ongoing killings. It took public excoriation from many quarters to squeeze out a tepid press statement from presidential media aides in respect of the issue. This has unfortunately fuelled the belief in some quarters, rightly or wrongly, that the president, a Fulani himself, is sympathetic to the Fulani herdsmen at the centre of the conflict. The mistrust that this presidential indifference has bred is inimical to lasting peace in Kaduna. More worrying, still, is that President Buhari is wittingly or unwittingly framing himself as a leader incapable of rising beyond narrow, primordial considerations in tackling matters of national importance. The non-challant approach to conflicts involving herdsmen was an issue of much media debate in the wake of the attacks on farmers in Benue, Enugu and a few other places in months past.
The increasing perception of the president as a sectional figure is given further fillip because General Buhari could have acted swiftly and decisively in the present Kaduna crisis to demonstrate to all, in very clear terms, his commitment to being a president for all as he swore to. All over the world, we see the value attached to lives as leaders show up in areas where there are crises, to console, identify with, and reassure their citizens in words and deeds that the people’s lives matter to those in power.
In July 2016, President Francois Hollande of France was an early caller at Saint Etienne-du-Rouvray, where terrorists killed a local clergyman. This was in spite of the fact that the assailants were killed at the scene by security agents. Earlier in 2015, in the wake of the murder of nine worshippers by the white supremacist, Dylan Roof, at a church in Charleston, United States, President Barack Obama visited the community to grieve with them.
The import of these is very clear: When tragedies happen, leaders of the country are expected to demonstrate empathy and commitment to a healing process. When tragedies occur as a result of conflict, it is even more imperative that a leader intervenes symbolically, calming frayed nerves and going beyond that to show the way forward in the interest of enduring peace, and more importantly, justice.On this score, President Buhari has been grossly wanting.
Unfortunately, such a disposition is not likely to be met with indifference from the feuding parties. It has the dangerous tendency to infuriate the victims, while equally emboldening the aggressors. In the absence of decisive and effective leadership, a conflict of this nature can only breed more anarchy, as people interpret justice and fairness from the perspective of self-interest, and may resort to self-help.
Ineffectiveness is a great incentive for degeneration into a Hobbesian state.
The federal government has decided to establish an Army formation in the part of southern Kaduna most prone to conflicts in order to restore peace. It remains to be seen if such a move will yield expected results in an area where distrust and accusations of connivance on the part of the Armed Forces are rife.
In any case, the establishment of a military formation is at best a medium-to-long-term solution which in itself is not all-encompassing. Peace enforcement all over the world is a temporary measure which precedes peace-building. Achieving the latter requires establishing the credibility of government and its institutions as unbiased arbiters, dispelling methodically the grounds for further discord between the different sides, and bringing reforms carefully designed to address holistically, the numerous dimensions of the crisis. In the case of Kaduna, finding lasting peace ought to factor in the political, economic, religious and social dimensions that the contestation has assumed. Areas of influence for each group must be clearly delineated and made binding to the satisfaction of all ethnic groups and other interested parties, while issues relating to the transition from the grazing approach to ranching by herdsmen equally require a definitive resolution. Efforts must also be made to bring to justice, those known to have committed grave crimes on both sides. These steps, among others, will go a long way in restoring trust, a sense of fairness and safety, and the needed peace and order upon which any developmental agenda can be predicated.
This statement, issued by the New Independence Group (NIG), is signed by its Convener, Professor Akinyemi Onigbinde