by Mark Amaza
For the past few months, what has sadly come to be the killing fields of Southern Kaduna have become active again in the seemingly never-ending internecine conflict between the indigenous communities and Fulani herdsmen.
There have been attacks on these communities by the other, leaving in their trail blood and tears, and even worse, anger and hatred with a resolve to get justice by the newest victim, perpetuating the cycle of violence.
These attacks always seem to be precipitated by alleged attacks on herds of cows owned by the Fulani, mostly on accusations that they have trespassed into farmlands and destroyed crops. This is then followed by attacks on communities by the aggrieved herdsmen, and reprisals by the communities and on and on it goes. In some cases, travelers are attacked on blocked highways based on their being perceived to be either Fulani or Muslim.
The Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai seems determined to end the killings in his state; however, it is the approaches that he is taking to achieve this that leave me in serious doubt of their efficacy.
First, he unveiled a billboard in the village of Samaru-Kataf with a public apology by the communities for the killings and destruction. However, the idea of the billboard has not gone down well especially with the ethnic groups and communities in Southern Kaduna. Who is apologizing to who? Why are they apologizing? Does the apology fix the damage that has been done?
His recent revelation that the state government paid some leaders of the herdsmen compensation for the cows they lost in order to get them to stop the killings comes as a disappointing admission that the government knows those behind the killings but lack the political will to have them tried in court.
Pray tell, if the herdsmen receive compensation for the killing of their cows which are their economic livelihoods, do their victims also receive compensation for the destruction of their farmlands, houses and the lives lost? This is not how justice works, where one party receives justice and the other side is left to their fate.
The measures taken by the state government will go nowhere in soothing the wounds of communities. In the absence of justice given satisfactorily by an impartial body, those aggrieved will be pushed to exact what they believe to be justice. It is the nature of human beings.
In a Human Rights Watch report of 2013 on the then cycle of violence in Kaduna and Plateau States, they noted that the violence is sustained by the absence of a working criminal justice system that will apprehend those behind the violence and have them prosecuted to the end in a court of law.
In many instances then and now, the victims or those related to them know the culprits that have destroyed their properties or killed their loved ones; yet, barely any arrests are made and no suspects are charged to court. This inability of the criminal justice system to punish the perpetrators has entrenched in the minds of the communities that if justice will come, it will have to be from their own hands, and this is what is being carried out. Such practice is how anarchic, lawless and barbaric societies come to be.
It is already bad that there has been silence and seeming inaction from the Presidency on the numerous violent attacks involving Fulani herdsmen from Benue to Kaduna. Governor El-Rufai’s ‘compensation payments’ to the herdsmen only makes it worse, especially considering the fact that both he and the President are Fulani and will be viewed by the communities of siding with their kinsmen. It is also made further worse by a tweet from 2012 by Governor El-Rufai that the Fulanis will always avenge for a life lost no matter what.
This feeds into the conspiracy theory that the spate of attacks in not just Southern Kaduna is part of a calculated attempt to wipe out the ethnic groups there, or a continuation of the 19th century Fulani jihad of Othman dan Fodio.
As I have written before, the violence has a risk of spiraling out of control due to the added factors of religion, and it is a time bomb that if not defused quickly, might be the start of wide-scale violence that can consume the whole country.
The focus of the Kaduna State Government and the Federal Government should be to ensure that the people responsible for the violence be arrested and tried in courts of law no matter what ethnic groups they come from. They should also be tried no matter their nationality – the oft-given excuse that the herdsmen responsible are not Nigerians is untenable. While our membership of ECOWAS allows free movement of people and goods into the country by West African nationals, it is not a reason to wring our hands in despair when same people coming into our country are committing violence and wanton destruction. This should be the impetus to further secure our borders to control how persons move in and out of Nigeria.
Without a criminal justice system that works and that is seen to work, I am afraid that the cycle of violence will not stop. Public apology billboards and compensation payments, not even those to rebuild churches and mosques will achieve nothing.