Security agencies in Kaduna State have confirmed mass killings in villages in Kajuru Local Government Area of the state.
The Nigerian Army put the casualty figure at 66 dead. The police did not state a casualty figure but said at least six people have been arrested in connection to the violence.
The confirmation came amidst criticisms trailing the announcement of the killings two days ago.
A statement by Samuel Aruwan, the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to Governor Nasir El-Rufai, announced the killings on Friday.
The Kaduna government, in the statement, said it received a security report that 66 people were killed in Maro Gida and Iri axis of Kajuru Local Government.
Details in the statement were, however, not sufficient and many thereafter criticised the governor.
Two days after the announcement, the core facts of how the 66 people were killed are yet to emerge.
While some people said the state government is not the proper body to announce such incident, others question the government on why it delayed the announcement till Friday evening when the killings started late last Sunday.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) criticised the government over the timing of its announcement of the killings.
In a statement on Sunday, the Kaduna State chapter of the association described the announcement as 'intentional' and a 'false alarm'
"The press statement by the spokesman for Kaduna State Governor, Mr Samuel Aruwan, suggests that "the killings in Kajuru Local Government were carried yesterday (Friday) 15/2/2019. This is false in its entirety."
PREMIUM TIMES check, however, indicates that no part of the government statement suggested that the killings were carried out on Friday. It only stated that the security report came in on Friday.
Similarly, the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) called on the Inspector-General of Police and the Director of the State Security Service (SSS) to carry out an independent investigation over the killings.
In a statement signed by its National Public Relations Officer, Yakubu Kuzamani, the group said it was startled that it was the governor himself and not the police that announced the alleged killings in Kajuru.
On his part, Kaduna Central Senator, Shehu Sani, said the El-Rufai government exaggerated the figures. Kajuru Local Government falls under his senatorial district.
"What I found out about the killing is that it happened between Sunday and Monday. The figures for the deaths are within the range of 10 to 15. The state government exaggerated the figures and also timed the announcement of it in view of the fact that that place is remote and beyond the reach of many journalists," the lawmaker, a critic of Governor El-Rufai said.
He insinuated that the government's delay of the announcement was politically motivated.
"By his (El-Rufai) utterances, body language and behaviour, this man does not prove to be someone interested in free and credible elections. And for a man who bragged about body bags, when he talks about corpses you should be able to understand his kind of obsession," he told PREMIUM TIMES via telephone on Sunday.
Some people have also argued that such mass killing did not actually happen. While appearing on Channels TV programme on Saturday, a former head of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, said he could not confirm the killings took place after contacting several sources in the area.
He said the report of the killings may have been part of the design by senior politicians in the country to create scenarios that could be used as a reason for the postponement of the elections.
On Saturday, Mr El-Rufai visited the affected communities accompanied by security chiefs in the state. Video of the visit was shared with PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday.
The General Officer Commanding One Division of the Nigerian Army, Faruk Yahaya, said 66 people were killed in the mayhem.
He said 37 of them were 'slaughtered' at a river bank.
"When information came, men of Nigerian Army, under their officers along with villagers... to access. We have shown you the other area in that village, where according to information, the residents were lured to that riverine and were slaughtered," the major-general said.
General Officer Commanding One Division of the Nigerian Army, Faruk Yahaya
"A total of 37 were said to have been buried there. You have seen the grave there and you have also seen elements of their materials that were on the ground, including some traces of blood. 500 metres from there, you see this village, you can see what happened, also burnt and further.
"Now information has it that it also spread to other villages. Various distances from here, some, one kilometre, some two kilometres. You know how the Fulanis are, they are far apart. That's the information we have."
Mr El-Rufai, who also appeared in the video, asked the army commander what the casualty figure was.
"As far as we are concerned, what we reported was 66, comprising male, female and children," he replied.
Six people arrested already - police
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Police said it has arrested six people in connection to the incident.
Also on the visiting trail of the governor, Kaduna State Police Commissioner, Ahmad Abdurrahman, said the prosecutors would be charged to court as soon as possible.
"Since the military has gone that far, we'll work in collaboration and cooperation. The police went on the other way and effected some arrests. Even today, we effected some arrest. They are right now undergoing interrogation at the state CID. When I get back, we are going to reveal what they have gotten so far.
"We are going to prosecute these offenders immediately court opens, even if it is Monday. We are not going to sleep. We are going to finish everything by tomorrow Sunday. If the first chance we got, the court opens on Monday, we are going to prosecute them. More arrests on the way."
Mr Adurrahman said more arrests would be made.
"For now I cannot know the figure but we have arrested about six yesterday and today, I ordered the arrest of one personality and we are making more arrests. I have dispatched various detectives to various suspects."
The violence in Kajuru is believed to be between members of two ethnic groups, Adara and Fulani. The Adara are mainly Christians while the Fulani are mainly Muslims, a factor that may have influenced CAN's stance.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how a resident of Kajuru narrated details of the attack.
Benjamin Maigari, a local who said he travelled to the area ahead of the elections, said there were two attacks: the first on the Adara people of Maro and a second, a reprisal on the Fulani in the community.
He said the reprisal claimed more lives than the initial attack.
"Towards the early hours of Monday, around 1 a.m., there was an attack on a community called Ungwar Bardi in Maro, Kajuru Local Government. The people there are predominantly Adara. So, there was an attack on them and 11 people were killed," he said.
"The locals, that's the Adara people suspected that it was the Fulani that attacked and decided to have a reprisal attack that Monday. The reprisal was that same Monday. They attacked the hamlets of the Fulani within the community and killed the Fulanis. Women, children, inclusive. Even the one (attack) on Adara people, women and children were killed."