Recalling the controversy that trailed the disclosure by Kaduna State Government that 66 people were killed in the crisis that rocked communities in Kajuru Local Government Area of the state, John Shiklam writes that although the Nigerian army has confirmed that 66 people were killed, there are some questions still unanswered.
The General Officer Commanding 1 Division of the Nigerian Army, Kaduna, Maj. Gen. Faruk Yahaya, on Sunday confirmed that 66 people were killed in fulani communities in Kajuru local Government Area of Kaduna state.
This should put to rest the controversy that has trailed the announcement of the killings by the Kaduna State government.
Yahaya, confirmed the killings of the 66 fulani in a video clip recorded during a visit to some of the affected fulani communities by the Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai. The video was seen by our correspondent in Kaduna.
The governor was accompanied during the visit, by the GOC; the Kaduna State Police Commissioner, Ahmad Abdulrahman; the Director of Kaduna State Director, Department of State Services (DSS), A.I. Koya; Air Cmdr. I. Sani of the Nigerian Air Force and other top government functionaries.
The GOC said: "When information (about the incident) came, men of the Nigerian army and their officer, came here along with the villager to access and see what happened.
"We have shown you the other area in that village, where according to information, the residents were lured to that riverine and were slaughtered.
Yahaya said, "a total of 37 were said to have been buried there, you have seen the graveyard and you have also seen elements of their materials that are on the ground and traces of blood."
He added that "from there, 500 metres, you can see this (other) village, you can see what happened, also burnt and others also killed."
Speaking further, he said: "Information had it that it also spread to other villages - various kilometers from here.
"Some one kilometers, some two kilometers, depending. You you know how the fulani settlements are. They are called Ruga, they are far apart. So that is the information we have".
However, as a journalist was asking the GOC a question, Governor el-Rufai interjected, by asking the GOC the number of casualties.
"First, how many were killed as far as the army is concerned", the governor asked the GOC who responded by saying that "as far as we are concerned, what we reported is 66, comprising male, female and children".
Some individuals and groups, especially the former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, the Kaduna state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), an umbrella body for the southern Kaduna ethnic nationalities, had disputed the state governments claim about the casualty figures.
Even though the incident was said to have occurred between Sunday, February 10 and Monday February 11, 2019, the state government announced the killings in a statement on Friday, February 15, 2019.
It was learnt that on Sunday, February 10, at about midnight, gunmen, alleged to be fulani herdsmen, invaded Angwan Barde, a community inhabited by the indigenous Adara ethnic group in Kajuru Local Government Area and killed 11 people, with several others injured.
The Adara, allegedly responded to the killing of their kinsmen with reprisals on fulani settlements in the area.
Arunwan, while announcing the killings in a statement issued on the eve of the botched presidential and national assembly elections, said among those killed were 22 children and 12 women, adding that four wounded persons rescued by the security agencies were receiving medical attention.
"Security agencies today (Friday February 15, 2019), reported the recovery of 66 bodies that were killed in attacks by criminal elements on various dispersed hamlets in the Maro Gida and Iri axis of Kajuru LGA" the statement said.
He said the fulani communities affected include "Ruga Bahago, Ruga Daku, Ruga Ori, Ruga Haruna, Ruga Yukka Abubakar, Ruga Duni Kadiri, Ruga Shewuka and Ruga Shuaibu Yau".
Governor el-Rufai, while commenting on the incident in a television interview hours after the statement was issued, said the 66 people killed were fulani.
First to dispute the figures was Prof. Odinkalu, who dismissed the governor's claim as a lie.
Odinkalu, in an interview with Channels Television, on Saturday, maintained that something was at play over the killings.
"In my view, there was something at play yesterday (Friday February 15) over this story of this alleged killing of 66 people in Kajuru in Kaduna" he said.
"I spent all of last night trying to verify from all the sources in Kajuru and nobody can verify or substantiate that there has been killing of 66 people in Kajuru over the past few days" he added.
Speaking further, he said: "INEC has got to deal with this reality. It is not just logistics, it is politicians with all manner of designs. I think it is important as we deal with this question of postponement to begin to call out politicians to order.
"You cannot, on the eve of a very difficult election, as a state governor, stand by yourself and your publicist talking about 66 people of one ethnic group and be talking about it with a celebrating aire... ..
"I spent the entire night calling up all the sources I know in Kajuru. I spent a lot of time working on Southern Kaduna so I have a lot of colleagues across all divides, community leaders, these are not politicians, faith leaders, people who live within the neighborhood, professionals who care about what happens in these communities, (people) who don't leave in Kaduna or Kafanchan who are living in Kajuru and not one person can substantiate what is it.
"There were some killings in Kajuru last week Sunday. The best number we can get, every life matters so I am not saying this carelessly, about 10, 11 people were reportedly killed...
"When did these killings that he talks about happen? No bodies, no police, no SSS officers, no site, no cameras and I challenged any medium in the country and beyond Nigeria, let us all go to Kajuru, let the governor join us and let him tell us where he got all these bodies from... .
"This is too serious for anybody to make. I said this as a Nigerian who believes in this country, who believes every life matters. This is too serious for any governor to say and get away with in this election...
"We must never allow that story to get away. Sixty six Nigerians killed, that is 66 too many! If anybody claimed that 66 people were killed in Kajuru this week, including the governor of Kaduna state, let us go and verify it. We are not willing to allow that story to get away, it is not true!"
The Kaduna state chapter of CAN, also declared that it was alarmed by the story of the killings.
Chairman of the association, Rev. Joseph Hayab, in a statement said, the press statement by Samuel Aruwan, suggesting that the killings in Kajuru Local Government was committed on February 15, 2019, was "false in its entirety."
"We are aware that the incident happened in the late hours of Sunday 10 February to 12th February, 2019, at about 1:00am at Gindin Gada ( also known as Angwan Barde), Maro Ward of Kajuru Local Government in Kaduna State where unidentified hoodlums went into the village and killed about 11 people in their sleep, which led to reprisals" he said.
According to him, "two of the suspects were said to have been apprehended and handed over to the Divisional Police (in the area).
"It was on the afternoon of the said date of the attack (as contained in the press statement) that the District Head of Kufana, Mr. Titus Dauda, and four of his local chiefs were released after their invitation by the DSS State Command on the issue.
"We see this as an illogical intentional, premeditated attempt at stirring violence in the state for whatever expected gains" the statement said.
Hayab said the false alarm raised by the Kaduna State Government "should make Nigerians realise that some of our leaders are also guilty of hate speech themselves and that makes them major actors in the game that have denied us peace and have claimed the lives of our love ones".
SOKAPU, in its reaction to the casualty figures said it reached out to the various community leaders in Kajuru, including officials of the Adara Nation to ascertain what actually happened.
In a statement signed by its spokesman, Yakubu Kuzamani, the union narrated that: "On Sunday, February 10, 2019, the Adara natives residing in Ungwar Barde in Kufana District of Kajuru Local Government Area came under attack by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen.
"The attack lasted from 10pm of Sunday to 4am of Monday February 11, 2019. By the time the merchants of deaths and destructions were through with their mission, no fewer than 11 lives, including a pregnant woman, were lost. Scores of victims of the attack on Ungwar Barde sustained injuries, with some of them presently receiving treatment at some health facilities in the state capital. We have been informed that the attackers, seven of them in number, were arrested by a team of policemen. Sadly, not a statement was issued by el-Rufai over that gruesome attack on Ungwan Barde".
SOKAPU said following the Sunday attack on Ungwan Barde, residents of neighbouring villages - Ungwan Busa and Doruwa deserted their villages for safety.
According to Kuzamani, the District Head of Kufana and four of his village heads, on the directive the governor, were summoned to Kaduna and ordered to produce persons behind reprisals, adding that the monarchs told their interrogators that they were not aware of any reprisal and therefore, were not in a position to identify persons behind such attacks.
The statement added that "apart from the 11 corpses of Adara natives that were killed during the Sunday attack, the community leaders have denied knowledge of any attack."
The union called on the Inspector General of Police and the Director of Department of State Services (DSS), to carry out an independent investigation and tell the world the truth of what actually happened in Kajuru.
"We are startled that it was the governor and not the police that announced the alleged killings in Kajuru. Let Nigerians and the world know that, should there be any breakdown of law and order in Kaduna state, Governor el-Rufai should be held responsible" the group said.
The statement appealed to the "people to remain calm and not react to any form of provocation, including the current attempt to incite ethnic and religious brushfire.
"We wish to inform Nigerians and the world that it has always been in the character of the governor to promote violence through spreading hate speech for the advancement of his waning political survival.
"If the governor, who was aware that Adara natives were killed on Sunday, neglected to come public, then Nigerians and the world are well placed to understand the nebulous and evil motives of el-Rufai who once shocked Nigerians on national television that he had paid whopping sums of money to foreign herdsmen involved in attacking communities in Southern Kaduna" SOKAPU said.
All efforts to reach the chairman of the Kajuru branch of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), Ardo Kallah Maikudi on his mobile phone number 07056330654 was unsuccessful as several calls put to him did not connect. He did not also respond to the text message sent to him.
But reacting to the criticisms, el-Rufai in a statement on Sunday by his spokesman, Samuel Aruwan, condemned what he described as "concerted and coordinated efforts by bigoted busy bodies to deny the Kajuru killings, or to minimise the casualty figures".
"The Kaduna State Government notes the concerted and apparently coordinated efforts by bigoted busy bodies to deny the Kajuru killings, or to minimise the casualty figures, and the specious arguments being deployed in this despicable quest" the statement said.
The statement further condemned "in the strongest terms attempts to politicise the killings," noting that "only irresponsible and insensitive people can recklessly dismiss the deaths of members of a community with whom they have no contact".
Aruwan said "private individuals and unelected actors cannot be allowed to reduce weighty matters of state security to the province of their limited networks, inexperienced lenses and narrow agendas.
"The government of a state cannot be detained by parochial, ethno-religious, partisan or electoral calculations from doing its duty to provide security, confirm incidents of security breaches, take steps to reassure affected communities and ensure that perpetrators are arrested and brought to justice".
With the confirmation of the controversial casualty figures by the GOC, the matter seem to be settled. The government must now ensure that perpetrators of this heinous and despicable crime are fished out and brought to justice. However, from the reactions that trailed the announcement of the killings by the state government, there are few questions still unanswered: Why did the governor choose to make the killings public on the eve of an election? The governor and security heads in the state visited fulani communities affected in the crisis, why didn't they visit Angwan Barde, where 11 people were said to have been killed by gunmen, suspected to be fulani herdsmen?
Why did the governor choose to announce the casualty figures of fulani, but did not announce that of the Adara people in Angwan Barde?
Knowing that Kajuru local government is very volatile, based on previous eruption of violence in the area, why did the government fail to take adequate security measures to prevent possible reprisals following the attack on Angwan Barde?