"Most people in Southern Kaduna are Christians and Muslims; so, if we believe there is a supreme being, whether you call him Allah or God, and when he sends rains he doesn't discriminate, why can't we sit and forgive and settle differences."
The school-turned displaced persons' camp now only houses a few seriously injured persons in its makeshift infirmary, and thousands of women, men and children forcibly uprooted from their villages following a wave of carnage in the past months have now returned.
A group of local Christian leaders had hurriedly set up the Zonkwa camp - in Zangon Kataf Local Government Area, one of the hotspots of Nigeria's historic Southern Kaduna conflicts - for families fleeing the raging violence sweeping through ethnic Kataf villages in July and August, after earlier deadly violence targeting the Hausa-Fulani in June.
At its peak, the camp registered 3,455 refugees, of whom at least 90 per cent were Christians and ethnic Kataf (also known as Atyap), according to the coordinator, Gambo Waziri, a reverend.
This is corroborated by the local Red Cross secretary, Joshua Ishaya. Mr Ishaya identified another camp in Kamuru, also in Zangon Kataf LGA, which was opened for hundreds of Muslim Hausa/Fulani victims, and is now closed.
The religious divide that typifies the settings of the two camps mirrors the dominant line of division and instrumentality of mobilisation in the decades-long conflicts between the Hausa-Fulani, on one hand, and about 50 ethnic groups. Among them are the Kataf, Takad, Fantswam, Adara, Ham, Bajjul, and others, who together form the majority on the other hand, in Southern Kaduna.
Southern Kaduna is, eco-climatically, part of the Middle Belt, which is a sub-humid transition zone between Nigeria's semi-arid north and humid south. It is the main theatre of Nigeria's seemingly intractable farmers-pastoralists' conflicts.
But the conflicts there have implications for national unity because the warring sides predominantly belong to different ethnoreligious sections, which are the dominant pattern of political mobilisation and loyalty in Nigeria.
The conflicts are chiefly rooted in and driven by land disputes and the related self-determination struggles and indigene-settler dichotomy.
PREMIUM TIMES reported in the first publication in the paper's Southern Kaduna series, based on on-the-ground reporting, extensive interviews and reviews of past panel reports.
Carnage, peace moves
In 2020, at least 150 persons, including children, were brutally killed in the cycle of reprisals that also left communities in ruins - and precipitated humanitarian emergency, that, for instance, necessitated the Zonkwa and Kamuru camps - according to our analysis.
Photographs we obtained captured mass graves and disembowelled and savagely hacked men, women and children, and razed homes. But the grisly crimes have virtually stopped since late August. By that time, a process of catharsis might have taken effect, nudging the warring sides towards dialogue in a series of meetings.
These engagements between the groups, who have slaughtered one another in tit-for-tat killings over the years, underscore the importance of common understanding, other than armed security intervention, in engendering peaceful co-existence and mutual tolerance in Southern Kaduna.
"Beyond boots on the ground, it is important for communities to work together for peace," said Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, using "boots" as a metonym for armed security presence.
"For an area with broken social fabric due to mistrust and mutual suspicion, to regain cohesion will require efforts focused on the people to engage," said Priscilla Akut, the head at the Kaduna State Peace Commission, in an interview for this report.
The engagements followed PREMIUM TIMES' first investigation, published in September, in the Southern Kaduna series. Contrary to the dominant single perpetrator-victim narrative, our first report showed that both sides have suffered human and material losses over the years.
Gaining rare access to the tensed area, with four security operatives providing safety, the investigation included on-the-ground reporting in villages across the area, extensive review and analysis of reports of government panels, graphic pictures obtained from communities and security sources, and interviews with officials, victims, locals and leaders representing both sides.
Noting the armed response to the violence, the investigation suggested soft approaches that would see the interests of the communities converge towards peaceful co-existence, to forget the past wrongs and resolve to live together.
"We shall have peace"
In one such engagement, in Zangon Kataf LGA, the historically feuding Kataf and Hausa/Fulani communities, are now sitting together, acknowledging past wrongs against each other.
On October 2, at the palace of the Agwatyap, Dominic Yahaya, the paramount ruler of Atyap (also Kataf) Chiefdom, they formed the Community Peace and Security Partnership, CPSP.
The formation followed a peace summit the chief had hurriedly convened in August to halt the raging violence that was then taking a war-grade dimension as armed people, whom the surviving victims and government and security sources said were ethnic Fulani, embarked on an extreme vindictive campaign.
They were killing and burning homes from one community to another, after the carnage they (the Fulani) had suffered in June.
"In further charting a more lasting solution to the peace process, it has been considered appropriate to implement one of the key resolutions reached the Summit and to carry along the grassroots, which is the establishment of the Atyap Chiefdom Community Peace and Security and Partnership committee," the chief said during the October meeting observed by PREMIUM TIMES.
Highlighting the responsibilities of the 80-member committee, which also has women and youth representatives, the chief said the committee would "proffer solutions that will enhance peaceful co-existence" and "be proactive in determining matters of conflict triggers before they snowball into violence."
He said the committee would also "advise on youth programmes and activities that would promote inter-communal relationships in the Chiefdom," and "create district/village area sub-committees for the actualisation of peace at the grassroots level and these committees would feed the main committee on security threats and other matters at the village level."
Reacting after the inauguration, the chairman of the committee, John Gora, the Dan Madami Atyap, said, "we have accepted to work as a team against the violence that has bedevilled our community. By the grace of God, we shall have peace."
PREMIUM TIMES then started monitoring the development, finding, so far, a trend that has underscored the prospects of the community peace-building efforts.
Absorbing tension, preventing escalation
In October, a group of Fulani pastoralists, who had fled violence since June, wanted to return to their settlement at Mayayit area in Zangon Kataf LGA. Competition for access to land resources is usually a source of tension between the pastoralists and farmers like the ethnic Kataf at Mayayit. So, the return of the Fulani was going to be resisted and trouble erupt, many assumed.
But instead of confrontation, the stranded pastoralists sought the help of their kinsmen in the peace and security partnership committee to intercede for them to enable an understanding between them and their estranged neighbours at Mayayit, one person who participated in the process told PREMIUM TIMES, asking not to be identified by name because he was not authorised to speak with the press by the committee.
The matter remains unresolved by the time of writing this report in November but the work of the CPSP meant there was no confrontation and degeneration to violence.
This was a manifestation of Ms Akut's hope in the community peace initiative, which she enthused would yield "a system of absorbing tension and preventing escalation."
The chairman of the CPSP, Mr Gora, confirmed this development and explained that the resettlement process is ongoing, and not limited to Mayayit.
"Meetings were held and we have now overcome the problem," he said. "They only have to follow the laid down procedure: they should be led by their ardo (chief) and go through the mai ungwan (leader) then to the village head to say you were here before and you want to bring back your cows and family. People are now returning to other villages."
Mr Gora said the resettlement process was extended to the displaced Kataf people too and it was one of the three processes, including reconciliation and rehabilitation, for which the sub-committee was constituted.
The sub-committee, which has members drawn from Kataf and Hausa-Fulani groups, Mr Gora said, initially had divergent views "but they had been trained by the Inter-Faith Mediation Centre to build their conflict resolution skills and have a common position."
"It is like when doctors want to perform surgery on a patient and they don't agree, the patient is in danger," said Mr Gora, adding that, with a common position the sub-committee would "now go to the villages for assessment, facilitate resettlement and reconciliation between all sides."
"People were hurt. They have trauma; so, there will also be trauma healing."
Ismail Abdullah, the 21-year-old representative of the Fulani youth in the CPSP, confirmed "progress" in the resettlement process in other villages, while the case of Mayayit is pending resolution. "We are hearing progress, progress and the Fulani are confirming it," he said.
Mr Abdullah sold his inherited cow to gain funds needed to travel across villages to mobilise the Fulani towards supporting the peace initiative, he told PREMIUM TIMES.
At such a young age, while still schooling, he has earned a place in community leadership. "I just want to contribute my best to peace and development," he said in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
"Another sub-committee is working on economic empowerment. Youth unemployment is a major cause of the problem. We are going to frontally confront this problem of idleness. We are identifying opportunities and once the youth are properly engaged, we have tackled a major source of the problem," Mr Gora said.
Mosque back, market returns
In Kajuru LGA, another flashpoint, where the large-scale 1980 Kasuwan Magani violence happened, Doka was one of the ethnic Adara communities that had suffered deadly violence, by suspected Fulani armed men, that left at least 70 fatalities between April and July, according to a review of records and photographs obtained from the government and security sources.
The Fulani, in Kajuru, had suffered fatalities too. For instance, their settlement at Iburu was attacked by people they alleged were ethnic Adara, leaving over two dozen persons dead and others injured. PREMIUM TIMES collected horrific pictures of decapitated bodies, including those of children and women following the Iburu attack and the Fulani community released 29 names of persons said to have been killed.
Almost always, the Fulani pastoralists - who are reputed for their martial dexterity and capacity to effectively mobilise for attacks - inflict far greater pains than they suffer. They largely settle in remote rural places, where the government is far removed, and they scarcely care about media relations. Hence, attacks on them usually go on reported in the media in Nigeria, unlike when other groups, who are more educated and sophisticated, are attacked.
"The Fulani (pastoralists) are not familiar with the media," said Mr Abdullah, 21, who represents the Fulani youth in the Zangon Kataf CPSP and appointed assistant secretary. "Our elites don't bring the media to tell our story."
Regardless of the dominant framing of the Southern Kaduna conflicts in the media - due to an abysmal level of balanced on-the-ground reporting, other than dependence on press releases - all sides are casualties and some locals are beginning to acknowledge this reality as they dialogue and commit to a new future of peace.
At Doka, the Fulani and Adara are now co-existing and trading at a single market, a development that had barely ever existed, PREMIUM TIMES observed. The market was destroyed during clashes, so was the Fulani mosque nearby. The market now opens and the Fulani were allowed in September to rebuild their mosque, where they now freely pray.
All these were community-led and. When the government and security forces tried to restore peace there, they were stiffly resisted, the commissioner in charge of internal security, Mr Aruwan, said.
"There is concern about bloodshed and people themselves are making peace," said Mr Aruwan, who told PREMIUM TIMES the government is supporting "these community efforts."
In one direct engagement observed by PREMIUM TIMES, Adara women told the Fulani men the key to sustaining the fresh peace: "time to harvest is approaching, ensure cattle do not destroy our farms."
The Fulani, led by the Imam, in response pledged to avoid farmlands as they graze their cows in an outdated open system still prevalent in Nigeria, where the pastoralists usually treat grassy land as a common resource.
But except perhaps with a defined property right, other than the treatment of land as a common resource for grazing, straying into farmlands may never be avoided.
... we see benefits of peace
However, bloodshed can be averted through common understanding, willingness to compensate for damages and submission to law, as can be seen in the examples offered by the ethnic Ham communities of Jaba and Kachia LGAs and the Kamantan of Zangon Kataf, where clashes with the Fulani pastoralists are a rarity, giving a few cases of positive deviants.
"It is just about understanding between the two," commented Adamu Alkali, the traditional ruler of Kamantan, when asked how his community prevents incidents of destruction of farms by pastoralists from snowballing into violence. He said both parties would agree on an amount for compensation.
"If cattle destroy farmland and we know, we will report to the farmer. Sometimes, they forgive us and say 'I don't want compensation' but sometimes we pay. Even if we don't know, the farmer will report to us and we'll dialogue," a Fulani leader, Mohammed Abdullah told PREMIUM TIMES at Sabon Sarki District in Ham Land, Kachia LGA, speaking through an interpreter.
Among the Ham, there are families with members belonging to Islam and Christianity. One such family is that of late Usman Fugyon, who converted to Islam, had four wives and, according to one of his children "liberally allowed us to choose our faiths."
In his expansive compound, visited by PREMIUM TIMES in Sabon Sarki district of Kachia LGA, his children, of different faiths, take various parts to build their own homes.
One of them, Balarabe Usman, who died in 2018, left an uncompleted mosque within the compound, just metres before the house of another son, Saleh Usman, a pilot, who is a Christian. Saleh, though a Christian offered a Muslim Fulani family land to settle near his father's compound.
"This is a unique family," said Bode Moses, originally a Yoruba but born in Kafanchan in Southern Kaduna, which he now claims as home.
"I would not know why other communities have changed or are not like this," said Bello Shamaki, the Hakimi (District Head) of Daddu in Ham land, Jaba LGA, commenting on the unique close inter-religious ties and peaceful co-existence among the Ham and between them and the Hausa-Fulani. "But we see the benefits of peace. There is mutual enjoyment and local business goes well."
The chief of Kamantan, the home of the ethnic Anghan people, Mr Alkali, said since he mounted the throne in 2001, there has only been a single incident of Fulani attack that claimed seven lives in 2015 "and that was revenge".
"When I was called, I set up an investigation and the result was that among the Fulani escaping 2011 post-election violence, one was killed and another escaped with injury in the community. I said that was what might have triggered the attack. After the attack, I called the Fulani, we had dialogue and they did something I never expected; they took oath and cursed anyone among them engaging in violence," said Mr Alkali.
"Our relationship with the Hausa-Fulani has been cordial. They have been so long here that they no longer can be referred to as settlers," the Kamantan chief added, rejecting the indigene-settler dichotomy, other than common citizenship, that remains a trigger for troubles in Southern Kaduna.
"Since 2015, we have had a voluntary group of Christians and Muslims that go around from district to district preaching peace."
In another case, young people, from different ethnoreligious backgrounds, who form a football club, representing Katul Crossing community in Kachia, LGA are the unique lights in area cooperation along ethnic and religious lines is rare. The Katul Crossing Football Club has players drawn among the Fulani, like Ahmad Salihu; Igbo, like Michael Chukwuemeka, from Enugu State, and Auta, who is Adara.
"I am very happy to have this team of players from distinct ethnic groups and to see that they don't discriminate against one another," their coach, Hassan, said. He has been mentoring the team for eight years.
"It's not only in sport, we do everything together, we are a family and I don't see any problem relating with either a Muslim or Christian," said Mr Chukwuemeka, who holds a national certificate in education, echoing a similar view of shared by Mr Salihu, who added, "our elders (at Katul Crossing) also relate well with one another despite religious and ethnic differences."
Speaking on these unique cases, Ms Akut said, "projecting positive models is an incentive for peace. It helps others see there are benefits in peace. It is not the whole area that is facing violence."
"Live and let's live"
Meanwhile, in Jema'a LGA, a peace deal was signed in September between the Fantswam and Kannikon chiefdoms and the Fulani of Dangoma amid tensions that had claimed lives when armed men, whom the surviving victims and security sources told PREMIUM TIMES were Fulani, attacked Zikpak, a Fantswam community, killing ten persons.
A Fulani leader in Dangoma, 80-year-old Waje Daruna, and a community activist, Abdurasheed Husseini, did not outright accept responsibility for the Zikpak attack in separate interviews but they both said their community had recently lost seven persons, blaming the Fantswam.
Asked if that caused the Fulani to attack Zikpak on July 24, Mr Daruna said, "well, maybe we are annoyed. Two people were killed in the same area in 1992, and seven recently. Enough is enough."
On his part, Mr Husseini said, "we had nothing to do with the Zikpak attack."
Mr Husseini had days before the attack shared a Facebook update threatening Takau, Fantswam community near Zikpak, warning of consequences over alleged disappearance and murder of Fulani men. He later deleted the update. But now he is involved in youth-led peace-building efforts and frequently uses his social media account to advocate tolerance and peace.
"It is a welcome development, which I believe has a lot of potentials to de-escalate the crisis and lay a foundation for peaceful co-existence," said Sanusi Maikudi, a Jema'a Emirate community leader, speaking on the Jema'a peace deal in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES. He said "submission to the rule of law, acceptance of contrary views and a belief in common humanity" would help the peace deal succeed.
"There are extremists on both sides that will not want peace but mature and responsible people should not allow extremists to take over their community because without peace there won't be developed," Mr Maikudi, a public servant and one of the leaders of Muslim Hausa-Fulani in Southern Kaduna.
A Fantswam community leader in Zikpak, Nicholas Billie, said no violence had erupted since the peace deal was signed and that "patience of our people" and "reporting to authority" had prevented the outbreak of another conflict after alleged invasion of a beans farm by the Fulani
"We hope the peace will last," Mr Billie said in his second interview with PREMIUM TIMES, on November 2, after an earlier one in September. Between the two, Mr Billie appears to have moved from a position of resistance to tolerance.
The big test for the peace effort will be in the coming dry season when scarcity of resources, required for crop farming and grazing cattle, takes effect and itinerant pastoralists from the Sahel, including Nigeria's semi-arid far north, move southwards to explore pasture in the sub-humid Middle Belt, which includes Southern Kaduna.
Then, with foreign pastoralists, many of them usually armed, the competition for resources with the farming communities become even more intense. Given the existing fault lines and rare presence of government in remote rural areas, the competition easily snowballs into violence, which usually starts when cattle destroy farms or farmers poison water sources upon which pastoralists and their herds depend.
When a clash then happens, it could be projected as (Fulani) Muslim versus (Middle Belt) Christian battle in the media and public discourse even when the farmer and the pastoralists in the village are barely concerned about any religion or ethnicity but survival and resource-use.
"The philosophy that will ensure nothing bad happens is 'live and let's live'," said Mr Maikudi. "All parties should abide by the rules. The challenge comes when herdsmen allow cows to eat crops, which is something we must insist must not happen. And the farmers too should not poison grasses in the grazing area to kill cows."
He said both the farmers and the pastoralists should re-enact the spirits of cooperation, saying cattle dungs could serve manure for farmers.
A review of widely cited British Anthropologist Roger Blench's work on pastoralism in Nigeria, as well as interviews, suggests the earliest relationship between the Fulani pastoralists and the indigenous farming communities was harmonious, marked, for instance, by the exchange of dung and cereals.
But ultimately, the government should commit to the progressive process of the settled form of pastoralism based on defined property rights to address the problem of recurring friction with the farming communities amid dwindling resources and rising population growth and need for resources. This is one of the pieces of advice offered to the government by the 2015 Martin Luther Agwai report on how to "stamp out" attacks in Southern Kaduna.
Unrestricted pastoralism is considered a cultural feature of the Fulani pastoralists but, as the Agwai report submitted, Messrs Maikudi and Abdallah said the pastoralists would benefit from sedentarisation. However, they said having grown accustomed to open grazing or nomadic practices, a shift towards sedentarisation and restricted pastoralism would require extensive reorientation and government support to build the necessary infrastructure and incentivise the Fulani.
History, present, future
Despite the promises of the peace efforts, many in Southern Kaduna remain pessimistic largely due to absorption in the area's adverse ambience of mutual suspicion and hatred, deeply rooted in a long history of struggles for space and self-determination.
In the pre-colonial era, the area now called Southern Kaduna, was subordinate to the Hausa-Fulani Zazzau Emirate based in northern Kaduna. In that period, several Southern Kaduna Christian elders and opinion moulders, including Bulus James, a retired permanent secretary, told PREMIUM TIMES, their forebears were the victims of the Zazzau slave-raiding expeditions.
So, the non-Hausa-Fulani ethnic groups commonly did not accept Islam even during the early 19th century Fulani Jihad but accepted Christianity later at the beginning of the 20th century, as a symbol of resistance, when it was first brought through the Sudan Interior Mission to Kwoi (Har Kwain), now in Jaba LGA, around 1902. Mr James, a septuagenarian, narrated this in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES at his Gidan Mana family compound in Kachia LGA.
During the colonial era, Southern Kaduna district heads were appointed from Zazzau and one of them was Ja'afar Isiyaku, who later became the Emir of Zazzau (1937-1957}, unsettling people who preferred their chiefdoms and traditional rulerships instituted from among themselves.
These demands have now been granted by successive administrations in Kaduna State, creating several independent traditional stools in Southern Kaduna.
As district head of Zangon Kataf, the Kataf accused Mr Isiyaku of confiscating their farmlands in 1920 and giving them to his Hausa kins. When the Hausa fled the town following the two 1992 violent incidents, the Kataf took over the controversial farmlands, the July 2001 Ahmad Makarfi-era panel reported.
These parcels of land remain a subject of contestation till date in Zangon Kataf and both sides are awaiting the White Paper on the past reports on the crisis.
"We are looking too much into history and everybody is finding justification but in looking into history, we have forgotten there is something called present and future," said Martin Luther Agwai, a retired general and former Nigeria's defence chief, who commanded the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur. Mr Agwai chaired the August 2015 committee on how to "stamp out" Southern Kaduna attacks.
"What will save us is forgiveness," said Mr Agwai. He also called for integration and co-habitation to end a pattern of having Christians and Muslims occupy separate neighbourhoods in various areas in Kaduna.
"Most people in Southern Kaduna are Christians and Muslims; so, if we believe there is a supreme being, whether you call him Allah or God, and when he sends rains he doesn't discriminate, why can't we sit and forgive and settle differences."
Lesson for El-Rufai
The seemingly extreme position Governor Nasir El-Rufai has taken in handling the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, SOKAPU, as well as his public utterances, may also be drawing out the crisis and hardening the resolve of some people in Southern Kaduna against cooperation, one person in his administration told PREMIUM TIMES, asking not to be named to prevent being accused of disloyalty.
Mr El-Rufai's administration has facilitated a permanent military base and a Police Mobile Force base in Southern Kaduna, but the official, who spoke anonymously, said the governor should also be softer and 'more accommodating' of SOKAPU, the harshest anti-El-Rufai group, which presents as the umbrella of the Southern Kaduna Christian populations.
But the spokesperson for the governor, Muyiwa Adekeye told PREMIUM TIMES that the administration "would not condone appeasement as a principle of leadership". "History of this state provides irrefutable evidence that appeasement sustains and reproduces problems. It is better to subject everybody to the rule of law," Mr Adekeye said.
Citing the evident presence of officials from diverse backgrounds, including non-Northern extractions, in the administration, he said Mr El-Rufai could not be accused of bigotry.
"Religion, ethnicity and zoning had been mobilised as bargaining chips but identity politics does not matter to us," he said.
But Mr Agwai, the former defence chief, said many Southern Kaduna locals still see SOKAPU as representing their interests and that the group could help contribute to peace-building.
"Look at the 12-storey building, Governor El-Rufai should see himself as being on the 12th floor and SOKAPU on the sixth floor. What he sees from the topmost level, SOKAPU cannot see it but he can call them and tell them what they don't know," Mr Agwai said.
Ms Akut, the peace commission chief, told PREMIUM TIMES SOKAPU is one of the groups her body is engaging with towards peace.
"I am optimistic," Mr Agwai said of the promises of peace-building efforts and reiterated the importance of justice and development in engendering peace.