The Southern Kaduna region has been under siege for many years, resulting in endless killings, sacking of communities and forceful displacement of the people. In this interview, President of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), Hon Jonathan Asake, a former member of House of Representatives, tells ONWUKA NZESHI that the unprovoked attacks were part of a long term Fulanisation agenda in Nigeria
What is the situation in Southern Kaduna today?
Southern Kaduna is under the siege of these herdsmen attacks now. They are just going from one local government area to the other attacking people, mostly soft targets. In most cases, they attack vulnerable communities where women, children and the old people are their casualties. This is what is going on.
They were in Kaura Local Government the day before yesterday where they killed about 20 people, wounded about 32 persons who are currently receiving treatment in various hospitals. You know all these youngsters, one of them got married and they were celebrating in their compound.
These are people of between seven and 21 years of age. But these invaders just went there, rounded them up and started hacking them down. They killed 16 people instantly. Yesterday, being July 20, they started again in Zangon Kataf where they killed 11 people. The mass burial held last Tuesday.
So, like I told you earlier, they have been moving from one local government to the other, just killing people. About four days ago, they were in Kajuru Local Government; they have been in Kajuru for a long time, going from one community to the other and nothing is being done to stop them. It’s the same story every day.
Who are these people killing going round and killing people?
They are Fulanis.
Are they herdsmen or just invaders?
Well, when you say herdsmen, it would seem as if they are people taking their cows to graze, but the ones that are attacking people do not come with cattle. When you hear about herdsmen and farmers clashes, it is fallacy because they don’t kill their victims in the farms.
They go to their homes in the night and kill them.
They kill most of them in their sleep. They burn them to ashes in their sleep.
Where do these killers come from?
They are mostly hired from other places but most of the times, they work in collaboration with the local Fulanis in the area.
Some are actually Fulanis from outside Nigeria working together with their kinsmen from some states in Nigeria.
In our communities, we have the local Fulani who normally come here to graze their cattle and after that they go back to places like Bauchi and other states of the far North.
But sometimes, some of them settle among our people and even learn the language. They can speak some of the languages, depending on where they settle in Southern Kaduna.
What do you think is their reason for these killings?
What do you mean by land? They want to take over your land?
That is the whole thing. They want to steal our ancestral lands and the government is helping them.
The government is aiding and abetting in their agenda to take over the land from the indigenous people of Southern Kaduna.
Which of the governments are you referring to?
It is the government of Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State.
Just today, (last Monday) President Muhammadu Buhari spoke about the crisis in Southern Kaduna and described it as a conflict between criminal groups. Do you agree with him?
It is not the President that is saying all those things; it is Garba Shehu who is working in connivance with Governor Nasir el-Rufai to deceive Nigerians about what is actually happening.
Are you saying that the President couldn’t have said it?
President Muhammadu Buhari couldn’t have said such things. I don’t think that the President knows or understands what is going on in Southern Kaduna. That is the truth. It is Garba Shehu that is issuing those statements. Even the last time there was an attack, he issued the same statement that it is vengeance and counter vengeance.
So we challenged him at a press conference on his statements about the killings being reprisals and we told him that he was fabricating something that does not exist.
There is none of our people that are involved in any reprisal attacks or vengeance mission here. All those people that were killed the day before yesterday, which vengeance were they doing at a wedding ceremony?
We only have armed Fulani gangs that are invading our communities with the sole aim of taking our land, displacing us and changing the demographics of Southern Kaduna. The sad thing is that the government is assisting them. This is what is happening and not those statements Garba Shehu issues from Abuja.
How long has this killing been going on?
To the best of my knowledge, it has been on since 2013.
How many of your communities have these people taken over?
In Akaka Chiefdom, Kaura Local Government Area, they have taken over many villages and most of the original inhabitants of those communities can no longer go back to their ancestral homes. They can’t go to their farms because these people have occupied the land.
Last week, one man attempted to go to his farm to see whether he could still do any thing on his farm, they slaughtered him like a ram.
What is the Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU) doing over this matter? Are you just watching or you’re taking some steps to stop it?
What steps can we take other than to cry out to the world? The truth about this matter is that we have cried out to every quarters but nothing has been done to stop the killing of our people.
In fact we have even gone outside Nigeria to cry out that genocide is going on in Southern Kaduna but nothing has changed.
So, we understand that the government of the day is actually is part of what is happening and therefore not interested in stopping these killings and takeover of our communities.
How does one explain that Zangon Kataf has been under 24 hours curfew for the past months now, but these attacks are still going on there?
So it means the natives of Zangon Kataf are under curfew but the attackers are not under curfew. They still go about attacking the communities and killing people. So what else do we do?
These people normally launch their attacks in the night and when you wake up in the morning, you will see the youths chasing the attackers in anger.
They pursue them with their bows, arrows and machetes and that is when the security agencies will come in to make arrests.
Mind you, the security agencies don’t arrest the invaders, it is the youths and other victims of the attacks that are arrested and detained. So, that is what has been happening.
Are these youths still in detention now?
A lot of them are still in detention for no reason except for trying to resist these attackers. As we speak, some youths of Kajuru Local Government Area have been in detention for a long time. They just find any flimsy excuse to arrest our youths. A lot of times, we have to go and bail them out.
Why have your people not formed a strong vigilante for self-defence?
The military presence here is just to perpetuate the conspiracy against the people of Southern Kaduna.
The so called deployment of security here is to not in our favour but rather to achieve the agenda of those killing our people and displacing them from the land. If the military presence is not there, I am telling you that the so called herdsmen will not be there.
You mean that you people would have been able to resist them?
Exactly. Unfortunately, the security deployed in our communities is meant to protect those who are killing our people.
Earlier, you said you do not think that President Muhammadu Buhari does not know what is happening in Southern Kaduna. Since you became the President of SOKAPU, have you ever requested to see him and brief him about what is happening?
I didn’t say he does not know, I said the people around were issuing those statements without consulting him. But from what we have seen so far of thus government, seeking audience with him will be an exercise in futility. There is an agenda that is directed against us already. We know them and we know what it is they are trying to achieve.
All these things are carried out in a well-coordinated manner to ensure that they achieve their agenda of taking over our land and changing the demographics of the area. So we know that going to see Buhari will be an exercise in futility. The Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el- Rufai has not even allowed us to see him to discuss what is happening in Southern Kaduna, not to talk of the President. This posture of unwillingness to discuss what is happening is part of the agenda against our people.
Sometime in 2018 or 2019, one of your traditional rulers was kidnapped and later murdered as a result of this crisis. What became of that case?
I think that my predecessor and some of our leaders were invited to the United Nations to give a talk on what is happening to us but I don’t know what level the talk reached. However, we cannot resign to fate. We are still fighting on to make our voices to be heard.
What are your political leaders inside and outside government doing to stop these killing?
What can they do? With the emergence of El-Rufai and Buhari, the rule of law seems to have suffered some serious setbacks in this country. The rule of law has taken a back seat, especially in Kaduna State where you can be arrested by security agency on any flimsy excuse. When you are arrested and detained, bail will not be granted until you have spent several weeks in custody.
Example is Audu Maigari, who was detained in that manner and went to court to challenge it. Another example is John Dan Fulani. Another example is Luka Billnyat, the Public Relations Officer of SOKAPU who was also detained for several months. He was working with Vanguard Newspaper and he did a story during the killings in 2016.
The state government did not like what he wrote so they arrested him and he stayed there for more than 140 days.
The other example is the Paramount Ruler of Kurama whose community arrested a very terrible kidnapper and handed him over to the military task force. Thereafter, nobody knows what happened to him later but the government came and said the Paramount ruler must produce him.
Up till now, the Paramount Ruler has been suspended and was detained for almost three months. He has been suspended and nothing has been heard of him again.
So you can see the type of humiliation our leaders and our people are passing through on a daily basis.
Have you taken you case before the National Human Rights Commission to see if they could help over this matter?
We have contacted the National Human Rights Commission several times. Even the former Director General of the Commission, Prof Chidi Odinkalu who saw that the injustice was too much challenged Governor el-Rufai one day, after he announced that 66 Fulanis were killed without proof. Odinkalu challenged him to show the world the graves of those he said, were killed. He took Odinkalu to court and they are still in court.
Can we describe the killings going on in Southern Kaduna as part of the armed banditry in the North- West?
No. No. No. This has nothing to do with banditry. The bandits are just criminals that go from home to home to steal. They are like armed robbers. They are looking for money. They are looking for the wealth of the people that they are attacking. But what is happening in our place is different. These are real Fulani militia that are actually having at the back if their minds to displace the people and take over their land.
They want to subjugate our people and kill as many as possible. Now, that is exactly what happened in Dafur, Sudan. That is how the Dafurians with the backing of the Janjaweeds went to displace the original people in the area.
The militia that we have today go in the name of Fulani herdsmen. The Ruga that the Federal Government wanted to create in Nigeria, they did that same thing in Dafur and called it a different name. If you look carefully, you will see that there are some similarities between what happened in Dafur and what is going on in this country.
What has been the impact of this conflict on your people?
The fact is that most of the communities are agrarian. In places like Chikun Local Government, Kajuru Local Government Zangon Kataf Local Government, Kaura Local Government, Kauru Local Government and Je’maa Local Government, there are communities that have been displaced.
The people can no longer go to their farms. Some communities can only go to their farms when they have agreed to be protected and have to pay protection fee to the Fulani people.
Under this situation our people are facing the risk of famine and starvation because they are mostly farmers but can no longer farm on their land. In addition, many schools in our area have been closed down due to insecurity even before COVID19.
Don’t also forget that this same pattern of Fulani militia invading communities and taking over of people’s lands is going on all over the Middle Belt region. It is the same agenda. In Plateau State, some communities were invaded and people displaced from these places.
The attackers took over these communities and later the government has gone to build a school for the Fulanis who chased out the people and took over the community. The original inhabitants of the communities are now homeless. This is the unfairness in the whole thing and this why I said that it suggests government’s complicity in the conflict.
The networking and conspiracy around the whole thing is so strong. It is not coming from small quarters. It is actually coming from very high quarters in Nigeria.
What message do you have for your people of Southern Kaduna?
Well, my message is to tell our people not to lose hope. We just have to be resilient and defend our land because we have no other place to go. They should continue to believe that sooner than later, a leadership will emerge to do justice to what is going on today.
They should believe that one day a leadership will come who will look at us as human beings – leader that will look at the humanity in each one of us and not look at us through the prism of our religion, our ethnicity, our culture or our political affiliation.
They should be hopeful that we will get a government that will look at us first from the prism of humanity. This is the essence of leadership. We are hoping that this country will grow to the level where we will have a true democratic leadership that will treat everybody as citizens and not discriminate against anyone.