By Hussaina Yakubu
Gov. Nasiru El-Rufai of Kaduna State has again challenged those claiming genocide and land grabbing in Southern Kaduna to present evidence of such atrocities.
The governor threw the challenge when he received National President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Samson Ayokunle on Monday in Kaduna.
He stressed that the southern Kaduna crisis was nothing more than “totally unnecessary frenzy of communal attacks, reprisals and revenge.”
El-Rufai noted that the latest crisis was triggered by a dispute over a piece of land.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the CAN President was briefed by security chiefs on the nature of the crises which spurned over 40 years and efforts being made by the government to contain it in the last one month.
“The briefings represent our answer to the terrible avalanche of skewed narratives of the current crisis, ranging from outright lies about the nature of the conflict to baseless claims that the Kaduna State Government is doing nothing to contain and resolve it.
“Part of the false narrative of the history of violent conflict in southern Kaduna is the loose use of terms like land-grabbing and genocide. They are being used in this current cycle of conflict, just as they were in the 2016/17 and the 2011/2015 cycles.
“We have requested and encouraged anybody to present evidence of an inch of land within Kaduna State that has been forcibly or illegally occupied.
“Were such a clear, physical and actual transgression to occur, it will constitute not only injustice against the community displaced, but a challenge to the authority of the state within its territory that cannot be allowed to stand.
“We challenge anyone to characterise or differentiate the communal clashes, attacks and killings in parts of Northern and Central Kaduna State, as well as in Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and Niger States from those in Southern Kaduna.
“Is it because in all the other cases, the victims are lesser humans or lacking in voice and media hype? What happened to our common humanity?”
The governor also briefed the CAN delegation of the efforts the government has made since 2015 to stop the violent conflict, address its causes and create a path for the diverse communities to live in peace and security.
He said that some of the efforts included the setting up of a committee chaired by Gen. Martin Luther Agwai to study and proffer ways to stamp out attacks in southern Kaduna which had intensified since the violent aftermath of the 2011 elections.
Others were addressing the problem of sara-suka gangs, widespread cattle rustling and other acts of rural banditry, establishing military and mobile police outposts in Kafanchan, as well as a peace commission among others.
“The army established a base in Kafanchan while the Kaduna State Government bought an estate to accommodate a mobile police squadron.
“The Federal Government also extended the mandate of Operation Safe Haven, based in neighbouring Plateau State, to southern Kaduna and appointed a commander of the rank of colonel to lead the sector covering parts of the area.”
He added that the state also collaborated with other states in the Northwest and Niger State to undertake joint military and police action in the Kamuku-Kuyambana forest which served as a hideout to bandits, cattle rustlers and armed robbers in the Birnin-Gwari axis.
“In September 2017, we established the Kaduna State Peace Commission to help encourage communities in our state to adopt peaceful means of resolving their differences.
“The commission is chaired by Most Revd. Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, former Anglican Archbishop of Kaduna and current Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion.
“The Executive Vice-Chairman, who runs the Peace Commission on a daily basis, is Priscilla Ankut, a lawyer who is well-known in the peace and conflict sector.”
He noted that the current round of violence was triggered by a clash over unresolved farmland.
El-Rufai explained that he revisited the reports of 1992 and 1995 Zangon-Kataf crisis “to address the procrastination of past governments on the disputed land and other key recommendations that required an official White Paper.”
He assured that the government will continue to support security agencies to restore calm in the affected communities.
“Over the last five years, we have invested heavily in the security sector. We have consistently provided vehicles and other logistics support to the security agencies that are deployed in the state.
“We are also addressing the technology side of security, through the procurement of drones, the award of contracts to install CCTVs in phases in Kaduna, Kafanchan and Zaria metropolitan areas, build a command and control centre and establish a forensic laboratory.”
El-Rufai noted that apart from the recurring crisis in southern Kaduna, bandits have continued to attack communities everywhere, including the northern and central parts of the state, killing and kidnapping citizens and stealing their cattle and other valuables.
“In one night in February 2020, Kerewa in Igabi LGA lost 51 persons to these mindless bandits.
“These bandits continue to threaten communities in Birnin-Gwari, Giwa, Chikun and parts of Soba and Zaria LGAs, shooting farmers on their farms and spreading fear in the rural areas.
“People are being killed in similar criminal actions by bandits in Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina and Niger State.
“Nobody has trended a hashtag or video campaign on the suffering of these citizens because they don’t promote ethnoreligious divisions.
“We should avoid creating the impression that pain and suffering matter to us only according to the tribe or faith of the afflicted.
“And we should corroborate and verify, not rush to trumpet the claims made by those with whom we share ethnic or religious affiliations,” he told the CAN leader.
The governor emphasized that the wave of violence across the country requires a common front of good people from everywhere against the criminals wherever they are from.
“There is no point sectionalising, religionizing or ethnicizing security challenges, even though they may have different local inflexions.
“There should be an equality of concern for all lives, no matter their ethnic origins or religious beliefs. There should be an equality of concern for the rights of all persons to live in peace and security everywhere, in strict obedience to the law and civilised norms.”
El-Rufai added: “Faith should not be a reason to seek to destroy others. Neither should it be a bargaining chip. I appeal to you to help us push our compatriots in the path of letting our faiths incline us to be better citizens.”
He noted the recommendations and 8-point requests of Ayokunle, saying already, some of the recommendations are being implemented.
“We need to do more. We look forward to working with you in constructive endeavours to deliver peace, security and better life chances for all our people.”
In his remarks, the CAN President said he led the delegation to Kaduna in view of the ongoing crisis and the need to stop the continuous killings in the State.
He advocated for a round table solution over the matter rather than throwing counter-accusations between government and other stakeholders over the killings in southern Kaduna.
According to him, everyone looks up to the Governor as a father of the State and the understanding with which he should handle every accusing finger pointed at him
“Your office is like that of the dung where all kinds of rubbish are dumped. When you were not in charge of the governance of the State, nobody was pointing accusing fingers at you”.
Ayokunle said no bandit or cattle rustler should be allowed to strike and disappear without being apprehended and prosecuted.
He encouraged people to engage in community healing, forgiveness and reconciliatory meetings to bring different ethics groups in communities together so as to chart the way forward for peace.
Ayokunle further called on the government to strengthen the State Emergency Management Agency and the State Peace Commission for the development and rebuilding of southern Kaduna.