A PRESS STATEMENT ON THE ASSO VILLAGE MASSACRE IN SOUTHERN KADUNA
On 15th April 2017, at about 7:00 pm, an attack was launched by Fulani militias in Asso village, Jema’a local government area of Kaduna state. The attack came when the people were in the church for Easter vigil celebration. The killers took advantage of the event by sporadically shooting at the faithful killing at least 12 persons on the spot with many injured.
Having presided over the mass burial of atleast 10 Catholics along with their parish priest Revd Fr. Alexander Yayock the following day, I’m by conscience compelled to make the following statements:
1. The attitude of the state government has been marred by lots of complicity and bias which exacerbated rather than ameliorated tensions. The Governor in most cases seemed to have abdicated his responsibility of being Governor to all us, and instead gave in to the luxury of waging an unrelenting media campaign against Southern Kaduna people. He unabashedly takes sides with the armed herdsmen (His kinsmen) thereby failing in his responsibility as a true statesman, becoming therefore a biased umpire who blames and criminalizes Southern Kaduna victims as the cause of the mayhem. The Governor has made several efforts in the media to discredit figure of casualties that were arrived at through painstaking research, and is known for trying to change the true narrative by presenting the victims as the villain and the aggressors as the prey. The Governor has the penchance of using state apparatus to insult, denigrate, intimidate, arrest and put in prison all voices of reason from Southern Kaduna who dare to challenge his handling of this crisis. Among those that have fallen victims of his tyranny are: traditional rulers, journalists, youths, political leaders, academicians, while threatening our lawyers and other leaders (Religious and Unions) with arrest for daring to speak out against the genocide.
2. The primary responsibility of government as enshrined in the constitution is the protection of life and property of citizens irrespective of ethnic and/or religious persuasion. Any breach of this fundamental principle of social contract contravenes the very reason for which Government exist for. Unfortunately, our government both at the Federal and State levels have failed woefully in this regard because of their inability to rise above ethnic and religious bias. If anything, government has shown outright partisanship in favor of the herdsmen to the disappointment of the majority Southern Kaduna indigenes. Because of Government’s inability to serve as an un-biased umpire in the face of these crises, we are sometimes tempted to belief that there is a well-planned Jihad against the people of Southern Kaduna, and Christians generally in Northern Nigeria as this is amply demonstrated by the incessant attacks and atrocities committed against the aborigines of the Middle Belt region in Northern Nigeria. The sole aim of these attacks is to conquer our people and occupy their lush lands and turning same into grazing fields for the marauding nomads. The Governor of Kaduna State is pursuing this detestable policy by his plan to forcefully take over lands in Southern Kaduna and turn same to Grazing Reserves and Routes for his kinsmen. To show Government’s insensitivity on this volatile matter, there are ongoing expansionist plans to annex more land to the already existing grazing reserves at Ladduga in Ikulu Chiefdom of Zangon Kataf Local Government area and transmute that locality from being a district into an emirate.
3. The killings continue unabatedly in fields and bushes, thereby preventing farmers from visiting and cultivating their lands. This is happening today as the Military and other security forces mount road blocks in towns and major roads while bushes remain un-safe for farming. In the Godogodo and Pasakori attacks in Jemaá Local government area for example, the military merely watched and supervised the killings and burning of homes on the pretext that their mandate did not include fighting the herdsmen. When the youth mobilized themselves to repel the attackers, the soldiers deliberately blocked them from entering the town. The herdsmen and their collaborators turned the towns into killing fields and killed mostly women, children and the elderly who couldn’t run for cover. The level of barbarity was such that pregnant women got their wombs blown out and massacred before their children. And these innocent children were not spared either. This level of viciousness was never witnessed even in the brutal tyranny and regime of Adolf Hitler. What is most intriguing is the level of sophistication of weapons; Ak 47, Machine Guns and many other deadly instruments of death are being freely used by the Herdsmen, leaving wondering how these weapons got to their hands.
4. The Governor has described the Fulanis as vindictive and un-forgiven people. This may simply be the projection of the Governor’s own mindset to an entire people. Our experience living with Fulanis for decades does not prove this. The indigenous communities of Southern Kaduna have been living peacefully with the Fulani herdsmen who came to join them as neighbors until the architects of the view that the average Fulani man is vindictive and un-forgiving came into power. The mayhem and killing with impunity in Southern Kaduna and the Middle Belt region and beyond by the Fulani Herdsmen, using sophisticated weapons is a recent development fueled by this kind of philosophy. To present any person or group of persons as revengeful and to go ahead to support and sponsor a praxis of retaliation as we are witnessing in Kaduna State today, is not only a detestable behavior but an evil mentality that will not engender social cohesion and harmonious coexistence in a plural and heterogeneous setting such as ours. The natives and herdsmen of Southern Kaduna have always had their differences as is common in herdsmen and farmers relationship everywhere in the world. These differences sometime end up in clashes and skirmishes resulting from invasion of each other spaces, but such differences have assumed an un-precedent height under the current government with the use of very sophisticated weapons of destruction. What we are witnessing in Kaduna state is not the so called un-forgiving spirit of the Fulani people towards others, but the transfer of a hate mentality from a handful of people in leadership within the State to an entire ethnic group, with disastrous consequences. All humans are created by God with rationality and the milk of human kindness in their hearts. This often shows itself in love expressed in mercy, compassion and forgiveness. No rational human person is created without the disposition to overlook some offences committed against him or her. Only those with dead consciences are indisposed to show compassion and forgiveness. A world that does not forgive is doom to fail. An eye for an eye philosophy renders the whole world blind it is said. Describing an entire people as un-forgiven is not a plus but a minus for such people. If the Fulanis stop the aggression in Southern Kaduna today, there will be peace in the environment and the entire State. The non-retaliation of Christians to great abuses and violations of their human rights is termed as weakness, which is not correct. God has put the feeling of mercy and compassion in each of us regardless of our ethnicity and religious affiliations. If the Southern Kaduna had been trouble shooting people, they too would have established militia groups and go on rampage in domains other than their own. But alas this is not what is happening. They are being attacked in their sleep and places of worship right in the land that divine providence has given as their own. And even at that, they are told not to defend themselves in the face of aggression. The earlier we rediscover this truth of conscience (that all rational beings are imbued with a spirit of mercy and compassion) and begin to live this truth to the full, the better for our Society. Therefore the promotion of the philosophy that any offence committed is like a debt that must be avenged for either now or in the future is not only false and un-wholesome but it is the figment and projection of the personal idiosyncrasies of a few but powerful people. This mindset if not checked and corrected has the potential to erode the fabric of any social organization.
5. The killings with impunity in Southern Kaduna must not be allowed to continue. And Government in the State has a special and irreplaceable role in bringing this scourge to an end. The current Government in the State must follow the example of past Governments by initiating measures that would unify rather than divide the people of the State on ethnic and religious lines as this Government has been doing since its inception. We have had our challenges on harmonious coexistence in the past. But past Governments demonstrated statesmanship in Governance by bringing stake holders across board to parley on how to resolve our indifference. The current administration in the State seems to dread this kind of interface which had proven to be effective in the past. Government must change its attitude from alignment with people of one ethno-religious group in the State, she must resist the temptation of acting as the mouthpiece of one group against others and begin to display true statesmanship in seeing and treating the entire state as its constituency. The current Government got it all wrong right from the beginning when it openly stated that she will treat the citizens of the State not on the merits of their being Kaduna state indigenes but on the basis of who voted and who did not vote for the party that won the election. This is a wrong premise to operate under a democracy such as ours, which promotes and respects diversity particularly on political matters. We cannot all become members of one Party in Kaduna state. It is unfortunate that this kind of segregational mindset seems to be teleguiding government’s policies, utterances, appointments, and the distribution of infrastructure for development and social initiatives. This Government has taken discrimination on religious and ethnic lines to a height that has never been witnessed in the history of Kaduna. Today we are left with a situation where there is much concentration of development in the North and Central Senatorial districts to the utter neglect of the Southern Senatorial District which is predominantly Christian. The Northern part of the State monopolizes the Executive, the legislative, the Judiciary and occupies all slots of federal appointments such as the ministerial and those of parastatals. This disgusting mentality of premeditated discrimination and marginalization is shown by the lopsidedness in both political appointments, locations of infrastructural facilities, and worst still the delineations of political constituencies and polling units which institutionalizes rigging at source. While the Hausa/Fulani dominated areas in Kaduna State have cornered over 48 Federal Institutions to their domain, southern Kaduna can hardly boast of one of such institutions in her domain. Instead of the current government to work towards redressing this disturbing, inhuman and unjust imbalance, she is rather shamelessly contemplating the removal of the Kaduna State University (KASU) Campus and the College of Education (COE) from Southern Kaduna to his Fulani dominated space. What a shame and a slap to justice, fairness and objectivity in dealing with people.
6. In all these we have watched with pains and patience for about two years now how Government in the State is being managed as a personal estate in a way that excludes many stake holders from the State. We want to state emphatically that Kaduna State is for all of us, regardless of political, ethnic and religious affiliations. Therefore, the Governor should stop running it as his personal establishment. Kaduna State is the only State that we can call our own. And because Kaduna State is our State, we are contributing significantly for its progress not only on the Spiritual level, but also our works in the areas of education, medi-care, social upliftment and building of capacities of the people cannot be ignored. Government must recognize us as equal stake holders in the management and running of the affairs of the State. We do not accept being treated as aliens in our State.
7. Despite these imbalances in our Nation and in our State, here we are again celebrating another feast of the resurrection of Christ. The fact of our Lord’s resurrection revolutionized the lives of the Disciples of Christ. It transformed them from being a timid and sometimes a seemingly clueless group of disciple, to a fearless and courageous team that turned Jerusalem at some point upside down. Our faith therefore in the risen Christ must so influenced and transformed our lives as it did to the lives of the Disciples of Christ particularly at the times of persecution such as we are facing. The injustices in our Society notwithstanding, we exhort believers not to be fainthearted but courageous in facing the challenges of our time. We are to renew our faith and commitment to the living and resurrected Jesus, who triumphed over death and evil as the way to surmounting all the abuses and discrimination that we suffer in Nigeria today.
Most Revd. Dr. Joseph Danlami Bagobiri
Bishop of Kafanchan Diocese and Chairman, Southern Kaduna Christian Elders Association