The Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, SOKAPU, has described the recent community peace-building initiatives in Nigeria’s historically tensed Southern Kaduna as “cosmetic”, claiming that they are elite-focused.
The new peace initiatives, which have been underway since August this year, are community-led efforts intended to end the historic deadly conflicts affecting most of Southern Kaduna.
The conflicts are mainly between the predominantly Muslim Hausa-Fulani, on one hand, and about 50 other ethnic groups. Among them are the Kataf, Takad, Fantswam, Adara, Ham, Bajjul, and others, who are predominantly Christians and together form the majority of the population in Southern Kaduna.
In the most recent wave of violence sweeping through the area between July and August this year, armed men who victims and security sources described as Fulani, embarked on a campaign of vindictive violence leading to the loss of lives and leaving communities in ruins.
The Fulani had in June suffered material and human losses when they were targeted in June by youth, whom multiple informants, including survivors, security sources and a local Chawai leader, called Kataf and Chawai.
Towards the end of August, the Agwatyap, the paramount ruler of the Atyap (Kataf) Chiefdom in Zangon Kataf Local Government Area (LGA), hurriedly convened a peace summit to halt the raging violence, bringing together Hausa-Fulani and the Kataf communities and later birthing the multi-stakeholder Community Security and Peace Partnership Committee.
Such initiatives have been replicated in parts of Jema’a and Kajuru LGAs, spotlighting fresh prospects of peaceful co-existence in Southern Kaduna.
However, speaking in a telephone interview with during the weekend, SOKAPU’s president, Jonathan Asake, said his group “is not positive” towards the prospects of the peace-building efforts.
“It’s not because we don’t want peace; in fact, nobody wants peace more than we do,” Mr Asake said.
“But we believe peace is not achieved through a cosmetic process. There must be justice first. People attacked without provocation at night by Fulani invaders and the governor (Nasir El-Rufai) keeps denying and saying it is communal clashes.”
He also said the peace efforts were elite-led and did not involve local people and victims of attacks. This is substantially different from our own findings.
People, including women and youth, from villages where attacks had happened, have been participating in the peace efforts, witnessed during our field reporting in the area.In one of the cases, witnessed a direct dialogue between Adara women and Fulani men in Doka, Kajuru LGA, seeking common understanding to sustain the peaceful atmosphere the community now lives under after a long period of conflicts.
Mr Asake said no Hausa-Fulani community had been targeted in attacks. But when told of Iburu in Kajuru LGA and other communities in Kauru and Zangon LGA where Fulani settlements were fatally attacked in June – which we confirmed during our field reporting – he said those “were reactions from our people, when they woke up and realised their families had been killed. But our people (Christian non-Hausa-Fulani groups) will never embark on any premeditated attack with provocation.”
SOKAPU presents itself as the umbrella body and mouthpiece of the Southern Kaduna groups, excluding the Muslim population, whom Mr Asake mentioned have formed their own body, Southern Kaduna Muslims Development Association.
SOKAPU is not a registered body and the administration of Governor Nasir El-Rufai seems to prefer working with other institutions, including traditional councils and distinct community development associations in its Southern Kaduna peace policy.
SOKAPU is also, arguably, the harshest critic of Mr El-Rufai, repeatedly accusing the governor of marginalising Southern Kaduna Christians and favouring the Hausa-Fulani in the conflicts.
Muyiwa Adekeye, spokesperson for the governor, however, had previously said, “what is cast as bias is basically that this man (Mr El-Rufai) has refused to be boxed to drop his insistence on equal rights and citizenship. Some people want a focus on indigeneity instead of citizenship but we can’t condone that in the 21st century.”
Ready to work with El-Rufai?
At least one official in the administration of Mr El-Rufai, who asked not to be identified by name, told that the position the governor has taken in handling SOKAPU, and his public utterances, may be drawing out the conflicts and hardening the resolve of some people against cooperation.
Former Chief of Defence Staff, Martin-Luther Agwai, who chaired the August 2015 committee on how to “stamp out” Southern Kaduna attacks, shared this view in an interview with .
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, which presents as the umbrella of the Southern Kaduna Christian populations.
But the spokesperson for the governor, Mr Adekeye told 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 extraction, 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.
Mr Asake, SOKAPU leader, confirmed to that his group had met with the Kaduna State Peace Commission.
When asked if his group would be willing to cooperate with Mr El-Rufai, Mr Asake said SOKAPU under his leadership “is ready to partner with the government and other socio-cultural groups in the state in pursuit of peace.”
He said he had made a public statement about his group’s willingness for cooperation towards peace, as long as there is justice.