“Every 24 hours a Christian community is attacked in Southern Kaduna”
Interview with Luka Binniyat, Spokesperson of Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) by Onyemaechi F.E. Ogbunwezeh, February 2021
What is behind the persecution of Christians and minorities in Southern Kaduna?
Southern Kaduna endured a great many injustices by previous state administrations led by Hausa/Fulani Muslim governors. But, somehow, past governors also acknowledged that the people of Southern Kaduna were more advanced in terms of education and skills than their northern Muslim Hausa/Fulani counterparts in the state. People from Southern Kaduna dominated the civil service, although most of the top positions were reserved for Hausa/Fulani Muslims.
However, since Mallam Nasir el-Rufai of the All Progressives Congress (APC) became governor of Kaduna State in 2015, Southern Kaduna has come under siege from different fronts. As a Fulani el-Rufai enjoys the protection of the federal government under his kinsman, President Muhammadu Buhari.
How have Christian communities been impacted?
Every 24 hours a Christian home or community is attacked in Southern Kaduna. Attacks are so frequent that SOKAPU can hardly keep count. In 2020, SOKAPU estimated that about N1 billion Naira was paid out by churches and families in ransom to armed Fulani men. The Fulanis’ objective is to weaken Christianity by impoverishing rural areas and terrorising people into leaving.
Today, no fewer than 120 Christian communities have been driven out of Southern Kaduna and their land occupied by armed Muslim Fulani men and their cattle. SOKAPU estimates that the land areas grabbed cover over 4,000 sq km in the local government areas of Kachia, Chikun, Kajuru and Kaura. At least 205 churches and scores of missionaries’ posts and non-secular schools have closed.
This a diabolical plot to change the demography of Southern Kaduna ahead of the census in 2022. Recall that Governor Nasir el-Rufai misled the world by saying that Christians make up only 30% of the population of Kaduna State, instead of the actual figure of 51%. We believe that the aim is to achieve this target.
What can you say about the treatment of church leaders?
In August last year, el-Rufai arrested, detained and arraigned Anglican Bishop of Zaria Diocese Bishop Abiodun Ogunyemi for publicly accusing him of inhumanity in the face of the mass murder going in Southern Kaduna and his cruel policy of demolishing citizens’ properties.
But Ogunyemi is just one of several Christian clerics arrested and prosecuted by el-Rufai for speaking out. In 2016, at the height of the pogrom waged by Fulani armed men against Southern Kaduna communities, el-Rufai appeared on national television and accused Christian clerics of organising the genocide in order to receive aid from foreign donors. He even threatened to arrest Catholic Bishop of Kafanchan Joseph Bagobiri, a vocal critic who has since passed away.
El-Rufai has also made controversial claims about Christians killing Fulani
In February 2019, el-Rufai and his media aide, Samuel Aruwan, declared that Adara natives had murdered 66 Fulani, mostly women and children, and buried them in a shallow mass grave. El-Rufai later upped the figure to 130 dead.
Nigeria was numb with shock that a governor could make such utterances. However, investigative journalists discovered that it was a lie. Kaduna State Commissioner of Police Ahmad Abdulraman a few days later debunked the statement of the governor, saying there was no evidence to back up his claims.
Within days Fulani militia staged the worst genocide ever recorded in Adara land. As the Adara were killed, and their homes and churches burnt, el-Rufai ordered the arrest of the acting traditional ruler, the Wazirin Adara, Engr Bawa Magaji, and eight of the leading chiefs and elders. They were all charged with involvement in the genocide in which their people were the victims. Police carried out an investigation into the bizarre allegation and, after 120 days of imprisonment, these Christian elders were allowed to go home as nothing incriminating had been found against them.
Not a single Fulani leader was called in for questioning over the Adara genocide, in which at least 800 Adara lost their lives and 42 communities were destroyed.
What can be done to solve the problem?
All it requires is the political will of the leadership and military. As it stands now, whenever armed herdsmen invade a community and the neighbouring villages mobilise to go after the killers, a contingent of the military will appear and intercept them. Anyone found with firearms is arrested and charged with possession of “illegal” arms.
All communities should form their own armed vigilante group. The formation of Amotekun security outfit by the southwestern states is an apt example. The Eastern Security Network, formed by Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), is filling Fulani outlaws with fear. They are moving out of the southeastern states.
The federal government should take the issue of border security very seriously. President Buhari has not shown enough commitment to stopping the carnage. The Nigerian military and security outfits are too understaffed. There are currently fewer than 350,000 police officers and the combined military strength is less than 330,000.
In Kaduna State, Governor Nasir el-Rufai should be charged with aiding and abetting genocide.
Who are the influential voices in the state with the power to solve the problem?
The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) are said to be importing the hundreds of thousands of Fulani trooping into Nigeria each year to create new settlements in the six proposed ‘Ruga’ or cattle colonies earmarked for each of the 36 states of Nigeria, including Abuja. This is part of the ongoing jihad and fulanisation of Nigeria, especially the Middle Belt.
Former Central Bank of Nigeria Deputy Governor Obadiah Mailafiah last year revealed that a northwestern governor was a core member and commander of Boko Haram and the armed herdsmen. That got him into trouble. A few months later, the national deputy spokesman of the APC made the same allegation that a serving governor in the northwest was a major sponsor of herdsmen in the north.
The most critical people to talk to are the governor of Kaduna State, the leadership of MACBAN, the Nigerian military and security outfits. As for the victims, SOKAPU is on the ground acting on behalf of all our affected ethnic groups.
What should the international community do?
It should mount pressure on the Nigerian leadership by slamming sanctions on key actors in government. The Fulani herdsmen should be declared a terror group. The international community should also send aid to the victims.
Onyemaechi F.E. Ogbunwezeh, PhD, is Senior Research Fellow at Christian Solidarity International (CSI)