How the Kaduna State government persecutes journalists who report on genocide
by Steven Kefas - published 12 January 2022
Steven Kefas, a journalist from Kaduna State, was recently the subject of a profile at Slate.com about his efforts to cover the ongoing Fulani militia attacks on his home state, and the Kaduna government’s repressive response to his journalism. Here, Kefas recounts in his own words his struggle, and the struggle of his colleagues, to tell the truth about the attacks in Southern Kaduna.
In recent years, Kaduna state in northwestern Nigeria has become an epicentre of unprovoked killings, especially of Christians and other ethnic minorities. In the southern half of the state, hundreds, if not thousands, of communities have been destroyed, displaced and in some cases occupied by AK-47-wielding Fulani herdsmen militias, one of the deadliest terrorist movements in the world.
Amidst the massacre and destruction of communities, the state government led by Malam Nasiru El-Rufai, a Fulani himself, has continued to watch as terrorists take over communities from one local government area to another in the Christian-dominated southern half of the state. In most cases, in fact, the state government has made excuses for the perpetrators of such crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, the mainstream media, which ought to be reporting these atrocities committed against Southern Kaduna Christians, have all gone mute or report on them only reluctantly, often downplaying the extent of the massacres.
I and a few other journalists and activists from the area have taken it upon ourselves to accurately report the atrocities as they occur. But we have found ourselves persecuted for rightly reporting the killings of our kith and kin.
I am a journalist from Southern Kaduna, the area of Kaduna State facing the existential threat posed by these mindless killings. When it became obvious that the massacre of people in Southern Kaduna was never going to stop, I felt that I had no option but to take on all the risks involved in telling the very horrific stories of man's inhumanity to fellowmen. These risks, which may yet include the loss of my life, have never been lost on me; but failure to do so would mean to cowardly take the side of the oppressor…
I made this decision at a time when the Kaduna State government had declared war against journalists and activists who dared to tell the true story of the Southern Kaduna genocide.
Luka Binniyat, a journalist with Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper, was the first to be arrested for simply doing his journalistic work. Binniyat is among the very few journalists who have remained consistent in reporting on the pogroms in Southern Kaduna without fear of intimidation by the state government. As a consequence he spent over one hundred days in prison in 2017.
That same year, Midat Joseph, a journalist with the newspaper Leadership, was arrested over a comment he made in a WhatsApp group set up to support victims of Fulani herdsmen terrorism in Southern Kaduna.
In November 2018, a broadcast journalist, Segun Onibiyo, was arrested on the orders of the Kaduna State government and thrown into prison for 30 days over allegations stemming from his comments about the killings in Southern Kaduna on a social media platform.
Personal experience of persecution
On 8 May 2019, it was my turn. I was abducted by state agents in Port Harcourt, where I lived, marking the beginning of a 162-day period in confinement. My arrest was in reaction to an article I had written in April 2019, entitled, "How the Kajuru genocide started" (referring to the massacres of Adara people in Kajuru Local Government Area that year).
In detention, I was subjected to psychological torture. By the time I was released in October 2019, my health had severely deteriorated in the horrible conditions of the prison. I faced a myriad of health challenges after my release, including a liver illness caused by a deadly virus.
But the campaign against journalists reporting on the genocide was not finished. In January 2021, an award-winning journalist named Ibanga Isine fled the country after several threats to his life over an investigative report he did revealing the ongoing massacre in Southern Kaduna.
Finallly, in November 2021, Binniyat was arrested again. The Kaduna State government jailed him over a report he authored about the killing of 38 people in September in Abun and Madamai communities, both in the southern part of the state, where he hails from.
Binniyat's trial has been a sham and a total mockery of the judiciary, an institution which ought to be the last hope of the common man. Binniyat spent the Christmas holidays in prison and will likely remain longer, as the court isn't allowed to be independent in his case.
One thing remains common to all these persecutorial arrests: all the victims wrote advocating against and drawing attention of the world to the genocide in Southern Kaduna. The state government has deemed this act to be inciting and defamatory.
The state government’s war against journalists leads many to believe that the government is more interested in covering up the genocide than in bringing it to an end.
Steven Kefas is a Kaduna-based journalist and human rights activist