Government must bring to justice the entrepreneurs of violence

The spectre of harrowing impunity returned to Southern Kaduna last week when suspected herdsmen invaded the area, killing dozens of people, injuring scores of others and laying waste many communities and farmlands. Before the latest madness, the same herdsmen had a few weeks ago attacked and killed several people in Gogogodo community in Jema’a Local Government, one of councils that also came under attack last week.

Against the background that these suspected herdsmen had also raided Kobin village, Sanga Local Government, earlier in August, mowing down about 20 people, the authorities should have anticipated the latest tragedy. What compounds the problem is that those who ordinarily should help in finding peace on both sides are fuelling the fire that has now been externalised given the mix of ethnicity and religion.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has petitioned the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Ms. Agnes Callamard, on the bloody carnage. According to SERAP, the killings of citizens in Southern Kaduna “would not have taken place if the Nigerian authorities have taken measures to prevent their happening and to address persistent impunity of those responsible for the violations and abuses”.

Many of the communities are accusing the authorities in Kaduna State of holding them to different standards. “It didn’t take the government time to figure out what to do to tackle armed robbery and cattle rustling in the Birnin Gwari area,” said the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan, Kaduna. “Within the shortest possible time, soldiers were deployed and many of the cattle rustlers and bandits were either killed or arrested and cows in their hundreds were rescued. If the government can deploy helicopters and soldiers to Birnin Gwari to help in tracking down the terrorists, why is the same government unwilling to deploy the same soldiers and helicopters to Southern Kaduna to help flush out the Fulani herdsmen terrorising indigenes of Southern Kaduna?”

Unfortunately, the violence, which has the imprimatur of savagery, shows no promise of abating as the combatants, the herdsmen and the indigenous people of Southern Kaduna, find no common ground for peace. Many tribunals of inquiries and peace committees instituted to trace the causes of the several crises and propose sustainable solutions have been unsuccessful in that task largely because government, past and present, lacked the political will to implement their recommendations.

Given the human and material costs of these crises, the federal and state governments need to be more decisive in the handling of this crisis, which has become a virtual criminal enterprise. It is scandalous that since the escalation of the crises five years ago, and in spite the rising body count, not a single person has been arrested, prosecuted and convicted for the several murders that have traces of a pogrom.

It is indeed instructive that after the Godogodo orgy of violence last year, Governor Nasir el-Rufai proposed an inquiry into the violent clashes in Southern Kaduna. But the reports and recommendations of the previous ones, including the 2014 General Martins Agwai-led inquiry and the one el-Rufai instituted on the outbreak of the violence on the eve of his inauguration on May 29, 2015, have not been attended to by the government.

The failure of government to apprehend and prosecute perpetrators of the heinous crimes in Southern Kaduna and elsewhere seems to encourage the propensity for violence as a way of redressing perceived grievances. It is therefore our recommendation that government must bring to justice all those who use unlawful means to settle scores even as it strives to remove the fundamental basis of the strife that had plagued the area for decades. But first, efforts must be made by all the stakeholders to restore peace in Southern Kaduna. For that to happen, we call on religious leaders to desist from inflaming passion with their rhetoric.