After years of bloodbath and destruction of property in southern Kaduna, the federal government has decided to establish a military base in the area to try to put the situation under control, but how far can this go? John Shiklam, in Kaduna, writes
After several years of killings and destruction in the southern part of Kaduna State, as well as agitation by the people for military and mobile police formations to end the carnage, the federal government has finally decided to establish military battalions in the area. On February 4, Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, laid the foundation stone of the military base in Ungwan Yashi, at the outskirts of Kafanchan town.
The Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, said the federal government approved the establishment of two military battalions in southern Kaduna, stressing that the second one will be located in Kachia.
For several years, the southern Kaduna people had demanded the establishment of a military base in the area to check the activities of rampaging Fulani herdsmen, who invade villages, kill and destroy property. But such agitations had fallen on deaf ears.
The marauders have for long exploited the fact that it takes hours for security agents, who are always deployed from Kaduna, the state capital, to reach the affected communities to perpetrate their evil act.
El-Rufai described the setting up of the military base in southern Kaduna as a dream come true.
“This foundation laying ceremony is a promise fulfiled because when we were campaigning for the governorship of Kaduna State, we promised whatever we can do to persuade the federal government to establish a military and mobile police formation in southern Kaduna,” El-Rufai said during the foundation laying ceremony.
He added that President Muhammadu Buhari had based on the recommendation of the COAS approved the establishment of a second military base in Kachia. “We are grateful to the president and the Chief of Army Staff for the military formations because it will enhance the security of lives and property in our state, particularly, in this part of our state. This is a promise fulfilled and for that, I am a happy man. The construction of the barracks will take a little longer.”
The governor added, “We cannot wait for a little longer. We need to provide the Nigerian Army facilities so that they can deploy as many officers and men as needed to keep peace in southern Kaduna.” He denied allegations that his administration was not doing enough to address the southern Kaduna crisis, urging his critics to look beyond rhetoric.
El-Rufai said his administration had done more in terms of security in that part of the state than any other government in the last 20 years.
The governor stressed that the military units would help to end the impunity that had gone on in southern Kaduna for years.
According to him, “We have had 11 crises in the past. By God’s grace, this will be the last one. It will not only be the last one because we are investing in security and establishing military bases, but because we are going to prosecute those that caused this mayhem.
“Each and every one that we can get our hand on will be brought to justice. Gone are the days that there would be crisis like this, there will be commission of inquiry, white paper and nothing comes out of it. This people will go to prison for what has happened in southern Kaduna.
“This, I promised you. We will do whatever we can to ensure that those behind this and those that participated in this are brought to justice.”
Buratai, in his remarks, at the ceremony explained that the decision to establish the military unit was based on a threat assessment carried by both the Army Headquarters and the Defence Headquarters. He said, “We have been tasked to defend the territorial integrity of our country and to defend it also from any external aggression and, indeed, to support the civil authority in the area of internal security.
“The unit has the primary responsibility of providing internal security to the area.”
Buratai maintained that the Nigerian Army was committed to the peace and security of all parts of the country and urged the people of southern Kaduna to be peaceful.
Before the foundation laying ceremony money, Buratai visited the Chief of Kagoro, Dr. Ufuwai Bonnet, and the Emir of Jama’a, Alhaji Muhammadu Isah Muhammadu II, where he appealed to the royal fathers to encourage their subjects to embrace peace.
Buratai stated, “Peaceful coexistence is key to our development. We have lived together for a long time in peace and harmony and we must continue to live together. We are here to maintain peace and we will do that through the application of rules of engagement. Our troops are under instruction to strictly adhere to the rules of engagement. We are here to protect everybody doing our job professionally.
“People have started returning to their homes. While there are some isolated cases of killings, we want to assure that we are ever determined to move into the bushes and other hideouts to fish out the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.”
Many people welcomed the establishment of the army battalion, saying it will ensure quick response to any security threat in the area.
National assistant secretary of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Dr. Ibrahim Abdullahi, said a military formation in the southern part of Kaduna was long overdue, nothing however that the key to peace is in the hands of the people.
Abdullahi said, “It is something that we have been calling for, for so many years. If you look at commissions and panels that were set up by previous administrations (to investigate the crises in the area), their recommendations contained requests for the establishment of military and mobile posts in the southern part of Kaduna.
“So we commend the federal and the Kaduna State governments for responding to this very important need of our people even though people must have the will to live in peace with one another.
“I think the military presence there will help a lot in solving the problem. But the most important thing is for people to agree to live in peace.”
He stressed the need for dialogue among the people as a tool for resolving issues.
However, a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in state, Mr. Mark Jacob Nzama, maintained that the military formation was not the immediate solution to the current problem. According to him, the military unit may be a long term approach to the issues.
“It is not a solution to the current challenges. The current challenge has to do with a gang of marauders hiding in the bushes, who come out intermittently and attack people and withdraw back to the bushes.”
“Government had admitted similar situations in Kaduna State where criminals chose choice locations and from there launch attacks on communities. Government had demonstrated in those instances, for instance, the Kamuku forest in Birnin Gwari, we also have the Zamfara experience.
“Government in those instances exhibited interest in solving the problem. What government did was not to go and build a barracks in those places; government moved in with speed and force into the forest and confronted the criminals.
“The result was apparent, the criminal elements were routed out of the bushes and the criminality was checked. I can say it very clearly that when government is interested in solving a problem, it knows exactly what to do.
“We saw the prompt action of government in the Zamfara matter. The president personally flew in there and was in a military fatigue for the first time since his retirement to demonstrate the seriousness with which they were handling the issue and set up a taskforce.
“The same way the Kaduna State governor went to Birnin Gwari and set up a taskforce made up of the army, the air force and the police. They didn’t wait for any barracks. So for me, it is welcome, but this is not what is needed in an emergency.”
Bishop of Anglican Diocese of Kafanchan, Rt. Rev. Markus Dogo, said the military formation for southern Kaduna was belated, though, it was a welcome development.
Dogo stated, “It is a welcome development even though it is coming late. We are hoping that the military and the police will be more proactive. The only thing we are waiting to see is if they will enter the bushes and flush out the criminals from their hideout. I must confess that there is some knifing here and there in some of the villages.
“In some villages, people cannot go the farms because of fear of being attacked. We hope that it will bring about the needed peace.”
Many, however, are of the opinion that even if the entire Nigerian Army deploys to southern Kaduna, there will not be peace unless the people embrace peace.
However, barely a week after Buratai and El-Rufai laid the foundation stone of the barracks, unknown persons went to the site in the night and damaged it.
El-Rufai, while condemning the demolition in a statement by his spokesman, Samuel Aruwan, said the action “further confirms that the conflict entrepreneurs are determined to continue to create obstacles and setback to our stabilisation and peace building efforts.” The governor said, “I received the news with shock over the unfortunate destruction of the foundation laying structure of the proposed Nigerian Army battalion in southern Kaduna. The situation is unfortunate, condemnable and a setback to the government’s communal stabilisation and peace building efforts, but we will not be deterred.
“We urge our people that cherish peaceful coexistence to continue to be resilient, focused and resolute in overcoming antics of forces of darkness and evil.”
According to him, those behind the demolition are determined to derail the contributions of the security agencies to the peace effort, having failed to spread their tentacles of hate, bigotry and penchant for divisiveness.
Vowing to fish out those behind the demolition, the governor appealed to people of conscience to remain firm and optimistic. He assured that government and the security agencies, civil society, religious and traditional institutions will continue to work for peace and security of life and property.
The Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, the umbrella body for ethnic nationalities in the southern part of Kaduna State, which for years had advocated for a military formation in the area, also condemned the destruction of the foundation. SOKAPU in a statement in Kaduna by its public relations officer, Mr. Yakubu Kuzamani, said it was saddened by the destruction of the foundation.
“As an organisation that has been vigorously pursuing an increased presence of the military in an area deliberately neglected and abandoned for a long time, we totally frown on such acts of recklessness,” the statement said.
The vandalism of the military base’s foundation stone is symptomatic of lingering hostility towards increased security presence in the area, and this has been laid at the door of the killer herdsmen still holed up in the bushes of southern Kaduna. Many believe, therefore, that as a veritable first step in the attempt to stabilise the security situation in the area, there should be a conscious effort to rid the bushes of the armed bandits.