Mass Murder on a Market Day

The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email:

There are many versions of what actually triggered the melee that slipped into the Kasuwan Magani weekly market in Kajuru Local Government of Kaduna State last Thursday. But one fact is constant in all the narratives: By the time the mayhem that looked like a scene from a horror movie ended, no fewer than 55 persons were brutally hacked down. And by the next day, the violence had spread to other communities, including Kaduna metropolis, forcing Governor Nasir el-Rufai to declare a 24-hour curfew that practically put the state capital and environs on total lockdown.

From what I have learnt in the past week, the inhabitants of Kasuwan Magani are not only the indigenous Adara and Hausa Fulani. Residents also include Yoruba and Igbo business men and women as well as professionals like nurses, police, teachers and artisans drawn from diverse places in the country. But majority of the people killed in the latest madness were traders who shuttle across the state in weekly markets from Sunday to Saturday. Aside the cultural and religious undertones to the crisis, the level of hate speech and incendiary messages, especially in the build-up to the 2019 general election, is also very high and may partly explain the violence.

In his statement on Tuesday, the Resident Coordinator for the United Nations in Nigeria, Mr Edward Kallon, underscored the gravity of the situation when he urged the authorities in the state “to seriously look into circumstances leading to these clashes, which have become too common”, even as he appealed “to all stakeholders to commence processes to amicably address their underlying causes and bring the perpetrators to account.” That unfortunately may be a forlorn hope because the crisis in Kaduna is not new neither are the actors. But the authorities, both in the state and at federal level, have been unable to bring perpetrators to justice and put an end to the incessant carnage due to a feeling that they are not neutral. This is not something peculiar to the current administration. Invariably, there has been a trust deficit which then fuels animosity on all sides and the spiral of revenge killings for which our country has now become notorious.

We must be clear about it, there is a connecting thread between the tragedy in Kaduna and the variants of violence we witness in other parts of country with majority of our people, especially in rural communities, left at the mercy of non-state actors aided by compelling socio-economic forces and the divisive politics of the day. If anything, what flows from the Kaduna tragedy is the paltry value we place on human lives in Nigeria where killings by sundry criminal cartels are now almost routine. In the case of Kaduna, there is a story I once shared on this page which was recounted for me by former Governor Ahmed Makarfi. It is worth rehashing because it sums up the madness. It also depicts what I once described as a class dimension to the problem because it would take a certain mindset to engage in this kind of bestiality for manufactured differences.

In the course of one of the religious riots in Kaduna in 2001, according to Makarfi, (who is easily one of the best governors of the state in terms of managing ethno-religious diversity), Muslim and Christian youths had barricaded different areas of Kaduna where they targeted “enemies” for brutal extermination.

How do they identify their victims? Makarfi said they would set “examination” for passers-by. Anybody who strayed into the area dominated by Muslims would be compelled to recite Surat Al-Fatihah and if you miss your line, then you are instantly hacked down as a ‘Kafir’. A similar test was set by Christians in their own area of operation to identify ‘unbelievers’. In the course of that tit-for-tat bloody episode, a Muslim was cornered in “enemy” territory and with the daggers of his would-be-assailants drawn ready to strike, he was asked by his captors: “Complete this sentence, ‘in the name of the father, the son and…”

The hapless guy, according to Makarfi, shouted, “and the mother”. That ignorance of the Christian Trinity saved his life because those who had drawn their daggers were so amused that they simply burst into laughter and allowed him to go. But others were not so lucky. Without committing any offence, practicing a different faith was enough to send many Kaduna residents to their untimely graves. And the cycle of killings without any reasonable justification beyond a mere manipulation of some differences has continued till today in Kaduna and across the country.

What saddens me is that behind all this sectarian violence, there are leaders who give tacit support and provide the weapons being deployed. Until our security agencies are able to identify and deal with them, our society will neither be free nor safe. What we have now is a reign of impunity with people doing whatever they like because they know, or at least believe, that the Nigerian state has lost both the monopoly of violence and the respect of a huge segment of the citizenry.

Meanwhile, it would be naïve of anyone to think that once the current curfew is lifted in Kaduna the problem will be resolved. That is where the federal and state governments have a serious challenge to broker an enduring peace that will require tact and commitment on the part of critical stakeholders. That is why it is also incumbent on all the political, traditional and religious leaders in Kaduna and those who have substantial influence outside the state, to join the efforts aimed at de-escalating the crisis.

The conflicts in Kaduna, like in several other theatres across the country, have become pervasive principally as a result of the politicisation of accumulated grievances. To put the brakes on the violence there is the need to checkmate all appeals to hate and guilt by association. At the end of the day, all contending parties must come to the sober realization that they have nothing to gain and so much to lose under a state of perpetual hostility and enmity. In many of the communities where you have the kind of violence being witnessed in Kaduna, the local economy has crashed while the poverty and deprivation that such state of affairs breeds are in themselves a serious threat to national security.

Indeed, if there is anything that the Kaduna tragedy teaches it is that the government, at all levels, must begin to invest heavily in education and other initiatives that will create economic and employment opportunities for our teeming youths. Kaduna is populated mostly by young people and it is from this group that the entrepreneurs of violence mobilise their army of killers. If there is going to be a lasting solution, it is also important for el-Rufai to begin to build the trust of all stakeholders in Kaduna. That includes members of the political and religious establishments with whom he may have disagreements.

The biggest challenge in this crisis, of course, lies with the federal government and the security apparatus of state. As I stated recently, by retaining a team that is interested more in regime protection for him than national security, President Buhari is helping the cause of those who accuse his administration of being complicit in the killings that now define our country. It is particularly worrisome that no arrests are made after these killings, implying that there is likely no grip on the situation. And even in instances when arrests were made in the past, they were usually not to serve the end of justice but to exact a form of vengeance which then becomes a ready excuse for future reprisals.

There is also another issue of the growing pool of young men from where these killers are recruited. It is within that context that I have always argued that there is a class dimension to the violence in Nigeria. The victims as well as those who kill them belong to the same class of the poor and vulnerable of our society. Whether in the North, East or West, and regardless of the language they speak or the God they worship, the reality of Nigeria is that the poor and the uneducated—those who live at the margin of the society are easily manipulated by those whose family reside far away from the fires they ignite with their hate campaigns.

Nothing perhaps demonstrates that reality better than the statement made on Sunday by Mr Nnamdi Kanu, the misguided leader of the so-called Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Following his re-emergence after 13 months of silence during which many of us were indeed very worried about his whereabouts, he made one of his usual broadcasts. After claiming that he had “returned full-time and I am coming home and I will bring hell with me,” in his latest rant, Kanu then said: “The Army of the zoo killed my dog Jack and a few other people in my compound.”

Kanu, who holds a British passport and whose family is safe and secure in the United Kingdom, could remember the name of his dog that was killed in that unfortunate saga but the people he claimed died within his father’s compound were nameless. It’s either he considered those people unimportant or nobody died. Whichever is the case, what Kanu demonstrated is the contempt those who incite others to violence in Nigeria have for their gullible victims. We see the evidence of that in the growing numbers of such nameless people who have been caught in the orgy of violent blood-letting in several theatres across Nigeria, including Kaduna.

Incidentally, I have at different times spoken with stakeholders on both sides of the Kaduna divide and one thing I have discovered is that it’s hard to create trust in an environment where people have been conditioned to believe the only way to deal with differences is to fight until they ‘win’ forgetting that such ephemeral ‘victories’ are certain to plant the seed for future battles. But the greater issue is that the Kaduna problem, like most others in the North-central, is tempered by below-the-radar issues that the combatants would not openly talk about. After all, as one writer surmised, “the most dangerous part of an iceberg is not the part you can see, it’s the part you can’t.”

However, whatever may be the contending issues, it is the responsibility of leaders, formal and informal, to recognize how those presumably buried contentions, and the emotions around them, have for decades undermined peace and progress in Kaduna and other such locations in Nigeria. And until we come to terms with the fact that the diversity of Nigeria in terms of culture, ethnicity and religion is a source of strength, these violent eruptions will continue and our society will neither develop nor thrive.

• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on