Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 24 September 2013 | 4,561 times
A quick glance at my international passport was what I needed to reassure myself that Kafanchan, a rusty and sleepy town in the southern part of Kaduna State, remains my place of birth on record.
Cumulatively I spent about 20 years from childhood to adulthood in Kafanchan. My home town, Ndiuche-Arondizuogu in Onuimo Local Government Area of Imo State, and Kafanchan my birth place share only but one similarity – gross underdevelopment.
But Kafanchan has maintained notoriety as a centre of inter-ethnic and inter-religious riots as against the background that it used to be the hub or settlement for all ethnic nationalities because of the presence of the then thriving Nigerian Railways regional office.
The soul of Kafanchan died immediately the powers-that-be conspired to kill the Nigerian Railways Corporation through their treacherous criminal act of corruption and economic crimes. As poverty bit harder and the youth could not find easy employment, rioting became an interesting pastime and because we have very weak justice and law enforcement system in place, rioting has become an industry made very rewarding by government’s consistent payment of huge cash through government officials purportedly for victims of the riots who in any case never get close to this naira rain. Just pay a visit to Kafanchan and ask any of the youth what the cause of the frequent riots is; the possibility is remote that he/she will give the precise reason for this irrational vicious cycle of violence.
This consciousness of taken a quick glance at my passport bearing Kafanchan as my birth place was sparked off and rekindled inside of me by the frightening dimension that the intermittent violence of unprecedented nature has assumed a deadly dimension in Kafanchan with the latest bloody fratricidal upheavals between the indigenous tribal peoples and the largely Hausa/Fulani settlers which reportedly resulted in the killing of an undetermined number of people last week.
The violence was so serious that the government of that state had to declare 24 hours curfew.
Because of conflicting accounts of what led to the latest round of senseless mass killings, I decided to check the online community but what I read was traumatizing and frightening, at least as someone born and bred in Kafanchan.
A chilling account by Sahara Reporters, the United States-based online newspaper, told the readers that several persons were feared killed following hours of street battles by the warring factions.
At the onset of the latest street clashes in Kafanchan, Sahara Reporters alerted the readers of what it termed a brewing tension in Kafanchan, a town that recorded the first ethno-religious riots between Muslim and Christian students in 1987.
I was was a high school student at the time that this first riot aforementioned was sparked off few metres away from our school – Teachers Training College. That riot started from the College of Education Kafanchan during a public event by a convert to Christianity. Those riots later escalated to Kaduna, Zaria and parts of the present Katsina State, which was at that time in the old Kaduna State.
But a bigger conflagration was underway because, as we all know, shortly after the 2011 election, Kafanchan was set ablaze even as several dozens of innocent people including my uncle (Mazi Uche) and his wife were massacred.
A similarity between the reaction of the security agents in both the 2011 post-election riots in Kafanchan and the latest violence is that while police authorities claimed to be on top of the situation, observers later discovered that indeed the rioters had defied the security agents and were going about their deadly bonanza of killings in Kafanchan.
Another harmonious scenario that marks almost all of the bloody conflicts in Kafanchan is that people caught in the act of killing other human beings and participating in arson and other well coordinated hate crime are never successfully prosecuted in the competent court of law thereby letting them out to roam the streets freely, only to reenact another round of bloody killings.
The response of both the state and federal authorities has always fallen short of adopting legal-based measures to bring perpetrators to justice. Sadly, government officials usually see post-crises periods as avenue for financial windfall and bonanza of sharing of public fund in the name of payment of post-riots compensation.
For instance, just after the 2011 post-election violence in Kafanchan, the state government rebuilt the burnt Kafanchan market and made heavy weather of the sharing modality of 70 percent to Muslims and Igbo traders and 30 percent of the shops to the indigenous ethnic traders.
No mention was ever made of successful prosecution of the perpetrators of the dastardly act of killings of innocent people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in a bulleting of December 25, 2011, reported about how the reconstructed Kafanchan market burnt by rioters was shared. NAN quoted the then local council chairman, Mr. Yunana Barde, as saying: “The sharing formula was to ensure equity and ensure that those with shops at the burnt market were catered for and placated.”
The chairman, who was reacting to the controversy that surrounded the relocation of the market after the former one was burnt during the post-election violence, said the remaining 30 percent of the stalls was shared among the natives.
“We wanted all segments of the trading population to see the market as their property and strive to protect it from being destroyed by anyone. We also wanted to put a lie to the allegation that we had a hidden agenda to corner the shops and deny some segments of the people the right to own shops and do business in Kafanchan,” Mr. Barde was quoted as saying.
At the national level, President Goodluck Jonathan was reported to have approved the release of huge sums of public funds to compensate victims of the post-2011 election riots in Northern Nigeria, including Kafanchan. The Presidency had on April 25, 2013 announced that it had approved N5.7 billion for this purpose.
Reuben Abati, the spokesman of President Jonathan, said only nine out of the 14 states affected would benefit in the first phase of the compensation package. No mention about how many rioters are behind bars for these despicable crimes against humanity.
This unconstitutional pattern of treating rioters and their sponsors as sacred cows by both federal and state government is the fundamental cause of the regime of impunity which intermittently sparks off inter-ethnic and inter-religious crises in Nigeria. What is more, because post-conflict sharing of financial largesse has become an industry, the riots seem a distant possibility of ending and the vicious cycle of violence may continue.
Shehu Sani, one of the few patriotic activists from the North, took his time to research on the root causes of the frequent violence in Kaduna State and captured some of these reasons in his book titled “The killing fields”. He wrote thus: “Ethnic and religious manipulations have been the major cause of the lethal conflicts that have come to characterize relationships among different religious and ideological adherents.”
In the thinking of Shehu Sani, ethnicity has become such a potent tool for mobilization in Nigeria to the extent that ethnic nationalism engendered by the process is fast replacing true nationalism.
Ethnicity and religion, he asserted, ought to have served as instruments of national integration. They ought to have been used as tools of actualizing national objectives. Sadly, religion has not been used to serve its purpose and this has to do with the perception of people about religion, the writer affirmed.
In the same book, Sani raised the alarm that the behavioural reaction and perception of the Muslim and Christian faithful to issues, have given room for misconception in the inter-religious relationship between Muslims and Christians. “They have bred assumptions, stereotypes and suspicions. As long as we insist on passing judgment on others by the verdict of our perception and refuse them the opportunity to explain themselves to us, who and what they are, we are creating room for conflicts in our inter-personal and inter-religious relationships,” Sani concluded.
Federal and state governments in all parts of Nigeria must stop the vicious cycle of making bloody riots juicy and financially rewarding but must respect the Nigerian Constitution by allowing competent courts of law to award appropriate sanctions for the grave offences of mass killings. The process of arrest, investigation and prosecution of offenders must be professionally handled because mass murder must never be tolerated and government must end the vicious cycle of commercializing violence through payments of compensations largely to politicians soon after every riots.
Kafanchan, like most other parts of Nigeria, seems to be in a state of siege as captured powerfully by the poet Professor J.P. Clerk in his poem titled “A State of Siege.” J.P. Clark wrote in that poem included in his collection of poems titled FULL TIDE, thus: “What times are these we live in that everyday brings news of innocent men and women killed in cold blood, with the police often out of sight and hearing doing what everybody knows? Either it is armed robbers running amok in homes, offices and streets, or it is assassins in random attack for power and spoils. Some will even shoot a man before his wife and walk calmly out to speed off into broad daylight, while others cut up husband and wife, and drive over them.”
The poet also sang thus: “As if the wailing is not heard at all on high, on any day, at an hour and place known only to some men of straw burning the land, mayhem may move to market, church and mosque then merge silently with night. And so the first office of law of the land is shot dead in bed, with a wife, a judge superior locked up in her room, as was earlier an associate and a wife in common cause, and all the cases end up as farce in high and royal courts.”
Professor JP Clark concluded that “These are strange times indeed, men, tarred with terror against their own, still swear they all adorn the seat of state.”
•RIGHTSVIEW appears twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).
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