REFLECTIONS/LESSONS FROM THE MAY/JUNE 2019, FULANI/KONA CONFLICT
BY IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA, APOSTOLIC ADMINISTRATOR OF JOS AND COADJUTOR ARCHBISHOP OF ABUJA ARCHDIOCESE
A Fulani herdsman and a Jukun Kona farmer at Yawai Abbare in Jalingo Local Government of Taraba State were said to be at the root of the conflict which started on the 6th of May, 2019, and degenerated so badly that at the end of it the Jukun Kona counted their losses and documented the attack and burning of 18 villages, the killing of 65 persons and the displacement of over 9,000. Fifteen (15) Churches, two primary schools and a health care centre were also destroyed.
The extent of damage suffered by the Fulanis is not known to me. They too must have suffered the loss of animals, homes and dear ones especially during the attack launched on the Kona village of Janabanibu where both parties suffered casualties. In Nukkai, a family Mosque was set ablaze; in Kofai village, a modest market Mosque was also set ablaze. Some cattle were said to have been killed in some of the villages.
As usual, what actually triggered the crisis will remain at the level of conjectures. The Fulani and the Kona are each telling their story in a manner that favours their ethnic group. This explains why, too often when a security authority adopts a particular narrative without factual, analytical and objective consideration of the stories peddled around, and comparing very well the narratives of the parties concerned, a distorted report could be made to the “oga at the top” or for the consumption of the public. In such cases the aggressor could easily become the victim while the victim becomes the aggressor!
It beats my imagination that in Nigeria when there is a misunderstanding, people tend to vent their anger and frustration on places of religious identity and worship, trying to give what is a social conflict a religious coloration. This is reprehensible. It is surprising too that those who claim to be “believers” would destroy places of worship and even take lives without the slightest compunction.
This Fulani/Kona crisis seems to be a replication of the event of the 1890s between the Jukun Kona people and the Fulani in Jalingo(cf.https://www.afrikanistik-aegyptologie-online.de/arch…/…/1573). It has unfortunately escalated and worsened the relationship between these two tribes. Something must therefore be done urgently and fairly to bridge the gap and heal the historical wounds. Genuine justice and reconciliation must be pursued. I strongly suggest the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to get to the root of this matter that is not likely to go away soon.
My aim of penning down these reflections is so that lessons could be learnt to avoid such catastrophic occurrences resulting in unspeakable atrocities, wounded interpersonal relationships and high degree of mutual suspicion.
Following the hostility between the Fulani herdsman and the Kona farmer on the 6th of May, houses began to burn, gunshots rang out like fireworks, gunmen mounted on motorcycles were shooting indiscriminately at anyone they perceived was an enemy. What people thought was a simple misunderstanding that could be easily resolved became frighteningly serious. The violence went on unchecked for a protracted period and the population of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) began to swell because of the increasing attacks of the gunmen.
As a member of the Jukun Kona minority ethnic group and hearing about the helplessness of the people, I was impelled to telephone the Governor of Taraba State, His Excellency, Darius Ishaku, but he was said to be out of the country. I then contacted the Secretary to the Taraba State Government, Mr. Anthony Jellason, who confirmed the situation but assured me that efforts were being made with the Police to restore order and peace. Days after, with no peace manifesting, everyone was getting very apprehensive. I phoned the Secretary to the Taraba State Government to kindly give me the telephone number of the Police Commissioner, Alkasim Sanusi, and the Deputy Governor, Egnr. Haruna Manu. The Commissioner of Police who said he was on board an aircraft gave me the telephone number of the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) in charge of operations, Faleye Olaleye. When I called the DCP and asked how the situation was, his immediate remark was, “your people like fighting”. I asked him who my people were since we are all Nigerians? I explained to him how many people were complaining that since the start of the crisis, no security personnel was seen in Kona even when threats to invade Kona were becoming obvious by the day. The DCP asked me to look outside the window to see the police personnel. I told him that I live in Jos but my contacts in Kona informed me that since the crisis started nearly one week earlier, there was no sign of any security presence. I must confess that I had a rather rough and not too easy conversation with the DCP. Since I was the beggar for security favours for the helpless people, I had to tread cautiously as he repeatedly said that police had been sent to Kona. I insisted that it was possible that they were sent from the office, but they could probably be elsewhere! Eventually, he sent me a text message which read: “Sir, I want to assure you that adequate security and deployment have been made to all the areas in question and Kona in particular. Am on my way out to check on all the deployment please.” The priest in charge of Kona parish and some elders with whom I was in touch later confirmed the presence of the police that night.
In the absence of the Governor, I called the Deputy Governor, Engr. Haruna Manu, on the same night of May 10, and informed him of the worrisome security reports from the area. I also told him about my rather rough conversation earlier with the Deputy Commissioner of Police and he was surprised that our conversation took that tone. That same night I called the General Officer Commanding the 3rd Armoured Division in Jos (Major General Nuhu Angbazo) whose sphere of responsibility extends to Taraba State and he promised to look into the situation. He even asked me to commit to writing the information I related to him, which I did. I equally spoke to and sent a text message to the Secretary of the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha.
Of all the people I telephoned, it was the not so polite response, reaction and attitude of the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Taraba State in charge of operations that surprised me the most. In my nineteen years as the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, I have had a good working relationship with all the Police Commissioners, GOCs, SSS Directors, Civil Defence Commandants, Commanders of Operation Safe Havens posted to Plateau State, to the point that not too long ago after successfully working together to avert what would have been a great crisis and bloodshed in Jos, I invited them to my residence where we shared ideas, because of their commendable cooperation with the Church. Each time there was a new senior security officer in Jos they visited my office or we met at dialogue fora, such as the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre which I founded in Jos in 2011.
As President of the Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa (RECOWA) I had to travel to Burkina Faso to preside over the one-week meeting of the Conference, made up of English, French and Portugese Catholic Bishops. Even though gunmen had attacked parts of Burkina Faso a day before we arrived, the President, His Excellency, Marc Kabouré, was very calm, generous and hospitable. Apart from helping us with some logistics, he was present at the opening of our Assembly of the Conference, received us in his palace, appreciated our spiritual and moral solidarity and joined us at the closing Mass.
After returning to Jos, I contacted the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Jalingo again to ask how things were. He said I should ask my people and asked that I shouldn’t call him. I insisted that I was calling on a friendly basis to know how they were faring since we last spoke. He retorted by asking if “friendship is by force?” and told me to call the Commissioner of Police, if I wanted. I did, and the Police Commissioner was more polite and friendly. I thought we had become “friends”.
On the 15th of June, anonymous phone calls poured in to the effect that the attackers were threatening to proceed to Kona to “cut off the head of the Chief” and wipe out the village. I became very troubled and called the Commissioner of Police again. He was this time not as friendly as he was when we first spoke. He asked me to quickly tell him why I was calling and to go straight to the point as he did not like any pleasantries or greetings. In our tensed discussion, he told me that he was travelling in a car and was busy and he went on to explain that we have different perspectives or understanding of issues, since he was an action man, while my scope is spiritual. I insisted that we have a joint responsibility for peace and must collaborate to defeat evil with the police who say, “the police is your friend”. After some moments of discussion he changed his mood, but told me not to call him again but, to assign that task to someone in the village. I recommended my brother, Mr. Fidelis Kaigama, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Taraba State Civil Service Commissioner and gave him his telephone number. He requested that Mr. Fidelis should see him on Wednesday, 19th June. Mr. Fidelis tried calling him all of Wednesday and Thursday but the Commissioner’s number was inaccessible and so they did not meet.
In my heart, I was struggling with the temptation to question the neutrality of the Police Commissioner and his deputy in the Fulani/Kona conflict and wondered whether ethnic/religious prejudices have not crept into official performance of duties.
On June 16, I was so agitated by the manner of response of these two most senior police officers in Taraba State. My spirit told me to try telephoning the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, who kindly returned my call. After some pleasantries, I told him how flattered I was that he returned my call and that he had punctured my belief that very top government officials are not sensitive or accessible to the “common people” and hardly want to hear directly from them. I thanked him for his humble and courteous disposition and for patiently listening to my story about the hostile development between the Fulani and the Jukun Kona. I stressed that I did not want lives lost or property destroyed on either side. He asked me to put the information in writing, I had it ready around 12.50am of June 17 and emailed it to him. He acknowledged receipt not long after. The next day I got a call from the Secretary to the Federal Government explaining why he could not reply to my earlier call and text message. I recounted to him what I had told the Vice President about the situation in Kona, including the tone of conversation I had with both the Police Commissioner in Taraba State and his Deputy. I requested for the telephone contact of Mr. President since as our political father I should be able to have access to him to convey the cries or the agony of the people. but I am yet to get that favour granted!
When on June 15, I spoke to the Governor of Taraba State and enquired about what was happening, his big concern was that even though he is the chief security officer of the State, his orders are not sometimes complied with as security agents would prefer to take orders directly from Abuja. I also called the Governor of Plateau State, His Excellency, Barr. Simon Lalong, and shared my experience and frustrations and asked if he could facilitate my getting the contacts of Mr. President or the Inspector General of Police. All the people I contacted did help in one way or the other.
After the brutal attack on Janabanibu, the 14th village attacked that left nine people dead on the 17th of June, a more pronounced security presence and action was felt in the area of Kona land. The attempted attack on Kofai on 16th June provoked the youths who felt that they had been neglected. They set up road blocks and out of anger and frustration tried to antagonize the soldiers. They claimed that they were shot at and arrested for rising in defence of their community against the marauding herdsmen. Kona women in their hundreds went on a peaceful demonstration to protest the killings and the harassment and detention of the Kona youths by the security agents while the real aggressors (gunmen) had vanished after their deadly attacks. I spoke with the GOC in Jos who appealed that the youths should cooperate with the soldiers and that any act of indiscipline committed by any soldier should be reported to him. I gave him the telephone number of my brother, Mr. Fidelis, and they had meaningful and fruitful discussions. The GOC even invited me to preside at the prayer event marking the “Army Day” in Rukuba Barracks, Jos on the 30th of June, to pray with/for and encourage the soldiers. Owing to a pre scheduled programme in Abuja, I asked if my Vicar General, Rev. Msgr. Prof. Cletus Gotan could stand in for me and the GOC agreed. The GOC informed me later that the event was very successful.
I believe that my asking the Vice President to intervene led to the pronouncement by President Buhari on the 20th of June that Kona land and its people should be protected. Through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the President condemned the attacks on the Kona people and warned that attacks on innocent people, in the name of revenge, or whatever motives, would not be tolerated by government. By God’s grace, there was some measure of peace. On June 22nd, I had a 26 minute phone conversation with the Inspector General of Police, Adamu Muhammed, who said the Vice President spoke to him about the crisis in Kona land and that Governor Simon Lalong gave him my telephone number. We had a cordial conversation and he promised to look into the issues raised. It was however surprising that since the crisis started in May it was only after the Vice President spoke to him that the Taraba State Commissioner of Police who was in Abuja for another meeting could adequately brief him about the situation. The Inspector General of Police said he asked the Police Commissioner to return to Jalingo and ensure that peace was restored.
Somehow, the directive to the CP of Taraba State from the Inspector General of Police has helped. Some army personnel are very helpful too. Only guerilla attacks now take place as farmers who attempt farming their farmlands are killed. Three persons were killed the morning of my visit of 10th July. After visiting the ten army personnel posted to Kona and the four policemen stationed in Kona, I telephoned the GOC in Jos who was so grateful that I could visit to pray with the soldiers posted to Kona. I rang up the Inspector General of Police and he immediately asked the Taraba State Commissiomer of Police to contact me and he did. We had a very cordial conversation this time around. I informed him about how there are only four policemen in Kona with no office or accommodation and only with two riffles, while the six posted to Nukkai don’t even have riffles! The CP shared some of his challenges with me and we discussed for over thirty minutes. I encouraged him to get a standard police station in Kona. He also said he was seeking for collaboration to hold a peace conference in Jalingo.
The big question is: After the return of peace, what next? The people are displaced, no homes to return to, no farming activity possible, etc. Again, there is the anxious fear that the attacks could erupt again. With only four policemen in Kona with two rifles and six in Nukkai with no rifles, more should be done to secure Kona land and the various communities affected by the crisis.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNT
It is retrogressive to resort to conflicts which end up in the loss of lives and property. We should all say a categorical “no” to violence.
Both farmers and herdsmen contribute to the economic survival of our nation by the produce of their labour. They should be able to coexist peacefully, but the government must make deliberate efforts to integrate farmers and herdsmen peacefully, through dedicating substantial resources to improve agricultural and pastoral methods in Nigeria.
I commend the Vice President who LISTENED to me with respect and understanding. I appreciate the GOC of the 3rd Armoured Division who was very courteous and polite as well as the Inspector General of Police who spent so much time to listen to the issues I raised. These should be the virtues of security or political officials. Our leaders should be accessible to the so-called “ordinary people”.
I am further very impressed that after I visited Kona, Jalingo and environs, I communicated with the Vice President to ask for an appointment. This he kindly granted to me at 3.00 pm on Monday, 15th July, 2019 in his office, during which we reviewed not only what was affecting Kona land but the threatening security situation in different parts of the country. That the Vice President could find the time to allow me meet him one on one is a pointer that good governance could improve considerably if major stakeholders have the opportunity to reach out to the authorities to share information with them outside of the formal structures they have and also for the stakeholders to get information about what is being done by government that the citizens may not know about. I discussed the need to review security presence in Kona which is the headquarters of Kona land and to ensure that police posts are established and well equipped in some strategic surrounding villages; the need to resettle the displaced and to guarantee their means of survival and safety and also the need to set up a truth and reconciliation committee to reconcile the Fulani and the Jukun Kona people for peaceful coexistence.
Basic interpersonal relationship skills are required of those in high offices and more so, those in sensitive security positions. It becomes obvious in some cases that security officers become prejudiced about what happened during a crisis. It is important that various stakeholders should cross fertilize ideas during crises situations whether one is in uniform with guns and the other is in (cassock) clerical garb.
I commend the President, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, for speaking out in favour of protecting the endangered people of Kona land. Minority tribes need protection not extermination. I pray that Mr. President will ensure that both Fulani and Kona people are safe and treated equally and hopefully, he will have the same commitment to resolve the differences between herdsmen and farmers raging in different parts of Nigeria.
Our leaders should find time to hear directly from the grassroots outside of the official government structure which most times hinder the poor and powerless from stating their case or getting a sympathetic hearing from the authorities. If security agents know that the local people can supply information to the top echelons of political or security authorities, they (security personnel) will be more humble in their service and more compassionate to the people that they are meant to protect.
Many people believe that the crisis has something to do with political differences or that it is a reaction to the creation of a second class chiefdom for Kona land, a very new development since the Fulani 1892 attack on Kona. Both the Federal and State Government should objectively dig into the historical root causes of Fulani/Kona crisis in the Jalingo area. It should be clearly and objectively established how and when the Fulani came to dominate Jalingo after attacking and destroying the Kona fortress in 1892 with the help of one French Navy Lt. Louis Mizon, who wanted to expand the influence of France in the region of the Benue river as part of a wider scheme by the French Colonial Department to gain France more influence in West Central Africa. This happened during the reign of the Emir of Muri, Muhammadu Nya.
The Fulani Emir of Jalingo should know that after about 127 years of Fulani domination, the people of Kona in demanding their autonomy are not asking for too much and by peacefully claiming the just award of a second class chiefdom after several decades, they are not doing anything wrong.
Biased and prejudiced official security reports heighten tension when they blame the victims instead of the aggressors because of the Nigerian“factor” of tribal or religious affiliation.
This sadly keeps the fire of the crisis raging. Generally, it is when the militant herdsmen vanish after their deadly attacks that the poor villagers try to react to protect or defend themselves. They often end up being the ones apprehended and detained and tortured as in the case of the Kona youths.
Government must realize that due to the insecure environment, people are resorting to providing themselves with means of self defence, some of which are often more sophisticated than those of the security agents.
Security agents must be helped by the authority concerned with adequate security logistics and improved incentives. The reaction of security agents must be prompt and devoid of what has sadly polarized Nigerians at all levels: religious and ethnic prejudices. In times of crises, security agents must be well empowered but their actions must be impartial and professional devoid of the activities of fifth columnists among them who may sabotage sincere security efforts to bring order and peace.
There should be appropriate communication facilities set up in the grassroots to enable the common people send distress calls to security agents in the face of violent attacks or conflicts.
There should be a deliberate strategy by political and security authorities to protect minority groups in Nigeria.
May God answer our prayers and pour in abundance His peace upon us all in Nigeria, so that the much desired development and progress will become our middle name instead of destruction and killings.