In Nigeria, biased and prejudiced official security reports is a major problem that heightens tension as victims end up being blamed instead of the aggressors, because of the Nigerian “factor” of tribal or religious affiliation. A typical example has been a situation where militant herdsmen vanish after their deadly attacks and the poor villagers try to react to protect or defend themselves. They often end up being the ones apprehended, detained and tortured by the security forces. This was the case with the “kona” youths.
The Co-adjutor Archbishop of Abuja and Apostolic Administrator of Jos Nigeria, Msgr Ignatius Ayau Kaigama made this known in a message released and made available to Aid to the Church in Need regarding the conflict which started on the 6th of May, 2019 as a clash between a Fulani herdsman and Jukun Kona Farmer at Yawai Abbare in Jalingo Local Government of Taraba State, Nigeria and lasted for more than a month, degenerating so badly that at the end of it, 18 villages were attacked and burned down, 65 persons were killed and 9000 displaced, 15 Churches, two primary schools and a health care centre were also destroyed.
“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.”, he said. “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 favors 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!”, he remarked.
He explained that the reaction of security agents should have been prompt and devoid of what has sadly polarized Nigerians at all levels: religious and ethnic prejudices, but this was not the case. According to him, the violence went on unchecked for a protracted period and the attempted attack on Kofai on 16th June provoked the Kona youths who felt that they had been neglected. They set up roadblocks and out of anger and frustration tried to antagonize the soldiers. They claimed that they were shot at and arrested for rising in defense 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.
Msgr Kaigama explained that when he heard about the helplessness of the people, he was impelled to contact security personnel and top government officials for their intervention. He, however, expressed disappointment at the negative response he received from some of them. “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.”
“It becomes obvious in some cases that security officers become prejudiced about what happened during a crisis”, he said. He further commended the response of the Vice President of the Country, Professor Yemi Osinbajo who listened to him and promised to act. “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.”, he said. Only guerilla attacks now take place as farmers who attempt farming their farmlands are killed”, he continued, “Three persons were killed the morning of my visit of 10th July.”
According to the Archbishop, 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. The Archbishop recalled that 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. This he said, 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 and there is need to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to get to the root of this matter, he suggested.