For over eight years, so many communities in Southern Kaduna have been under the siege of suspected herdsmen which has led to loss of hundreds of lives and millions of Naira worth of properties.
In this report, some of the survivors, who now seek solace in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, share their harrowing experiences with Persecondnews.
Six years ago, 47-year-old widow, Hajara Silas, from Chibob village, Zangon Kataf local government area in Southern Kaduna had a home, five children, several relatives and farmlands.
She enjoyed living in the comfort of her family house with her children and relatives, while going about her normal daily activities to fend for them.
Little did she know that everything she had worked for so hard for years will perish in a twinkle of an eye in one night. Hajara’s agony began July 2017 when their village was attacked by suspected herdsmen.
“They attacked our village on July 2017, around 11 p.m. Most people had retired to bed by that time. I was still awake and about sleeping when I heard gunshots and people screaming.
“I immediately knew we were under attack because we have been hearing stories of their attacks on neighboring villages, but never knew this day would come.
“The only thought in my head at that moment was how to escape with my children. My last child and second to the last child were sleeping in my room, while my other two children slept in one of my relations’ room in the same family compound.
“I immediately backed the youngest one who was two years old then, while I dragged the second one by the hand. I ran to where my other two children were, but discovered they had been killed alongside my relations.
“With one child strapped to my back and holding the second one’s hand, I kept running looking for a way to escape. The attackers had positioned themselves at all the escape routes, so the only option I had was through the river.
” It was very dark, I could barely see properly and didn’t know how the water level was. I struggled to cross the river in spite of the heavy tide as it was raining season at that time. I was determined to save myself and my children so I entered the river my with 2-year-old son on my back while I held onto the hand of my 6-year-old son.
“While crossing the river, I didn’t realize my son I was carrying on my back had slipped into the river and was swept away by the river tide. I only realised when I got to the other side of the river. Everything happened so fast. I was devastated and wept profusely but still managed to escape with only my 6-year-old son.
“I thank God my first child wasn’t around when they attacked us, she was staying with one of my relatives in another village. If not for that, I would have been left with only one child; the one I escaped with,” she narrated her horrific ordeal to Persecondnews amidst tears.
The persistent attacks by these suspected herdsmen have so far displaced over 270,000 people from 285 communities in Southern Kaduna with thousands of lives wasted. Many live in constant fear of being attacked, killed, or kidnapped, so they have been pushed to flee their villages with nothing more than the clothes on their body.
The insecurity in Southern region of Kaduna which comprises Jema’a, Jaba, Kagarko, Kachia, Sanga, Kaura, Kauru, Zangon Kataf, Lere, Kajuru and Chikun LGAs, have robbed the indigenes of their homes, livelihoods, happiness and even sense of safety. Kajuru and Chickun are the worse hit local government areas.
Life in IDPs camp
A 32-year-old, Hannatu Kefas, from Unguwan Gankon village in Southern Kaduna, bears more than the burden of not only losing her husband, inlaws and friends, but also lost her home.
“During the attack in August 2021, which started late in the night and continued into the early hours of the morning, Gunmen shot sporadically at people and burnt down several houses. I was eight months pregnant then and couldn’t run for long, so I and my husband ran and hid in a place where they kept pigs. While hiding there, we didn’t know how they were able to find us and dragged us out.
“They slaughtered my husband like an animal in my presence, butchered him into pieces and forced me to roll on the floor and mourn him. The asked me to keep rolling on the floor and crying till I go into labour. They said they wanted to force the baby out of me. I don’t know why they wanted to do that, perhaps to also kill my baby.
“While I kept rolling on the floor and crying, they saw that time was no longer on their side as they had to leave out of fear of being caught. They finally left without killing me. I was lucky to have survived and I also gave birth to my baby safely at the IDP camp here in Zonkwa a month later,” Hannatu narrated to Persecondnews.
The Coordinator of Gidan Rahama Christain foundation IDP camp, popularly known as Mercy Camp in Zonkwa, Rev. Gambo Waziri, a minister with Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), told Persecondnews in an exclusive interview that Hajara and Hannatu’s cases are special cases out of many, as they were extremely traumatised when they got to the camp and had to be referred to a trauma centre to recover and be healed from the excruciating pains the attackers had put them through.
Persecondnews gathered that 44 women put to bed in the camp with 42 of the babies still alive while two died. The camp which is located in Zonkwa town, Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Southern Kaduna, houses mostly women, who most of them have been widowed by the crisis, and children.
“When we found Hajara, from Chibobo community, she was really traumatized. It was so bad that we had to take her to a trauma center in Jos to heal and recover from what happened. Thank God she is okay now and has moved on. We even sent her back to Jos after her treatment, for a business training.
“We raised some money for her after the training, and she is now into buying and selling. She doesn’t stay in the camp anymore, she is now on her own, but comes regularly to camp now because she is learning a vocation in the camp.
“For Hannatu Kefas, her case was really pathetic because she found it difficult to sleep. She was always screaming and crying from her sleep, calling her husband’s name. The whole scenario of what happened kept replaying to her anytime she close her eyes. We also had to refer her to the same trauma centre in Jos,” the Coordinator of Mercy camp Rev. Waziri, told Persecondnews.
Speaking on how he started the IDPs camp, he explained: “I didnt have any experience or plans of IDP camp. I was actually coming back from a church program when I saw people trooping into Zonkwa and they were so helpless.
“So I just took it upon myself to start an IDP camp because of them, even without experience. I took the risk and contacted the authorities, local government, the DPO, the DSS, and all other people concerned. Because they knew me they gave me maximum support.
“That day around 11 a.m. we started with about 40 persons, but before the end of that day, we ended up with 900 persons. A lot of them were still hiding in the bush helpless without knowing where to go, so we had to mobilize trucks and buses to go deep down into the bushes to rescue them.
“We finished conveying them from the bushes to the camp around 12 midnight. That was how we ended up with about 900 that day.
“The following day when others heard about the camp, the number increased to 1,200. After two days it increased to 2,400. Before you know, we had not less than 8,000 IDPs. They are from 25 different communities. The experience was not funny because up till this minute, nobody can boast of being my sponsor.
“Some People saw what we were doing and started supporting. We received support from different organizations, NGOs, churches, and individuals, but there was no support from the government.
“When we started, we managed to ensure we gave them three square meals. But as the journey got tougher and the numbers kept increasing, we started giving them two square meals; breakfast around 11 a.m. and the last meal around 5 p.m. or 6 p.m.
“Also, all the people that were wounded by gunshots, matches, and others were my responsibility. We had a nurse and health workers who were attending to them in camp, but for those that were beyond our control, I took them to the hospital. We took some to Jos, Kaduna town and others around Zonkwa hospitals. The experience is not funny. At a point, I had to sell my land and some of my properties to take care of them.”
The Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) Spokesman, Luka Binniyat, expressed concerns over the incessant killings and kidnappings that have been going on in the area since 2016, adding that no culprit has been arrested and prosecuted.
In an exclusive interview with Persecondnews, Binniyat disclosed that the attackers, who according to him are Fulani militias, have driven away the natives of these communities and taken over their lands.
“It is more like a war of conquest and alteration. The size of the communities that have been taken by herders when you combine the size, is about 6,000 square kilometres of land. They have taken over these lands and have been living there since 2016.
“Thousands of residents of these sacked communities and surrounding villages are leaving their homes in droves as; internally displaced people, for any area they may find some measure of safety. We have about 270,000 IDPs from these communities.
“When they attack, they burn down houses, steal, rustle cows. They dispossess our people of their wealth. The number of people that have been kidnapped in Southern Kaduna alone are 120,000.
“There is no day that somebody is not kidnapped in Southern Kaduna. In 2020, our people paid a ransom of N4 billion for release of kidnapped victims. Unfortunately, some didn’t get released, they were killed after ransom were paid.
“They are doing this because there are no consequences for their actions. Rather it is the leaders and elders of Southern Kaduna that have been arrested and tried in court.
“Not one Fulani militia have been arrested knowing fully well they are the ones behind the attacks. At least 15 Southern leaders have been jailed for daring to speak out or even being implicated by the government.
“For the IDPs, govt has not shown any form of commitment to their welfare. They have not done any single thing for the IDPs,” he lamented