Violence erupted in states all over northern Nigeria after announcements were made that Goodluck Jonathan had won the presidential election. Whole towns and villages were razed to the ground by youths, as police and security forces were unable to stem the uprisings.
There are many reasons for this, some more clear-cut than others. The economic inequality between the northern and southern states exacerbated the plight of the teeming number of disenfranchised northern youths who had hedged their future prosperity on the candidacy of Jonathan's northern opponent, Muhammadu Buhari. The highly competitive nature of Nigerian politics contributed its own quota to the violence, as some politiciansrefused to accept defeat. This may have catalysed violence levels, as their supporters embarked on a mission of revenge.
The eye witness account by John Dada, director of Nigeria-based NGO the Fantusaum Foundation, tells of the hard-hitting reality of the destruction that took place in Kafanchan and the efforts being made to rebuild the lives of those affected.
Place of refuge
Dada brought the events of Kafanchan, which suffered some of the worst unrest in the post-election period, to a wider audience. The compound of the Fantusaum Foundation was a place of refuge for more than 200 displaced people, providing shelter, food and clothing. Health services were also in high demand but due to the violence, the Kafanchan General Hospital was closed down and all patients were forcibly evacuated. John Dada and others who chose to stay and help, undertook the evacuation of patients with gunshot wounds and other life threatening injuries to the nearest "rural" hospital. Dada narrated the chilling story of a staff member who was shot eight times, while others fled into the bush. "Virtually all members of the Fantsuam staff lost friends and relatives in the violence, with some still missing", he said.
"The enormous scale of destruction indicated that economic recovery in Kafanchan will require sustained and committed planning and support."
The main market in the town, on which many livelihoods depend, was not spared in the carnage. The tense and inhospitable environment led to the mass exodus of Christian southerners from Kafanchan, and it has only been recently that some have started to return in significant numbers.
Kafanchan is a town located in the south of Kaduna State. Kaduna sits in the north-central part of Nigeria, and like many cities across the country has a diverse mix of culture and religion. The melting pot of ethnic groups adds to Kaduna's historical value, as it was thecapital of the Northern region during the colonial period.
The middle belt and north-central regions of Nigeria are home to both Muslims and Christians. However, the once harmonious relationship between the Christian minorities and the Hausa-Fulani settlers in Kafanchan has been a source of conflict since the end of the colonial period. The long-standing issues stem from the demands of the Christians to be ruled by their own chiefs rather than a Muslim Emir, a demand repeated in towns across central Nigeria. The most notable cases of previous animosity and violence were reported in 1987 and 1992 when riots broke out between Islamic and Christian students of the Kagoro teaching college. Hundreds of lives were lost and mosques and churches burned to the ground.
The 2011 presidential elections carry the tag line of being Nigeria's freest and fairest. One fact that is undeniable is that there has been a tangible shift from the old practises of ballot box snatching and flagrant disregard for electoral laws. Some say the reason for violence lay deep in the historical and social evolution of Kaduna state and, moreover, that the underlying issues have been allowed to fester and spread through many years of underdevelopment and neglect. Certain politicians who willingly accept the "win at all costs" mentality are prepared to ignore the welfare of the young and unemployed when they send them out to do their reckless bidding.
The past thirty years has witnessed a growing divide between communities, loosely based on religion and ethnic lines, with the struggle for resources culminating in outright discrimination and violence. Kafanchan witnessed a high level of violence during this period which led the Bishop of the Kafanchan Catholic Diocese to declare that more than 14,000 people had been displaced. Police reports said that more than 350 were killed and that more than 300 properties were burned to the ground. A large number of sophisticated arms and ammunitions were also recovered from the hands youths, yet the words "overwhelmed" and "slow" were repeatedly used when locals described the reaction of security agencies after the violence erupted.
Governor of Kaduna State Patrick Yakowa was aware of the need for a thorough investigation, and so set up a post-election committee to investigate the explosion of violence. The creation of such committees has always led to a certain amount of scepticism due to the lack of clear cut conclusions and implementation of what the reports normally request. Until the committee completes its task, onlookers will continue to question whether the instigators of the violence have been arrested and charged, if they have accounted for the exact number of lives lost, and if the government has fashioned out a clear cut framework for the reconstruction and reconciliation of towns such as Kafanchan. Answers to such questions seem to veer more towards the negative than the positive.
"The loss of lives and livelihood is demonstrated through the burning down of the Kafanchan market," explained Patrick Yakowa. "When the market was razed down, many of our microfinance clients, who took refuge in the Fantsuam compound, lost cash and properties.
"Survival has become difficult for many Kafanchan residents, and southerners, especially those traders who are among our clients, are moving out in large numbers."
The people of Kafanchan are not alone in the struggle for normality to return. The Fantsuam Foundation, in conjunction with the London-based Dadamac organisation, provide a network so that advice, communication and aid are accessible in the south Kaduna town. Such networks are the reason why I can share with you the plight of those who lost their lives and the many more who are trying to rebuild them. Government response and foreign assistance are in motion, but the bureaucratic bottle-necks have led to a slow pace of intervention. There is an urgent need to iron out the grievances that both sides maintain in order for such acts of violence to remain in the past. This will take extensive dialogue, the will of government and the acceptance of mediators on both sides.
There are, none the less, positive signs. A new market has sprung up, and trade is steadily growing with the meagre resources locals have at their disposal. The mentality of "life must go on" is motivating the inhabitants of Kafanchan to pick themselves up and move forward. A situation caused by poverty and bad leadership led to the mayhem that has impacted the lives of many. Their struggle has been echoed in several towns in northern Nigeria after the elections, but their story will not be forgotten.