She will never forget the event of March 11, 2019, in her lifetime. Perhaps no one who suffered such a fate would forget it in a hurry. The grim reminder of the sad day is glaring for anyone to see.
No, she was not born with a deformed left limb. For the first 21 years of her life, she had a full limb, until March 11 of last year when a group of suspected militant Fulani herdsmen seized control of Dogon Noma, a quiet village in Kajuru Local Government Area in the southern part of Kaduna State, killing and deforming the villagers.
Scores of villagers were killed in the onslaught, according to media reports.
That day, Rahila Godwin, 22, said the attackers came, singing “war songs” and declaring that the villagers should pack their belongings and leave the community.
According to Godwin, the song the attackers sang was in Fulani, and could be interpreted thus: “The owners of the land have come, the visitors should pack their bags and go.”
She added, “They invaded our village, singing war songs. In their songs, they stated that since we refused to vacate the land, then they the ‘owners of the land’ would chase us away.
“They said we were just wasting our time farming because when it was time for harvest, they would return and take the grains.”
Godwin, who was nine months pregnant at the time, was in the kitchen around 6 am on that day trying to prepare breakfast when the marauders arrived.
She carried her four-year-old daughter, put the child on her back, and sped with the little strength she could gather. Unfortunately, there was no one to help her as her husband was away while her first child and son had already fled the scene. She had two aged mothers, hers and her husband’s, who could barely run to escape from the attackers.
Recounting her experience during a recent trip by our correspondent to Kaduna, Godwin said as she fled, she fell into the hands of the herdsmen, who told her they would do to her something she would never forget in her lifetime.
True to their words, they cut off her left limb with a machete and left her to die with her pregnancy. The herdsmen also injured her four-year-old daughter who was with her.
She said, “That day, I was in the kitchen preparing breakfast for the family while my first child was outside sweeping the compound when we heard loud noises. No one needed to tell us what the noises were all about. There was screaming everywhere. The Fulani herdsmen had come.
“So, I quickly carried my daughter, tied her to my back, and began to run. My son had also fled. But they caught up with him and killed him. I also fell into the attackers’ hands not quite long after fleeing the house, and that was how I got a deformed limb. They cut my hand with a machete. They also scratched my daughter’s back with a machete.
“As we were fleeing, I saw as they burnt down our house and other houses in the community. Everything was burnt to ashes. My mother and mother-in-law were also with us. My mother was blind and didn’t see where she was running to. I couldn’t help her. As she was running, she fell down. This was before I was caught by the herdsmen.
“I saw one of the attackers lift a machete and cut my mother. I grieved from where I hid with my daughter. Thankfully, she survived, though we didn’t know this initially. It was after the attack and the men and youths were clearing the corpses that they discovered that my mother didn’t die.”
Godwin said she was also taken to the hospital and admitted for three days. She delivered a baby on the third day, but it was a stillbirth.
“Everything that has happened to me – my murdered son, a stillbirth, and my deformed limb – is a constant source of sadness to me,” she said with teary eyes.
The 22-year-old said she now lived in Kaduna after a Good Samaritan gave her and her four-year-old a shelter. She added that her helper also gave her some money to trade, with which she started selling soft drinks in the neighbourhood.
Her husband still lives in the village, farming.
‘My heart has yet to heal’
On the same day the herdsmen attacked Godwin’s village, they also attacked that of Jummai Victor, a 35-year-old from Ungwan Barde in the Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
Victor said the villagers were preparing for burial when the attackers stormed the community, shooting indiscriminately and causing commotion everywhere.
She said, “It was my husband who first noticed the invasion of the Fulani herdsmen as he was outside. He speedily entered the house and told me and my children to quickly escape through the back door.
“I beckoned on my five children and started running into the bush. But as we were running for our lives, the militiamen caught up with us and slaughtered four of my children, leaving only one, who is a twin.”
After slaughtering her children (two sons and two daughters) in her presence without heeding her pleas, Victor said one of the attackers started using a machete to scratch her right arm. She closed her eyes as other attackers held her to position her arm properly. Then they cut it off. The attackers went their way, leaving the poor woman and her only remaining son helpless.
She said, “After the attack on our village that day, some people came around to help the wounded and remove the corpses. I was carried by motorcycle to a hospital in Kaduna city. I spent about a month on admission. But I have not healed emotionally.
“I’m in emotional pain every day. They murdered my children. Four of them. They were aged nine, six, four, and three. The six-year-old was a twin; they left his brother for me. Every day, when I sit down or see my only surviving child, tears flow from my eyes uncontrollably.
“My children begged and begged not to be killed. I also pleaded on their behalf. But they insisted that they were not willing to listen to any pleas. My children wailed as they slaughtered them. I couldn’t watch the killing. I will forever remember that horrific day.”
Victor would not stop lamenting how her life had become altered by her children’s death, which was understandable. Much more painful for her was that the attackers were people who lived in their village, though they allegedly secured the help of external fellow Fulani herdsmen.
She said, “We understand their language; I saw them. They were Fulani people from within our village. But I also saw them with others who were not from our village.
“Before the incident, we planted crops early in the year, only for the Fulani herdsmen to bring their cows to graze on our farms around July/August. Now we have nothing to harvest to eat. This ought to be the time to start harvesting our crops, but we have nothing to harvest.
“I am currently displaced and now live at Kufana. Some individuals usually come to give us foodstuffs but the items can only last us a few days.”
Victor still feels pain in her deformed limb. Unfortunately, she can’t visit the hospital regularly because, as perhaps expected, she cannot afford the cost of treatment.
‘We now sleep in the bushes’
Veronica John, another woman from Dogon Noma community in Southern Kaduna, showed our correspondent her maimed left limb while cleaning the tears that dropped from her eyes with her right hand.
When the herdsmen attacked her village in 2019, they did not just cut off her limb, they also killed her two daughters, aged 10 and six.
“I have three children left,” the 35-year-old said, adding, “I live with the pain of seeing my daughters being killed in my very presence. I still feel it till today,” she said.
As of when she spoke with Saturday PUNCH, John said the herdsmen had not stopped attacking her village, saying that every Friday or Sunday, the attackers usually came to either kidnap or kill villagers.
She said, “When they kidnap, they demand ransom, and then they send a notice to us that we should be expecting them again. This is what has been happening in our village.
“On most days, we leave our houses to sleep in the bush. When they leave, we return to our houses. We have been living in fear every day. They have destroyed our farms, which are our means of livelihood.
“Right now, we eat once a day, and that is if there is any food to eat at all. My husband has been terribly sick, and I have lost a hand. So, feeding has become our main problem.”
A night to remember
On the night of February 10, 2020, Viviana Lucky and her husband were in their home at Ungwan Barde in the Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State when they heard the moaning of villagers from neighbouring houses. Without much ado, they jumped out of bed and ran out of the room. They already knew what was happening.
In the same compound, their five-year-old son was already asleep with his grandmother in another room. Viviana wanted to go fetch the boy and her mother-in-law, but her husband said it was dangerous, hoping that they (mother-in-law and son) too would have heard what was happening and run for their lives.
But as they (Viviana and husband) were leaving the compound, they came face-to-face with their attackers, wielding machetes and guns. Viviana’s husband took to his heels, but she could not run as fast.
She said, “Two of the herdsmen held me down and they argued with each other over whether to kill me or not. One said they shouldn’t kill me but go after my husband instead, so some held me down while others chased after my husband. They didn’t get him, so they came back and decided to kill me.
“They used a machete to cut my head in two places. They also cut my lips and then severed two fingers from my left hand. They also tried to cut off the middle finger, but it didn’t completely come off. Then they left me for dead. My husband later returned and carried me to a safer place. I was later taken to a hospital in Kaduna for treatment.
“I was in the hospital for about a month before being discharged. Thankfully, my son and mother-in-law survived the attack of that night. They escaped from the compound unnoticed. My husband was right, after all.”
Viviana said after being discharged from the hospital, she and her husband had to stay temporarily at Maraban-Kajuru with their son and his grandmother.
However, after some time, they decided to go back to their home at Ungwan Barde to assess the damage to their home, hoping to resettle after some weeks of displacement. But on getting home one Sunday morning, just as other villagers were getting ready to go to church, Viviana said they had not settled in when the herdsmen invaded the village again.
Carrying her arm in a sling to keep her injured hand in place, Viviana said she ran for hours in the bush, panting heavily and praying to God to survive the attack again.
She said, “Again, my husband took off running in different directions. We met the following day at Mararaban-Kajuru. I ran and ran in the bush, even though my body had not fully recovered from the first attack.
“As I ran, I had flashbacks of the first attack. I recalled how the herdsmen were debating whether to kill me or not. I did not want to die, so I mustered up the energy I could and ran.
“The herdsmen ran after me and others. They were shooting at my people as if they were hunting animals. Whoever got hit by their bullet, they would descend on the person and cut them with a machete. Luckily, I survived again.”
Viviana and her husband, who are farmers, said since the attacks, their means of livelihood had been lost.
“My son, Friday, has also been out of school. We are really suffering here,” she said.
Lingering conflict with no end in sight
For years, Southern Kaduna has been embroiled in a humanitarian conflict that has led to the loss of many lives of the Adara and Fulani/Hausa people who make up part of the state.
In his 2016 work titled, ‘Nigeria: Southern Kaduna and the atrocities of Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen,’ Atta Barkindo, a security and terrorism researcher and PhD student at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, said there was a complex history of violent conflict and other related activities carried out by Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen in Southern Kaduna that had spanned decades.
“However, over the years, the Nigerian government, both the military and civilian, neglected and/or failed to bring a solution to the conflict,” Barkindo said.
The scholar stated that various commissions of inquiry, panels of investigation as well as committees of conflict resolution had been set up over the years to make policy recommendations for ending the conflict. But these efforts had yet to yield fruits.
Barkindo said the need to address the impact of the conflict on the victims and the people generally in Southern Kaduna had become particularly significant following the upsurge in violence in the last quarter of 2016.
He wrote, “The narrative of the conflict has been generally couched in sectarian, political and opportunistic terms. However, efforts to provide a comprehensive analysis of the conflict that places the misery of the mostly Christian victims within a wider historical and political context have been limited.
“Importantly, the documentation of victims’ personal accounts and their perspectives on ways of ending the conflict have been overlooked. Conspicuously absent too is the gender perspective to the conflict, which has led to the misery and trauma suffered by Christian women, children, and the most vulnerable being mostly neglected.”
According to findings, Southern Kaduna largely comprises Adara people (mostly Christians and farmers) and Fulani/Hausa people (mostly Muslims and herdsmen), who are in the minority.
In her research piece titled, ‘Violence in Southern Kaduna threatens to undermine Nigeria’s democratic stability,’ Associate Fellow, Africa Programme at the Chatham House, London, Dr Leena Hoffman, stated that between 10,000 and 20,000 people were estimated to have died in incidents across Kaduna State since 1980, a pattern of violence that peaked in 1992 and again from 2000 to 2002.
In 2011, when there was tension in 10 northern states triggered by protests against the presidential election results, more than 500 people were killed in Southern Kaduna alone, Hoffman stated.
She wrote, “Southern Kaduna straddles the centre of Nigeria, and has a long record of intense political and ethno-religious struggles for power, territory, economic opportunities and agricultural resources. Under successive periods of political transformation in Nigeria, many of the tribal groups in Southern Kaduna have shaped their histories and identities around deeply held grievances and the perception of suppression by the more politically influential Hausa-Fulani people.
“A lack of development, declining education, poverty, weak and distrusted government, the diminishing influence of traditional leaders, political exclusion and rivalries, and the lack of opportunity for southern Kaduna’s youth population have all played a part in escalating the crisis. The result has been a slow-burning, poorly-tracked cycle of bloody inter-communal violence mainly involving nomadic or semi-nomadic Fulani herdsmen and local farmers.”
With the lingering conflict, Hoffman said the Kaduna State government, led by Governor Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, now faced enormous pressure to act.
“In office since 2015, his administration, and that of the Federal Government, have been accused of a conspiracy of silence, and are facing mounting popular criticism on the ground and on social media.
“The governor must walk a tight-rope over the state’s gaping majority/minority divide. His identity as a Hausa-Fulani and Muslim is already being used by some to measure his neutrality. El-Rufai’s statements regarding compensation to transhumance herders – an occupation associated with nomadic Fulani communities – have come under sharp criticism, and play easily into long-standing local narratives of preferential treatment for certain ethno-religious and cultural groups,” Hoffman noted.
To avoid these controversies while at the same time restoring civil order, Hoffman said managing local instigators and pursuing justice would be a defining test for El-Rufai.
“The state’s history of violence suggests the ongoing crisis cannot be ended simply through military or law enforcement means alone – no matter how sincere these actions may be. It will require a long-term, multi-pronged and well-resourced security and rural development plan,” she noted.
Meanwhile, the new wave of violence in Southern Kaduna has led to hundreds of deaths and thousands of displacements, according to the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union.
The union’s national spokesperson, Mr Luka Binniyat, has also said the Adara people are either being killed or kidnapped daily.
The Chairman of Adara Development Association and Vice-President of SOKAPU, Mr. Dio Maisamari, said the crisis was multidimensional, adding that the aim was to undermine the people.
“Different issues are causing what is happening in Southern Kaduna. Unfortunately, the government’s posture has worsened the conflict,” he told Saturday PUNCH.
Psychotherapy needed by Southern Kaduna women, others –Experts
A psychologist based in Lagos, Mrs Biola Olopade, advocated that psychotherapy should be provided for Southern Kaduna women, particularly those maimed and those whose children were killed.
“It is not going to be easy for such women. It is not easy to cope with such a tragedy. So, I think non-governmental organisations and the various governments should rise up to the occasion and help these women,” she said.
An expert in psychotherapy at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State, Nigeria, Mr Oladotun Adeyemo, noted that those living in conflict zones might be experiencing trauma due to either of two factors – personally experiencing attacks, or witnessing attacks on others.
“What they are passing through could be acute stress disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depending on the duration of the trauma.
“ASD and PTSD are due to having flashbacks of what they have experienced, that is, re-experiencing what they have experienced. ASD lasts for a short time, maybe a week or two, but PTSD lasts longer. The reason for the flashbacks is because the brain does not sleep, even when someone is sleeping,” Adeyemo said.
The psychotherapist said such people in conflict areas needed to let the brain flush out those flashbacks by going to a therapeutic environment.
He said, “They may not stop having those flashbacks immediately, but over time if they are subjected to a therapeutic environment, the flashbacks will go away.
“This they can do by consulting clinical psychologists to help them relieve their experiences in a manner that will not agitate them again. Professionals know professional ways to flood the brain of someone with trauma with ‘positive or happy stories.’
“The victims can also engage in physical activities like walking and dancing as such activities have the capacity to lighten up the mood. Physical activities have a way of making mental health to be better.”
The Kaduna State government has yet to respond to enquiries.
When contacted, the Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr Samuel Aruwan, promised to get back to our correspondent but had yet to do so as of press time.
Meanwhile, the state chapter of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria has said it would join hands with other groups towards ensuring peace in the state and fishing out any killer herdsmen operating in Southern Kaduna.
Enquiries sent to the Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr Samuel Aruwan, on the various issues were unanswered as of Friday, as Aruwan did not respond to calls and text messages sent to his mobile line.
Likewise, the Special Adviser (Media and Communication) to the Governor of Kaduna State, Mr Muyiwa Adekeye, did not respond to calls and text messages sent to his mobile line as of Friday.
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