Once more, the peaceful nature of Kaduna State had again been threatened following violent protests after two churches in Kaduna and another in Zaria were bombed last Sunday, throwing the whole state into turmoil and confusion. Almost every nook and cranny of Kaduna became a flashpoint, as outbreaks of violence erupted, leaving security personnel in a frenzy to contain the mayhem.
In its wake, lives were lost and properties burnt beyond recognition.
The story of bomb explosions, reprisal attacks and counter-reprisals was that of a war where there is ‘no victor, no vanquished’, a story of people losing their loved ones and property to undefined violence.
It all started penultimate Sunday, as worshippers went to church to pray and commune with their God, only to be caught unawares by explosions which immediately ended the church services half-way.
What started as a peaceful protest following the bomb explosions at Shalom Church International, resulted to violence at Gonin-Gora area, along Kaduna-Abuja road, as news of soldiers shooting people did not go down well with the angry crowd.
The youth of Sabon-Tasha, Television, Nassarawa and Romi started attacking and killing one another.
Sensing that the situation may escalate to neighbouring communities, the state government immediately imposed a 24- hour curfew in the entire state.
Since the Sunday explosion, survivors and eyewitness have continued recounting their ordeal.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, the District head of Gonin Gora, Mal. Yusuf Doma said “if the soldiers had not shot and killed the peace-loving people of Gonin-Gora, there would not have been any violence in the area, which later escalated to some parts of the state,” adding that “the youth of my domain came back from church that Sunday and were going about their normal business until the soldiers came and started shooting at anybody cited on the street.”
“And as soon as the soldiers started shooting, the youth came out en masse to protest the soldiers’ decision which later led to burning of tires and property.
“The youth did not kill anybody, but three of our boys were shot by the soldiers and are currently receiving treatment at the hospital.”
The survivors who continued to recount their ordeal said “We narrowly escaped death in the hands of the mob.”
Recounting his ordeal, Mr Nathaniel Jibrin, the Daily Independent Photographer told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND,“I just came out of the church in Kakuri when I got a call from a colleague that there was a bomb at a church in Trikania, so I hurriedly rushed to possibly get the photographs, not knowing that I was going to become a victim.
“As soon as I got to the scene shortly after I dropped from the motorcycle, some angry youths from nowhere rushed at me and started hitting and using all sorts of weapons on me. I collapsed immediately, and the next thing I knew after five hours, I found myself on the hospital bed in the pool of my own blood.
“They used knives and cutlasses on me and I suffered severe cuts on my head and one part of my eyes that I cannot still open. There are more cuts on my back.
“I cannot but thank God, because I would have been a dead man by now, my survival is simply a miracle,” he said.
Another survivor, Ismail Abdul said, “I am a shoe cobbler. As soon as I heard that there was a bomb blast, I started making my way home when some boys from nowhere accosted me and started beating me and using hard objects to hit me.
It was just as some others were running towards my direction with deadly weapons that they heard the sound of a siren and left me in a helpless state. It was the police that took me in their vehicle and brought me to the hospital”.
Reuben Achoji also told his sad story, “I was coming back from church when I saw people running so I started running along with them, but unfortunately I fell into the wrong hands.
I don’t know who they were but they started beating us, they killed three persons in my presence but God helped us as team of soldiers came to our aid and dispersed them, while they took the rest of us to the Hospital”.
Two other survivors who would not want their names mentioned but spoke in Hausa said they live around Trikania when some boys picked them out from around their house and started beating them, and that was all they could remember as they saw themselves in the hospital.
Although the earlier 24-hour curfew imposed on Kaduna State may have been relaxed, the impact of the reprisal attacks is still fresh as the Saint Gerard Catholic Hospital continues to recall more deaths.
The Hospital Public Relation Officer Mr Sunday John Ali confirmed that as at yesterday, additional eight corpses were received while one of the earlier victims brought to them died.
He said, the number of victims still stands at 72 and they are being managed and fed.
He however called for government’s quick intervention in evacuating the corpses as the hospital morgue is filled up.
Mr Ali commended the efforts of the International Committee of Red Cross who has been on ground carrying out surgical operations on some of the victims, and the State Emergency Management Agency who he said, has assisted in bringing some pints of blood which was used to transfuse some of the victims who had lost blood.
He assured that the hospital will not relent in rendering humanitarian service to the populace but appeals to government to assist the hospital with some facilities that will further help in managing emergency cases when it arises.
The Kaduna State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in a statement asked the Army to carry out investigations on a soldier who allegedly killed two persons in Kaduna which later sparked the violence.
According to the State Chairman, Rev, Samuel Kujiyat “Let there be investigation because it is clear the soldier was just shooting people. And many of the casualties were even shot to death by soldiers and police.”
“CAN was reliably informed that some Security Agencies attacked and killed some youths at Maraban Rido and other locations in Kaduna and environs, but were arrested and disarmed and now under detention, ” he added.
The explosion at the Shalom Church killed a soldier and an aged vigilante at the gate. A witness said the explosion took place just when the Pastor introduced the Message he was to preach.
The explosion also killed another member of the Church Ayodeji Timothy (Baba Abeji) of the Traffic Unit while other members sustained various degrees of injury.
Expressing her shock, Ruth Oyewale a founding member whose family owned the Church said, “To God be the glory, all the attempt of the enemy will surely be frustrated by the Almighty God. The incident happened immediately after Papa (Pastor Israel Oyewale) introduced the Message he was to preach.
“The Church was full to capacity when we suddenly heard the loud noise. As I am talking to you now, my two ears are blocked and I cannot hear very well” she said while crying.
Another member of the Church Olowafemi Oladimeji Jegede who saw the suicide bomber said, “I saw him when he came to the gate with a red Honda Accord 98-model. He was a very small boy, skinny, he was stopped at the gate by the security, and when they wanted to search his vehicle he hastily drove into the premises of the Church.
“Immediately he entered, we heard a loud bang, the whole place vibrated and there was panic as people were running in a confused state,” he said.
Folashade Adeboyega a founding and choir member of the Church said, “When we heard the explosion, we became confused and we stated to run out of the church.
Soon as the Bomb went off at Shalom Royal Assembly, a group of angry Christian youths started attacking their Muslim brothers leading to the death of many with scores injured and properties worth millions destroyed.
A number of Okada riders were burnt to death and had their motorcycles destroyed by the rioting youth.
A source told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that “I can tell you that over 50 people died and many others were injured, we don’t know why these evil people are doing this to churches” he queried.
About 35 victims of the reprisal attacks that followed the bombing have been taken to St.Gerard’s Hospital within the metropolis according to the hospital’s public relations officer.
No sooner had the government relaxed the curfew than fresh violence was reported again as Youths of Ungwam Mu’azu, Tudun-Wada, Rigasa, Kawo, Malali, Bakin-Ruwa, Barnawa, Nasarawa, Kakuri and Kawusa areas staged a counter-reprisal to avenge what they described as ‘injustice’.
They attacked and killed over 30 motorists along the busy Nnamdi Arzikiwe road as well as burning of properties.
The situation however forced the state government to re-impose the 24- hour curfew with a view to restoring normalcy again.
Just as normalcy was beginning to return in the some part of Kaduna metropolis and suburb, a gang of fake soldiers Wednesday evening stormed Kujama community on the outskirts of Kaduna, killing people and burning their properties.
Though, the Army spokesman, Col. Sani Musa later denied the allegation said “there was nothing like fake soldiers, I have been getting such reports since morning but there is nothing as such, from our checks, our men are on top of the situation in Kujama. Yes, there was an outbreak of violence, but the issue of fake soldiers are merely rumours.”
A resident of the area, who put a distress call to our Correspondent, stated that “I have five dead bodies on the ground in front of me as I am talking to you now.” According to the caller who pleaded anonymity stressed that the “fake soldiers were without military boots or the Army arm band and were shooting and we have to run for safety.”
Another source who spoke to our correspondent simple said that “our area is under fire; they are killing and burning our houses, I will call you later please.”
Christian leaders in Zaria have disclosed that they had information prior to Sunday’s attack on their churches before it took place.
This came just as they continue to wonder why the security men attached to keep peace around the church were withdrawn a night before the morning explosions.
Secretary of the Second ECWA DCC which was affected by Sunday’s explosion, Rev. Christopher Dariya told Governor Yakowa and his entourage that they actually got information that the Boko Haram were planning to attack churches on Sunday.
According to him, they got information few days before the attack that members of the Boko Haram group were in Zaria and met on Friday to plan how they will strike on Sunday, adding that Chairmen and Secretaries of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) were invited for a meeting on the issue.
He noted that they were surprised when the following day, being Saturday, the military personnel that were drafted to maintain peace around the church were withdrawn and they became apprehensive.
He said “we were cautioned on the fact that Boko Haram were already in Zaria. We heard vividly there was a meeting on Friday and the Chairmen and secretaries of CAN Zone 1 were actually invited for a meeting we were told that Boko Haram were already in Zaria and they were going to strike this Sunday.
“Some of us were very concerned and were thinking of what possible thing to avert such happenings. I came back on Saturday from a meeting and drove into my office which is just behind (the Church), that is the District Office.
“There were Soldiers that were actually patrolling and guarding the area. I saw them packing their things and I drove there and asked two of them what was happening and what we heard which I am sure you heard too. You are packing your things and it does not speak well for the community and for me as a religious leader.
“I was told that the community was disturbing them and that is why they have to move. I told them that it was not the community that kept you here, but the government. But they told me they were ordered, but I don’t know where the others came from”.
Rev. Dariya said he did not want to get too confrontational with the soldiers and so had to let them be only for the bomb blast to happen on Sunday, adding that they were baffled why the soldiers that had been stationed there for quite some time were eventually pulled out only for the Church to be hit the following day.
He noted that as Christians, they have forgiven the perpetrators of the dastardly act and will leave vengeance to God, stressing that about two hundred children who were in the Sunday school section escaped as none of them lost their lives.
The question on the lips of many is when this madness called ‘religious war’ will ever give way for peace in Kaduna State. The state in less than two years has experienced at least three major violence protests.
The April post- election crises and the fuel subsidy violence are still fresh on people’s minds. The latest violence has no doubt kept the Governor’s peace and reconciliation process hanging in a limbo.
But, can he wither the storm? Only time will tell.