By Patrick Anum
Recently, we have heard a lot about the killings in Southern Kaduna, but the media has once again seemed to ignore the killings in Southern Bauchi, where armed herdsmen attacks are responsible for scores of deaths every day. Only a few media outlets have been able to report on the atrocities taking place in the area.
The most recent incident that inspired this article occurred on January 22, 2023, at Gambar Sabon Layi in Tafawa Balewa local government of Bauchi State, where Daniel Dabwa was abducted and where four victims were gruesomely murdered.
But to understand the issues in Bauchi, there is a need to take a historic look at Bauchi State as a whole and the issues plaguing the Zaar people, where the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara hails from.
Bauchi was founded in 1809 by Mallam Yakubu one of the flag bearers of the Sokoto Jihad and was the first emir of Bauchi. They waged war on the non-Muslim groups in the area as they resisted subjugation.
In recent times, questions of indigeneity have risen as the indigene/settler narrative continues to cause tensions. The Zaar through their historical account settled in the region from before 1345. When the Jihads begun in the 1800’s, they had a peace treaty with Yakubu, the founder of Bauchi however after the passing of Yakubu, the peace treaty was broken by Yakubu’s successors which led to oppression and in some circumstances enslavement of some of the people by the Bauchi emirate. This led to a hostile relationship between the Bauchi emirate and the Zaar people which is still ever present in Zaar consciousness according to Jimam Lar, a scholar and researcher on post-colonial Nigerian history at the University of Jos.
In recent times, in the area known as Southern Bauchi, the Zaar, are the largest Christian group in Bauchi State and their population is concentrated in the Tafawa Balewa, Bogoro and Dass federal constituency.
The first problem which is very obvious as is the case with other Middle Belt areas is that there has been intent to rename their areas to those of other ethnicities (particularly Fulfude and Hausa names). Tafawa Balewa means “black stone” in Fulfude – with Fulfude being the language of the Fulani ethnic group located in a few states in northern Nigeria.
The Zaar instead call their local government “Puji” instead of Tafawa Balewa which also means black stone but in their language.
We see this trend in other parts of the Middle Belt like Adamawa – where the name of the state was renamed to that of the Fulani jihadist “Modibo Adama” who was responsible for slaughtering the people of Adamawa in large numbers during the Jihad of 1804. And it is unimaginable that in the 21st century, mini colonialism is still ever present where others would try to dominate and rename the lands of others. This is the case of Tafawa Balewa in Bauchi State.
Reasons for the conflict have historic roots with the first being a breach of the peace treaty during the pre colonial period in Bauchi which led to conflict between Yakubus successors in the Bauchi emirate and the Zaar people.
The second arose during the colonial era according to Johannes Harnischfeger – when the British occupied Northern Nigeria and preserved the Islamic structure of the Hausa and Fulani groups in the old Northern region but attached the Non-Muslim groups (in this case the Zaar) to the emirate structure under the Fulani.
Other researchers like Adam Higazi and Jimam Lar have articulated that in recent times, Zaar leaders and organizations like the Sayawa council of elders and traditional rulers accuse the Bauchi state government of discrimination against the people of Southern Bauchi.
The problem persisted all through the colonial era since the Emirs had unlimited powers, as well as the right to distribute land and to collect taxes – this was another cause of conflict between the Zaar and the Emirates
Thirdly, in these emirates, the citizens were subject to Islamic courts despite being heathen/pagan (in the words of the British). This meant that Zaar were discriminated against in the old emirates.
It was so bad that a government commission in 1958 ascertained that Fulani judges dealing with criminal cases only admitted testimonies of male Muslim witnesses and in terms of compensation, christians and traditionalists were given only half or one-fifteenth of the amount that a Muslim could expect (Willink commission report)
By the 1950s, the Zaar had joined the UMBC – United Middle Belt Congress, the party of Northern Nigerian minority groups which had gone into an alliance with Awolowo’s Action Group (AG) and which was built on the quest to liberate ethnic minorities from the Emirate system – a move that the Hausa leaders point to as a cause for the Zaar’s recalcitrance.
The Zaar have largely remained more culturally and politically oriented towards the Non-Muslim groups of Plateau and Southern Kaduna than towards the Bauchi Emirate. Due to this reason among others, they have therefore advocated for the creation of a lowland state which will encompass Southern Bauchi and Plateau States.
On the issue relating to disturbances plaquing the area, Southern Bauchi has witnessed violence at different times in Nigeria’s history.
Violence occurred in 1959, 1977, 1991, 1995, 2001 and 2011. The first case of conflict happened in 1959 which was low in scale but since the creation of Bauchi State in 1976 by the late General Murtala Mohammed, the conflicts quickly escalated and issues as to indigeneity arose.
Since then, the Zaar accuse the Bauchi state government of stripping social amenities away from their areas during interviews with members of the community. To emphasize this point, we were able to confirm that Tafawa Balewa was stripped of its status as a local government headquarters where it was relocated to Bula, the main centre of the Hausa – Muslim district.
The police divisional headquarters was also relocated to Bununu as unjustifiable reasons were given for this move.
In sum, the Tafawa Balewa conflict is defined by two key factors – the historic evolution of the relationship between the Zaar and the Bauchi emirate, a relationship they believe has made them second-class citizens on their land – and secondly, issues over indigeneity and the founding of Tafawa Balewa.
In the wake of the riots in 1991, the Babalakin commission of inquiry was set up by the then Military administration to look into the conflict. It made recommendations of which some have still not yet been implemented in totality. The first being the creation of a chiefdom for the Zaar people of Tafawa Balewa and secondly, the prosecution of the perpetrators of the violence during that period.
Since 1991, there have been 10 governments in Bauchi and all, up to date have not implemented the recommendations of the commission of inquiry holistically. This has led a lot of analysts to see credence in what some of the Zaar people have said regarding the Bauchi State Government.
The former Governor Isa Yuguda created a Chiefdom but put its headquarters at Zwall and not Tafawa Balewa which was rejected by the Zaar people as not having complied with the recommendation of the various commissions of inquiry.
Of recent, the present Governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed made the news for setting up a committee to look into the issue yet, like all governments before him, those words have been all smoke without fire.
The Zaar people in 2023 are still seeking the Chiefdom of their people and this issue is not unique to this area of the Middle Belt. We see the issue of chiefdoms as an important weapon that has been used to subjugate the Middle belt people by continuing age-long colonial policies where diverse groups instead of being granted their chiefdoms are being attached to emirates and even if they are being granted, are granted in part – and in areas away from where there are huge settlers which means that those settlers in the future could lay claim to these lands.
Another example is in Nasarawa where many groups such as the Tiv who have a whooping 11 wards have been deprived the right to have their traditional structures or chiefdoms. What this means is that they have to be under emirate rule in the state despite being largely traditionalists and christian.
We can also witness this unfolding in Southern Kaduna (the region of former Southern Zaria and not the Southern Kaduna senatorial district) where the current governor of Kaduna State has watered down most of the traditional institutions of other ethnicities whilst reinforcing his – or in specific instances where he has sent people from his ethnicity to be district heads to people of different ethnicities. As such, there must be a conscious effort to reject these attempts to deny or infiltrate the traditional structures of the Middle Belt people.
In conclusion, the most recurring theme in Nigerian political discourse is identity, ethnicity, traditional structures and land ownership. It is strange that settlers choose to have these debates with indigene Middle Belt groups when the 1958 Willink commission report showed the areas consisting of the different ethnic nationalities in present day Nigeria with little to no disagreement at that time. Infact, the then Northern regional government agreed with those mappings.
In the coming years, Nigeria will have to answer the indigene/settler question and the issue of minority rights as a whole. As for colonial documents and the intent behind migration during the colonial period, the British have clearly stated their reasons for importing groups into the geographical spaces of others. They site administrative expediency as the major reason.
The truth is that even the colonialists had a clear policy regarding the indigene/settler question and this could be used as a starting point when proffering solutions to these issues going forward.
As for the Zaar people in Southern Bauchi, the short-term solution should be the implementation of all commissions of inquiry reports holistically, a referendum regarding which State the Zaar people should belong to and the adoption of the said referendum.
From a regional perspective, a progressive step would be to adopt the Willink commission report regarding the creation of a Middle Belt region and the granting of autonomy to each ethnic nationality in the region.