Uses of land
Most participants in my research assert that the disturbances in Kaduna are sponsored by a range of factors. These include:
- the encroachments of Fulani cattle on the ancestral land of other communities,
- the establishment of grazing reserve areas for the Fulani in territories which other ethnic groups consider their ancestral home,
- the criminal, exploitative activities of bandits, cattle rustlers, and kidnappers, and
- the perception of the expansionist tendency of the Fulani in Nigeria.
Within this context, it becomes convenient for various groups to invoke the language and politics of “belonging” in order to hold dear to a “homeland” they feel is ebbing away from them. The use of this language is what often sustains and incubates the conflicts between the Fulani and other groups in several parts of Nigeria.
What it means to belong
The ethnic minority groups of Kaduna mostly identify themselves as indigenous or the first comers and ancestral people. When conceived as such, they have a more durable connection to the land as the people whose ancestors were the first to establish themselves in the area.
I found that this sense of identification to the land is largely a reaction or response by the minority groups to their loss – perceived or real – of political and economic autonomy of their home.
The Fulani equally imagine themselves as indigenous citizens. They, however, insist they are a cosmopolitan-nomadic group who move and settle easily in places they find appealing. This identity is based on the idea that the land in southern Kaduna is a God-given resource to which no group can lay ownership claim.
The other ethnic groups reject this nomadic idea of belonging because it threatens their own sense of identity and rooted-ness as the “first people” of southern Kaduna.
On the whole, the crisis of belonging in Kaduna is a reflection of a deeper issue that is rooted in ethnic nationalism . And fuelled by contestation for power and control, and a struggle for ownership of a living space – or homeland – endowed with natural resources of fertile land, vibrant people and vegetation.
For the minority groups, it is a struggle to take back control of this “homeland” as a moral duty to themselves and posterity.
For the Fulani, it is a struggle for continued relevance and control of their power base and citizenship rights, not only in southern Kaduna but in other areas of the state and the federation. There is hardly any compromise in this endeavour as none of the groups is willing to leave the land for the other.
The way forward
The troubles between the different groups in Kaduna are not absolute and do not mean the groups are permanent enemies. There are many cases of positive intergroup interactions. To focus only on their conflicting relationship is to obscure the reality of intercommunal life in the area.
This history of intergroup coexistence and solidarity, as well as the people’s resilience and willingness to build their own peace, could provide an alternative to the ongoing crisis of belonging.
But the Kaduna state government also has a role to play. It must ensure equal representation of all groups in power. The government must also respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the different communities in the area. It must allow them the rights to choose their own leaders and govern their chiefdoms, free from excessive state intrusion. And the state must engage – rather than suppress – demands for a just social order.
The prospects for enduring peace will also depend on the attitudes that groups adopt to finding peace. They cannot enter talks unless they are respectful and inclusive. They cannot negotiate based on first-comer or ethnic status, religious identity or colonial leverage, but on the value and dignity of people as legitimate entities in and of themselves.