Whenever I cross the River Kaduna bridge to visit Teslim, I am reminded of the tranquility of my childhood growing up in Kaduna. Flashes of memories come back to me of whole families and friends that we lost to violence, and of those from my primary school days who relocated back to the South, never to return. My father, having left Zaria to pursue a banking career in Kano had relocated to Kaduna City around 1978. We lived along the Nnamdi Azikwe Express Bye Pass and witnessed major upheavals from the Kafanchan Crisis (1987), Zangon Kataf Crisis (1992), the so-called Shariah crisis 1 and 2 in the 2000s, to the 2011 post-election violence.
While the ember of violence was glowing, we took our time as kids to navigate the lush green vegetation that characterised the neighbourhood. Left side of the Express way, there were running rivers where we learnt to swim, fish, climb trees, cut tree branches for catapult, steal corn and when the local hunters would allow, we join them and their dogs into the forest to hunt down rabbits. Right side of the Express Way, from Kagoro close, Unguwan Sanusi and Badiko, a vibrant, well integrated community of different tribes, cultures and religions prospered. This was true in other parts of the state across the river that cuts through Kaduna city.
In 2012, I received a call from Lagos, a friend had been deployed to Kaduna for work and needed my assistance in securing an accommodation in a safe part of Kaduna. He asked, ‘ Which is the Christian side ?’. It is at this point that I realized how segregated Kaduna city had become. I recall many times when the whole city would be under curfew for days, more than a week sometimes. If you lived in Kaduna in the last 30 years, you probably carry with you the trauma from those years. Kaduna’s largely ethno-religious violence may have also infected Nigeria. While large scale violence declined, isolated attacks on far flung and vulnerable communities may not be unconnected with the prolonged unresolved conflicts experienced since the 80s.
In his first term, Governor Nasir Ahmed Elrufai set up a Peace Commission. Coming at a time of incessant herder farmer conflicts, the Commission attended to the immediate challenges. Furthermore, the Commission within its limited human and material resources engaged in several peace building and community engagement programs, especially in Southern Kaduna. Following his victory for a second term in 2019, the Governor also established a new Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, appointing his long term media aide Samual Aruwan to pioneer the work of the Ministry. Without doubt, Kaduna State is now governed by a team committed to public service. This raises hope that the difficult work of reuniting our people and desegregating our city along ethnic and religious divides is possible.
Unlike you, your child may likely attend a school where everyone is either a Muslim or a Christian , or of samilar ethnicity. How do we deal with the culture shock when later in life children join multicultural companies, the military, or runs a business that require cross cultural networking? The generation that put Kaduna on the political map of Nigeria came from a desegregated Kaduna. If we must long endure, we must now take practical steps to begin a gradual and painful process of reconciliation and desegregation for our own good. A segregated Kaduna cannot create the cosmopolitan environment from which late Bala Usman, Namadi Sambo, Nasir Ahmed El Rufai and Patrick Yakowa will emerge. Nigeria looks to Kaduna State for well-rounded individuals and statesmen.
We can achieve desegregation overtime through innovative approaches across government, civil society and personal example. I will share ten ideas through which we can all contribute to making Kaduna united, safe, and integrated.
1. Common Safe Spaces- Each of the newly constituted development councils in kaduna state should consider mainstreaming strategies for desegregation. For example, the infrastructure development council may include common safe spaces in designing and locating projects. We require more Libraries, Community Centres, Viewing Centres where communities across the River can meet and share.
2. Community Engagement- The Kaduna Peace Commission should allocate time and resources to research the nature of segregation in Kaduna and develop programs aimed at bringing people together on either side of the river.
3. Commerce – Kaduna Central Market is the centre of gravity that brings together people from all parts of the state. Markets can be assets for peace building. The Kaduna Markets Management board can also play a role in assuring people of their safety, and through continuous engagement build bonds of businesses that solidify relationships beyond commerce.
4. Sport – The Ministry of Sports should also utilize sport in bridging communication gaps between communities. Local football clubs should be encouraged to play friendly games across the river.
5. Religion – Mosques and Churches should be encouraged to go into bilateral relationships. For example, a mosque in Tudun Wada should pair with a Church in Narayi to undertake a social project together.
6. Internal Security and Assurance – The Ministry of Hime Home Affairs and Internal Security should develop and implement a State Wide Action Plan focusing on desegregation. This would ensure that all government policies, communication and programs mainstream the narrative of a Kaduna that is healing and reuniting.
7. Civil and Media Engagement – The Civil Society and the media should actively engage communities and report positive examples of community reunification.
8. Family and Friends – At family level, take time to develop friendship between your family and another family that is of different tribe and religion. Ensure that your child has at least one friend that is not of same religion and ethnicity. We recall countless stories of how families protected each other during crisis
9. Education – The Ministry of Education should train and sensitize teachers on identifying hateful narrative and messaging in pupils, and ensure schools from both sides of the river and across the state pay organized visits where pupils engage in joint education programs.
10. Politics – Political Parties in the State should actively engage in public discourse in support of a united state while politicians should tailor their speeches around the values of peace, unity, safety and togetherness, including the use of symbolic messaging.
As I move around Kaduna and observe the major work on roads and infrastructure, including new malls coming up and some under construction, I am filled with optimism for a city I love. At the same time I am filled with nostalgia for the past. Sometimes, I think about madam Titi, our very jovial house-help who supported our mother in raising me and my siblings back in the 80s. We haven’t heard from her since the 1992 riots.
I am also worried about the frenzied look on the faces of commuters who still fear an unguarded rumour may ignite another crisis. We have done a lot on Crisis Response in the last few years, but we must begin to rebuild the social fabric. We must build a wall of resilience against hate, bigotry and fear. We must detoxify our politics and make our state work for all her inhabitants. Luckily, we have a serious Government in place. Government is called upon to take further steps, strengthen existing measures and ensure a gradual, do-no-harm, and conflict-sensitive approach towards desegregating Kaduna State.