Penultimate Friday night, the full moon shone brightly over Ma’ Sankwai village – a cluster of well spaced compounds with a mix of traditional thatched homes and modern buildings contently nestling on ancient plains occupied for centuries by the Asholio natives.
You could see the tree-line perennial streams snaked past Ma’ Sankwai farmlands as the village was suffused in the esoteric sound of the night while everyone retired to bed awaiting the village chores of the next day.
Everyone was sleeping peacefully, except the local vigilante.
Then the Fulani gunmen arrived shortly before midnight.
The vigilante saw them coming out of the bush well armed, and large in number.
Like the fury of hell, there were deafening explosions that brought down homes from the roof to the foundation, sounds of gunshots, wailing voices of women and children as the village became one giant ball of flames and huge billowing of fumes that further darkened the night. Eerie screaming of the hapless pierced the night as they made their last attempt to cheat death, but many never made it.
Sankwai village, Tekum and Unguwan Gata lay in ruins four hours after. About 119 corpses – some mutilated, other decapitated or outrightly burnt to ashes – littered the homes and bush of Ma’Sankwai, Tekum and Ungwan Gata, rural communities in Bodong district villagers of Moroa chiefdom in Kaura Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State.
The Minister of Environment, Mrs Laurencia Mallam, could not hold back tears outside the partly burnt Anglican Church, Sankwai, when she visited the attacked village. She wept along side women at the site of one of the mass graves holding 119 corpses.
“I am devastated ”, Mallam said while fielding questions from journalists later at the LEA Model Primary School, Bodong, where about 2,000 persons displaced by the violence were putting up under the watch of soldiers.
Mallam, a native of Kaura LGA, was the Chairman of Zangon Kataf LGA of Kaduna State (1999 – 2002) and one-time National President of Catholic Women Organisation (CWO).
Explaining what transpired that night, Mr. Nuhu Waney, a community leader and the refugees’ camp coordinator, said the invasion came as a shock to the three communities, saying they had never had any quarrels with the Fulani, who he insisted, were behind the massacre.
Said Waney: “They (assailants) came around 11pm that day when most people had gone to bed. They came in such a large number, maybe about 200, some dressed in army camouflage uniform. They operated into the early hours of Saturday.
“They divided themselves into three groups. There was a group that detonated bombs. The bombs brought down homes in flames. Then there was another group that shot at those trying to escape from the fire. The last group used machetes to hack to death those trying to escape. The victims were mostly women and children”, he said, showing the minister an album that contained the pictures of decapitated and mutilated corpses.
“The attack was coordinated in the same way in Tekum and Unguwan Mata. So far, we have buried 119 corpses in three mass graves. The grave here has 57 people. We still have some corpses that we cannot reach, because the collapsed buildings have buried them. Even now, we are still picking some human remains in the bush. So we cannot give accurate account of the number of deaths until things settle and we carry out a detailed census. But I know we still have more corpses to bury. We have counted about 250 houses burnt by the attackers. Those injured are many. We are still counting.
“In spite of the fact that we were overwhelmed, we were able to kill four of the attackers. The assailants fled with two of their slain colleagues as they saw the light of army trucks coming in the early hours of the morning. It is strange that it took the soldiers that long to come to our rescue, because they have a base not far from here, and they must have heard all the noise and seen the inferno. . . But the bodies of two of the assailants killed and left behind showed them to be Fulani boys that were resident in this community. Everyone knew them here. They engaged in commercial motor cycle riding. That is why we are saying it was the Fulani that invaded our communities, for reasons we don’t know”.
The minister, Mallam, assured the villagers of Federal Government’s assistance, saying that God would stand by all those who love peace and shun vengeance. She said President Goodluck Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo were worried by the incident and had sent her to come for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation.
Before visiting the attacked villages, the minister paid a courtesy visit to the chief of Moroa chiefdom, Mr. Tagwai Sambo, in his palace in Manchok. In a related development, the President of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), Dr Ephraim Goje, says there had been 54 invasions of southern Kaduna communities since 2011, with 545 lives lost and not less than 1,000 homes damaged. The majority of the attacks took place in Kaura LGA, according to him.
By Luka Binniyat