Mohammed Bawa, a colleague of ours in the ‘pen-pushing’ profession, had bid farewell to his family and friends, finished a few chores at the office of another colleague, and drove out of Kaduna. He was in high spirits, especially as he was driving a car he had wanted to buy from his friend. Indeed, he had dropped his old jalopy at the friend’s office and “seized” this one, joking that they would settle on the price when he came back from Abuja. Now his mind was focussed on the business that was taking him to the nation’s capital. I imagine that he was whistling out of joy and sense of fulfilment.
At Gonin Gora, a suburb of Kaduna, the road was suddenly blocked by some youths who were carrying an assortment of weapons and mouthing expletives. Before he knew it, Bawa was being attacked by the youths. He could not save himself. The story we heard later was that he was killed right there in his car just as the vehicle was set ablaze by his attackers.
That gruesome event took place on Monday, February 21, 2000. Bawa, the first managing director of Desmims Independent Television (DITV), Kaduna, which prides itself as the first privately owned TV station to go on air after the liberalisation of the broadcasting industry by the Babangida administration, was not murdered because of any fault of his; it was merely on account of his being a Muslim. Many who heard about the incident wondered why he ventured out of town at that time when there was palpable tension throughout Kaduna State on that day. The tension was caused by the decision of the state government to introduce the Sharia legal system as demanded by Muslim citizens. A 15-member, all-Muslim committee had been set up by the state House of Assembly, which had submitted a report that said it had received 133 oral presentations, out of which only 13 were against the introduction of Sharia in the state. It had also collected 267 written memoranda, out of which only seven were against Sharia implementation.
The conflict, which raged for two days, spread to other towns like Kafanchan and Zaria, and flared in faraway Lagos, Aba and Umuahia. The police claimed that 700 people were killed, but independent sources said it was thousands. The government said hundreds were injured, while 1,950 buildings, 746 vehicles, 55 mosques and 123 churches were destroyed. It was one of the deadliest ethno-religious crises ever seen in this country, with sophisticated weapons such as rocket launchers, bombs, grenades and locally-made pistols freely used.
Gonin Gora, where Bawa was killed, is especially significant because of its position in such conflicts. Its placement on an important thoroughfare which links the nation’s capital to Kaduna, Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states makes it symbolic in the kind of brutal social relations existing between Christians and Muslims in the north. Because it consists of a largely Christian population, Gonin Gora has become a Bermuda Triangle of sorts to Muslims whenever a conflict occurs. During the recent post-election conflict, many unsuspecting Muslim travellers were killed there, and properties belonging to Muslims were destroyed, especially on the first day before security forces were deployed to sanitise the situation. During the violence, Gonin Gora was a no-go area for any Muslim traveller.
But, then, there are many Gonin Goras in the north. There are areas where Christians are trapped and killed as soon as sectarian conflicts break out. They become impassable to Christians. In fact, I know areas in Kaduna where a Christian dares not live, and there are some where a Muslim cannot live.
Such Bermuda Triangles are, however, a recent phenomenon. Kaduna and many other towns used to have mixed populations, with Christians and Muslims living and relating freely with one another — eating together, celebrating together, mourning together and dreaming together. There is need to bring back such halcyon times, otherwise the search for peace in our communities would continue to be elusive.
Published in the preview edition of BLUEPRINT