The Kala-Kato clash in Bauchi

Bauchi, Nigeria - The nation recently experienced another embarrassing incident of religious mayhem in Zango area of Bauchi, the Bauchi State capital. The clash, which raged between December 28 and 30, 2009, culminated in the killing of 70 persons, including soldiers, policemen, women and about 15 children. Several houses were razed by fire.

Although a statement by the Nigeria Police Headquarters in Abuja was quick to trace the mayhem to a fight between members of the religious fundamentalist sect, Kala-Kato, led by Mallam Badamasi, it is incontrovertible that the scope of causalities from the incident could have been lower if intelligence had been used to pre-empt and nip the uprising in the bud.

Religious unrest is not new to Bauchi State. The Kala-Kato mayhem is the third of such incidents in Bauchi in 2009. During the Boko Haram mayhem in Borno and Yobe States, last July, Bauchi was one of the theatres of conflict, with attendant casualties.

Nigerians expect that some lessons should have been learnt from that incident, and intelligence gathering employed to prevent a recurrence, but this was not the case.

The frequent attacks on law enforcement officers and innocent members of the public during conflicts involving religious fundamentalists call for a more serious approach to the problem of religious unrest in the country. The Kala-Kato sect, which is responsible for the latest conflict, claims to be an offshoot of the original Maitatsine sect of the 1980s. With the violent antecedents of Maitatsine in Nigeria, members of the sect ought to have been closely monitored by security agencies to ensure that they do not become a threat to the public.

Incidents such as the Kala-Kato mayhem also pose a serious challenge to religious leaders in the country. Instead of their tongue-in-cheek approach to religious clashes, religious institutions and leaders of thought should be a step ahead of these fundamentalists. These leaders have a responsibility to monitor and guide these sects to ensure that they remain true to the tenets of their religion, especially with regard to respect for human life. These sects should be admonished to embrace tolerance and peace, which are hallmarks of all religions.

For our intelligence agencies, it is appalling that the polity should be so vulnerable to attacks by religious fundamentalists. They should be able to swiftly contain such upheavals. That the mayhem raged for three days raises questions on the ability of the police to tackle such crises.

It is also unacceptable that any group of Nigerians would willfully confront the nation’s security agencies headlong as religious fundamentalists have been doing. This, no doubt, is encouraged by the failure to bring persons who were involved in such religious mayhem in the past to book, because they are often shielded by some high-ranking people in the society, on account of religious sentiments. This should stop.

The government must also work harder to remove the causes of religious fanaticism in the country. Youths should be well catered for and given educational and job opportunities to actualize their potentials. Destitution among the youths should be avoided as deprived youths are easily lured into criminality and strange doctrines. The nation should invest in building responsible and well-adjusted youths to reduce the lure of criminality.

To forestall a recurrence, we urge the police to be more pro-active in handling intelligence, especially at flashpoints of religious crises in the country. They should be more alert if our internal security is to be guaranteed. State governments, in particular, should show more than a passing interest in the activities of religious sects within their domain so that they are not caught napping during these incidents.

Perpetrators of the Kala-Kato mayhem should be identified, prosecuted and punished for failure to respect their victims’ right to life, freedom of thought, religion and conscience as provided for in Chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution. It is only when they are made to pay for their crime that the nation can expect to be rid of such religious mayhem in the future.