GIDINYE, Nasarawa, Nigeria – By her husband’s graveside she sits with her hands resting on her chin, her face crumpled and tears welling in her eyes. For her, this has become a daily routine to re-live the memories they shared.
“They have cheated me by taking my husband away” said Kakandu, speaking of the attackers from a neighboring Eggon tribe who ravaged her village five years ago.
Her voice quivering, Kakandu, who only uses a single name, recalled the horrific attack on the Migili tribe in her small village of Gidinye that left about two dozen villagers dead and homes burned.
Today, there is hunger, pain and anguish and promises of help from the government go unfulfilled.
Kakandu picks up an unripe mango and begins to peel.
“I can’t still believe my husband is not here with me.”
The day started as any other. It was 8 a.m. on the 21th of November, 2012. Children took to the streets on their way to school, farmers went to their fields and commercial drivers began their routes. Merchants were ready for business.
Nobody had any sense of foreboding or trepidation. The road was busy with motorcycles.
But soon, there was fire everywhere and mothers ran for their lives, their babies strapped to their backs.
Kakandu remembered that her family woke up that day and made for the living room for their morning devotion.
“We don’t fail to thank God every day for life,” she said.
“My husband led the prayer that morning, after which he read from the Bible, teaching us the need to always strive to do the will of God,” said Kakandu. “After the morning devotion, he got a call from the traditional ruler who asked him to come, as trouble was brewing.”
Her husband gave her his Bible and headed for the palace, where meetings are held when issues arise. It was the last time she saw him alive.
Later, Kakandu heard gunshots and saw people running.
“We ran for our lives even though we did not know what was happening,” she said, her voice still trembling.
She stayed away a week.
“After I learnt the dust had settled, I came back. And when I got close to the house, I saw cars parked outside and people everywhere. They had brought the remains of my husband who was killed while running for his life.”
Their house was in ruins.
“Everything we had was burnt,” Kakandu said. “I could not cry. It was like a dream.”
Kakandu and others in Gidinye, a village of a few thousand people in the town of Agyaragu, are still trying to rebuild. The trouble started, she said, over a dispute over a stolen motorcycle.
After Kakandu returned to what was left of her home, she had no place to sleep. She had to convert the small room where they had raised pigs into living space.
In the five years since the slaughter, Kakandu, whose children are grown and gone, has been struggling to survive. Sometimes, she said, she wishes she had been killed alongside her husband.
“Since my husband died, life has not been easy for me,” she said. “I have been suffering. I go to farm every day in the morning and come back in the evening hours, tired and exhausted just to get what to eat. Now I barely eat three times a day. I am sad. I am the only one here now.”
Often, she just sits in a chair by her husband’s grave, which is just inside her home. Each time, she remembers the love they shared and cannot hold back her tears.
After the attack on the village, the government promised to help the people of Gidinye to rebuild their burned houses. But Kakandu said she has not received anything.
“The government said they have brought money,” she said. “But as I speak to you, we have not received any help from the government.”
After months passed, her children came together and rebuilt the house with the little money they had. That is where Kakandu is presently managing now. “Our people are really suffering. It is only God that will come to our rescue” she says.
No longer able to farm
For Ogya Deyi, the massacre drained the flavor from his life. Many people in the village are farmers, but Deyi has been unable to farm and earn a livelihood since the attack.
Fulani herdsmen, he said, who are not the ones who killed his fellow villagers, still make it impossible for him to go to his fields.
For some time now, there have been reports of Fulani herdsmen and farmers clashing in many parts of Nigeria. People have been killed in these conflicts and now many farmers no longer go to their fields.
There’s no food at home for Deyi’s family. He is married to three wives and has 29 children.
Before the massacre, Deyi struggled to provide for the family. But now, he has lost everything. He and his family escaped with only the clothes they were wearing that day.
When Deyi came back a day after the attack and found his house burned down, he could not believe his eyes. He also lost his motorcycle and a dozen bags of grain. He said he thanks God that none of his children was killed.
The family now lives in a section of the house that was spared by the attackers.
“The government promised to help us after the attack,” said Deyi, but he said he only got 20,000 Nigerian naira – about $55 U.S. dollars – towards the damage.
“It is not encouraging because they promised to help us rebuild our houses,” said Deyi.
“We are suffering but we don’t know what to do,” Deyi said in Hausa, the local language. He explained that he struggled to rebuild his home but stopped because there was no money. When the rain came, he said, it destroyed the little he had done.
The government hasn’t followed up on promises of help, said Deyi, and the family faces acute food insecurity every day.
Deyi and his family do not have a comfortable place to lay their heads. Each time it rains, the water falls on them through the holes in the roof.
Though Deyi is a serving member of the Peace Corps of Nigeria, he hasn’t been paid because the agency is not registered with the government.
His wives try to support the family from the money they earn from frying bean cake in front of their house.
Memories of running for their lives
Audu Sanza Doga will not soon forget the sadness of that day. He still cannot believe a war was fought between the Migili and the neighboring Eggon tribe.
“We have lived with this people for many years,” Doga said. “We even inter-marry.”
Doga was at his yam store when he heard the first gunshot. Initially, he thought it was the usual traditional celebration by his people. But after some time, the shooting continued unabated.
One of his sons called, said Doga, and told him there was trouble. He left the shop and headed home.
“I saw people running, women with their children. I became confused. When I got home, my children and wives were already set to run,” Doga recalled. “The sounds of guns increased. I ran with my family members.”
Some of the village men stayed back to fight, said Doga. He said it lasted a whole day and in the end, young men and older fathers were dead.
“They invaded our community and burnt everything.”
Gideon Arinze Chijioke is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.
To read Gideon Arinze Chijioke’s personal experience that day in the village of Gidinye, here is his accompanying Reporter’s Notebook.
For more, read a 2014 story about the massacre in Gidinye by Linus Okechukwu.