JOSâ€” A TANK rumbled through the troubled city of Jos, yesterday, as soldiers escorted a truck loaded with bodies to a mass grave after four days of inter-religious clashes left some 300 dead.
With a 24 hour curfew relaxed for a few hours, religious leaders conducted mass funerals after the government ordered in troops to quell attacks by rampaging gun and machete-wielding gangs that had raged largely unchecked in the city since Sunday.
One after another, 98 bodies shrouded in white were laid in rows and on top of each other in a 120-square metre, 1,300 square feet, grave at the cityâ€™s Narakuta cemetery. The cityâ€™s Chief Imam, Balarabe Dawud, appealed to Muslims not to avenge the killings and urged the government to bring to justice the perpetrators of this weekâ€™s â€œincessantâ€ slaughter.
He said: â€œI appeal to all Muslims in Plateau to remain calm and law-abiding … our Muslim brethren in all parts of the country to refrain from any reprisal attacks.â€
Many of the shrouds were visibly blood-stained, testimony to the shocking violence of the slaughter, reportedly sparked by a Muslim-Christian land dispute. Many were hacked to death with machetes, others simply shot, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
â€œWhatever action one takes, canâ€™t bring these people back,â€ Dawud said in a eulogy delivered in the local Hausa dialect, pointing to the burial pit, adding: â€œimpunity is the fuel that has been the fire of senseless killings burning in Jos.â€
Following the relaxation of the curfew, as soon as it was 10.00 a.m, yesterday, many thronged the various markets and shops around them to pick food and other items for their upkeep but most shops remained locked while banks did not open.
A lot of those who wished to venture out had to trek long distances as commercial vehicles did not operate. Many intending travellers were also stranded as they waited by the road side on end trying to get out. There was an exodus of students as many state governments sent in buses to evacuate their indigenes.
Many National Youth Service Corps members also left town following the three-week vacation granted them by their national secretariat.
However, the state government condemned the vacation saying it was done without consultation, with it assured corps members who wished to remain to feel safe to do so. Governmentâ€™s position was made known by the Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Mr. Nankin Bagudu. One of the soldiers deployed to Bukuru was reportedly killed yesterday during fresh hostilities between warring neighbours when they returned to their burnt houses to salvage what they could.
Tempers were said to have risen again as they took on themselves resulting in the skirmish in which the soldier got killed. This could, however, not be confirmed at press time.
Governor Jang speaks
Meanwhile, Governor Jonah Jang has thanked the people of the state for their understanding and cooperation while the crisis lasted. The governor in a statement signed by his Director of Press Affairs, James Mannok said their cooperation quickened the return of normalcy assuring that security personnel were well positioned to check any further breach of the peace, noting: â€œResidents are therefore to remain calm and report any suspicious elements to the security.â€
Dawud spoke as security was reportedly being stepped up in selected states in the predominantly Muslim north, where violence linked to Islamist sects has killed hundreds over the past year alone.
Leaders of both faiths claim the fighting had little to do with religion and was an expression of the failure of the political leadership to address ethnic differences.
Christian leaders have blamed Nigerian troops for the killings in Jos, which straddles the rough dividing line between Nigeriaâ€™s Muslim-dominated North and the largely-Christian South.
The Senate said it would investigate reports that some of those arrested were wearing military uniform. â€œWe are sad to announce that the real culprits that have been killing our Christian brethren are Nigerian soldiers,â€ said the Plateau State Christian Elders Forum in a statement.