A cycle of reprisals turns Jos into killing field

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By Uduma Kalu

We’ve lost 1,654 lives, N970bn worth of property since 1994- Non indigenes

Over 3,800 killed in Jos in 10 years—HRW

Killings in Jos wear a veil. Sometimes, it has a religious bent. In other times, it is ethnic. But the people know that it is both ethnic and religious and that it can spread to other regions of the country.

Following the 2004 violence in Yelwa of Plateau state, reprisal killings in Kano State left 200 Christians dead. Muslim attacks against Christians in the northern city of Maiduguri in 2006 led to reprisal killings of more than 80 Muslims in eastern Nigeria.

That has been the refrain people of Jos have been singing since September 7, 2001. The refrain, which the media chorused, was always, “Men armed with guns, knives and machetes launched a pre-dawn attack on the villages of Jos, setting fire to homes and killing at least 200 people.” With this refrain comes the verdict: So far, about 8000 lives have been to the crisis and properties worth trillions of naira destroyed.

Today, the refrain does not involve only Fulani herdsmen who killed the innocent people and wiped out families, they now come in groups such as Boko Haram throwing bombs.

Counting the losses

On September 7, 2011, residents marked10 years of carnage in Jos. For others, such as the southern Nigerian ethnic groups, the violence precedes the September 7 date when the natives of Plateau and the Hausa/Fulani clashed.

Preceding the September 2011 anniversary of the Jos violence was a statement by a group, the Coalition of All Southerners Forum in Plateau State, on March 16, 2011. The group said it lost no fewer than 1,654 people and property worth over N970 billion to the crisis in the state since 1994 and called on the Federal Government to compensate the victims.

The group made up of Igbo, Yoruba and people from the Niger Delta, said from statistics available, 630 Yoruba, 604 Igbo and 430 people from the South-South lost their lives to the crises which had lingered for over a decade.

Their spokesman, Mr. Smart Irabor, said the Yoruba lost property worth N450 billion, Igbo N$10 billion and South-South N110 billion in the various crises since 1994.

Earlier in January, Human Rights Watch published a report on a decade of the killings in Jos saying, “In the past decade, more than 3,800 people have been killed in inter-communal violence in Plateau State, including as many as 1,000 in 2001 in Jos and more than 75 Christians and at least 700 Muslims in 2004 in Yelwa, southern Plateau State. In November 2008, two days of inter-communal clashes following local government elections in Jos left at least 700 dead.”

Victims of Jos mayhem for mass burial

In January 2010, hundreds of people were killed in sectarian clashes in and around Jos, including a massacre on January 19, 11 of more than 150 Muslims in the nearby town of Kuru Karama. On March 7, at least 200 Christians were massacred in Dogo Nahawa and several nearby villages.

A weekend slaughter led to the death of around 150 members of the Hausa Muslim community by Christian mobs in Kuru Karama, south of Jos, in January 2010. Some residents think the January attack may have played a part in the March massacre.

In September 2001, simmering tension in Jos erupted into violence leading to the deaths of 1,000 Christians and Muslims after what seemed to be a relatively minor incident. Reports said a Christian woman had tried to cross the road through a group of Muslims during Friday prayers. It came soon after a Hausa Muslim was given a relatively minor post in the local council as “poverty eradication coordinator,” inflaming local ethnic tensions.

In February 2004, allegations of cattle theft led to the murder of around 700 Muslims and Christians in the city of Yelwa. Again in November 2008, several hundred more people of both religions were killed after disputed local elections in Jos.

In nine months, that is between March and December 2010, more than 120 people died in smaller-scale attacks and reprisal killings leading up to the Christmas Eve bombings and renewed sectarian clashes.

IBB and the Jos carnage

Perhaps, the harvests of deaths would not have become the refrain in Plateau State had Gen. Ibrahim Babangida not balkanized the old Jos Local government into Jos North and Jos South Local Government Areas, rather than Jos North and Jos West as demanded by the majority, making the minority Hausa settlers in Jos who were centred on the present day Jos North the majority in Jos North.

Since areas in Jos North formed most of the nucleus of the Jos city, those who were not of Hausa/Fulani or Muslims, the major ethnic group, the indigenous Beroms, viewed this development as an affront to their heritage, both in terms of land and survival. Resistance to the imposition is the result of the constant bloodletting on the Plateau.

The first sign of tension was in 1994 when the military appointed a Hausa/Fulani as the local government administrator to the chagrin of the indigenous ethnic groups. This resulted in the first natives/Hausa/Fulani conflict in Jos, though many people were unaware of it. They remember the September 7 2001 version now a death reference. Between 2001 and 2011, thousands have lost their lives in various crises and Jos once called Home of Peace and Tourism is now referred to as Land of Death in many quarters.

The once serene city has witnessed so much violence to the extent that many people have relocated, new entrants are refusing to come and some indigenes have stayed away from home. Today in Jos, there are certain areas that Christians cannot go and some that Muslims cannot go. Some areas sit on border lines which make them the boiling points at the renewal of conflicts. Economic and social activities have suffered many setbacks leaving the people poorer and disillusioned.

The people of Plateau have also experienced the highhandedness of the federal government because of the conflict. Yet, there is no solution.

In 2004, then President Olusegun Obasanjo declared a state of emergency in 2004 on the state. President Yar’Adua was accused by the people of taking sides with the Hausa Fulani Muslims after the local government elections of November 2008 snowballed into a conflict.

The killing fields

And the attacks are on a spiral with retaliatory killings in upswing. Days leading to the September anniversary, there were killings on villages allegedly by the Fulani believed to be on a revenge mission arising from their losses in previous violence which had stopped for a while. Villages around the state capital were raided in commando-like operations by heavily-armed people, leaving many dead and injured. The serial nature of the latest attacks which seem targeted at wiping out families is generating a lot of concern among the people.

From Loton and Kwi in Riyom Local Government Area to Heipang and Tatu in Barkin-Ladi Local Govern-ment Area to Dabwak in Jos South and Zallaki-Babale in Jos North, it was the same story. The assailants strike, shooting, hacking down their victims while deep asleep, leaving, as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti sang sorrow, tears and blood as their trademark.

The state capital was equally thrown into fresh turmoil on Monday, August 29, when the Izala Muslim Sect which marked their own Eid-el-Fitri a day earlier than other Muslims, decided to resume the use of an abandoned prayer ground in a Christian- dominated area turned violent.

It again resulted in colossal losses in human and material terms. The deep-seated animosities created by the cycle of violence were re-opened leaving many to wonder if the situation would ever get better.

Fulani Killers/STF connection

The deployment of soldiers -Special Task Force (STF)- in place of policemen is yet to help matters. There is also the growing accusation that soldiers have become engrossed in the crisis by taking sides. Stories of how soldiers watch unconcerned when people are killed, maimed or property looted abound.

Some of the cars burnt at the mosque along Rukuba Road, Jos.

In almost all the attacks on villages are allegations of the involvement of soldiers. Despite denials by STF’ spokesman, Captain Charles Ekeocha, that soldiers as professionals deployed to protect the people and restore peace could not be involved in such activities, the accusations have refused to go. Hence 10 years on, peace has eluded Plateau State which was once acclaimed as a Home of Peace and Tourism.

Residents seek peace

The need for peace was captured in SMS messages sent around by some concerned people on the 10th anniversary. One of the messages read: “Fellow Nigerians and residents of Jos. This September 7 marks 10 years of the Jos crisis. Ten years of innocent people dying; 10 years of loss of property; 10 years of living in fear! How much more! Spread the word. Let our lives go back to normal; let our homes be safe; let our children go back to school; our traders go back to their shops; our husbands and wives go back to their work. Let good prevail over evil. Enough is enough!”

A concerned citizen and activist, Mallam Sadiq Sumbellep, added a unique dimension to the appeal for the return of peace by embarking on a hunger strike on September 7, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the crisis. He told Sunday Vanguard that he was pained that rather than improve, the situation was worsening.

“The crisis started exactly 10 years ago. At that time, people were using stones and sticks to fight, but now we have graduated into using sophisticated weapons and bombs to kill ourselves. The crisis has continued because government has not taken any action to address the underlining causes. All the reports of the commissions set up to look into the crisis remain unimplemented. The youths from both sides are made to destroy themselves.

“So, I’m embarking on this one day hunger strike to show my displeasure over the inability of our leaders to bring the crisis in Jos to an end after 10 years. I am calling on our leaders to be more serious about this problem. If we create employment opportunities for our youths, this crisis will reduce. Many of them lack what to do and that is why they are easy tools for violence. Where would will be in the next 10 years if we cannot solve this problem”, he said.

Member representing, Jos East/Jos South Constituency in the House of Representatives, Bitrus Kaze, has also accused the STF of colliding with the killers in Jos.

Said Kaze: “I join many peace_loving citizens in condemning the return of terrorism on the Plateau by faceless but known killers. I deeply sympathize with relations of the families that were wiped out and several others who sustained serious injuries. As always, the recurrent eye witness accounts in virtually all scenes of these heinous crimes is the nagging allegation of complicity by operatives of the STF operatives.

Said Kaze: “If the STF cannot account for the ethnic cleansing in Heipang, what explanation do they have for the simultaneous killings in Kuru, Babale and Foron where innocent women and children under their watch were mercilessly hacked down? The dereliction of duty by STF has made a mockery of the millions of Naira they sap from Plateau State coffers, protection of lives and properties is the duty of security agencies anywhere in the world, it is not a favour.

“While the exposure of their complicity may explain the anger of STF, the large amounts of sophisticated weapons moved into the house of one Fulani man alone in Mahangar village as beamed on NTA network news indicts them enough. The upsurge in calls for the withdrawal of the Military by key stakeholders on the Plateau cannot be baseless.”

A decade of governments’ inaction

The HRW accused the federal and Plateau State governments of failing to tackle the root causes of the violence, neither have they broken the cycle of killings by holding those responsible to account.

Only about 17 Hausa-Fulani men were convicted by the Federal High Court in Jos in December 2010 – the perpetrators have not been brought to justice. In the absence of effective redress through the courts, communities that have suffered violence frequently resort to vigilante justice and exact revenge by inflicting commensurate harm on innocent members of the other community.

“Over the years, the federal and Plateau State governments have set up various committees and commissions of inquiry that have examined these issues, but the reports from these bodies and the occasional government white paper, have mostly been shelved. Despite repeated outbreaks of violence, the government has largely ignored the findings and failed to implement the recommendations.

 

 

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