BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE
LAGOS — IN spite of the improvements recorded in the conduct of the 2011 general polls compared to past elections, about 800 Nigerians were killed in post-2011 election-related and communal violence in northern parts of the country, the Human Rights Watch, HRW, has said.
According to its report of the elections published in Dakar, Senegal, yesterday, the victims were killed in three days of rioting in 12 northern states.
To stem the tide, HRW, which noted that more than 15,700 people had been killed in inter-communal, political, and sectarian violence since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999, urged Nigeria’s state and federal authorities to promptly investigate and prosecute those who orchestrated and carried out these crimes and address the root causes of recurring inter-communal violence in the country.
HRW observed that violence linked to party primaries and campaigns, and on the days of the elections, had left at least 165 people dead since November 2010 one of the leading gubernatorial candidates in Borno State was assassinated in January 2011; bombings in four states— Bayelsa, Borno, Kaduna, and Niger — left dozens dead; and clashes between opposing party supporters or attacks by party thugs during the campaigns killed dozens of others.
To arrive at the figure, HRW said it conducted more than 55 interviews with witnesses and victims of the violence, Christian and Muslim clergy, traditional leaders, police officials, civil society leaders, and journalists. Researchers also conducted telephone interviews with witnesses of the violence in Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, and Zamfara states.
It said: “The April elections were heralded as among the fairest in Nigeria’s history, but they also were among the bloodiest,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The newly elected authorities should quickly build on the democratic gains from the elections by bringing to justice those who orchestrated these horrific crimes and addressing the root causes of the violence,” it said.
The presidential election divided the country along ethnic and religious lines. As election results trickled in on April 17, and it became clear that Buhari had lost, his supporters took to the streets of northern towns and cities to protest what they alleged to be the rigging of the results.
The protesters started burning tires, and the protests soon turned into riots. The rioting quickly degenerated into sectarian and ethnic bloodletting across the northern states. Muslim rioters targeted and killed Christians and members of ethnic groups from southern Nigeria, who were perceived to have supported the ruling party, burning their churches, shops, and homes. The rioters also attacked police stations and ruling party and electoral commission offices. In predominately Christian communities in Kaduna State, mobs of Christians retaliated by killing Muslims and burning their mosques and properties.
Quoting the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, it said at least 170 Christians were killed in the post_election riots, hundreds more were injured, and thousands displaced. And about 350 churches were burnt or destroyed by the Muslim rioters across 10 northern states.
In the predominately Christian towns and villages of southern Kaduna State, including Zonkwa, Matsirga, and Kafanchan, sectarian clashes left more than 500 dead, according to Muslim and Christian leaders interviewed by Human Rights Watch. The vast majority of the victims in these areas were Muslim.
Human Rights Watch estimates that in northern Kaduna State, at least 180 people, and possibly more, were killed in the cities of Kaduna and Zaria and their surrounding suburbs and dozens of people were also killed during riots in the other northern states.
A lecturer at a college on the outskirts of Zaria described an attack on the college: “When you see the mob, they were not in their senses,” he said. “The students ran away but the mob pursued them into the staff quarters and they had nowhere to go. The mob beat them to death and hit them with machetes. Four Christian students and a Christian lecturer were killed.”
Following the violence, a Human Rights Watch researcher drove through smouldering towns in the southern part of Katsina State, interviewed witnesses in the cities of Kaduna and Zaria in northern Kaduna State, and visited burned out villages in southern Kaduna State, including Zonkwa, Matsirga, and Kafanchan, that resembled war zones with entire neighborhoods razed to the ground.
In many of the northern towns and cities, Christians found refuge in police stations and military barracks. In southern Kaduna State, Muslim women and children flocked to police stations for safety. The police successfully protected people in many cases, but they were largely ineffective at controlling the rioting and violence in other places, Human Rights Watch found. In several cases, witnesses told Human Rights Watch that it was often not until soldiers were deployed to affected areas that the violence was halted.
Both the police and the military were implicated in the excessive use of force and other serious abuses while responding to the rioting and sectarian violence. Human Rights Watch documented eight cases of alleged unlawful killing of unarmed residents by the police and soldiers in the cities of Zaria and Kaduna, and received credible reports of more than a dozen other incidents.
Human Rights Watch also received credible reports that the police and soldiers in Kaduna, Gombe, and Bauchi states systematically beat people rounded up during or after the riots. Many of the detainees charged at the Chief Magistrate’s Court in Kaduna city had fresh scars on their backs, journalists who attended the hearing told Human Rights Watch. In the town of Azare, in northern Bauchi State, witnesses told Human Rights Watch that detainees were severely beaten by soldiers and police. One of the detainees’ hands was reportedly broken, while another detainee was hospitalized as a result of the beatings.
“The Nigerian authorities should promptly investigate these credible reports of unlawful killings and other abuses by members of the security forces,” Dufka said. “The use of violence by rioters, mobs, and state actors alike needs to be stopped.”
In the town of Kafanchan, one of the Christian leaders lamented to Human Rights Watch that past commissions of inquiry have failed to bring the culprits to book.
“There have been commissions of inquiries set up in the past, but I don’t know what they did; that is why we are really skeptical,” he said. “I want to believe that if they had done justice, maybe a repeat of this wouldn’t have come. This time justice should be done.”