Dakar — A deadly spate of sectarian violence in Nigeria’s central Plateau State since December 24, 2010, has killed more than 200 people, Human Rights Watch said today. The victims, including children, have been hacked to death, burned alive, “disappeared,” or dragged off buses and murdered in tit-for-tat killings.
The Nigerian government should act swiftly to protect civilians of all ethnicities at risk of further attacks or reprisal killings, and allow the United Nations secretary-general’s special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Francis Deng, to visit the state, Human Rights Watch said.
“These waves of senseless killings risk spreading and have taken a terrible toll on the people of Plateau State,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The state and federal governments should urgently enlist anyone who can help break this cycle of violence, including Mr. Deng.”
The most recent round of violence and reprisal killings was sparked by a series of bomb blasts on Christmas Eve in two Christian communities in Jos, the state capital. Since then, dozens of Muslims and Christians alike have been targeted and killed, often in horrific circumstances, based simply on their ethnic or religious identity. These latest deadly outbreaks follow a year of inter-communal bloodletting in 2010 that left at least 1,000 dead in the state.
In September 2010, Deng formally requested approval from the Nigerian government to visit Jos in October to help community leaders devise measures to reduce the risk of an escalation in the violence. The Nigerian government has not formally replied or authorized the mission.
Targeted and Reprisal Killings
The Christmas Eve explosions, which ripped through two Christian neighborhoods in Jos, and several days of sectarian clashes that followed the bomb attacks, left at least 107 dead, according to Christian and Muslim community leaders in Jos. A militant Islamist website published a statement by Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group in northern Nigeria, claiming responsibility. There has been no independent confirmation of this claim.
The targeted killings and tit-for-tat violence escalated further in January 2011. Eight Muslim youth in a car heading to a wedding were attacked on January 7 after they took a wrong turn and ended up in a Christian village in Barkin Ladi. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the following day the Nigerian army exhumed and returned to their families the corpses of five of them from shallow graves near the village. The three others remain missing.
The following morning, January 8, Muslim youth in Jos indiscriminately attacked Christians, mostly ethnic Igbo market traders, around the Dilimi market and along Bauchi Road. Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the victims were hacked to death with machetes and cutlasses or burned alive by the mob. Igbo leaders said that 48 Igbo civilians were killed in the attacks, while a health worker at the nearby Bingham University Teaching Hospital confirmed that 18 corpses arrived in the morgue on January 8.
Later that day, at least 14 Muslims were killed by mobs in Christian neighborhoods in Jos and surrounding communities. A passenger on an interstate bus to Jos on January 8 told Human Rights Watch that Muslim passengers were separated from Christian passengers and hacked to death. Four of the passengers were killed at a makeshift roadblock manned by a Christian mob in Ratsat, south of Jos, while two others were killed when the bus arrived at the Gada Biu bus terminus in Jos itself.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that two days later, on January 10, gunmen attacked Wareng village, a Christian community south of Jos, burning homes and killing residents. Four women and seven children were killed in the attack.
Muslim and Christian leaders in Jos told Human Rights Watch that they also knew of dozens of disappearances. They said that, in the past month, 42 Muslims, mostly motorcycle taxi operators in Jos, have been reported missing, while more than 51 Christians have still not been accounted for.
“This terrible cycle of violence and impunity needs to stop,” Dufka said. “Both the state and federal governments have shown a disturbing lack of urgency in addressing the violence and tackling the underlying causes of these deadly outbreaks.”
The federal and Plateau State governments should take concrete steps to break the cycle of violence by ending discriminatory state and local government policies that fuel inter-communal tensions, providing adequate protection for vulnerable communities, and ensuring a speedy and effective investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators of the violence, Human Rights Watch said.
Origins of the Crisis
Plateau State is in an area of central Nigeria known as the Middle Belt that divides the predominately Muslim north from the largely Christian south. Local political elites have long battled for power and control of limited resources and have stoked religious tensions to those ends. Widespread poverty and unemployment, fueled by endemic government corruption and mismanagement, have created an explosive social mix as competition intensifies for scarce opportunities to secure government jobs, education, and political patronage.
These tensions have been exacerbated by state and local government policies that discriminate against members of ethnic groups classified as “non-indigene” – those who cannot trace their ancestry to what are said to be the original inhabitants of an area. Non-indigenes, in Plateau State and elsewhere, are openly denied the right to compete for state and local government jobs and are subject to discriminatory admissions policies at state-run universities, denying them important avenues of socio-economic mobility. Discriminatory government policies have effectively relegated thousands of Plateau State residents to permanent second-class status.
Religious and ethnic identity often overlap in Nigeria. The main actors in the deadly struggle for power and resources in Jos have been the Hausa-Fulani and the Berom ethnic groups. The Hausa-Fulani, the vast majority Muslim, are the largest ethnic group in northern Nigeria. They are classified as non-indigenes in Jos, though many are from families that have been there for several generations. The Berom, predominately Christian, along with the Anaguta and Afizere ethnic groups, are designated indigenes.
A Decade of Suffering
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.
In January 2010, several hundred people were killed in sectarian clashes in and around Jos, including a massacre on January 19 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. Over the next nine months, more than 120 people died in smaller-scale attacks and reprisal killings leading up to the Christmas Eve bombings and renewed sectarian clashes.
Inter-communal violence in Plateau State and northern Nigeria has a history of spreading to other regions. Following the 2004 violence in Yelwa, 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.
Members of the security forces have also been implicated in serious abuses. In November 2008, Human Rights Watch documented 133 cases of unlawful killings by the federal police and army sent to Jos to quell the sectarian violence. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that, on January 10, 2011, at least one soldier was seen participating in the attack on Wareng village, which left 15 Christians dead.
Unbroken Cycle of Violence
The federal and Plateau State governments have not only failed to tackle the root socio-economic causes of the violence, they have also failed to break the cycle of killings by holding those responsible to account. In all but a handful of cases – 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.
The federal government, however, has taken some steps to beef up security in Jos and surrounding communities since early 2010. While the military presence has had some effect in deterring and responding to attacks, the underlying causes of the reoccurring outbreaks of violence remain.