15 April 2014

Nigeria: 1,000 Dead in Communal Violence

While attacks by the militant group Boko Haram have killed many people in northern Nigeria, communal violence is also taking a toll. The group Human Rights Watch saID since December more than one thousand people have been killed in five northern states.

HRW researcher Mausi Segun said that communal violence is a common occurrence.

"The violence has been almost on a daily basis in some places like Benue State and in a few other places you've had it almost on a weekly basis."

Speaking from the capital Abuja, Segun said communal violence has gone on for years in northern Nigeria. But she warned it's now spreading.

"A lot of it we have been able to trace to tensions between the pastoralist herdsmen, who are nomadic, and farmers who find that their farmlands and their crops have been destroyed by the cattle of the herdsmen. And then you'll have the herdsmen, on the other hand, also complaining about killing of the cattle, which [are] really a prized treasure to them," she said.

Segun said that violence begets violence in northern Nigeria.

"There might be revenge killings very soon because we can sense the frustration of the people that there is no justice. There is no accountability for any of these attacks. These are very vicious crimes that have taken place. People have lost their family members, their limbs and property."

Human Rights Watch agreed there is little government follow-up.

Segun said, "Not in any of these attacks has there been any open or comprehensive investigation of those who are responsible for the attacks. We have spoken to scores of people, who have been victims of these attacks and the recurring story is that no one from the security agencies - neither from the police - nor from the military - has been [there] to take notes and to hear from them what they saw."

She said there may be a link between some of the communal violence and the militant group Boko Haram.

"Some of the victims that we've spoken to have talked about seeing individuals who they claim may not be the same herdsmen that they're used to in their environment. They seem to be foreign to them. And so there seems to be some mercenary work going on as well. But there really isn't much to be said on the part of the government to take steps to [put] all of this in check," she said.

A few weeks ago, the Nigerian military announced that forces had been deployed to some of the areas hardest hit by the violence - particularly, Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau States.

"Unfortunately, a couple of days after that there was an attack, which has been blamed on security forces in Keana town against the Fulani community in which at least 30 people are said to have died. I've spoken to victims of that attack and they confirm that these are military authorities. The authorities have said they are investigating that attack," she said.

Human Rights Watch has made a number of recommendations to quell the communal violence in northern Nigeria. These include establishing clear boundaries for cattle routes and grazing areas - setting-up mediation between farmers and herders on recognizing each others rights - and ensuring that those believed responsible for mass killings are promptly investigated by specially trained police and then prosecuted.

The group said that the "lack of justice for years of violence... has created a combustible situation."


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