Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Massacre in Central Nigeria

Human rights groups have called on Nigeria’s interim president to launch an immediate investigation into the tit-for-tat murder of over 400 villagers in the centre of the country two days ago. The killings of men, women and children in Nigeria's Plateau State took place on Sunday morning, when an armed group arrived in the mainly Christian villages of Dogo Nahawa, Zot, and Ratsat, 10 kilometers south of provincial capital Jos. The group shot into the air to draw people out of their homes before cutting them down with machetes. (photo by Reuters)

The strong stench of decomposing human bodies filled the air before they were removed to three mass burial sites. A state official who headed the Rescue and Recovery Committee said about 380 were buried at Dogon Na Hauwa while about 36 corpses would be buried in the two other graves. A small number of the bereaved families made their own burial arrangements. Plateau State Police Command said 96 people were arrested with four of the fleeing killers shot dead by security forces.

Witnesses interviewed by US-based Human Rights Watch said the attacks were committed by Muslim men speaking Hausa and Fulani against Christians, mostly of the Berom ethnicity."This kind of terrible violence has left thousands dead in Plateau State in the past decade, but no one has been held accountable," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It's time to draw a line in the sand. The authorities need to protect these communities, bring the perpetrators to book, and address the root causes of violence."

Civil society leaders in Jos said that the attacks were retaliation for previous attacks against Muslim communities in the area and the theft of cattle from Fulani herdsmen. On January 19, more than 150 Muslim residents were killed in an attack on the nearby town of Kuru Karama. In that attack scores of the residents were hacked to death and their bodies stuffed into wells. State agencies went missing in that attack and also in the revenge attacked that followed this week.

Religious and land-related clashes in the state have claimed more than 2,000 lives since 2001. The ruling state and national party the People's Democratic Party is supported by Christians while Muslim mainly back the opposition All Nigeria People's Party. And because the Hausa-speaking Muslims are often referred to as settlers, they are barred from taking official positions, gibing further rise to hatred.

Nigeria’s racial problems have been exacerbated by a constitutional crisis triggered by a long illness to President Umaru Yar’Adua. Yar’Adua spent three months in Saudi Arabia clinic before returning to Nigeria last month. However he has yet to resume any duties and four Saudi heart specialists arrived in Nigeria on the weekend as his health deteriorated. His exact health status is shrouded in secrecy as Acting President Goodluck Jonathan and other ruling party members have still not been granted access to see him in his Intensive Care Unit within the state house.

The Acting President is a Christian unlike the Muslim Yar’Adua as part of an unwritten agreement to take turns sharing the presidency between north and south. Jonathan comes from the oil-rich Delta region, an area with a sense of resentment that northerners stolen its wealth. The stand-off between the northern and southern factions has paralysed the administration of the country since Yar’Adua fell ill. Everyone is now waiting to see how the armed forces respond to the crisis. As Jonathan Clayton said in The Times “few people would like to see a return to military rule, but an unstable Nigeria is a nightmare prospect for both African and Western leaders.”

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