Massacre in Central Nigeria

Human rights groups have called on Nigeria’s interim president to investigate the tit-for-tat murder of 400 villagers in the centre of the country. The killings in Nigeria’s Plateau State happened on Sunday morning, when an armed group arrived in the Christian villages of Dogo Nahawa, Zot, and Ratsat, 10km 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 stench of decomposing human bodies filled the air before they were removed to three mass burial sites. A state official heading the Rescue and Recovery Committee said 380 were buried at Dogon Na Hauwa 36 corpses would be buried in two other graves. A small number of bereaved families made their own burial arrangements. Plateau State Police Command said 96 people were arrested with four 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.”Leaders in Jos said it was retaliation for previous attacks against Muslim communities and the theft of cattle from Fulani herdsmen. On January 19, more than 150 Muslim residents were killed in an attack on Kuru Karama when scores of residents were hacked to death and their bodies stuffed into wells. State agencies went missing in that attack and also in the revenge attacks that followed this week.

Religious and land-related clashes in the state have claimed 2,000 lives since 2001. The ruling state and national party the People’s Democratic Party is supported by Christians while Muslim back the opposition All Nigeria People’s Party. Because Hausa-speaking Muslims are often referred to as settlers, they are barred from taking official positions, causing further 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. He has yet to resume duties and four Saudi heart specialists arrived in Nigeria on the weekend as his health deteriorated. His health status is shrouded in secrecy as Acting President Goodluck Jonathan and 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 northerners have stolen its wealth. The stand-off has paralysed the administration of the country since Yar’Adua fell ill. Everyone is 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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