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Diary of Plateau State conflicts

| July 11, 2012 More

 THE mass violence in Plateau State over the past decade began on Friday 7th September 2001, just over two years after the transition from military to civilian rule in 1999. The belief was that the Plateau was previously free of conflict and was named: “Home of Peace and Tourism”.

But there were very high levels of violence against the Igbo and other Easterners in Jos, Bukuru and the minesfields in 1966 in which thousands were massacred by Hausa and Berom mobs. The political dynamics were different but more people were killed on the Plateau in 1966 than in 2001.

The September 7 to 12, 2001 Muslim-Christian violence in Jos, in which an estimated 1,000 people were killed, was therefore a terrible shock. The main precursor to the 2001 mass violence in Jos – in that the political dynamics of the conflict were similar, not the scale of killing or destruction – was in April 1994. In both cases, a Muslim was appointed to a political position in Jos triggering protests by Plateau “indigenes” in Jos, then counter-protests by Hausa Muslims, which led to violence.

The Jos riots in 2001 – as in 2010 – spread to rural areas outside the city, where there were clashes between Berom (mainly Christian) farmers and Fulani (mainly Muslim) pastoralists and attacks on Muslims in some of the old mining settlements.

The rural violence on the Jos Plateau continued intermittently until the end of 2002, when there were a series of what were probably reprisal attacks by the Fulani, many of whom had been displaced from Plateau into Bauchi State, on villages inhabited by Berom and Irigwe people – predominantly farming communities living on the high plateau outside of Jos.

There were repeated episodes of violence between Muslims and Christians in Yelwa, in 2002 and 2004. After an attack in which several hundred Muslims were massacred – following earlier attacks on Christians – pressure on the federal government from northern leaders led the then President Obasanjo to visit Yelwa and declare a state of emergency in Plateau State.

A retired Major-General, Chris Alli, was put in charge of the state for six months (18 May to 18 November 2004) and a peace conference was inaugurated. The state governor at the time, Joshua Dariye, and his state legislature, were suspended from office, but returned to power after the state of emergency ended. Jonah Jang, Berom from Du village by ethnicity, and a retired Air Commodore and former military governor of Benue (1985-86) and Gongola (1986-87) States, has been Governor of Plateau State since 2007. His administration is widely accused of having adopted a Berom ethnic agenda, to the detriment of other groups, and by both Hausa and Fulani, especially, of having a strong anti-Muslim bias and this renewed violence in 2008 and 2010.

The past decade of violence in Plateau State, from 2001 till date, took place under civilian governments, but this does not mean military administrations were better at controlling religious or ethnic tensions in Nigeria. Military authoritarianism inflamed communal tensions in some areas, as the political demands of excluded groups were not met, and in the absence of open politics religious activism became more pronounced.

A report by a committee set up by the Plateau State government reported there had been 53,787 violent deaths in Plateau from 7 September 2001 to 18 May 2004, when a six month state of emergency was imposed by the federal government and the state governor and legislature suspended from office.

Upwards of a thousand people have been killed in 2010, with the highest casualties in the old mining settlements outside of Jos. At least 200 Muslim residents were massacred at Kuru Jenta in January, and in March at least 300 Berom Christians were murdered in an attack on Dogo Nahauwa.

The Fulani also suffered heavy casualties in rural areas on the Jos Plateau, notably in Barakin Ladi and Jos South LGAs, but also in Riyom LGA. One of the leaders of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association in Plateau State – a predominantly Fulani ethnic association – has compiled the names of 215 Fulani people he says were killed in 2010. I was not able to verify this figure, but there have certainly been major losses. Many of the killings in Plateau were carried out in very cruel ways and in some instances the bodies of victims were mutilated.

The point is that in Plateau State the opening up of politics under civilian rule has been accompanied by intense ethnic competition, at all levels – state, local government and ward – and Plateau elites have consolidated their power and control of the state, excluding other groups on the basis of religion and ethnicity. Politics under post-1998 civilian administrations have provided opportunities for “indigenous” elites in Plateau to gain power, but not for “settlers”.

The total number of people killed in Plateau State in the decade 2001-2010 certainly runs into the thousands. There have been some very wild claims, totally unsubstantiated, stating that tens of thousands of people were killed in the first period of violence from 2001-2004. A report by a committee set up by the Plateau State government reported there had been 53,787 violent deaths in Plateau from 7 September 2001 to 18 May 2004, when a six month state of emergency was imposed by the federal government and the state governor and legislature suspended from office. This figure is certainly an exaggeration: it does not draw on credible or verifiable data. On 8 October 2004, the day after the report was published, IRIN, a media project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, wrote:

The Committee of Rehabilitation and Reconciliation of Internally Displaced People said in a report published on Thursday that almost 19,000 men and more than 17,000 women and 17,000 children had been killed during 32 months of retaliatory violence between Christians and Muslims —- 53,787 deaths in all. (…) The committee reported that 280,000 people had been forced to flee their homes as a result of the violence in Plateau State, although the majority had now been resettled. But at least 25,000 houses had been razed to the ground and some 1,300 herds of cattle had been slaughtered during the battles.

The creation of Jos North local government area in 1991 by former Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida seems to have sown a seed of discord between the Hausa-Fulani and the indigenous population, which has haunted Jos till date while on a more serious note the reintroduction of Sharia legal system in some northern states in 1999 which witnessed a tremendous influx of people from Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, Zamfara, and from other core northern states who came to take refuge.

Jos first experienced a violent ethno-religious crisis on September 7, 2001, which broke its innocence as a religiously tolerant state.

The crisis began shortly after state-wide local government council elections, which were considered by some as “peaceful, free and fair”. Security reports and situations before the elections in Jos had advised that the elections be postponed till a more convenient date. Some others had reasoned that their continuous disenfranchisement was only fitting and convenient for the state government who had been accused of biases even before the polls. It was while awaiting the announcement of the results that trouble broke out at the collation centre, which had been moved to Kabong shortly before the elections.

On Sunday January 17th 2010, there was another ethno- religious conflict in Jos. Jos Crisis of 17th January, 2010

Sunday, 17th January 2010, witnessed another ethno- religious conflict in Jos.

That violence developed from a minor argument among Christian and Muslim youths in a local football match on Saturday, 16th January, 2010. The argument and name-calling continued till the next day and degenerated into a major religious crisis.

From these accounts, in what began as isolated disagreements in Nasarawa area, Jos was again engulfed in a major orgy of killings, mayhem, and wanton destruction of houses and business premises. The crisis spread to Bukuru and its immediate environs. Rayfield, a hitherto elite area which had been insulated in previous crises was also affected. The University of Jos came under siege from both sides, that is, the Naraguta students’ hostels, Abuja and village hostels and senior staff quarters at Bauchi road and permanent site. A 12-hour and later 24-hour curfew was imposed in Jos-Bukuru and its environs by Plateau state government. Arrests were made amidst renewed allegations of hired uniformed fake soldiers, who were again taken to Abuja for further interrogation, an action which the Plateau State government again condemned.

The level of destruction assumed new dimensions in Bukuru particularly, as houses were completely brought down to their foundations. The tensions spread to Bauchi, Kano, Kaduna, Nasarawa, and Gombe States. State governments of Ondo, Oyo, Benue and Nasarawa sent buses to transport their students and other citizens to their home states. An imminent national calamity became rife and palpable.

Police statement put the number of causalities at 326, while another put it at 362. The Human Rights Watch confirmed that about 150 dead bodies were pulled from a village well at Kuru Karama.  The Red Cross Society of Nigeria noted more than 8000 refugees in the Toro local government area of Bauchi

There were accusations and counter-accusations of security partial handling of the conflict. The carnage left more devastation than the previous crises in Jos, with new dimensions.

A presidential committee was set up to be headed by Chief Solomon Lar, a former civilian governor of Plateau State, to look into the causes of the crisis and to proffer solutions towards averting future occurrence.

Calls for a declaration of a state of emergency emerged, and for the relocation of federal institutions and agencies.  In a swift reaction to calls for the state of emergency in Plateau State, the Plateau State House of Assembly issued a press advertorial in which it raised certain observations and questions. “The house is unable to understand on rational analysis why such orders were not made in some states in the north where religious sects such as Boko Haram and Kalakato emerged in challenge of Federal Authorities in which many lives were lost.

Category: Bauchi State News

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