Tracking the Decade-long Deaths on the Plateau and Need for Justice

Tracking the Decade-long Deaths on the Plateau and Need for Justice

Following recent attacks recorded in over 17 neighbouring communities in Plateau State that lasted over 48 hours, claiming over 160 lives, with over 300 others seriously injured, and hundreds of properties destroyed, Sunday Ehigiator trackedthe spate of killings in the state which dates back decades. While examining government and other stakeholders’ lapses which has further exacerbated the crisis, he also provided expert recommendations on need for justice for victims as well as decentralisation of security for the crises-laden state 

“It was a bloodbath. I was just about to go to bed at about 11 pm on that Saturday after spending the whole day on my farm when I began to hear sounds of gunshots accompanied by noises, shouts and tears.

“At that instant, I knew we were under attack. I immediately put on my clothes, reached for my machete, and hid it under my clothes to defend myself. I also took money with me which I got from some farm produce I sold a day before because it was the most important thing I could think of at that moment for survival, that’s if I survived.

“As soon as I stepped out, I saw that the Fulani Herdsmen had already taken over the whole street. I knew they were Fulani because I understood their language and I could hear them speaking it.

“Some of them were on foot while some others were on motorcycles. They were all wagging different weapons, from cutlasses to guns, diggers, shovels, and knives, and were killing everything living on the spot, including babies, children, adults, women, men, and even pregnant women.

“I began to run for my dear life, but about five of them on motorcycles chased after me. At some point, they shot me, and I fell, they surrounded me. I began to shout at them in their language and beg them to leave me, asking them what crime I committed or my village that they so want us all exterminated.

“They referred to us as infidels and said we have no rights, they started hitting me with the back of their cutlass, and they shot at me the second time while I was on the ground. That was how I sustained these injuries on my arm and my back. I was able to escape because I pretended to have died after the second shot.

“They are very heartless. They were slaughtering human beings like cattle, with no sympathy. All pleas fell on deaf ears. It was a very horrific day.”

The above is the testimony of a survivor, Christian Emmanuel, in the recent deadly attacks on over 17 communities in Bokkos and Barkin Ladi Local Government Areas of Plateau state.

Origin of the Crisis

Jos was officially founded in 1915. The Berom and other indigenous groups argue that the city was founded on land that belonged to them as the native people of the Plateau.

Over the last decade, the political crisis over ‘indigene’ rights and political representation in Jos, the capital of Plateau State, has developed into a protracted communal conflict affecting most parts of the state.

At least 4,000 and possibly as many as 7,000 people have been killed since late 2001 when the first major riot in more than three decades broke out in Jos.

Local political elites have long battled for power and control of limited resources in Plateau state which is located in an area of central Nigeria known as the Middle Belt that divides the predominantly Muslim north from the largely Christian south.

To this end, they have stoked religious tensions, just as 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.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), 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 also 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, predominantly Christian, along with the Anaguta and Afizere ethnic groups, are designated indigenes.”

A Decade of Suffering

HRW revealed that 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.”

Complicity of Security Agencies 

Members of the security forces have also been implicated in serious abuses.

In November 2008 for instance, 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.

The Berom man in Wareng, a Christian village south of Jos, narrated, “At around 11:30 p.m., I heard shooting of guns. I didn’t know what to do. There were many attackers. They were speaking Fulani.

“They came to my house and broke the door. As they entered the house they were shooting. I hid in the second room. They entered inside but didn’t find me. It was God that hid me.

“One of the attackers was a soldier. I saw him as he passed by my window. He was wearing the new uniform of the soldiers, not the green uniform but the brown uniform. Later when we were looking around we saw an ID card of a soldier on the ground. Our councillor reported it to the chairman of the local government.

“15 people were killed in the attack: four men, four women, and seven children. Thirteen people died that day, two died later at the hospital. The men were killed by gunshots.

“They killed the women and children with knives. One of the babies died from the smoke when they burned the house. My brother, his wife and two of their children were killed. Their third child was cut on his head. I took the boy that very night to the hospital. They sewed his head and now it is better. I will try to take care of him if I am alive.”

An Unbroken Cycle of Violence, Failed Interventions

On Saturday, December 23, 2023, gunmen attacked over 17 remote villages in Plateau state, killing at least 160 people, with blames on the farmer-herder crisis in the state

The assailants targeted 17 communities in “senseless and unprovoked” attacks on Saturday and Sunday, burning down most houses in the area, according to Plateau Governor, Caleb Mutfwang.

The federal and Plateau State governments have not only failed to tackle the root socio-economic causes of the violence, but 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, but 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 recurrent outbreaks of violence remain.

Crises of Policing and Call for Accountability

Speaking on the policing crisis in the state, Nigeria’s Country Director, United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Chris Kwaja during an interview with an international media organisation said, “From the perspective of the USIP, we have been supporting some dialogue in Mangu, and one of the key lessons learnt from that engagement was that, people are saying, we are committed to peacebuilding, we are committed to living together, but there is a huge crisis of policing, both in terms of inadequate police personnel on the ground, as well as the question of accountability that has not been there.

“And that, when you talk of peacebuilding outside the framework of accountability, where justice is handed to victims, where impunity is dealt with, then the whole issue of public safety becomes unachievable.

“And for us, we want our safety to be guaranteed as a condition for us to engage with one another, to live peacefully as we’ve always been. But the question for me is, when we talk of the crisis of policing, how many policemen and women do we have in the country?

“Today, the point is that even if you want to deliver on policing, the personnel are not there. And that is where the governance of security becomes very important. And it’s not just the police, even the military.

“We are talking about a country of over 200 million people, with about 300,000 policemen, and 300,000 military personnel. When you divide that, the police to citizen ratio becomes 1 police personnel to about 600 people, how do you then deliver on security in that context?”

Renewed Call for State Policing

Speaking on solutions to the frequent attacks in the state that have lasted decades, Plateau State Commissioner for Information, Musa Ashoms in his interview with an international media organisation noted that, “What we people are asking for is enough security.

“For example when this type of carnage was happening in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe State, the military made sure that citizens of those communities were made part of the policing, where we had the civilian-military Joint Task Force (JTF).

“We have our young people who can defend the community, they can be profiled by the Department of State Services (DSS), then embraced and brought to speed on security and make them become part of the security architecture of the communities.

“When people get killed, what their relatives that are alive always think is that the government has failed them. And the government is in layers. As a government, the Constitution states that our primary responsibility is the protection of lives and properties.

“But we have a state government that has no command of the military, the police, or even the civil defence because orders to these state parastatals come from the central government, which is the Federal Government.

“That is why we are canvassing and soliciting for State Police. For example, if you are in Bokkos where I am right now, and you see strange movements, you will notice it because you are from this community and you can recognise a stranger.

“But in the case where the military man is from Sokoto, Bayelsa, or Ondo, he might not understand the internal workings of these communities. Also, when you want to gather intelligence, the home-state approach is always the best. People who live in the communities, when they see strangers report them, they give intelligence and you act on it.

“We are not faulting the Nigerian Military but the solution to the problem that has kept happening year in, year out, is for us to have State Police, as a new approach. The idea of having a central police or a central military protecting our communities has to a large extent not yielded the right result. So as a government, we are also advocating and soliciting for state police.”

Also speaking on the need for state policing, Nigeria Country Director, USIP, Kwaja, added “I believe the president’s promise on increased security personnel to the extent that as president, he can undertake a security sector reform, where these issues are addressed in the context of looking at the effectiveness and potency of the policing architecture in the context of the national security strategy that is on the ground.

“Secondly, it also depends on the commitment of the leadership of the military and other security institutions to deliver on the mandate of these security responsibilities based on the expectations of the people.

“For many of these people, security sector reform should be anchored on the principles of decentralisation of security in the country, because you cannot talk of security, where a centralised security arrangement is implemented, looking at the distance between the federal and the community level.”

Presidential Intervention

Following the incident, Nigeria’s President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu approved immediate activation of humanitarian response and support to the victims of the attack in Plateau state

The currently suspended Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu, made this known in a statement by her Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Rasheed Zubair, issued in Abuja.

She said the ministry will immediately collaborate with the Plateau State government in bringing humanitarian succour to the survivors of the unfortunate attack as well as the affected communities.

Nigeria’s Vice President, Kashim Shettima, who visited the affected local government areas in the state following the incident to console the victim, assured that President Bola Tinubu’s administration would not rest on its oars until victims of the gruesome attacks get justice.

Shettima, who was accompanied by the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, said President Tinubu was heartbroken about the killings, vowing that the perpetrators would not go scot-free.

He assured the communities that “we won’t rest until you access justice and until you are safe.”

Importance of Justice

Speaking on the importance of justice in curbing future attacks, Nigeria Country Director, Amnesty International, Isa Sanusi said, “You know in Nigeria, we have been having these types of happenings over a long period, especially in the last 10 years.

“But for Amnesty International, the most important thing is the failure of the Nigerian authorities to stop these killings and bring the suspected perpetrators to justice.

“We believe that as long as this keeps happening and nothing is done afterwards other than condolences, statements and sympathy, you will hear another attack after a few days.

“We are gradually seeing a buildup of impunity whereby people believe that they can carry arms, enter a village and kill people, and get away with it. We believe that under International Humanitarian Law, International Human Rights Law, and the Nigerian Constitution itself, the duty of protecting the people and their properties is solely and clearly of the government.

“So we are seeing an increase in the failure of the Nigerian authorities and that is the biggest issue.”

Aftermaths of Attacks and Pluralisation of IDP Camps

Speaking further, Sanusi said, “Mostly after these atrocious attacks, the government comes to make promises, people become displaced, only a few people could manage to go back to resettle in their land.

“The younger people move to the cities and the urban areas. The remaining people have to move to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, and that creates bigger humanitarian concerns across Nigeria.

“Nigeria is now littered with IDP camps everywhere. Most of the victims of these dastardly attacks never get justice, which we believe at Amnesty International, should be the priority of the government.

“And the people continue to remain at the IDP camps without justice, any support, or even an understanding that something is being done to address the reasons why they were displaced in the first place.

“So the country is increasingly and gradually creating a humanitarian crisis that is not shrinking but expanding. And it’s going to be disastrous for everyone.”

Conclusively, experts and other concerned stakeholders have argued that the solution to curbing the frequent breakout of crisis, which has led to several ‘Deaths on the Plateau’, lies solely in the decentralisation of the security apparatus of the country, in a way that either involves the creation of ‘State Police’, or creation of a Military-Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) like it was done in the North-eastern states, which would involve members of the community members in intelligence gathering and other security frameworks of their communities. 

Quotes

They referred to us as infidels and said we have no rights, they started hitting me with the back of their cutlass, and they shot at me the second time while I was on the ground. They are very heartless. They were slaughtering human beings like cattle, with no sympathy. All pleas fell on deaf ears. It was a very horrific day.

There is a huge crisis of policing, both in terms of inadequate police personnel on the ground, as well as the question of accountability that has not been there and then when you talk of peacebuilding outside the framework of accountability, where justice is handed to victims, where impunity is dealt with, then the whole issue of public safety becomes unachievable.

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