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Security forces must investigate killings says rights group

Grains traders plough through the remains of Laranto grain market before it was burned down in the Jos riots
(Aminu Abubakar/IRIN)

Nigerian police and military forces killed 130 civilians, mostly young Muslim men, and must urgently investigate the matter, Human Rights Watch (HRW) told a judicial commission of inquiry into the violence in Plateau State in November 2008.

More than 700 people were killed in Plateau's capital, Jos, during clashes between Muslim and Christian mobs on 28 and 29 November. 

While most of the inter-communal violence took place on 28 November, the vast majority of killings by security forces occurred on 29 November after Plateau State Governor Jonah Jang ordered forces to "shoot-on-sight", HRW said in a 20 July report.

Muslim witnesses said Christians destroyed 22 mosques, 15 Islamic schools and hundreds of Muslim businesses; Christian witnesses said Muslim youths besieged and burned up to 46 churches and hundreds of Christian homes, and killed seven church leaders.

HRW called on the authorities to investigate the killings; to determine the consequences of the "shoot-on-sight" order; and arrest and prosecute the perpetrators and organizers of the violence.

Army spokesperson, Brigadier General Emeka Onwuamaegbu, told HRW "Our soldiers went out with very strict instructions to use minimum force and follow the rules of engagement."

Since the report was launched army spokespeople told HRW that they are taking the findings seriously and waiting for the commission of inquiry's recommendations.

Jos police spokesperson Mohamed Lerama told IRIN the central police authority will put out a statement in response to the commission's findings once they are finalized.

It was still "too early to see" if the government would hold perpetrators of the violence responsible, said HRW researcher Eric Guttschuss, who warned: "Unless federal and state government take aggressive steps to do so, it will just embolden perpetrators to carry out further human rights abuses."

Up to 12,000 people have died in ethno-religious inter-communal clashes since 1999, said HRW. One thousand people were killed during sectarian clashes in Jos in September 2001, and a further 700 lives were lost in the town of Yelwa, in northwestern Kebbi State, in March 2004. Hundreds of businesses and homes were burned in sectarian clashes in Niger State three months ago.

Root causes

HRW also called on the federal and state governments to address the root causes of conflict, one of which, they said, was government discrimination against "non-indigenes", or people who cannot trace their ancestry back to the original inhabitants of an area. This practice bans millions from accessing state and local government jobs, and admission to university.

The November 2008 violence followed a disputed local government election pitting predominantly Christian "indigenes", who largely supported a Christian candidate for the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), against Muslim "non-indigenes", who largely backed the Muslim candidate of the opposition All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP).

"Religious, political and ethnic disputes often serve as proxies for the severe economic pressures that lie beneath the surface in Nigeria," said the HRW report.

Guttschuss said the rights group has been pushing for a reversal of the indigene policy since 2001, but "in eight years of repeated outbreaks of violence we have seen little action by the federal or state government to address the issue."

National legislation on relaxing the indigene policy was drafted many years ago, but never reached committee level.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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