Nigeria; The Jos massacre highlights failure

The latest sectarian massacre in Jos has brutally exposed the failure of the Nigerian authorities to end bloodshed and bring stability to a region which has long been a religious and ethnic powder keg. That Jos Explodes again while Still under Security Watch is inexcusable. One person to hold responsible is General Officer Commanding 3 Armoured Division, Jos, Maj.-Gen. Saleh Maina.

Maina is a Muslim. Numerous accounts say he sympathetic to the Hausa Fulani herdsmen. The GOC was reportedly alerted around 1:30am that Hausa/Fulani Moslems was attacking indigene and non indigene Christians at Dogo Nahawa, just south of the city of Jos and he couldn’t send soldiers there immediately until 3:30am after they finished killing the helpless people?

He should be removed immediately in order to restore sanity in the State because people of Jos no longer have confidence in him.

Plateau State Government Governor Jonah Jang said he actually phoned to alert the General Officer Commanding before the killings in Dogo Nahawa, Zot and Rassat villages.

Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff in the General Ibrahim Babangida regime, General Domkat Bali, also at the weekend berated the General Officer Command-ing (GOC), 3rd Armoured Division, Major-General Saleh Maina and other top military commanders and accused them of compromising the security of Plateau State by showing bias in their handling of the Jos crisis.

Specifically, Bali pointed accusing fingers at Maina, who he said has taken sides in the crisis. He said his fear was that should the military be polarised along religious lines, it would be the end of Nigeria.

Although military reinforcements have been deployed, Plateau State Governor Jonah Jang said security lapses had worsened the carnage.

Jang told reporters in Abuja that he had alerted the army commander about reports of hostile movement around the area and been told that troops would be heading there.

‘Three hours or so later, I was woken by a call that they (armed gangs) had started burning the village and people were being hacked to death,’ he lamented.

Major-General Salih Maina, denied receiving any hint from state authorities about the unrest, but stressed that he sent troops to crush an uprising last year where 700 people, mainly Muslims, were killed at Maiduguri.

But speaking on behalf of the state government, the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Nuhu Gagara, faulted the claim by the military commander in charge of the Joint Operations in Plateau State refuting the governor’s statement.

Mr. Gagara said although the governor, being a retired senior military leader, would not personally join issues with the commander, there was no doubt that the contact was made as claimed by the governor.

The commissioner observed that the fact that the commander admitted that he received several text messages alerting him on the imminent killings “is a food for thought.”

He asked: “Is sending of text messages not a means of communication? Why did he not react to them?”

He said further: “In any case, as a military formation, the 3 Armoured Division should have its own way of getting intelligence information.

“The commander’s people on ground should have informed him about the development.”

Mr. Gagara said it was scandalous that the massacre happened for several hours without any military intervention.

The commissioner stated that some villagers reported that the soldiers, who were belatedly drafted to the scene of the massacre, curiously freed several of the arrested assailants.

He said the soldiers were also withdrawn immediately.

Mr. Gagara declared that the government no longer has confidence in the military to maintain peace in the state.

The army took over the security of Jos from the Police after the January massacre. It is a sad commentary on our Federalism that the Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang, is the chief security officer of the state only in name. Without effective command of the security apparatus, how could he ensure security?

‘The security forces have failed in their primary responsibility to maintain law and order in the case of Jos killings. This is a flagrant violation of the constitution for which they have to be sanctioned,’ prominent rights activist Joe Okei-Odumakin told AFP.

‘They cannot excuse their failure,’ said Okei-Odumakin, president of the Campaign for Democracy, a coalition of rights bodies in Nigeria.

Plateau State Information Commissioner Gregory Yenlong put the casualty figure in the March 7 massacre of mostly Christian farmers in three Berom villages by ethnic Fulani herdsmen at more than 500.

Other sources put the toll at between 100 and 400.

Previous violence in and around Jos has claimed several thousand lives. The town lies in central Nigeria, on the fault line between the Christian majority south and the mostly Muslim north.

There have been outbreaks of violence every few years since 2001, and some commentators attributed Sunday’s slaughter to revenge for the killings of Muslims by Christians last January.

But some residents said the killings were part of a spiralling feud between the Fulani, who are nomads, and Berom, who are farmers, which had been sparked by the theft of cattle, rather than for religious motives.

‘The recurring violence in and around the Jos area in the last 10 or more years has become the defining point of the difficult challenge facing Nigeria,’ wrote analyst Kingsley Omose.

Women and children bore the brunt of the three-hour killing spree and in the week, mothers staged a series of angry demonstrations. They also called for troops to leave, saying that the army had not stopped the massacre.

The police said they have arrested 49 Fulani herdsmen for the killings and that the suspects had confessed to having acted in revenge for the January incident.

A Fulani community leader in Jos condemned the arrests, describing it as the ‘grossest injustice’.

With recriminations still flying, locals said they would pray for an end to the bloodshed as they had lost faith in the security services.

The government and security officials are trading accusations over the failure to prevent the tragedy despite having one of the country’s strategic army formations based in Jos.

Governor Jang had on Tuesday blasted the security chiefs in the state, saying he reported the looming crisis to them but they failed to take action.

“I reported to the commander of the army and he told me he was going to move some troops there…Three hours or so later, I was woken by a call that they had started burning …I started trying to locate the commanders but I couldn’t get any of them on the telephone.”

But Maj. Gen Maina on Thursday disagreed with the governor that he was contacted by any government official, even though he admitted that he got several text messages on the crisis before the massacre in the three villages.

He also claimed that the messages misdirected him, saying, and “may be deliberately”.

He stressed that the text messages actually came from his men. He also confirmed that the invaders were Fulani herdsmen who were coming in large numbers to kill people.

Eric Guttschuss, a researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, accused the security forces of neglect.

‘We are deeply concerned about the failure of the security forces. There’s been a slow reaction of the security forces,’ he told AFP.

Analysts and critics have accused Nigerian authorities of failing to punish those arrested over previous attacks in Jos, thereby creating a feeling of impunity, rather than deterrence.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday called on Nigeria to find and punish those responsible for the killings.

Bali, a four-star general, described the military commanders as being part of the problem in Jos and accused Maina of habitually not taking calls, irrespective of who is calling.

“The GOC, Maina or – whatever his name is – I did call him many times, but he won’t pick my phone. So, one day I met him while he was going to the Governor’s office, and I stopped him and asked why he has refused to pick my calls after calling many times? The idiot only told me he was overwhelmed by the happening. You see, I am a General. I called to show interest in what was happening, because I am here in Jos,” Bali told THISDAY.

“After that time, I tried calling him again but he still refused to pick my calls. The reason I called was that there were fake soldiers from Niger, Chad and so on. They were flashed on the television screen and I saw some of them wearing canvas, slippers and so on. The people I saw were not boys that could not be stopped and their weapons collected from them. But with what I saw on the screen, they (the fake soldiers) and the Army were virtually operating together, and the army did not arrest or stop them [as far as I know anyway].

“So, I believe, and a lot of people believe so too, that the GOC is playing games with us, and that they are part of the problems.”

Bali said as a soldier, he is not as patient as the state Governor, Jonah Jang because “if I were Jang, I would have made more inflammatory statements. I am talking about something very serious. This is not just about Plateau, but the whole of Nigeria. You see, the Chief of Army Staff is an Hausa man; the GOC is an Hausa man; they dictate who should come here and who is to serve in what position.

“My feeling is that they should remove Maina, because he has shown bias for Islam and it is a dangerous thing not just for Plateau, but for the whole country. The moment this country is broken along religion line, there may be no Nigeria any more. Especially as it regards the military, because the ultimate force bringing Nigeria together is the military,” he said.

Bali was said Jos has always been peaceful. “The conflict began when the interest to dominate grew. And of course it met with resistance; that was when the problem started. The issue is why must it be the Hausas that want to dominate Jos? Why not the Yorubas or the Ibos? That’s the problem.

“I must tell you here that Jos-North was never captured by the Fulanis or the Bauchi people. They were just lumped with them. That was the problem of the indirect rule system, in which some groups were just lumped with the Hausas by the British for convenience of administration. It was for administrative convenience that Jos was lumped with the then Bauchi province.”

The Jos crisis results from lack of honesty, trust and transparency between different levels of government in Nigeria. Someone, somewhere slept on the watch, why?

That person should be punished!