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Plateau’s four days of sorrow, tears, blood – Inside story of latest crisis

By the time a reassuring cease fire was attained Thursday morning, the crisis had spread to no less than five local governments in the state,…

By the time a reassuring cease fire was attained Thursday morning, the crisis had spread to no less than five local governments in the state, from Jos North where it started to Jos South, Barkin Ladi, Mangu and down to Pankshin in the central senatorial zone of the state.

Unofficial sources puts the casualty figure at over 300 dead including women and children with more than 700 injured while more than 21,000 persons have been displaced with no less than 800 structures raised to the ground.

By the time the dust began to settle on Wednesday evening when the state government announced the relaxation of the 24-hour curfew on Jos/Bukuru metropolis, it was clear that the four day crisis was one that Plateau, even with its high record of sectarian strife and political turmoil had never experienced before, both in terms of the spread of violence and the depth of resentment between the two sides of the divide.

What caused the fight?

Initially, when the fight erupted at the Dutse Uku area of Nasarawa Gwong claiming no less than 20 lives and some properties on the first day, the skirmish, according to the three different versions of possible causes was said to have been as a result of a tiff between neighbours.

The first version had it that it was as a result of a football match between a Christian-dominated and a Muslim-dominated side which later erupted in violence as the youths could not agree on the mode of officiating.

Later, people heard that violence erupted when a certain Muslim, Malam Kabiru Mohammed whose house was damaged during the November 2008 crisis had mobilised men and material to go and rebuild his house when a man of Jarawa (an ethnic group in Plateau) extraction accosted Malam Kabiru and his group, telling them they won’t be allowed to rebuild and that they cannot come back to the area, as the area had according to the man become an ‘exclusive Christian area’.

It was the protest that greeted the bid to stop the Muslim from rebuilding his house that was said to have gone bloody that Sunday morning as both men at the centre of the storm were said to have mobilised supporters to their sides based on religious divides to enforce their positions.

The third version has it that Malam Kabiru in rebuilding his house, took advantage of the absence of his erstwhile Christian neighbour and extended the structure of his house to the perimeters of the adjoining plot, and when he was accosted to shift and maintain his original plot insisted that the land belonged to him.

Efforts to locate the scene of the football match and those who participated by our correspondents failed as none of the persons interviewed was able to point at a particular field or location were the match was said to have been played. In the version that attributed the crisis to efforts to rebuild a house, our correspondent was able to identify and speak with one of the major characters, Malam Kabiru who confirmed that indeed the crisis emanated from his effort to rebuild his house.

Efforts by our correspondent to identify the Jarawa man however failed as even Mallam Kabiru does not know his name.

But Malam Kabiru confirmed that he had gone to the site of his property at the Nasarawa Gwong areas with labourers and building material that Sunday morning to repair his house which had been destroyed in the 2008 crisis when some people led by the unidentified Jarawa man tied to stop him and that as far as he can remember, that was when a hot exchange began between them which later turned bloody. He denied ever trying to encroach on another land, saying that was not possible since it is not a fresh plot.

But the Plateau state Police Commissioner, Greg Ayating, punctured all the theories and even went ahead to condemn the earlier versions relayed by the media as the cause of the crisis.

In his own explanation, the commissioner blamed the crisis on a group of Muslim youths who he said without provocation, launched an attack on Christian worshippers at the St. Michaels Catholic Church, Jos at Nasarawa Gwong.

He emphasized that it was the attack launched by the group of Muslim youths on the Christian worshippers that later turned into a fight which led to the crisis adding that the police had been able to arrest 35 persons in connection to the crisis by Sunday afternoon saying five out of 35 were arrested in full military uniforms.

Crisis escalation

By Sunday evening, our correspondents confirmed the attainment of a relative calm albeit being accompanied by mutual suspicion and high tension as residents of Jos and Bukuru were not sure what would happen next. But by early Monday morning, the fears of residents that the matter had not been settled was confirmed when areas like Dogon Karfe,  Abbattoir, Dogo Dutse, Rikkos, Anglo Jos, in Jos North local government, Bukuru and Kuru in Jos South, then Bisichi and other villages in Barkin Ladi local governments caught fire.

Even now, nobody is sure what added fuel to the Sunday fire leading to the escalation of violence up to areas where crises were not experienced in 2008, but many say there have been deep-seated sentiments harboured by each side even prior to the crisis which only found ventilation immediately the news of fresh hostility was confirmed.

Ahmed Garba, Secretary of the Youth Wing of the Jamaatu Nasril Islam (JNI) told our correspondents it was the statement by the commissioner that escalated the crisis saying it on one side alarmed those who thought they would find neutrality in the intervention by the security agencies.  Then Shamaki Gad of the League of Human Rights however said he views the statement by the police commissioner as apt saying the ability of the police to this time around identify and name the aggressors is commendable.

He said in a statement that the state has suffered enough from crises and that effort to nip it in the bud must be encouraged.

But the Chief of Army staff, Lt. General Abdulrahman Dambazau, who visited Jos at the height of the crisis, said the cause of the crisis cannot be ascertained immediately. He said “the best way to find out this is to investigate and I think at this stage that we are now, nobody can really come out to tell you that this is exactly the cause.”

Killing fields

But as comments were flying from all over, Plateau State in the preceding moments wore the toga of a killing field. Places like Anglo Jos, Abbattoir, Bukuru, Kuru and Bisichi became theatres of war. Our correspondents learnt that neighbours who have been living together for decades suddenly realised their differences and turned their weapons against one another. The greater damage exerted on any individual or group is not only justified but celebrated with shouts of victory.

Hence areas like Bukuru, Kuru and Bisichi, where Christians and Muslims have been living together became a huge bonfire as houses were torched at will while residents were prevented from escaping so that they would be trapped in the fire. There are, also, claims of some people in military attire posing as Nigerian soldiers who have come to ensure security in the area only for them to bare their fangs when they have advanced to a position of advantage.

Worship centres, offices, shops, public buildings and markets were not spared as all structures standing in some of the areas especially in Bukuru were torched.

Women were seen holding their children and running helter-skelter approaching any uniformed man they could see for protection, which helped a great deal as the security agents conveyed or escorted them to camps set up to accommodate displaced persons. Corpses littered the streets as many were hacked down with cudgels and knifes while many fell to a hail of bullets.

The sound of gunshots became a familiar tune during the period as gun shots came from both far and near ringing incessantly and sporadically for the better part of Monday morning till Wednesday evening.

Lack of food and water became a problem, as people ran out of supplies in the four-day siege as all channels for transporting same had been blocked due to the crisis. Many areas were in darkness for the better part of the period as those who had electric power before the crisis had it on during the period while those who didn’t continued to grope in the dark.

It was the same situation in Places like Bukuru, Gyel, Millionaires Quarters and the GRA.

Even at Murtala Muhammad Way, people stayed indoors for a better part of the three days as the sound of gunshots were closer and nobody wanted to risk coming out.

How the crisis was contained

The imposition of a 24-hour curfew by the Plateau state government helped in containing the crisis as the restriction of movement, coupled with the presence of military checkpoints at almost every point in Jos and Bukuru prevented those who had the intention of continuing the violence were stopped.

Stories of what was happening on Jos, however, had spread to remote villages and because there were no curfews and little military presence, the carnage was extended to remote areas. The arrival of the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Abdurrahman Dambazau, who went round and assessed the situation, also helped. The COAS who arrived Jos in the morning at about 11am was accompanied with other top military officials from Defence Headquarters and received by the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3 Armoured Division, Major General Sale Maina at Mararraba Jama’a.

After the crisis

The Plateau State Commissioner for Information, Gregory Yenlong, by Wednesday evening announced the relaxation of the 24-hour curfew imposed on the state since Tuesday morning. By Thursday morning, many residents decided to flee Jos. As the state government relaxed the 24-hour curfew on Jos/Bukuru metropolis yesterday, many residents used the opportunity offered by the free movement to flee the town.

Our correspondents who went round Jos yesterday observed hundreds of people driving out of town, while those who are not mobile lined the streets to see if they could hitch rides on commercial vehicles out of town. Our correspondent came across two medical doctors who were serving in one of the major hospitals in the town driving out of town with their luggage. One of them, who pleaded anonymity, said he came to the hospital last week to do his residency after graduating from Bayero University, Kano, but that the little he had seen in the last four days was enough to make him change his mind.

Though there is a cessation of violence in the crises-prone areas like Bukuru, Abbattoir and Dogon Dutse, much of the Muslim population in those areas chos to flee as they say they were not certain how long the relative peace would last. One of them, Mohammed Ankpa, who spoke with our correspondent, said his house had been burnt during the crisis and has nothing left so has to go back home and see if he could put the pieces of his life together.

Majority of the Christian population, however, were seeing relocating form areas considered to be predominantly Muslim to areas with larger Christian population, while many who are indigenes of the state left for their various local governments.

An atmosphere of mutual suspicion pervaded as different text messages were being sent to people about how certain groups were planning to launch an attack on members of the other religions.

Our correspondents observed that if not for the non-availability of commercial vehicles and motorcycles, the exodus from Jos would have been on an epic scale, as people were forced back to their homes after standing for hours on the streets unable to find vehicles. “I just want to get away from here, as far as possible,” said one Ahmadu Bakori, who said he has been living in Jos for seven years now. He asked: “I mean, when will this madness end?”


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