The reburial of some 53 corpses from a graveyard in Bukuru where they have been buried after the first Jos crisis in 2001 has generated debate and amazement over the state of one of the corpses.
Twenty years ago, Jos, the Plateau State capital, was rocked by the first of many violent clashes between Muslims and Christians that left hundreds dead.
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In the aftermath of the first wave of killings in Bukuru Metropolis, capital of Jos South Local Government, there were concerns over what to do with the Muslim dead, as it was no longer safe to access the Muslim cemetery along Gero Road.
So 52 victims of the violence were buried in a mass grave on a piece of land at the Old Native Authority School, opposite First Bank, within Bukuru town. Four days later, one more corpse was added to bring the number to 53.
But that would not be their final resting place as 20 years later, the Jamaatul Izalatul Bidi’a wa Ikamatus Sunnah, (JIBWIS) who own the land decided to have the corpses removed to build a shopping plaza there.
So on April 18, 2021, the 53 corpses buried there were exhumed and reburied.
What stunned those who exhumed the corpses was the state in which one of the dead, the late Suleiman Muhammed (sarkin Bukur) was discovered.
Unlike the others, he was not killed during the violence but succumbed to an illness and was buried only four days after the others had been interred in a mass grave.
Alhassan Abdullahi led the gravediggers on that day in April and said he had never experienced anything like that.
“First, I dug out all those buried in the same grave,” he said. “Already, their bodies had decayed and broken down. I put all the remaining bones in a sack and took the remains to the Dadin Kowa Cemetery and reburied it there.”
That seemed routine until he approached the grave of the late Sarki Suleiman when he experienced an unusual sensation.
“When I started, I was the only one who felt what was happening. I kept quiet and refused to disclose anything to those present.
“By the time I dug the first part of the grave, I felt something strange in me,” he said.
He recalled being surprised by how clean and pristine the white shroud of the deceased looked as he unearthed it.
“I couldn’t believe it. I went further down to the leg. It was the same story – it was a different experience. I was surprised to see even the white cloth used to cover him was still intact and clean,” Alhassan said. “The corpse was still heavy and flexible.”
For the custodian of the Dadin Kowa Cemetry, this was unusual for a person buried 20 years before to be found in such fine condition.
“He was a human being like us but with different qualities. I believe he is a man of impeccable qualities. The condition I met him in has indicated that he was a good man and blessed by Allah,” he said.
A member of the deceased’s family, Alh. Aliyu Suleiman Muhammed was first appalled by the request from JIBWIS to relocate the corpse of their late patron and the others.
“At first, we were not happy with the development because it was a sudden notice which took us by surprise,” the Magajin Bukur said.
“There was nothing we could do rather than to exhume our father because it was not our land. As community leaders, we have to lead by example. We don’t want to have trouble with any member of the society as our late father always taught us,” he said.
Their unhappiness over the exhumation changed the moment they saw the condition of their father’s corpse, as it became a lesson to them and the public on living a virtuous life.
They believed the condition of his corpse is not unconnected to the behaviour and character of their late father.
“Being the sarki, he was modest. He didn’t place himself above his subjects. He would often greet you before you greeted him and shook hands with everybody irrespective of your status,” he said.
“He was a leader who often walked and gave a fair hearing to disputing parties. He was a patient and easy-going person,” he said.
He however insisted that exhuming the other 52 was a painful experience for the entire community.
“It is really painful because they were killed during a crisis that affected everyone. If we were given time, the money for the land possibly would have been raised by good Nigerians to allow the bodies to remain where they were,” he said.
Not everyone has taken the exhumation in good faith as the family of late Suleiman. Many residents see the move as improper and disrespectful to the deceased.
The family of one of the deceased, Malam Hassan Maisaje, even petitioned the State Commissioner of Police over the exhumations.
In a petition dated April 26, 2021, the family of the late Maisaje, described the action as illegal and called on the commissioner to investigate the matter and prosecute the perpetrators.
The petition accused one Malam Khalid Usman, Malam Haruna Muhammed, Malam Auwal Aliyu Muhammed, Idris Umar, and Ibrahim Alhassan of exhuming the corpse of their father secretly without informing them.
Sadis Hassan, who signed the petition on behalf of the Maisaje family, told Daily Trust that his family was not consulted before their father was dug up and reburied.
“When my father was killed during the crisis, it was agreed that those killed should be buried in the said land because it was believed that the land belongs to the Muslims,” he said. “But to our surprise, we heard that the corpses, including our father’s, were exhumed and taken to an unknown destination. We should have been informed of any decision before any action is taken. What happened was very painful,” he said.
One of those mentioned in the petition, Khalid Usman Khalid, had earlier led a delegation to the Wazirin Bukur to announce their intentions to reclaim the land to construct a shopping complex.
When contacted for comments, he said he was not in a position to talk on the issue and referred our correspondent to the Bukuru JIBWIS chairman.
When our correspondent called the Chairman, Idris Umar Idris, on the development, he did not take his calls or responded to text messages sent to him.