Nigeria: Christian Muslim violence perpetrated by mercenaries?

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The return to sectarian violence in the Plateau State city of Jos has been largely described as a revenge from the deadly attacks in January. It has also been reported that some of the perpetrators were mercenaries from neighboring Chad and Niger.

Following the sacking of the country’s national security adviser, Sarki Mukhtar, in an apparent response to the sectarian killings by Nigeria’s acting president Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, reports have revealed that Mercenaries from Niger and Chad may have participated in the attacks on Christian villages that claimed hundreds of lives. Those who died were reported to be mainly women and children.

“Many people come into Nigeria under the pretext of being pastoralists, they are mercenaries [from Chad, Niger]. They follow pastoralist routes to gain entrance, carry out their activities and then leave,” the head of the northern area of Nigeria’s Christian Association Mr. Saidu Dogo was quoted as saying.

Mr. Dogo urged the international community to become more actively involved as, he said, the government was unable to protect its own people.
“We feel that the world just has to do something. If the Nigerian government cannot do something then the world has to do something to stop this killing,” Mr. Dogo added.

Analysts have described the attack on the three villages near the Plateau state capital, Jos, as an act of revenge carried out by members of the mainly Muslim Fulani community who had fallen prey to violent attacks in January. Human Rights Watch had reported that the sectarian violence in January may have claimed the lives of at least “364 Muslims”.

According to reports, Nigerian troops are patrolling the villages which were targeted on Sunday in a bid to prevent further violence and police say they have arrested more than 90 people suspected of inciting violence. Nonetheless villagers from the nearby communities have began to flee the area for fear of fresh bouts of violence.

“We are fleeing our village because we are afraid we might be the next target of attack by these Fulani. They have been making phone calls warning they are going to attack. We take these threats seriously. We don’t want to be caught off-guard,” AFP quoted a local resident as saying.

The Plateau State Christian Elders Consultative Forum complained that it had taken the army two hours to react after receiving a distress call: “For quite some time we have alerted the government to training grounds in some parts of the northern state where people are being trained to cause problems in the country… Nobody did anything about it.”

Governor of Plateau state Mr. Jonah Jang said he had warned the army about reports of suspicious people with weapons hours before they attacked, but they failed to take action. “Three hours or so later, I was woken by a call that they have started burning the village and people were been hacked to death. I tried to locate the commanders. I couldn’t get any of them on the telephone,” Mr. Jang was quoted as saying.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said the villages should have been properly protected after the January killings.

Local politicians have also been blamed for stirring up the violence as the communities are divided along party lines: Christians mostly back the ruling PDP; Muslims generally support the opposition ANPP. The communities are divided into Christian and Muslim areas, with Christians regarded as indigenous, while the Muslims considered as settlers. As a result, deadly clashes have broken out in 2001, 2008 and 2010.

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