Christians flee after Nigeria's massacre

POSTED: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - 2:17pm
UPDATED: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 8:53am

JOS, Nigeria – Christian villagers in Nigeria fled their homes following threats of new attacks in the aftermath of a massacre, despite the presence Tuesday of troops designed to restore calm to the region.

As mass burials for some of the hundreds of victims of a three-hour orgy of violence took place near the city of Jos, survivors nursed wounds in hospitals.

But observers warned that the government must tackle deep-rooted poverty in order to combat the underlying causes of the ethnic tensions which have seen thousands killed in the region in recent years.

While troops patrolled the three villages where members of the mainly Muslim Fulani ethnic group embarked on their killing spree, residents of neighbouring villages said they had already received new threats.

With a six-month-old baby strapped to her back, Patricia Silas, 30, and her two neighbours turned her heels on her village of Tin-Tin, saying she would not hang around to become another statistic.

"We are afraid we might be the next target of attack" she told AFP.

"They (Fulanis) 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," she added.

Silas said the threats came from Fulanis previously settled in the village but who left after violence in January in which at least 326 people died.

"They are saying they want to avenge their loss," said Silas.

Officials said more than 500 people from the mainly Christian Berom ethnic group were hacked to death with machetes, axes and daggers in three villages of Dogo Nahawa, Ratsat and Zot on Sunday morning.

Related article: Survivors' pain as victims buried

But police say they have recorded only 55 while rights groups and local media have various tolls ranging between 200 and 400.

Survivors say the authorities did nothing to prevent the butchery which came at a time when a curfew first imposed after January's bloodshed was meant to be in place.

Thousands have been killed in recent years in strife in and around Jos, which is on the dividing line between the mainly Muslim north and Christian dominated south.

Ruth Mutfwang, administrator in Plateau State Specialist Hospital, sums up life in the restive region: "One moment its relaxed then the next moment people are running for their dear life".

As a group of men huddled in small groups at Dogo Nahawa, one was overheard saying "we will take revenge".

Raymond Gboum, a Christian clergy organising rescue operations in affected areas told AFP tension was mounting in the villages.

"The Beroms in the area are really aggrieved and now it's like they are on the attack," he told AFP.

The UN's human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said she was appalled by the massacre but said the government had to tackle festering poverty.

"Better security is clearly vital," Pillay said, "but it would be a mistake to paint this purely as sectarian or ethnic violence, and to treat it solely as a security issue.

"What is most needed is a concerted effort to tackle the underlying causes of the repeated outbreaks of ethnic and religious violence ... namely discrimination, poverty and disputes over land," she added.

The senate described the attacks as acts of "terrorism" and crime against humanity"

Nigeria's main opposition Action Congress (AC) accused the federal government of "hypocrisy in its reaction" to the latest unrest.

"Concrete action to stop the cycle of impunity, rather than crocodile tears, will end the violence," it said.

The AC said perpetrators of violence in recent years in Jos and its environs have not been brought to justice.

Analysis: Land disputes, politics at root of Nigeria violence

The weekend violence was just the latest between rival ethnic and religious groups.

Locals said Sunday's attacks were the result of a feud which had been first ignited by a theft of cattle and then fuelled by deadly reprisals.

"With the Fulani if you kill his wife, he may not react, but if you touch his cattle hell is let loose because its his source of living ...the attacks were expected," said Mutfwang.