Fresh Outbreak of Religious Violence in Nigeria's Plateau State

Monday, January 17, 2005

Muslim militants attack Christian community a month after state of emergency lifted.

by Obed Minchakpu

JOS, Nigeria, January 17, 2005 (Compass) -- Fresh violence broke out in the central Nigerian state of Plateau when Muslim militants attacked the village of Gana-Ropp in the Barakin Ladi local government area, killing Christian community leader Davou Bulle and injuring his wife and son, who remain in critical condition at the Plateau state Specialist Hospital in Jos.

The attack came just weeks after the federal government lifted a six-month state of emergency imposed on the state between May and November 2004.

Mr. Bulle was killed on December 29 while he and his family members were returning home from their farm.

The attack threw the community, the site of Christian mission schools, into confusion and forced the Plateau state government to deploy four units of anti-riot police to the area. Police authorities in Plateau have announced the arrest of eight of the Muslim militants who carried out the attack.

Plateau state Police Commissioner Joseph Apapa told journalists in Jos on January 1 that the eight Muslim militants would be charged in court as soon as investigations are completed.

The same day, John Gobak, secretary to the state government, issued a press statement urging Christians in the state to remain calm. The state government has taken measures to ensure that the attacks are checked, he said.

“We are tired of the frequent killings of our people by Muslim militants,” community spokesman Simon Mwandkwon told those at a press conference in Jos on January 3. “[That] is one of the reasons that led to the imposition of a state of emergency on the state last year.”

Mwandkwon said the Muslim militants shot Bulle in the chest, killing him almost instantly.

The assault on Bulle is “a chilling reminder of the nightmarish experiences of the pre-state of emergency era,” Mwandkwon said. “The murder is the latest of such tragic encounters in the recent past.”

Three years of religious violence beginning in September 2001 resulted in the deaths of more than 10,000 people, the majority of them Christians, in Plateau state.

In May 2004, Christian militias carried out retaliatory attacks against Muslims in the Plateau town of Yelwa, killing over 300 people. President Olusegun Obasanjo then declared the state of emergency in response to pressure from Muslim leaders, who had given him a seven-day ultimatum to declare emergency rule in Plateau or face full-scale war with the Muslim community.

Prior to the lifting of the state of emergency in November, the Muslim Council of Ulamas insisted that officials extend emergency rule and threatened to make the state ungovernable if the government did not heed their warning. Christians view the December 29 murder of Bulle as a fulfilment of the Muslim leaders’ threat.

On December 6, the Rev. Yakubu Pam, chairman of the Plateau state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, alerted the public to plans by Muslim militants to renew attacks on the Christian community of the state.

Two days after Pam raised the alarm, police authorities confirmed that they had uncovered plans by an armed group working in concert with local Muslim leaders to destabilize Plateau state. They claim to have arrested suspected members of the armed group.

Sources in Nigeria predict that if the Nigerian government fails to check the activities of Muslim militants, there will be an escalation of conflict between the adherents of the two major faiths in Nigeria.