(New York) - Nigerian police and army forces were implicated in more than 90 arbitrary killings in responding to inter-communal violence between Christian and Muslim mobs in Jos, Nigeria, on November 28 and 29, 2008, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on the Nigerian government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the killings, mostly of young Muslim men from the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group.
Human Rights Watch researchers documented seven separate incidents of arbitrary killing by the police during which at least 46 men and boys, all but two of them Muslims, were killed. The vast majority of police killings were perpetrated by a specially trained anti-riot unit called the Police Mobile Force, known locally as the MOPOLs. Human Rights Watch also documented six incidents involving the arbitrary killing of 47 men by the military. According to witnesses, all of the victims were Muslim men, nearly all were young, and most were unarmed at the time. Most of the killings came on the same day the Plateau State governor issued a "shoot-on-sight" order to security personnel on November 29.
Human Rights Watch researchers in Jos, in central Nigeria, interviewed scores of witnesses to these arbitrary killings. In several places, bloodstains and bullet holes were still clearly visible and bullet casings remained on the ground.
"The duty of the police and military was to stop the bloodshed generated by this extremely tragic episode of inter-communal violence, not contribute to it," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The Nigerian authorities should immediately set up an independent investigation into these extremely serious allegations."
Witnesses described how police officers from the Police Mobile Force killed at close range at least 26 men whom they chased into the compound of an automobile workshop; broke into houses and sprayed gunfire in predominantly Hausa-Fulani neighborhoods; and executed young men shortly after taking them into police custody. A 26-year-old mechanic, who witnessed the killings of the 26 men by members of the police while hiding in the second story of an adjacent building, described what he saw:
"I saw about 20 or more MOPOLs in all, but around 10 of them got down and started creeping toward the compound ... like they wanted to surprise the 50-60 [Hausa] youths who were still gathered on the road. When they got to the entrance, the MOPOLs opened fire, making all the youths take off running. After this, they started chasing the youths as they ran to seek cover in the compound. I saw them enter one house just across the street from us. We heard shots and later we saw five bodies there. Anyone they found hiding in the garage, they shot them. They combed the garage hunting for people. This went on for about 10 minutes or so. Then they returned to their truck and left. They were dressed like the MOPOLs always dress - with that black top and green trousers, and with all the patches they always wear on their uniform."
Other witnesses described how four men wearing military uniforms and carrying assault rifles broke into three houses on two adjacent streets and gunned down at least 25 unarmed young men found hiding in these homes. In another incident, Human Rights Watch spoke with five witnesses in the Rikkos neighborhood, each giving an account independent of the others, who saw the killing of eight men by a soldier in the Nigerian army on November 29. One of the witnesses, a 38-year-old engineer, described what happened:
"I saw a dark-green military vehicle pull up on the road with five soldiers. This was around 10 a.m. Seven people were coming from the direction of the mosque. When they saw the military, they ran into a house. My brother was behind them and also ran into the house. At the time they [the people coming from the mosque] were carrying nothing in their hands. One of the military men went into the house and brought them out of the house to the road. The military man told my brother to stand to the side. He then shot the group. Some were hit in the chest and stomach. He then said to my brother: ‘You go.' When my brother started moving he shot him in his leg. My brother went down. He then shot him in the side and the chest. He was shot with three bullets and died at that time. The military man then turned and left. He shouted that everybody should enter their houses. Later in the day, the JNI [Islamic Authorities from the Jamaatu Nasri Islam] came in a vehicle and took the bodies to the central mosque. They were all Hausas between the ages of 18 and 25. My brother was around 40 years old."
The two days of extraordinarily brutal inter-communal violence on November 28 and 29 in Jos, the capital of Plateau State, followed a disputed local election on November 27. The violence pitted Christians primarily from the Berom, Afizere, and Anaguta ethnic groups - who largely supported the Christian candidate from the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) - against Muslims primarily from the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group, who largely backed the Muslim candidate from the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP). Local government posts that control large sums of public funds disbursed by the federal government were at stake.
During 10 days of research in Jos, Human Rights Watch researchers conducted 123 interviews with Muslim and Christian witnesses, victims and perpetrators of the violence, human rights activists, religious leaders, local and international journalists, businessmen, Red Cross officials, lawyers, police and military authorities, Plateau State government officials, members of political parties, and electoral officials.
The death toll from the violence in Jos is still disputed, but several hundred people seem to have been killed in the clashes. There is also widespread disagreement on what set off the violence. In the early morning hours of Friday, November 28, following allegations that the governing PDP had rigged the election results, groups of young men from Muslim and Christian communities came together to both defend their neighborhoods from attack, and to attack the homes, businesses, and religious establishments of the opposing side. These mobs were armed with machetes, knives, petrol bombs, rocks, sticks, and in some cases firearms, including locally made hunting rifles and pistols.
The vast majority of both perpetrators and victims were young men, although several women and children were also killed. The violence was primarily concentrated in the neighborhoods of Ali Kazaure, Tudun Wada, Nasarawa, Rikkos, Dutse Uku, Congo Russia, and Angwan Rogo. Mobs set up roadblocks in various neighborhoods allowing people of their own religion or ethnicity to pass and attacking, and in some cases killing, members of the opposing faith or ethnicity.
As the violence intensified, witnesses complained of the absence of police in many of the worst-affected areas. A prominent Muslim businessman whose three used car lots on Zaria Road were set alight by mobs of Christians on the morning of November 28 told Human Rights Watch that he had repeatedly called the police and pleaded with them to protect his businesses. A Christian member of the mob interviewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed that while they were burning cars on Zaria Road a police truck passed them twice but did not stop. The Katako market, which was razed to the ground by a mob of Christians, is adjacent to the divisional police headquarters.
By noon on November 28, the Nigerian army was called in to restore order, and army units from neighboring states began to be deployed to the streets of Jos. Despite the cases of alleged arbitrary killing by military personnel, witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch generally credited the military with having quelled the violence and restored peace, and in some cases with intervening to save the lives of both Muslims and Christians.
On November 28, the Plateau State governor issued a statement announcing a dusk-to-dawn curfew. The next day, the governor issued an order to security personnel, telling them to shoot persons on sight, which James Mannok, the director of press and public affairs at Government House, confirmed to Human Rights Watch applied to anyone breaking the curfew. The governor also later imposed a 24-hour curfew in the worst- affected neighborhoods.
While most of the inter-communal violence documented by Human Rights Watch took place on November 28, the vast majority of the alleged killings by the police and military were carried out on November 29, the day the shoot-on-sight order was issued. Human Rights Watch documented at least 80 cases of alleged arbitrary killing by security personnel that took place on that day alone.
However, police and military authorities interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had not carried out the shoot-on-sight order. The Nigerian army spokesperson, Brigadier General Emeka Onwuamaegbu, told Human Rights Watch: "It is one thing for a political leader to issue an order, another for those of us implementing it. Our soldiers went out with very strict instructions to use minimum force and follow the rules of engagement." The assistant commissioner of police in charge of operations in Plateau State, Oga Ero, told Human Rights Watch that, "There was no order by my officers to shoot on sight as far as I was aware of."
Senior police and army authorities also denied receiving any reports of their forces being involved in arbitrary killings during the violence. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned by these denials by the security forces.
"It is imperative that the army and police carry out rigorous investigations into these allegations and get to the bottom of what happened," said Dufka. "Those found responsible simply must be brought to book."
Some witnesses said that persons impersonating police officers and soldiers were responsible for the killings. However, in the majority of incidents documented by Human Rights Watch, other evidence clearly contradicted that notion. The evidence included the presence of police and army vehicles at the scene and the fact that the same "fake" MOPOL officers who entered homes and arbitrarily killed young men also arrested others and officially transported them to police detention centers.
Human Rights Watch called on the government of Nigeria to take concrete measures to hold those responsible for the arbitrary killings documented during the November violence in Jos and to address the issues that lie at the root of Nigeria's most recent spate of deadly inter-communal violence. The federal government should immediately establish an independent inquiry into the alleged disproportionate use of force by the security forces. Such an inquiry should have full participation of surviving victims and victims' families, and ensure that the individuals responsible for the violence, including those responsible for any orders leading to arbitrary killings, are identified, arrested, charged, and tried promptly, according to international fair trial standards.
The federal and state government should also take concrete steps to end the discriminatory policies that treat certain groups as second-class citizens, which should include passing legislation prohibiting government discrimination against non-indigenes in all matters that are not purely cultural. The federal and state authorities should also conduct a public education campaign focusing on the rights that go with Nigerian citizenship and the need to end discrimination against non-indigenes.
Human Rights Watch researchers documented seven separate incidents of extrajudicial execution by the police, during which at least 46 men and boys, all but two of them Muslims, were killed. The vast majority of police killings were perpetrated by a specially trained anti-riot unit called the Police Mobile Force, known locally as the MOPOLs. When asked to comment on the allegations of killings documented by Human Rights Watch, the assistant commissioner of police in charge of operations in Plateau State, Oga Ero, said, "We have received no reports at police high command that the police were killing people."
On Saturday, November 29, about 10 MOPOLs responded to an altercation between about 200 Hausa youths and 20 Christians by hunting down and killing at least 26 of the Hausa Muslims. Human Rights Watch interviewed six witnesses to the incident, which occurred in a large lot used for repairing cars and motorcycles on Bauchi Road, in the Angwan Rogo neighborhood. Two witnesses who helped remove the bodies of the victims guided Human Rights Watch researchers through the scene, pointing out each place where they had found and later removed a body. In many places, blood stains, bullet marks, and what appeared to be human remains were clearly visible. There were also a number of spent bullet casings at the scene. The two witnesses said that bodies were found under cars and car parts such as hoods, behind rows of motor scooters, and inside and beside several small wooden structures on the compound. One witness described how the military, who had initially tried to calm the situation, warned the Muslim youth to return to their houses or else "the police would arrive and start shooting in 20 minutes." A 26-year-old mechanic, who witnessed the killings while hiding in the second story of an adjacent building, described what he saw:
"In this neighborhood, the Muslims live on this side, and the Christians live on the other side. There is a government quarters across the street and that morning at around 8 a.m. a man took a gun and started firing at Hausas so they would not cross the road. The Hausa young men from this side started gathering across the street from where the man with the gun was. I saw about 200 Hausas gathered this side and eventually there were about 20, including the guy with the gun, on the other side.
"Later, soldiers came to try to calm things down. One of them went over to where the Christians were, shot in the air, and told them to go back from the road. The Christian people ran into their community. Then another [soldier] told the Hausas to go back home as well. Some of the Hausas agreed to go back home and the soldiers left. But later, more and more Hausas started gathering. The [Hausa] youths thought the Christians would return and attack this side.
"Then between 9 and 10 a.m. the MOPOLs arrived in a heavy truck they use, which they parked about 300 to 400 meters down Bauchi Road. I saw about 20 or more MOPOLs in all, but around 10 of them got down and started creeping toward the compound ... like they wanted to surprise the 50 to 60 youths who were still gathered on the road. When they got to the entrance, the MOPOL's opened fire, making all the youths take off running. After this, they started chasing the youths as they ran to seek cover in the compound. I saw them enter one house just across the street from us. We heard shots and later we saw five bodies there. Anyone they found hiding in the garage, they shot them. They combed the garage hunting for people. This went on for about 10 minutes or so. Then they returned to their truck and left. They were dressed like the MOPOLs always dress - with that black top and green trousers, and with all the patches they always wear."
Also on the morning of November 29, mobs of Christians and Muslims clashed in the Angwan-Keke neighborhood for about one hour. Shortly after the clashes subsided, a group of MOPOLs stormed through Angwan-Keke and the adjacent neighborhood of Bulbulla shooting into the air and breaking into houses. The 20 residents from both communities interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that over the next approximately one hour, the MOPOLs broke into at least six houses and executed at least 13 unarmed men and boys they found. They also reportedly lobbed tear gas into a small local mosque and into the home where one of the wounded lay dying. Before retreating from Angwan-Keke, they detained 13 men and boys, all of whom were later reported to be in police custody. A witness to the execution of an unarmed shopkeeper in Bulbulla described what he saw:
"As the firing started, A. [the shopkeeper] told us to run into our houses because the police were coming. The police must have seen him run into his shop, so when they got to his place they started yelling for him to come out. I saw four MOPOLs and one policeman. He came out with his arms up, begging for them to leave him. They told him to lay down. He kept saying, ‘Please God, allow me to live.' They were speaking in Pidgin and Hausa. One of them said, ‘Today you go die,' and then he shot him in the side. Then the same MOPOL shot him again. As he was going to shoot him a third time, the other MOPOL said in Hausa, ‘Leave it, he's already dead.' After the MOPOLs left, A. dragged himself into the neighbor's house."
The neighbor described what happened next:
"I live next door to Mr. A., the shopkeeper. After being shot by the MOPOLs he crept, pulling himself along the ground, into my house. I asked him where he was wounded, but he said he didn't know. I lifted up his shirt and saw he'd been shot twice - once in the back and once in the abdomen. As I was trying to stop the bleeding, the MOPOLs came back and threw a tear gas canister into my house. A. died a short time later. After, I picked up five or six bodies - I didn't know their names. The MOPOLs had started killing across the ravine. We heard shots coming from there, and then they came into Bulbulla."
A 45-year-old teacher from Angwan-Keke described what he saw:
"On Saturday morning at around 7:30, the Christian people from Congo Russia - which is the community just above us - lined up on the hill and rocks and starting shouting and throwing rocks and bottles filled with petrol down at us. One of them had a shotgun and was firing at us. There were about 300 to 400 of them. When we saw this, we picked up stones and sticks and went to defend our border. But our youths were fierce and after about one hour we managed to chase them back into Congo Russia. About 10 minutes later, policemen dressed in the MOPOL uniform came crashing into Angwan-Keke. They arrived by foot, I saw four of them dressed the way the MOPOLs dress with black tops and green trousers. As soon as the MOPOLs started shooting, our people started shouting, ‘Hey, the police are shooting - run, run.' I heard the MOPOLs saying, ‘Just shoot the bastards,' in English. They spent about one hour here breaking doors, jumping into people's houses, throwing tear gas into the mosque and killing people - about seven people including three old men were killed here. They also arrested 13 youths; we later learned that one or two of them are in prison. When they got to the mosque, I heard one of them asking: ‘Is this not a mosque?' Then another said, ‘Burn it,' but in the end they threw the tear gas in and gassed out three people, including one who was sick. When they left, some of them ran down the ravine and up into Bulbulla neighborhood, while other MOPOLs left with the youth they'd arrested."
An 11-year-old Christian boy from the Dutse Uke neighborhood described the killing of two of his brothers by a MOPOL unit on November 29. The boy was later detained by the MOPOLs and spent several days in police custody:
"At around 7 in morning, I was inside the house with my family eating when about six mobile police came. They were wearing green trousers and black shirts and all had guns. They dragged me to the road and told me to lie down. One of the mobile police came and took his gun and knocked it on my arm. The other mobile said I should get up and leave. But the other mobile said I should not go home but should get in the car. I got into the car. They asked one of my brothers [who had also been detained] to lie down [on the ground], but he responded that there was no space to lie down. The other mobile came and ‘packed' him [kicked his legs from underneath him so he would fall]. He then stomped on his back. The other mobile said that he should just waste him. He then shot him in the stomach. My brother is around 19 years old. My other brother was afraid and went to escape and they just shot him from behind. They shot him one time and I saw him lying on ground. He is 17 years old. The same mobile shot my two brothers. The same mobile also shot another person in the hand. Then they took us to the CID [Criminal Investigation Department]."
Human Rights Watch documented six incidents involving the arbitrary killing of 47 men by the military. According to witnesses, all of the victims were Muslim men, nearly all were young, and most were unarmed at the time of the killings. When asked to comment on the allegations of killings documented by Human Rights Watch, a Nigerian army spokesperson, Brigadier General Emeka Onwuamaegbu, said that, "I have no evidence or information that Nigerian soldiers were involved in any arbitrary killings."
Human Rights Watch documented cases of the soldiers entering houses and shooting the men inside, taking men out of houses and killing them on the street, and summarily executing them in police or military custody. Witnesses also described to Human Rights Watch an incident at the Fatima Cathedral in which soldiers fired into crowds of Muslim youth. It appeared that some of the youth had firearms, but the soldiers apparently fired before having exhausted non-lethal means of crowd control.
Human Rights Watch interviewed eight witnesses who saw four soldiers enter the Ali Kazaure neighborhood around 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 29. Witnesses said that the soldiers entered three houses on two adjacent blocks and killed 25 young men in the three houses, as well as two men in the street. They also shot an 11-year-old boy in the leg. Human Rights Watch visited the houses and saw bloodstains on the floor, chairs, or benches in each one. Community members told Human Rights Watch that the chief of army staff, Lieutenant General Abdulrahman Dambazau, visited the houses the day after the killings and met with the community leaders and residents.
At the first house Human Rights Watch researchers visited, two women said that on the morning of the incident there had been fighting in the neighborhood and some of the young men had come to their house to hide. The woman said that soldiers in camouflage uniforms broke into the house and demanded to know where the men were hiding. The soldiers found an 18-year-old man, U., in one of the bedrooms and "shot him right there in the bed." The soldiers proceeded to a room at the front of the house. The women described how they then heard "lots of gunfire." Another witness told Human Rights Watch that after the shooting he found 11 dead bodies inside. The bodies were later taken to the central mosque.
The 58-year-old owner at the second house told Human Rights Watch that he saw four soldiers wearing camouflage uniforms enter the street. When he heard gunfire, he ran for cover across the street. Once the shooting stopped, he came out and found the door to his house open. He saw the body of a young man lying at the doorstep and four other bodies inside the room. The man at the doorstep was wounded, and later died. The four others were already dead.
At the third house, witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the soldiers killed eight young men in the house. Human Rights Watch researchers found bloodstains on the chairs and on the ground behind a sofa. In an adjacent room, there was a large bloodstain on the floor with a boot print in the blood. Neighbors also showed Human Rights Watch a bullet casing they had picked up at the scene. One of the residents of the house, a 22-year-old carpenter, described what he saw that day:
"On Saturday, we were sitting in our house. There were 10 of us and we were all Hausas. The door was open and four soldiers came into the house. They were wearing green camouflage uniforms and green hats. Three of them had guns and one of them had a camera. The soldiers told us to come out. Four of my friends went out but I stayed inside. I heard the soldiers tell my friends to kneel down and the soldiers started cussing at them. I heard one of my friends begging them, ‘For God, please allow us.' I then heard gunshots. We were looking for an exit, but the soldiers came inside and shot us. They shot me twice in the leg. The soldiers then went outside and I heard them tell someone that, if you don't stop burning houses this is what we will do to you."
Human Rights Watch spoke separately with two police officers who witnessed a soldier summarily execute at close range an unarmed man at the Larento Divisional Police Headquarters. The incident took place on November 28. One of the police officers described to Human Rights Watch what he saw:
"I was assigned to the police station by the Katoko market. A police inspector arrested a Hausa man and brought him to the front of the police station. One of the soldiers asked the inspector what the man had done. The inspector said that he had found him with a cutlass. The soldier then shot him in the chest. This happened on Friday around 11 a.m. I saw it. The acting DPO [divisional police officer] was also present. After shooting the man the soldier said, ‘Anybody you see with a cutlass, you shoot him.'"
Nigeria is a nation deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines: more than 12,000 people have died in inter-communal clashes since the end of military rule in 1999. Plateau State has been particularly hard-hit by this violence: In September 2001, violence in Jos claimed as many as 1,000 lives, and in May 2004, more than 700 people were killed in clashes in the town of Yelwa in the southern part of Plateau State.
There is disagreement about the death toll in the November 2008 violence in Jos. Muslim authorities from the central mosque in Jos claim to have registered more than 570 deaths, including several hundred victims buried in three mass burials on November 30 and December 1. Authorities from the various Christian denominations in Jos have not yet released figures on the number of Christian dead. The Plateau State commissioner for information and communications put the initial death toll at 200. Meanwhile, Yoruba community leaders told Human Rights Watch that at least 113 members of the Yoruba ethnic group - both Muslims and Christians - lost their lives in the violence.
Human Rights Watch has found that the root of much of the communal violence in Nigeria is government policies that discriminate against "non-indigenes" - people who cannot trace their ancestry to the original inhabitants of an area - essentially relegating millions of Nigerians to the status of second-class citizens. Most of Plateau State's original inhabitants come from ethnic groups that are Christian. Members of the largely Muslim Hausa-Fulani ethnic group, who have migrated to Plateau State for its rich farmland and grazing pastures, are classified as non-indigenes, despite many having resided there for several generations.
State and local governments throughout Nigeria have enacted policies that deny those designated "non-indigenes" access to some of the most important avenues of socio-economic mobility. Non-indigenes are openly denied the right to compete for government jobs and academic scholarships, while state-run universities subject non-indigenes to discriminatory admissions policies and higher fees. As poverty and unemployment have both become more widespread and severe in Nigeria, competition for scarce opportunities to secure government jobs, education and political patronage has intensified dramatically. Many view the religious, political and ethnic disputes that typically set off inter-communal violence as merely a proxy for the severe economic pressures beneath the surface.
Witness Accounts of Mob Violence
Witnesses described to Human Rights Watch how mobs of Muslim youth beat, burned, or bludgeoned to death Christians, in some cases specifically targeting pastors and church officials. One witness from the Yoruba ethnic group said five of his relatives who had come to Jos to attend the wedding of his daughter were among 12 Christians burned alive by a mob of Muslims. Other witnesses described how hundreds of Muslim youth besieged and burned churches and homes belonging to Christian families. Church officials said that at least six Christian pastors were killed in the violence and that 40 churches were burned or vandalized. Local community leaders told Human Rights Watch that Muslim youth burned 133 houses in a predominately Christian area of the Ali Kazaure neighborhood.
Muslim victims and witnesses likewise described how mobs of Christians set ablaze at least 15 mosques, an equal number of Islamic schools and hundreds of Hausa-Fulani businesses and homes. On the morning of November 28, five children attending the Al Bayan Islamic boarding school were killed in or near their dormitory by a mob of Christians. Muslim women speaking to Human Rights Watch from a refuge for residents displaced by the violence described how Christian youth in Tudun Wada burned their homes and killed their neighbors and family members. The widespread destruction of Hausa-Fulani businesses - including used car lots, gas stations and the Katako market, which housed thousands of largely Hausa-Fulani traders - resulted in devastating economic loss.