One of the consequences of the killings and destruction carried out by the military in Benue, two years after the killings and destruction in Odi, is that Nigerians are once again living in fear and deep distrust of the military-a distrust compounded by the passive response of the government to these events. When the current, civilian government came to power in May 1999, many people hoped that after decades of military dictatorship, which had been marked by serious human rights violations by the security forces, the army and the police would assume their proper roles and ensure the protection and safety of the Nigerian population. These hopes have been dashed.
When Human Rights Watch visited Benue State in December 2001, they found an atmosphere of tension and suspicion, especially among the Tiv communities. A view commonly expressed by people living in the areas targeted in the military operation in October was that they did not want the soldiers there at all. The nervousness was such that at the slightest real or perceived sign of military activity, people would flee from their homes and stay away until they judged that it was safe to return. A Tiv community leader said: "Soldiers are not bringing peace and are not protecting people. Why are they stationed here?"68 A man in Kyado told Human Rights Watch: "People are fleeing all the time. Now the soldiers want to make friends with us. We say no. If they come twenty times, we will run thirty times."69
Among the Jukuns in Benue State, Human Rights Watch also sensed a strong fear for their own safety, undoubtedly accentuated by the anticipation that the military operation would lead to further counter-attacks by Tivs. They seemed anxious to keep a low profile and dissociate themselves from the conflict across the border in Taraba.70 In typical contrast, however, some Jukuns in Taraba said they felt more secure since the military had been deployed; some even claimed that there had been no further violence in areas where soldiers were present.71
The reaction to the military operation in Benue has extended to other parts of the country too. In January 2002, it was reported that seven policemen, and several civilians, had been killed in a fight in the town of Danja, in the northern state of Katsina. A heavy contingent of mobile police then surrounded the town. At the time of writing, the consequences of these events in Danja were not yet known, but many observers feared that the events of Benue could be repeated, unless senior government and security force officials took prompt action to prevent another episode of violent retaliation. Without such action, the expression of these fears could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The hostility which the military have brought upon themselves by turning against the population in this manner is also likely to generate further violence, especially while armed conflict between different groups continues in the region and in the light of perceptions that the security forces are partisan in that conflict. The situation in Taraba and around the Taraba-Benue border remains critical. The only way to relieve this fear and restore trust and confidence among the population is for the Nigerian government to carry out serious and independent investigations into the actions of the military in Benue in 2001, and in Odi in 1999, to publish the results of these investigations, and bring to justice those found responsible for ordering and carrying out the killings and destruction.
68 Human Rights Watch interview in Abuja, December 21, 2001.
69 Human Rights Watch interview in Kyado, December 16, 2001.
70 Human Rights Watch interview in Abinsi, December 14, 2001.
71 Human Rights Watch interviews in Wukari (Taraba), December 18, 2001.