<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

IV. The Conflict in Yelwa

1. Background

Yelwa is a market town located in the southern part of Plateau State.  As it is an important commercial center, people from different ethnic groups have settled there over the years.  However, the majority of Yelwa’s residents are Muslim.  Yelwa is under the administrative control of Shendam local government area, which has its headquarters in the town of Shendam, about 20 kilometers away.  Shendam, which is roughly the same size as Yelwa, is a predominantly Christian town and the residents of the villages in the surrounding area are also predominantly Christian.  Most local government officials and traditional leaders in Shendam are Christian.13 

The disputes in Yelwa and Shendam have involved several ethnic groups.  The principal protagonists in the conflict have been the Gamai, the majority ethnic group in Shendam local government area, and the Jarawa.  Members of both communities gave Human Rights Watch several explanations for the conflict in Yelwa which, according to them, dated back to the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century, but had only turned violent in recent times.  The causes they cited included competing claims to the status of “indigeneship;” disputes over the process of selection of traditional chiefs; and, more recently, political rivalry in the context of local elections, particularly elections for the chairmanship of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) at the PDP ward congress in Yelwa, in April 2002, when tension increased as voters supported candidates along religious lines.  

The Gamai, who include both Christians and Muslims, consider themselves to be “indigenes” and regard the Jarawa as “settlers”. The Jarawa, who are predominantly Muslim, claim to be the original founders of Yelwa.  Until the 1990, the Jarawa, and other predominantly Muslim groups such as the Borghom and the Pyem, were granted indigene certificates, but claim that from then on, the traditional leader of Shendam, known as the Long Gamai, began denying them indigene rights.14  

Both communities have produced documents attempting to substantiate their “claims” to Yelwa.  For example, a document outlining the Gamai point of view states categorically: “We want to reaffirm here that the soul and heart of Yelwa town belong to the Gamai.  No amount of intimidation can make us cede that place to any group no matter how powerful their backers may be.  After all Yelwa cannot be an island, since it is surrounded by other Gamai villages.”  It states that “whoever wants to return to Yelwa and other settlements within Gamai land is free to do so” but adds that “all returnees to Yelwa town […] must first of all accept the fact that Yelwa is a Gamai town in Gamai land in Plateau State.”15   A document outlining the Jarawa point of view declares equally emphatically:  “The original people who founded Yelwa are the Jarawa from Dass in Bauchi State from 1824 to date.”16

Historically, religion was not a primary cause of the conflict in the area.  In recent years, however, the situation has become increasingly polarized, and ethnic groups including the Fulani, the Tarok and a number of smaller groups from other local government areas have taken sides largely along religious lines.  For example, a Christian from the Angas ethnic group in Yelwa told Human Rights Watch:  “As indigenes of Plateau State, we can’t leave this place to them [the Muslims].  The Gamai are indigenes of Shendam local government.  The Angas perceive ourselves as indigenes of Plateau State.  The Muslims who are in Yelwa now are non-indigenes.  They come from the northern states […] It’s a religious war. They said they are the indigenes of this place and want to chase us out.  They want to occupy the place.”17

None of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch in July 2004 cited religion as a fundamental cause of the conflict.  Yet, as documented below, when the fighting began, groups and individuals were targeted on the basis of religion rather than ethnicity.  Mosques and churches were deliberately attacked.  Religion was used as a rallying cry to drag other groups into the conflict, and both sides used explicitly religious language to defend their own position or tarnish their opponents’.  A local government official in Shendam explained the transformation of the conflict as follows:   “There has always been an indigene/settler issue.  Indigene tribes and settlers both insist they own the land.  Religion is a cover […] But anything that happens now is turned into a religious issue.”18

2. Violent conflict in Yelwa

Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch described three major outbreaks of violence in Yelwa town: the first on June 26, 2002, the second on February 24, 2004, and the third on May 2-3, 2004.  All three incidents involved deliberate attacks.  In all three cases, the victims included both Christians and Muslims.  However, the majority of victims in the February 24, 2004 attack were Christians, while the majority of victims in the May 2004 attack were Muslims. 

In the periods between these attacks, particularly between late February and early May 2004, there were numerous smaller attacks on villages in the surrounding area.  When Human Rights Watch researchers visited the area in July 2004, the scale of the destruction was clearly visible both in Yelwa and in the surrounding villages, especially those located between Yelwa and Shendam.

The accounts of the violence that the different parties gave to Human Rights Watch had little in common.  While most Muslims described all three incidents as attacks by Christians, most Christians described them as attacks by Muslims.  A few of those interviewed conceded that members of their own group had fought back, or that there had been armed clashes between the two sides, but hardly anyone was prepared to admit that members of their own community had initiated the violence, or had attacked unarmed people.  In some cases, their accounts were so divergent that it was difficult to ascertain the correct sequence of events or even an approximate overall death toll.  This was particularly true of the accounts of the violence of June 2002, which each side simply blamed on the other.

Human Rights Watch’s research focused primarily on the February and May 2004 violence.  We did not carry out detailed research into the June 2002 attack.  However, in view of the fact that that almost all the people we interviewed referred back to the June 2002 violence as the genesis of the crisis, a summary of those events based on their accounts is included here.  We were also not able to investigate all the attacks on villages in the surrounding area, but references to these incidents are included as they contributed significantly to the build-up of tension that led to the attacks in February and May 2004. 

2.1       Violence on June 26, 2002

The first major outbreak of violence in Yelwa occurred on June 26, 2002.  Residents of Yelwa who were present when the violence began cited several different events as possible triggers for the violence. They highlighted two specific incidents which occurred on June 26.  In the early hours of the morning, a security man guarding a mosque in the Angwan Galambi (Congo) area of Yelwa was stabbed and seriously injured.  As news of the incident spread through the town, it provoked the anger of some Muslim youths.  The Shendam local government chairman called religious and community leaders of Yelwa to an emergency meeting in Shendam that afternoon, to try to resolve the tension peacefully, and leaders agreed to try to prevent further violence. 

That evening, at around 9 p.m., a masquerade (a traditional celebration or parade in which people wear masks) came through Yelwa town.  Muslims interviewed by Human Rights Watch described it as a Tarok masquerade, although it also included people from other ethnic groups.  Eye-witnesses said a large crowd was following the masquerade, and that many of them were carrying machetes and other weapons.  Several witnesses claimed that these armed people taunted and threatened Muslims and challenged them to come out.  They noticed a mosque on fire in the Angwan Pandam area, then saw another building burning in a different area.  Muslims reportedly came out of their homes, confronted the people in the masquerade, and the violence began. A witness described it as “effective mobilization in both camps.  Muslims came out in droves.  Christians did too.”  The fighting lasted until around 4 a.m. the following morning, when soldiers were sent to Yelwa to restore peace.19 

Both Muslims and Christians died in the violence on June 26.  Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm the death toll.  According to some Muslim residents, between ten and twenty Muslims and an unknown number of Christians were killed.20 Other Muslims claimed the figure was over 100; a Muslim man who helped bury some of the bodies claimed that as many as 150 Muslims were killed.21 Christian sources interviewed by Human Rights Watch were not able to give a precise number of victims.  However, a document produced by Gamai representatives claims that 34 Christians were killed, and lists them by name.22 

Some residents of Yelwa described another possible catalyst for the fighting.  They mentioned that as tensions between Christian and Muslims had been rising, Christian community leaders issued a directive that their young women should not befriend young Muslim men, and that anyone caught doing so would be punished.  Some interviewees alleged that this directive was one of the factors which sparked off the violence, but did not provide clear evidence of a direct link between the two.   

Regardless of the actual causes of the fighting in June 2002, government authorities should have seen these incidents as a warning sign of the potential for further violence and taken steps to address the underlying sources of conflict in the area. 

2.2       The attack of February 24, 2004

In February 2004, after nineteen months of relative peace in Yelwa, violence in the area escalated again.  The trigger for the escalation appears to have been an incident on February 21 or 22 in Yamini, a predominantly Muslim village about thirty kilometers from Yelwa.  A clash occurred between some Fulani, who were angry at the theft of their cattle, and Christians from Langtang South who chased the Fulani into Yamini. It was reported that the Fulani had killed several people in villages in Langtang South in retaliation for the theft of their cattle.  Christians from Langtang South then killed several people in Yamini, including the local chief, Sa’adu, a Muslim Gamai in his fifties, and around eight others.  They burned many houses in Yamini as well as in other villages including Lakushi, Sabon Layi and Ajikamai.23  Shortly before this incident, four mobile policemen were killed as they attempted to hunt down armed men in a forest nearby.  The armed men fled.  According to one version of events, the armed men who had killed the policemen may have been linked to the Fulani were trying to recover their cattle.

On February 24, at about 6.30 a.m., Yelwa was attacked. The fighting lasted until around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m.  Christians claimed the attack was initiated by Muslims, while Muslims claimed it was initiated by Christians.  Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm which side started the fighting, but our research indicates that the majority of victims were Christians.  

Remains of the ECWA church in Yelwa, destroyed on February 24, 2004. © 2004 Human Rights Watch

According to testimonies gathered by Human Rights Watch in Yelwa, at least 78 Christians, and possibly many more, were killed in Yelwa on February 24. Several churches were destroyed, including the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) Bishara no.1 church in the new market area, Angwan Baraya, a church of the United Church of Christ in Nigeria (UCCN, or HEKAN by its Hausa acronym) on the road leading to Langtang South, and three churches of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), including one in Nshar, a village just outside Yelwa.

One of the most calculated and bloody incidents on February 24 was an attack on the compound of a church known as COCIN no.1, situated on the road leading to Langtang South.24  At least 48 Christians were killed inside the church compound, and around 30 others outside the compound.  The victims were from various ethnic groups, including Tarok, Angas and Sayawa.  The majority of victims were men, but there were also several women and at least two children, aged about ten.  Human Rights Watch researchers collected the names of many of the victims killed in or near the church compound.  

COCIN church no.1 in Yelwa, where at least 48 Christians were killed on February 24, 2004.
© 2004 Human Rights Watch

Witnesses described how the attackers—armed Muslims—surrounded the church at around 7 a.m. and told people to go inside.  Some of the attackers were wearing military uniforms.  One witness said he knew they were not soldiers because their caps, belts and shoes were not those usually worn by the army; he recognized several of them as Jarawa from Yelwa. The attackers duped people into believing they were trying to protect them.  A woman said that initially, she thought they were real soldiers coming to save them, because they told people they should go inside the church and nothing would happen to them.  Another witness said that a number of Christians who had initially run away started to come back because the “soldiers” were telling them not to worry and they therefore thought it was safe. 

Some of those in military uniform arrived at the church in a pick-up truck, others in a vehicle similar to a fuel tanker.  As the pick-up truck reached the Langtang South road, the attackers shouted “that they should start.” Witnesses heard the attackers shouting “Allahu Akbar”(God is great) and “let’s fight those arna (infidels), let’s kill those arna” as they started attacking Christians.  One witness heard the attackers saying they wanted to kill all arna as they (the Muslims) were the ones who founded Yelwa and they didn’t want the Christians there.  Another witness was able to identify some of the individual attackers as Muslim residents of Yelwa; she recognized some of their faces, including that of a man who appeared to be one of the commanders, but did not know their names.

The attack was well-organized.  The attackers split into two large groups.  One group, most of whom were dressed in civilian clothes, entered the church compound and attacked people there, while another group, mostly wearing military uniforms, stayed outside, shooting at those who tried to escape.  Those who entered the compound used machetes, axes, or long double-edged sword-like knives known as barandami, while those surrounding the church used firearms.  A survivor described how the attackers who entered the compound split into several groups:  “If you escaped the first group, you met the second group, then the third.  In every group, there were about 100 men.  There were three groups inside.  Outside there were many […] Those outside had guns and climbed the fence to face those of us trying to run away.”  Another witness counted seven groups of attackers, each composed of thirty to fifty men.  Another said that first a group of more than 80 attackers arrived at the first gate of the church grounds, then fifty or sixty entered through the main gate.

A member of the church who was present when the attack started described what happened:

We had just finished our morning prayer. At about 7 a.m., we heard gunshots.  Then we heard shouts of “Allahu Akbar” coming from the mosque.  Muslims had surrounded this church and other churches […] The attackers came through the main gate.  I told them they were not the people to tell me to come into the church.  I didn’t go inside the church, but many people did.  They gathered them in the church.  Some Hausa-Fulani had long sickles called barandami.  They used these to kill our people.  They also had guns but used them to block the roads outside and to chase people inside.  They slaughtered people inside.  I was able to escape […]

I saw about fifty attackers […] They were young men, aged between 20 and 40.  There were about ten younger boys, aged 12-15, also with barandami.  There was a commander in front telling them to kill everyone, men and women.  He was a tall big man with a black complexion.  He was the only commander there.  Groups in different directions had different commanders.

A seventy-two-year-old Tarok man, who narrowly escaped being killed, described what he saw:

It was just before 7 a.m.  We had finished the morning prayer.  I heard the sound of bullets and saw fire far away.  I saw an open pick-up truck with about 15 people in military uniform and a small tanker, like an oil tanker, carrying two people.  They were just shouting, I couldn’t hear what they said.  They came to the two gates and surrounded the church.  There was no way for us to get out.  They came from different directions. 

I went out by the side and looked out through the fence and saw the first killing there.  They killed a man with machetes.  They cut his legs, arms and face.  They pushed him over and burned him.   Then they came down the side and killed a woman there with machetes. 

They entered [the church] and started attacking inside and outside […] I was holding my bible in my bag.  They caught me by one arm each.  They accused me of carrying weapons.  One of them had a long knife.  One of them pushed me.  They took my bible and 10,000 naira in my bag […] Three of them came back with barandami.  They were about to kill me again.  I ran through.  An old Muslim man took me into his house where I stayed until 6.30 p.m. 

I came to the church in the evening.  I saw how they had killed people, cut their legs, and burned them.  I saw 34 dead in the compound and more outside.  Some died in the church, some just outside.  Inside, the victims were men.  There were a few women who died outside.  The total number killed was about 70 or 80.

Another elderly Christian man, aged seventy, recognized some of the attackers; some of them also recognized him and called him by his name.  He was with his seventy-five-year-old friend, whom the attackers tried to kill; they lifted their sword and tried to cut his neck.  Both men managed to escape and were saved by a Muslim acquaintance who hid them, along with eight women and two young men, in his house close to the church premises.  He stayed in the man’s house until around midnight and left several hours after the fighting had stopped.  The following morning, he returned to the church:  “We asked the soldiers to accompany us to the church.  We saw many dead bodies.  There were 75 in the church premises and near the fence.  I found the body of my twenty-four-year-old son.  He was cut into pieces.  All the other bodies were cut too.”

Another survivor also saw about seventy dead bodies inside the church, killed with machetes, and at least five outside, killed with guns. Among the victims was her twenty-five-year-old son, who was shot dead as he was trying to run away from the scene; she found his corpse near a primary school.

Eventually, the military intervened and stopped the violence, within several hours. The police had been absent throughout the attack.

A number of Muslims were also killed on February 24.  The estimates provided by Muslim residents ranged from 15 to 190; Human Rights Watch has not been able to substantiate these figures. Some Muslims implausibly denied any knowledge of killings of Christians on that day, or claimed that the attackers had not known that there were people in the church.  Others, however, agreed that a greater number of Christians than Muslims had been killed but said they did not know the exact numbers.  A local official in Yelwa claimed that Muslims had attacked the COCIN church and burned it in anger after nine Muslims were allegedly killed by Christians in the vicinity.25 

Police representatives in the state capital Jos told Human Rights Watch that according to the police investigations, a total of around 78 people were killed on February 24, 48 inside the COCIN church compound and about 30 in other parts of town.26  A local government official from Shendam claimed that 265 people were killed; this figure included about 20 people who were missing but not confirmed dead.27   A traditional leader in Shendam claimed that in addition to 265 killed in Yelwa and the neighboring village of Nshar, 150 were killed in the COCIN church.28  Human Rights Watch was not able to substantiate these higher numbers.

2.3       Other attacks: February to May 2004

There were a number of smaller attacks on predominantly Christian villages around Yelwa between February and May, mostly attributed to armed Muslims.  A chart compiled by the district head of Shendam and submitted to Shendam local government lists 22 separate incidents which took place between February 21 and May 6, 2004 in at least 17 different locations.  Excluding the attacks of  February 24 and May 2-3 in Yelwa (which are mentioned in the list), the information in the chart indicates that at least 82 people were killed during this period, in various locations including Tumbi, Kawo, Tukung, Goede Mangoro, Gwanzam, Kwapjur, Durka, Rawaya Gada, Tawaya Rijiya, Dungba, Saake, Yelwa-Shendam road, Rafin Baba (Haambang), Kawo-Karbang road, and Makera.  In some incidents, the exact number of victims is not cited.  In others, it mentions destruction of houses and property, but no deaths.  Human Rights Watch researchers saw the damage and destruction in some of the villages mentioned but were not able to confirm all the incidents listed in the document.29  

Christians interviewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed that there had been several attacks on Christian villages during this period, particularly at the end of February.  They said that the villages of Tabat, Timshat, Tukung, Zamwe, and Tumbi, were all attacked on February 24, the same day as the attack in Yelwa.  Other villages, including Kopjur, Durka, Rawaya, Kabong, Lakung, Daful, Lankaku, Karkashi, and Zamnasara, were attacked in the following days and weeks.  Residents of the areas cited specific incidents.  For example, ten people were reportedly killed in Timshat on February 24 and about twenty in Karkashi, in late February or early March.  Three women who were members of the COCIN church—Dorkas Dashe, Ladi Doga, and Nanfe Dashe, all in their late twenties, and all from the same family—were killed in Pandam in mid-March; they had gone to see their houses which had been burnt during the attack of February 24.  About two months later, in April or early May, a man and his wife were reported to have been killed in Karbang.30

There were also attacks by Christians against Muslims during this period.  For example, in late February or early March, four Borghom men were killed in the village of Longvel and six Fulani men were killed in a nearby Fulani settlement.31  According to press reports, on 26 February, at least forty people were killed in the town of Garkawa in what was thought to be a revenge by Christians for the attack on the church in Yelwa32.  In early March, some Muslims returning from Shendam in a vehicle were attacked at Kawo, a majority Christian village about seven kilometers from Yelwa; nine of them were killed and thrown into a well.33  Between March and early May, there were several other attacks on Muslims going to farm on the outskirts of Yelwa.  At least seven people were reported to have been killed during this period.34 

In March and April, violence was reported in other parts of Plateau State, including in Wase, at the end of March, and in Bakin Chiyawa, at the end of April.  Twenty people were reportedly killed in each of these attacks.35  Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify these reports.

2.4       The attack of May 2-3, 2004

On May 2, Yelwa was attacked again.  This attack, which lasted two days, was on a larger scale than any of the previous attacks in the area.  Despite claims by some Christian leaders that it was “spontaneous,” on the basis of the testimonies of eye-witnesses and residents of Yelwa, it would appear that the attack was carefully coordinated and involved not only Christian residents of the immediate area, but also Christians from other local government areas. 

As in the case of some of the earlier attacks by Christians, the perpetrators were initially described as Tarok by the media and others; in reality, it was not only the Tarok but many different groups who participated in this attack.36  Eye-witnesses mentioned a wide range of tribes among the attackers, including the Tarok, Gamai, Montol, Angas, Kwalla, Birom, Sayawa, and Jukun.    The victims were also from many different tribes, with only their religion in common: almost all of them were Muslim. A member of a non-governmental organization explained to Human Rights Watch:  “Yelwa includes lots of tribes.  All would have been affected by the [May 2004] violence simply by virtue of religion.”37

Houses destroyed during the May 2004 attack in Yelwa. © 2004 Human Rights Watch

The attack started early in the morning of May 2.  Among the first victims were a Muslim woman and two children who were killed in the early hours of the morning on the outskirts of Yelwa, on the Shendam Road, where they had gone to fetch firewood. Residents who found their dead bodies alerted soldiers, who came to see the corpses and told the residents that they would return to take them away.  According to the residents, the soldiers did not return.

Large groups of attackers surrounded the town from different directions and blocked all the main roads leading out of Yelwa.  Witnesses estimated that they numbered several thousand and described them as an “army of men.”  A man who saw the attackers as they entered the town said: “I could see them on the outskirts.  It was as if they were a cloud, so dark, so many of them […] First over 500 people came from Shendam Road.  The second advance was from Langtang South Road, the third from Kalong Road, the fourth from Langtang road, and finally from Yamini Road.  I could recognize the language and dialect of the attackers.  The first advance from Shendam Road was made up mainly of Gamai.  It was those living in Yelwa town that left after the second crisis.  I could recognize some of them, I knew them by face.  The second advance from Langtang South Road comprised Tarok.  The third was Montol.”38 

Central mosque, Yelwa, destroyed during the May 2004 attack. © 2004 Human Rights Watch

The attackers were operating in different groups and their mode of operation indicated a high level of coordination.  A witness said that on May 3, “the attackers came and retreated.  They had a system: one group attacked and retreated, then another group attacked.”39  Most of the attackers were bare-chested and just wearing shorts or trousers.   They carried a variety of weapons, including firearms, such as kalashnikovs and G3s, and machetes, knives, cutlasses, and bows and arrows.  One witness said he saw three groups of attackers on May 2, one with guns, one with machetes, and one with bows and arrows.40  Another explained that those who had guns shot at people and “those with knives and cutlasses came to finish off the victims.”41  Many more firearms were used in this attack than in previous attacks in the area.  When Human Rights Watch visited a camp for the internally displaced in Lafia, Nasarawa State, the majority of the injured there were being treated for gunshot wounds; among them was an eight-year-old girl who had been shot in the face. 

The attackers were mostly adult men. Witnesses said there were several commanders among them.  One witness said he saw about three commanders leading the attackers; one commander was in front, shooting, while the crowd of attackers followed.42  Another witness also saw several commanders, “with one leading.  He had a bigger gun.  He shot as they advanced, and the others followed.”43  Another described how “the commanders called each group with their hands, then told them to withdraw when the ammunition was finished, and called another group.”44

Several eye-witnesses reported independently that the attackers included soldiers and policemen, or people in military or police uniform.  Some claimed to have recognized individual soldiers stationed in the area.  Others said they knew these individuals were military or police because they found some of their identity cards at the scene of the attack.  Human Rights Watch was not able to verify independently whether soldiers or police on active duty participated in the attack.   When we reported these allegations to the police, they categorically denied that any serving police officers could have been among the attackers.  Because people commonly steal uniforms of the security forces or use uniforms belonging to retired officers when carrying out such attacks, it can be difficult to ascertain whether members of the security forces were really taking part in these attacks.  

The first phase of the attack lasted from around 8 a.m. until around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. on May 2.  As darkness fell, the attackers retreated.  One witness said that at about 6.30 p.m., they heard the sound of whistles and the attackers withdrew.45  Just before they withdrew, some of them were seen dancing and shouting “we are retrieving our town today!”46  There was no fighting during the night.  The following morning, on May 3, at around 7 a.m., they returned and attacked again.  The killings continued until about 11 a.m.  Several witnesses confirmed that the violence was worse on the second day, and that the attackers seemed even more numerous, better organized and better armed.  By the end of the attack, they had cornered many Muslims into several compounds in the Angwan Galadima area of Yelwa, surrounded the area and attacked them there.  Survivors described how they were “caged” in the area and became completely helpless.  Some said the attackers had set fire to places outside the compounds to prevent people from escaping.

The attackers specifically targeted the Muslim population of Yelwa.  One witness said: “They were just killing people like that […] They [the victims] were all Muslims.  The attackers were shooting at random.  I also saw women and children who had been killed […] They were just shooting, not picking them out.  When the attackers came into town on Monday, the Muslims were all in one area.  The attackers shot anyone who came their way.”47  Killings and widespread destruction took place in many different parts of town, including Angwan Galadima, Angwan Murtala, Motor Park, Angwan Jarawa, Angwan Iya, Angwan Jukun, Angwan Galambi, and the area around the cattle market at Zango.  Numerous houses, shops, mosques, and other buildings were burnt throughout the town.  Most of the victims were men; a minority were women and children.  There was a higher proportion of women and children among the victims in Angwan Galadima, on May 3.

Some Muslim youths fought back soon after the attack began on May 2, throughout the day, and again on the morning of May 3.  Some had weapons, others used stones. In some areas, there was fighting between the armed Muslims and armed Christians.  A number of Christians were reportedly killed.  However, the Christians attackers were so numerous and well-armed that they quickly overpowered even those Muslims who had weapons. 

Muslim residents of Yelwa estimate that around 660 Muslims were killed on May 2 and 3.  On the basis of its own research and detailed testimonies from residents, including some who buried the bodies and others who were present as the bodies were counted, Human Rights Watch believes this figure to be credible, and that the real figure may be closer to seven hundred.  These figures refer only to the Muslim deaths.  The number of Christians who died over the two days is not known.  Most Christians interviewed by Human Rights Watch were not able to give a precise figure of the number of casualties on their side, except for the Plateau State chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), who claimed that there had been 70 Christians among a total of 250 people killed on May 2.48

The third of six mass graves for victims of the May 2004 attack in Yelwa. © 2004 Human Rights Watch

The figure of 660 refers to the number of people buried behind the chief’s compound in Yelwa. Human Rights Watch visited the site where there were six mass graves for victims of the May 2004 killings.  Local residents had counted the bodies in each grave and pinned up pieces of paper showing the number in each grave: over 130 bodies in a “first grave”, over 140 in a “second grave”, 100 in a “third grave”, over 70 and over 100 in two other graves, and 140 in a children’s grave – totaling 680.  (An additional “old grave”, at the same site, contained the bodies of 120 people killed during the June 2002 and February 2004 violence.)  The majority of victims of the May 2004 attack were buried in this site behind the chief’s compound, but others were buried elsewhere.  For example, more than thirty people killed in an attack on the Al-Amin clinic were buried in a mass grave behind the clinic.  Some victims killed in other locations were buried elsewhere.  Several people who had jumped into deep wells to escape their attackers were then shot dead inside the wells.  As the wells were too deep to retrieve the bodies, they were left to decompose there.  Two people were killed in this way in a well in Angwan Murtala, one in a well in Hayi Murtala, and another in a well at Motor Park.49

Well in the Motor Park area of Yelwa in which at least one person was shot dead. © 2004 Human Rights Watch

At the time of the attack, and in the days immediately following it, government officials were anxious to play down the number of victims.  When Human Rights Watch visited the area in July, two months after the attack, there was still no official government figure of the number of dead.  The deputy local government chairman in Shendam told Human Rights Watch he did not know the number of dead and could not give any figures until a committee set up by the state administrator had completed its report.50  A police representative in the state capital Jos told Human Rights Watch:  “The police saw 67 bodies on 3rd or 4th of May.  The total number may or may not have been more.”51 

Human Rights Watch researchers collected the names of some of the victims from people whose relatives had been killed or who had witnessed the attack.  One man lost at least six members of his family, including an elderly uncle and three nephews aged ten, twelve and fifteen:  “My uncle stayed at home; he did not go out to fight because he is old.  On previous occasions, the attackers had never succeeded in entering the town, so he felt free to remain at home.  The children followed the women to Angwan Galadima and were killed as they fled.  The older two boys were shot, the youngest killed with a cutlass.  I saw their bodies […] My uncle was shot in front of the house.  He was killed on the main road as he tried to run away.”52

A forty-one-year-old Hausa woman described how her husband was killed on May 3, and how she narrowly escaped death herself: 

As we ran away from our house, we heard gunshots.  My daughter was in front, I was in the middle and my husband was behind.  The attackers followed us.  They caught my husband and killed him, in front of someone’s house.  I saw it.  They placed grass on him and burned him.  About ten people attacked him.  He was quite elderly, in his eighties.  They wrestled him and overpowered him and slaughtered him with a knife.  When they rounded on him, I heard them say “today, you’re not going to leave.”  My children in front had already run ahead.  I followed running.  One of the attackers said: “Shoot her!”  I fell down.  A shot went off in the air.53

Later, she went to look for her children.  She found the dead body of her eldest son, aged 21, lying on the street.  He had been speared in the stomach and his neck had been cut with a knife.54 

Human Rights Watch spoke to many other people who had witnessed their relatives being killed.  An elderly Jukun woman, aged about eighty, described how the attackers came into her house and burned it.  In her presence, they killed her two grandsons and three brothers: 

They cut them [with machetes] and burned them.  My grandson was slaughtered.  They cut open his stomach.  They cut him into pieces, brought kerosene, oil and matches, and set him on fire.   They were killed outside the house, in Angwan Jukun, near the road to Ibi, on the Monday.  My sister’s daughter was also shot; she is now in hospital.55

A twenty-seven-year old palm-oil trader from the Tatana ethnic group was seriously injured on May 3 and his wife and son were killed:

I was shot five times […]  The first shot, on my lower left arm, was at 10 a.m. then I was shot a second time on my right arm, then my left shoulder, my abdomen and face.  By this time I had fallen unconscious. I lay there for two hours.  They thought I was dead.  Around 4 p.m., the army came and poured water on me and I woke up […] My wife and three-year-old son were killed in the attack.  They were at home when they heard the gunshots.  As they tried to run away, they were shot, along with my friend’s child.56

One of the most brutal attacks took place on May 3 at the Al-Amin clinic, a small private clinic in the Angwan Galadima area of Yelwa.  The attackers burned the clinic and killed the patients inside, most of whom were being treated for injuries sustained during the violence on the previous day. About 32 people, all men, were killed at the clinic.  The attackers specifically hunted down the men and allowed the women to leave.  When Human Rights Watch researchers visited the clinic in July, there was still blood on the floor and an empty packet of cartridges in one of the rooms.  The clinic had been almost entirely destroyed.  Only the walls and the metal frames of a few beds remained.  The toilet doors at the back of the clinic, where some people had tried to hide during the attack, were riddled with bullet holes.

One man, who survived with serious injuries after pretending he was dead, explained what happened.  He had gone to the clinic to accompany his friend who had been shot in the foot.

I carried [my friend] on my back. We arrived at the clinic at 11.15 a.m. […] One of the staff came out to attend to us. Then the doctor came out himself to try and remove the bullet. At this point I went to the bathroom, at the back.  The attackers then entered though the door and killed all the people inside. Others waited on the fence, leaving no escape route. Six women and five men were also in the bathroom. We shut ourselves in so that the attackers would not see us. They used their gun to break the door. Then they asked us to come out. From the next toilet a boy came out.  They shot him in the stomach. I saw his intestines spill out. His name was Buhari Yunusa.  He was eighteen years old. The women also came out, leaving me and two other men inside. The women whom they asked to leave the toilet were not killed. They just took their wrappers, leaving them naked.

The attackers looked straight at me and raised their cutlass as if to strike. They then withdrew and left. Another attacker on the fence saw me and asked me to come out. I refused. He tried to shoot me three times with a Lebanon gun, but it did not work. Then he collected a Kalashin [kalashnikov], aimed and shot me in the stomach.  The bullet entered through the front of my stomach, hit my belt and exited through the thigh. I fell on a blade and injured my back. I pretended to be dead. I put the body of Buhari over my stomach so if anyone saw me they would think I was dead. They set fire to the clinic. It was only the military intervention that prevented the fire from reaching us at the back. At 12.30 p.m., when they heard the military come, I heard the leader of the attackers say “lets go” in Tarok […] It took me over a month to recover. 57

The Al-Amin clinic in Yelwa, where about 32 people were killed on May 3, 2004. © 2004 Human Rights Watch

Beds inside the Al-Amin clinic, Yelwa, two months after the attack. © 2004 Human Rights Watch

Bloodstained floor inside the Al-Amin clinic, Yelwa, two months after the attack. © 2004 Human Rights Watch

Man with machete wound who was attacked on May 3 in Yelwa. © 2004 Human Rights Watch

Another survivor escaped from the clinic with deep machete wounds to his head:

On Sunday 2 May, I was at the Al-Amin Clinic when I heard gunshots from all sides. They started bringing victims and by 9 a.m. there were sixteen new people [patients]. Previously there had been ten people in the clinic. The injuries ranged from gunshots, machete wounds, burns, fractures, and broken limbs. The victims were men, women and children. The clinic itself was not attacked on the first day […]

By 5 a.m. on Monday they had started shooting again. The fighting was much worse than the previous day. The attackers came at 12.30 p.m. By now there were 20 dead bodies at the clinic, over 30 wounded, 30 relations visiting and 40 people seeking shelter from the fighting. There were 6 staff in the theatre. In total there were approximately one hundred people in the clinic.

When the attackers came, they were speaking Hausa58 […] I heard them ask some of the visiting women if there were any people inside.  The women said no. Then they asked them: “where are your husbands?” The women replied: “they have all run away”. The attackers told the women: “get out, we don’t fight with women”. The women left.

Next, one fighter said in Tarok: “This is a hospital, this is where they treat themselves, let’s burn it. Get me petrol”. After that I did not hear a noise. They set the clinic ablaze. There was much smoke and the attackers left. I escaped out of the back, into the courtyard, with five others. Some of those who were injured, but could crawl, also managed to escape. I saw the roof of the main building collapse. Those inside were burnt to ashes.59

As one of the men he was with tried to jump over the fence, the attackers realized some people were still alive:

As soon as he jumped over, I heard gunshots. The attackers said in Tarok: “ there are people inside”. They came back into the compound through the side gate.

At this point I decided to lie down, amongst the bodies of those previously killed, and pretend to be dead.  There was another man who was half dead and I heard them say “go and finish that guy”. They went and butchered him. One of the attackers saw me breathing and said: “that is another one lying down, he is not dead, finish him too.” They started butchering me with a machete. They struck me in four places on the right side of my head. At this point I did not feel any pain. As they left, I opened my eye and saw them moving away. The attackers said in English: “Idiot! He is finished.”

About five minutes later I heard the running of feet and people saying the soldiers were around. I got up and tied a curtain round my bleeding head. I went straight to my house in Angwan Jarawa to look for my family. All around me I saw dead bodies […] My family were not at the house. By now I could not move any further due to loss of blood.60

By July 2004, he had still not found his wife or five of his six children: four daughters aged sixteen, nine, four, and four months, and his nineteen-year-old son.  He assumed his son had been killed in the fighting.  A relative had informed him that one of his daughters had been seen in a village in his wife’s area of origin, but he had not been reunited with her yet.61

The army did not intervene to stop the fighting in Yelwa until the late morning of May 3, a day and a half after the attack began.  When the soldiers eventually arrived between 11 a.m. and 12 noon, the attackers dispersed within a short time.  The soldiers, who came in several vehicles and at least two armored cars, chased after some of the attackers as they tried to run out of the town and reportedly arrested some of them.  The violence stopped soon after the soldiers’ arrival. 

2.5       The response of Christian representatives to the May 2-3 attack

Some Christians told Human Rights Watch that the attack of May 2-3 may have been a spontaneous reaction to reports that in the early hours of May 2, Muslims attacked the predominantly Christian village of Kawo, just outside Yelwa, and killed one Christian.  They described this as the final straw which provoked the attack against Muslims in Yelwa later that day.  In the list of incidents from February to May 2004 compiled by the district head of Shendam (referred to above), the May 2-3 attack on Yelwa is simply described as follows: “Attack Kawo again and killed 1 person leading to general reaction which then culminated into the Yelwa crisis of 2nd and 3rd May, 2004 with loss of lives and properties.”62  Human Rights Watch was not able to independently confirm the events in Kawo.  However, even if the attack in Kawo did take place as alleged, it is very unlikely that without advance planning, Christians would have been able to mobilize and arm so many people and launch such a large-scale attack on Yelwa within a few hours, or less.

A few Christians admitted to Human Rights Watch that the attack on Yelwa had been planned but they described it as an inevitable reprisal for the string of earlier attacks by Muslims against Christians, including but not limited to the February 24 attack in Yelwa, the attack on Kawo, and attacks on other Christian villages in the preceding months.  However, the explanations provided by some Christian leaders were contradictory. On the one hand, they described the attack of May 2-3 as spontaneous; on the other, they stated that Christians had been preparing and organizing themselves to retaliate for some time.  In a typically confusing response, a traditional leader and a representative of the Gamai Unity and Development Organization (GUDO)—an organization representing the interests of the Gamai ethnic group—told Human Rights Watch:  “Sunday [May 2] was D-Day, either now or never.  We were forced in self-defense.  We were pushed to the wall and had to find a way out.  There was no appointed day. It was spontaneous.  If there had not been the attack on Kawo and the advance on Shendam, the attack of May 2 would never have happened.”63  A local government official in Shendam acknowledged that the attack on Yelwa in May 2004 was a “single major attack” but claimed that “cumulatively, the February attack was worse taking into account the other incidents that followed.”64  The President of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) in Plateau State also stated: “The lives lost on 2 May cannot be compared to the Wase attacks and the February attack in Yelwa.  I call it defense […]  People can’t just sit and be killed.”65 

The determination of some Christians to chase all Muslims out of Yelwa was illustrated by an alarming comment made by a Christian leader in Shendam to a journalist who visited the area immediately after the attack.  He told the journalist that if they had had four extra hours, no soul would have remained in Yelwa.66

Human Rights Watch spoke to a Christian Gamai, who was formerly in the army, who claimed to have mobilized and trained large numbers of Christians in the area in the period leading up to May 2.  He had not been living in the area during the events of June 2002 and February 2004, but decided to return at the end of March 2004, specifically for the purpose of organizing Christians to defend themselves against Muslim attacks, “because Christians were being massacred and slaughtered like rams.”  He boasted about how he had mobilized “all the Gamai in Gamai land” (the area in and around Shendam) and trained them in military skills.  He made no secret of how they had prepared themselves and how he had “encouraged Gamai youths to protect Gamai land in case there was any attack.”   He complained about the arrest of 39 Christians by soldiers following the attack of May 2-3 in Yelwa.   When Human Rights Watch researchers asked him whether those arrested had participated in the violence, he said: “Even if they did, it was war.  Now it is peace.  They shouldn’t be arrested.” In a sign of the intransigence which persists among some sectors even since the situation has calmed down, he said: “Before there is peace, there must be a village head in Yelwa who is a Gamai man.” 67

Human Rights Watch encountered attitudes of intransigence and prejudice among a number of Christian and Muslim religious and traditional leaders, at local, state and even national level.  Two months after the events, some were still speaking in hostile and sometimes inflammatory language and refusing to accept that their members had initiated any of the attacks, other than in “self-defense.” A traditional leader and an elder in Shendam, both Christians, described Yelwa as “an Afghanistic citadel” and claimed that groups in Yelwa had links with Al-Qaida.68  The Plateau State chairman of CAN described the events in Yelwa as follows:  “Terrorists came in for a holy war from inside and outside the country.  They were fighting a jihad. Christians conquered them.”69   Another Christian leader in Jos said:  “Every time, the Muslims start the problem and the Christians always suffer.  Nowhere have Christians started this problem.”  Ignoring the fact that the violence in Plateau State had started in 2001, he stated: “Christians were killed in a church and everything else is a result of that.”70  Even the Anglican Primate of Nigeria and national president of CAN, Archbishop Peter Akinola, told Human Rights Watch: “I don’t have records of Christian groups going out deliberately to attack.  The church says turn the other cheek, but now there is no other cheek to turn.  Some Christians are struggling for survival in their land.”71

2.6       The response of the security forces

All the witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed the absence of police and military during the attack in Yelwa until late in the morning of May 3.  There is a police station in Yelwa, but residents told Human Rights Watch that the small police presence which had been stationed there had left the town completely at the end of April.72  Community leaders reported to the local government that all police had vacated the area on April 24.  In a security meeting in which a police representative was present, they were told that the situation was a threat to the lives of police officers based there.73 

When Human Rights Watch asked the state police command in Jos why they had withdrawn their officers from Yelwa in the days before the attack, they denied having done so.  The Assistant Commissioner of Police in Charge of Investigations in Plateau State gave the following explanation:

After 24 February, most of the police in Yelwa were Christians.  They felt threatened, or were threatened, so the strength of the station was reduced.  Normally there are twelve or thirteen policemen for Yelwa.  In Shendam, there are about 130 or 150.  Those who left Yelwa were not replaced […] where would we replace them from?  After 24 February, there were only one or two Christian officers in Yelwa. 

It is not correct that the police were withdrawn from Yelwa in April.  They were there at the time of the attack.  There were at least 2,000, possibly 3,000 attackers on 2 May.  What would you do with even twelve officers?  […] We had no communication.  Yelwa couldn’t communicate with Shendam until the attack was virtually over.  The roads were barricaded by the attackers.  The attack took place at night.  The police traditionally do not operate at night.74 

Some witnesses mentioned that on May 2, a Yelwa resident had alerted the government of neighboring Bauchi State to the situation.  In response, soldiers were dispatched to Yelwa, but when they reported to the local authorities in Shendam first, local government officials and traditional leaders in Shendam allegedly told them that there was no need for them to go to Yelwa as the situation there was calm.   It was not until the following day, after a resident who managed to escape from the fighting went to Shendam to get help, that the soldiers came to Yelwa.  Several witnesses gave a similar account of these events.75  Human Rights Watch was not able to obtain confirmation of their account from military sources.

The permanent secretary for security of Plateau State government told Human Rights Watch that soldiers who had been deployed to Yelwa in February 2004 had remained there ever since, although their number was reduced when “peace returned” after the February 24 attack, and some were deployed from Yelwa to other locations.76

When the army finally intervened on May 3, they were able to stop the killings within a short time.  This suggests that if the security forces had intervened earlier, many lives might have been saved. 

Once calm was restored in Yelwa after May 3, police and army reinforcements were sent to the town on orders from the federal capital Abuja.  However, some police and local government officials showed a complete lack of concern for the injured.  Health workers trying to assist the injured in the days immediately after the attack were surprised that the local authorities did not offer them the facilities of Shendam hospital to treat the victims.  Instead, the chairman of Shendam local government told them to “treat those you can and leave the others to their fate.”  When they then approached the Divisional Police Officer and asked him for a police escort to transport the casualties outside the area for treatment, he refused.77   Eventually, they were able to transport some of the injured to Lafia, capital of Nasarawa State, escorted by mobile policemen.78

A twenty-five-year-old Jarawa man who was seriously injured on May 3 had to have his arm amputated after the police failed to provide him with medical treatment.  On May 3, he and another person were hiding in the boot of a car, trying to escape from Yelwa, when they were attacked on the Shendam road: 

At about noon, we met a roadblock at a bend in the road after Tumbi, close to Yelwa.  The driver hit the concrete blocks.  We fell out of the boot.  The attackers captured the second person who was in the boot; I later found out he was shot dead.  I ran away.  They were shooting while I ran.  The bullets hit my arm. […] I ran into the bush.  There was just the skin left on my arm.  My bones were broken from the elbow to the wrist.  I trekked in the bush for about sixteen kilometers with my arm bleeding.  I was running so I got exhausted and had to stop, rest, and start again.   I reached Shendam after about three hours.

The police caught me in Shendam.  They took me to the police station.  I spent two days there.  They didn’t give me any medication. By the second day, my arm was rotting.  On the second day, a policeman asked me which tribe I was from.  I said Jarawa and that my parents were from Bauchi, living in Yelwa.  The policeman said: “Do you mean you came here as settlers and made money and now are molesting us in our own land?”  They took me back to the cell.  My arm started smelling on the third day.  On the first day, I was not given any food or water.  On the second day, I was given only water.  They stamped on my legs with their boots […]

They carried me from the police station to the military barracks.  They said: “look at you. They must cut off your arm.” […] There I was put in a vehicle and taken to Kwande, then put in another vehicle and brought to Lafia.  I didn’t receive any medical treatment until I reached Lafia the same day.  I went straight to hospital.  They said there was nothing they could do and they would have to amputate from above the elbow.79

Man whose arm was amputated after he was attacked in Yelwa on May 3, 2004. © 2004 Human Rights Watch

By July 2004, there were about 120 mobile policemen deployed in Yelwa and Shendam, in addition to the normal police force, and about 50 soldiers.  A joint police and military operation was patrolling the area most affected by the violence in the southern part of the state, including with helicopters.  State government officials interviewed in early August said that there were 800 police officers (mobile police and regular police), many deployed from outside the state, and 800 soldiers, mostly from the 3rd Armored Division in Jos, deployed in the southern senatorial zone of Plateau State, concentrated in particular around Yelwa, Shendam, Wase, and Kadarko.80  By early 2005, a smaller police and military force was still present, but the area was no longer a “military zone”.81

2.7       Abduction of women and children and sexual abuse

In addition to the widespread killings, the attackers abducted scores of Muslim women and children and took them away from Yelwa, to private homes in a variety of villages in the surrounding area, some situated at quite a distance from Yelwa.   Some witnesses estimated that at least two or three hundred were abducted; some quoted even higher figures. A police official referred to a list of more than 370 people who had been abducted.82  Many of the women and children were taken from the area in Angwan Galadima where the attackers had cornered the population on May 3.  The attackers threatened to kill them if they refused to go with them.

The attackers gradually released the women and children over the following days and weeks.  Many were released in the days immediately following the attack; others were kept for several weeks.  When Human Rights Watch researchers visited Yelwa in July, some had still not been released.  The army and the police were trying to trace their whereabouts and had managed to free some of them from their captors. 

A number of women who were abducted were raped by their captors.   They were distributed among them as “wives” and were kept in houses, in different locations, where they were repeatedly raped, some by several men.  They were not allowed to go out of the houses, except to accompany the men to farms where they were made to work.  Some said that during their period in captivity they were fed pork and locally-brewed alcohol—both of which are prohibited in Islam. 

Some of the children were also made to work on the farms, fetch water, or look after livestock for their captors.  The abducted children were of different ages, from teenagers to babies just a few months old, some of whom were on their mothers’ backs.  For example, the eleven-year-old daughter of a man called Tanko, who was killed on May 3, was among those abducted; his eight-month-old baby girl was also snatched from his wife.  They were later released.83  A fifty-five-year-old man told how his two granddaughters, aged between six and nine, were abducted and held for around one month.  The two girls were kept together in a house; the nine-year-old was sent to work on the farm.84

Human Rights Watch researchers spoke to several of the women who had been raped.  One eighteen-year-old girl was taken to a house in Garkawa, on foot.  The man who took her there kept her in the house for one week.  She was eventually rescued by soldiers:

He didn’t allow anyone in.  He didn’t want anyone to know I was there.  I could identify him even today […] The day we got to the house, at about 2.30p.m, he told me to bathe.  Then he tried to use me.  I refused.  He said he would kill me and took out a gun.  I had to submit.  It happened many times, in the day or night, at any time.  I stayed there one week.  He didn’t even feed me.  He just gave me the sweet part of the bukutu [locally brewed alcohol].  I was not allowed out at all.  If we heard vehicles, he would say “run, the soldiers are coming to pick you!” and run back into the house.  He took me to the farm twice and made me weed.  Then he used me in the evening.  Once I heard the vehicles of soldiers.  He told me to go inside but I refused.  I went out.  He pulled me back.  I shouted.  Some soldiers came and carried me out.  The man escaped by jumping over the fence.85

A twenty-seven-year-old Pyem woman was abducted with her three children, after her husband and about forty other people were killed in their house in Angwan Baraya Street in Yelwa, on May 3.  She was captured along with six other women and about thirty children. 

The fighters took me and other women to their houses.  They forced us to eat their own food, pig meat or dog meat.  They took me to a house in Zamko. There were about forty women and children in the house.  They forced me to drink beer.  I said I didn’t want to.  They said: “eat the food or we will kill you.”  They took us to the farm to work.  Some of us had to sleep with them.  I had to sleep with three men, many times.  I spent three weeks in the same house.  The man who lived there is Jacob.  He was among the three I slept with.  They were all Tarok.  I don’t know the names of the others.  They were just visiting. 

All the women were forced to sleep with the men.  If we refused, they beat us or threatened to kill us.  They killed one woman because she rejected them.  She was Hanatu, about the same age as me.  They shot her and she died immediately.

They didn’t hurt the children but forced them to eat their food.  They took them to the farm. There were boys and girls, aged 9, 10, 12. My three children, aged 7, 9 and 11, were with me. 

When the soldiers came, the fighters released us, on Monday.  The soldiers just asked them to release us and they did.  Some women are still there.  They refused to give all of them back.  They released me and two of my children but my son, aged 11, stayed behind.  They refused to give him back.  He is still there now.86 

A twenty-seven-year-old Jukun woman was abducted on May 3 along with about sixteen other women and about ten male children:

They took us to Zamko, beyond Garkawa.  There were about 100 in the group who took us.  They were wearing shorts and had leaves on their heads.  They said they had already slaughtered the men […] They beat us and insulted us.  They said they had finished with our husbands and pitied us, that was why they were carrying us with them.  They took us to different places.  I was taken to a house in Rimi with my two-year-old daughter by one of the men.  He was Tarok or Yergam.

Residents of Yelwa told Human Rights Watch about other women who had also been raped.  One woman was reportedly sexually abused by five men during her abduction.  In another case, three men had argued over a woman whom each of them wanted as his “wife”.  A fourth man said that as they couldn’t agree on who would take her, he would kill her.  According to other women who were present at the time, he then shot her dead.  

In the weeks following the attack of May 2-3, police officers and soldiers were sent to search for the women and children who were still held. They succeeded in releasing some of them.  However, by July, they had still not started investigating reports of rape. A deputy superintendent of the mobile police, who had been deployed to Yelwa in the second week of May, told Human Rights Watch:  “They [the abductees] were well kept.  There was no molestation and no killing.  I don’t know if any woman was abused.  I didn’t receive any such report.”  When Human Rights Watch researchers told him about the many reports of rape they had received, he said:  “I haven’t had any reports so I consider it to be a minor issue.”   He said that the absence of female police officers made it difficult to investigate such cases and undertook to ask his command in Abuja to send some female police officers to Yelwa.  When asked how many people had been arrested in connection with the violence since his arrival in Yelwa, he said: “I have not been asked to arrest anyone, but to recover property and missing people.”87

At state level, the response of the assistant commissioner of police in charge of investigations in Jos also indicated that no serious investigations into sexual abuse had been launched.  He told Human Rights Watch that over 137 Muslim women and children had “escaped to Christian hamlets in the bush” but that they were not harmed, and about one month after the attack, were handed back through the police to their community.  When Human Rights Watch raised the specific reports of rape, he said:  “Of course it is probable that one or two were raped and people abducted.  We were not given names.  We will look into it.”88 

2.8       The aftermath of the May 2-3 attack

The May 2-3 attack in Yelwa quickly led to further attacks in Plateau State.  On May 18—the day on which the state of emergency was declared—four or five Christian villages around Bakin Chiyawa, near the border with Nasarawa State, were attacked, allegedly by Muslims in retaliation for the attack on Yelwa.  Media reports claimed that dozens of Christians were killed in these villages.  A journalist who visited the area soon after these attacks estimated that 30 or 40 people may have been killed.89  Documents by the Gamai Unity and Development Organization (GUDO) allege that 74 people were killed on May 18 in five different villages: Sabon Gida, Jirim, Gidan Sabo, Saminaka, and Bakin Chiyawa.90  However, other journalists, police sources, and the Administrator himself, claimed that the initial reports may have been inaccurate.91 Human Rights Watch was not able to conduct its own research into these attacks. 

After the May 18 incidents and the imposition of the state of emergency in Plateau State, violence decreased.  There have been no reports of major attacks between mid-May 2004 and April 2005.  However, Nigerian newspapers reported sporadic incidents between the end of May and early August 2004, in various parts of the state including Langtang North, Wase, and Qua’an Pan, with a few people killed or injured in each incident.92  A further incident in Wase, in which two people were killed, was reported in February 2005.93  Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify these reports.  Cattle-rustling was also reportedly continuing in the southern part of the state.

3. Internal displacement

Each of the major attacks in Plateau State resulted in large movements of population.  After the February 24, 2004 attack, almost all Christians moved out of Yelwa, and the town became a no-go zone for Christians.  After the May 2004 attack, the number of displaced was even higher:  tens of thousands of Muslims moved out of their homes in Yelwa and the surrounding area.  Of a population of around 32,000, only around 1,000 people were left in the town of Yelwa following the May 2004 massacre. It was an indication of the extent of Muslims’ fears that most of them felt safer fleeing to neighboring Nasarawa and Bauchi states, rather than to other parts of Plateau State.  Likewise, those who were injured in the May attack sought treatment in hospitals in those two states, rather than in the Plateau state capital Jos. For several days after the attack, the roads leading out of Yelwa were patrolled by predominantly Christian armed youths, making it extremely difficult for Muslims to move freely. 

By June 2004, an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 people from Plateau State were internally displaced, either within the state or in neighboring states.94 The majority of these had fled as a result of the May 2-3 attack in Yelwa, but some had fled from violence in other locations.  Several camps were set up for the internally displaced in Nasarawa and Bauchi states. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), a governmental body with structures at both federal and state level, provided some assistance, mostly in the form of distribution of relief materials and resettlement of those wishing to return.  However, as in other conflicts in Nigeria, the federal government stated that it would not provide compensation to those affected by the violence.   National and international non-governmental organizations, including the Nigerian Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières, and some Islamic relief organizations, as well as United Nations agencies, also provided medical and logistical assistance and other immediate relief in the camps for the displaced.

Camp for the internally displaced from Yelwa, in Lafia, Nasarawa State. © 2004 Human Rights Watch

Some families were displaced several times by the violence in different locations.  For example, a Hausa woman who had been living in Wase fled to Yelwa because of the fighting in Wase in August 2002, during which more than 40 of her neighbors were killed and her house was destroyed.  She and her family then found themselves in Yelwa during the violence of February 2004, then again in May 2004.  Her husband and her eldest son were killed in Yelwa in the May attack, and her eleven-year-old son was seriously injured.  She and her remaining children fled Yelwa and were living in a camp for the internally displaced in Lafia in July 2004 when Human Rights Watch met them.  She told us: “Now I don’t know where I’m headed to.  Our house in Wase has been burnt.  Our house in Yelwa has been burnt.  I’ve left everything to God.”95  A Fulani man in his thirties left Longvel village, where he lived, after it was attacked in February 2004 and his house was burnt.  He moved to Shendam, but there was further tension there and he did not feel safe, so about a month later, he decided to leave Shendam and moved to Yelwa.  He was living in Yelwa when the May 2004 attack took place; he witnessed many killings and was himself injured twice, once seriously when he was shot in the arm.  He fled to neighboring Nasarawa State, where he was receiving treatment for his injury when Human Rights Watch spoke to him in July.96

From late May onwards, people gradually began returning to Yelwa. Most of the internally displaced people from Yelwa whom Human Rights Watch interviewed in Lafia, Nasarawa State, in July told Human Rights Watch that they wanted to return, despite the extensive destruction of the town and, in many cases, the loss of their homes and livelihood.  Only a minority said they were not prepared to return until the security in Yelwa had improved, or until a political solution to the conflict had been found.97  By early 2005, the camps for the displaced had gradually emptied, but a few thousand people remain displaced in Bauchi State.98  

[13] A system of traditional leaders, or chiefs, operates in parallel with administrative local government structures. Traditional leaders are recognized by the government, but are not elected in the same manner as government officials.  They are selected according to different traditions in different communities.   Despite not holding formal positions in the government, they wield considerable influence at the local level and can accumulate significant wealth.  Some of the most bitter disputes between communities in Plateau State, as in other parts of Nigeria, have been over the selection of traditional chiefs. 

[14] Human Rights Watch interviews, Lafia, Yelwa, and Jos, July 2004.  Many Jarawa blame the current Long Gamai, Hubert Sheldas, for the conflicts in Yelwa and Shendam.  

[15] “Road map to peace in the southern part of Plateau State: ‘the Yelwa-Shendam LG case’ presented by the Gamai community of Yelwa-Inshar, Plateau State.” 

[16]  “The true facts about the Yelwa crisis submitted by Mal. Abdullahi D. Abdullahi II on behalf of the Yelwa Rehabilitation Committee […] to the Special Committee ‘C’ Yelwa-Shendam-Qu’aan Pan Axis, Government House Rayfield, Jos, June, 2004.”

[17] Human Rights Watch interview, Yelwa, July 10, 2004.

[18]  Human Rights Watch interview, Shendam, July 9, 2004.

[19]   This account is based on testimonies from residents of Yelwa and other local sources interviewed by  Human Rights Watch in Lafia, Yelwa, and Jos, in July 2004.

[20]  Human Rights Watch interviews with people displaced from Yelwa, in Lafia, Nasarawa State, July 8, 2004.

[21]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[22]  “Road map to peace in the southern part of Plateau State: ‘the Yelwa-Shendam LG case’, presented by the Gamai community of Yelwa-Inshar, Plateau State.” 

[23]  Human Rights Watch interviews in Shendam and Yelwa, July 9, 2004.

[24]  The account of the attack on the COCIN church which follows is based on Human Rights Watch interviews with eye-witnesses and survivors in Yelwa on July 10 and 11, 2004.  The testimonies quoted are from these interviews, unless otherwise indicated.

[25]  Human Rights Watch interview, Yelwa, July 9, 2004.

[26]  Human Rights Watch interview with Plateau State Commissioner of Police Joseph Apapa, and Sotonye Leroy Wakama, Assistant Commissioner in charge of investigations, Jos, July 12, 2004.

[27]  Human Rights Watch interview, Shendam, July 9, 2004.  The figure of 265 is also cited in documents compiled by Gamai representatives.

[28]  Human Rights Watch interview, Shendam, July 10, 2004.

[29]  Human Rights Watch was given two versions of the same document, one by the district head of Shendam, entitled “Chronology of acts of atrocities committed by Yelwa people on the Goemai native villages with dates and various incidents without any provocation as at 10th May, 2004”, the other by the deputy chairman of Shendam local government, entitled “Chronology of incidents that led to the crisis on 2nd May 2004.”  The information is the same in both documents.  Further information on some of these incidents was also obtained in Human Rights Watch interviews, Shendam, July 9 and 10, 2004.

[30]  Human Rights Watch interviews, Yelwa, July 10 and 11, 2004.  Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify the information about each of these attacks. 

[31]  Human Rights Watch interview with displaced resident from Longvel, Lafia, July 8, 2004.  The witness provided the names of seven of the victims.

[32]  “Forty killed in fresh violence in Nigeria,” Reuters, February 27, 2004.

[33]  Human Rights Watch interview, Yelwa, July 9, 2004.   The names of four of the victims were provided.

[34]  Human Rights Watch interview, Yelwa, July 9, 2004.

[35]  “Nigerian religious feud kills 20 more, total 220,” Reuters, March 26, 2004, and “At least 20 killed in central Nigeria: witness,” Agence France-Presse, April 26, 2004.

[36]  Ethnic labels are sometimes used as a shorthand, or  inaccurately, to tarnish particular groups.  In the same way that Muslims often describe all Christian attackers as “Tarok militia” even when they are from other ethnic groups, Christians often describe Muslim attackers as Hausa or Fulani, even when they are from other groups.  Christians frequently use the term “Hausa” to refer to Muslims in general. 

[37]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 7, 2004.

[38]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 7, 2004.

[39]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[40]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[41]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[42]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[43]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[44]  Human Rights Watch interview, Yelwa, July 9, 2004.

[45]  Human Rights Watch interview, Yelwa, July 9, 2004.

[46]  Ibid.

[47]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[48]  Human Rights Watch interview, Jos, July 12, 2004.

[49]  Human Rights Watch interviews, Yelwa, July 9 and 10, 2004.

[50]  Human Rights Watch interview, Shendam, July 9, 2004.

[51]  Human Rights Watch interview, Jos, July 12, 2004.

[52]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 7, 2004.

[53]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 7, 2004.

[54]  Ibid.

[55]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[56]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 7, 2004.

[57]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 7 and 8, 2004.

[58]  The Hausa language is spoken by many ethnic groups in the area, not only those of Hausa ethnicity. 

[59]  Human Rights Watch interview, Yelwa, July 10, 2004.

[60]  Ibid.

[61]  Ibid.

[62]  “Chronology of acts of atrocities committed by Yelwa people on the Goemai native villages with dates and various incidences without any provocation as at 10th May, 2004,” by Leonard U. Shaiyen, District Head of Shendam, May 10, 2004.

[63]  Human Rights Watch interview with Leonard Shaiyen, Maidaki (traditional leader) of Shendam district, and Ambrose Naanlong Gapsuk, spokesman for the Gamai Unity and Development Organization (GUDO), Shendam, July 10, 2004.

[64]  Human Rights Watch interview, Shendam, July 9, 2004.

[65]  Human Rights Watch interview with Rev. Alexander Lar, President of COCIN, Jos, July 12, 2004.

[66]  Human Rights Watch telephone interview, May 10, 2004.

[67]  Human Rights Watch interview, Shendam, July 9, 2004.

[68]  Human Rights Watch interview with Leonard Shaiyen, Maidaki (traditional leader) of Shendam district, and Ambrose Naanlong Gapsuk, spokesman for the Gamai Unity and Development Organization (GUDO), Shendam, July 10, 2004.

[69]  Human Rights Watch interview with Rev. Yakubu Pam, CAN chairman, Plateau State, Jos, July 12, 2004.

[70]  Human Rights Watch interview with Rev. Dr Musa Asake, General Secretary, Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA), Jos, July 12, 2004.

[71]  Human Rights Watch interview with The Most Revd. Peter J. Akinola, Anglican Primate of Nigeria, Abuja, June 30, 2004.

[72]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[73]  Human Rights Watch interview, Yelwa, July 9, 2004.

[74]  Human Rights Watch interview with Joseph Apapa, Plateau State Commissioner of Police and

Sotonye Leroy Wakama, Assistant Commissioner in Charge of Investigations, Jos, July 12, 2004.

[75]  Human Rights Watch interviews, Lafia and Yelwa, July 7-10, 2004.

[76]  Human Rights Watch interview with Timothy Parlong, Permanent Secretary for Security, Jos, July 13, 2004.

[77]  Human Rights Watch interview, Jos, August 3, 2004.

[78]  The mobile police have a different command from the regular police.

[79]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[80]  Human Rights Watch interview with John Gobak, Secretary to the State Government, and Timothy Parlong, Permanent Secretary for Security, Jos, August 3, 2004.

[81]  Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ezekiel Dalyop, Director of Press Affairs, Plateau State government, April 27, 2005.

[82]  Human Rights Watch interview, Yelwa, July 10, 2004.

[83]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[84]  Ibid.

[85]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[86]  Human Rights Watch interview, Yelwa, July 10, 2004.

[87]  Human Rights Watch interview, Yelwa, July 10, 2004.

[88]  Human Rights Watch interview, Jos, July 12, 2004.

[89]  Human Rights Watch interview, London, June 2, 2004.

[90]  “The Yelwa crises in perspective” and “Yelwa crises:  the ulama, the media and the rest of us,” both signed by Stephen Sarki Musa, Secretary General, Gamai Unity and Development Organization (GUDO), May 2004.

[91]  See cover story and “A trip to Yelwa-Shendam” in Weekly Trust, June 5-11, 2004.

[92]  See for example “Plateau: 2 killed, 20 houses razed in fresh fighting,” ThisDay, August 6, 2004, and “5 killed as Plateau boils again – 36 speakers back emergency rule,” Daily Champion, May 27, 2004.

[93] See “Plateau: Hausa/Fulani, Taroh may clash again,” Daily Independent, March 8, 2005.

[94]  A number of national and international humanitarian organizations assisting the displaced advanced figures within this range.   See for example “Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP): Humanitarian Appeal 2005 for West Africa,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), November 11, 2004, which refers to the displacement of more than 57,000 people; and “Nigeria: Villagers running scared despite state of emergency,” Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), May 3, 2004, which quotes a Red Cross estimate of 50,000 people in camps bordering Plateau State. 

[95]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 7, 2004.

[96]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lafia, July 8, 2004.

[97]  Human Rights Watch interviews, Lafia, July 7 and 8, 2004.

[98]  See IRIN report “Nigeria: Plateau state IDPs face daunting obstacles to return to ‘home of peace and tourism’”, February 18, 2005.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>May 2005