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V. The Government’s Response to the Violence in Plateau State

1. The state of emergency

On May 18, 2004, two weeks after the Yelwa massacre, President Obasanjo declared a state of emergency in Plateau State.  He suspended the state governor, Joshua Dariye, the deputy governor, and the state house of assembly, and appointed an interim Administrator, retired Major General Chris Alli, to run the state for a six-month period.  On June 1, the National Assembly passed eight new regulations, called Emergency Powers Regulations, which gave the Administrator and the security forces in Plateau State sweeping new powers, including the power to detain people without a written order, to conduct searches without a warrant, and to ban public processions, demonstrations or public meetings.99 

In his public broadcast on the state of emergency, President Obasanjo described the situation in parts of Plateau State as “near mutual genocide.” He blamed the continuing violence on Governor Dariye, declaring: “As at today, there is nothing on ground and no evidence whatsoever to show that the State Governor has the interest, desire, commitment, credibility and capacity to promote reconciliation, rehabilitation, forgiveness, peace, harmony and stability.  If anything, some of his utterances, his lackadaisical attitude and seeming uneven-handedness over the salient and contending issues present him as not just part of the problem, but also as an instigator and a threat to peace […] His personal conduct and unguarded utterances have inflamed passions.”100

The imposition of the state of emergency was an unprecedented move on the part of President Obasanjo.  The fact that he took such an exceptional measure may have indicated a long-overdue recognition of the need to address the escalating violence in Plateau State, but it also provided evidence of his government’s failure to take the problem seriously over the preceding three years.   Had the federal government acted earlier, many lives might have been saved without resorting to extreme measures.  Instead, the government allowed the situation to spiral out of the control.  It failed to respond in any effective way to the violence in Jos in 2001, to the numerous incidents of violence in others parts of Plateau State throughout 2002 and 2003, and to the February 2004 attack in Yelwa.  It was only after a massacre of unprecedented proportions occurred—around 700 people killed in two days in Yelwa—that it finally reacted. 

The declaration of the state of emergency provoked strong reactions across Nigeria—far stronger, in fact, than the reactions to the massacre of hundreds of people in Yelwa or the continuing violence in Plateau State over the previous three years. Many organizations, including civil society groups and lawyers in Lagos, Abuja, and other cities far from Plateau State, denounced the move as unconstitutional and a violation of democracy.   Within Plateau State, reactions quickly became polarized.  Christians accused the president of being one-sided, complaining that he had only declared a state emergency when Muslims were the victims; some suggested that in order to be even-handed, the president should also have declared a state of emergency in Kano in response to the May 2004 killings of Christians there.  Many Muslims, on the other hand, received the news positively and interpreted it as a sign that the federal government was finally taking the situation seriously.   A Muslim leader in Jos told Human Rights Watch: “Muslims in Plateau are very happy with the state of emergency because it has brought peace among us as Muslims and between Muslims and Christians.  There are no more disturbances.  There is a cordial atmosphere and we now accept each other.  We regret the past…  We are celebrating the state of emergency and want it to be extended.”101

As the situation remained relatively calm over the following months, some of the initial objections to the state of emergency gradually dissipated.  Fears that the security forces would abuse their powers under the state of emergency by harassing or ill-treating the population did not materialize.  Critics began to acknowledge that the state of emergency may have contributed to restoring calm, at least temporarily, while reiterating their in-principle objections to the manner in which it was imposed. For example a local government official in Shendam told Human Rights Watch:  “The state of emergency is infringing freedoms but has brought relative calm.”102 A traditional leader in Shendam said that the state of emergency had created psychological fears, but also discipline “in mind and behavior. The presence of law enforcement agents puts people on guard.”103

On November 18, 2004, the state of emergency was lifted, and Joshua Dariye was returned to the post of Governor of Plateau State.  Since then, the situation in Plateau State has remained relatively calm.  The state of emergency might have played a part in restoring calm, or the violence may simply have run its course, as happened on earlier occasions, for example after the Jos 2001 crisis.  However, the fundamental problems which gave rise to the conflict—in particular, the different communities’ longstanding grievances over the control of economic resources and political positions and the definition of “indigeneship”—have still not been addressed in an effective or sustained way.  Many of the initiatives launched by Administrator Chris Alli during the state of emergency, described below, have not been completed; some have been suspended mid-way.  Any progress which may have been achieved under the state of emergency could be short-lived if the government fails to ensure that initiatives aimed at preventing further violence are followed up.

2. Peace initiatives

Soon after his appointment, Administrator Chris Alli developed an ambitious six month program to restore peace to the state. Known as the Plateau Peace Program, it included, as a central component, dialogue between religious, ethnic and community leaders aimed at preventing further violence.104 The dialogue was structured into three phases:  dialogue between the government and the people, dialogue between the people, and a peace conference involving the whole state.  The Administrator emphasized that solutions must come from the communities directly affected, rather than be imposed from the outside.  He asked all communities and ethnic groups to submit memoranda outlining their view on the causes of the crisis.

A few days after assuming office, Chris Alli also announced an initiative to encourage people to hand in their weapons in exchange for a financial reward and a promise not to prosecute them for illegal possession of weapons. The success of the initiative was limited at first, and the deadline for surrendering weapons was extended.105  In a speech to inaugurate the study group committee, Chris Alli reminded people that those who surrendered firearms would be rewarded and encouraged others to hand in their weapons.106  In parallel with this effort, there were sporadic reports of police recovering or intercepting arms in various parts of the state.107

The peace initiatives launched under the state of emergency seemed to create a momentum for dialogue between opposing sides which no government initiative had achieved in Plateau State before, perhaps because the extent of the violence in Yelwa had been so shocking.  On July 2, Christian and Muslim leaders, meeting as members of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI, the Muslim umbrella organization), submitted a peace agreement to the government.  In their declaration, they agreed, among other things, to cooperate towards the success of the peace program; that religion had been “used and exploited for political and other mundane interests thus inflaming conflicts resulting in open violence and resolved to adopt measures that will stop this ugly practice;” and they called for “all the tribes in Plateau State to imbibe the culture of mutual respect and tolerance.”108   A similar commitment to peace was contained in a communique by representatives of various ethnic groups in Wase local government area.109

Various committees were set up as part of the peace program, including three peace committees (one for each zone of Plateau State) and a “study group on critical issues such as the citizenship / indigeneship / settler, Christian/Muslim, Land Use/Ownership etc.”110  The terms of reference of what became known as the Study Group Committee were outlined in a speech by Chris Alli on July 2.  Most of them related to the preparation of the peace conference.111

The peace conference began on August 18 and lasted one month; it was inaugurated by President Obasanjo. Its aim was to discuss the main issues identified by the communities in the earlier stages of the dialogue, including economic, political and religious factors, and to propose solutions to the government.  After the conference, two new committees were inaugurated:  an implementation committee, which would ensure that the recommendations of the peace conference were implemented and would identify which issues should be referred to the federal or state government, and a monitoring committee, which would oversee the work of the implementation committee.112  

The conference produced a report and a number of resolutions which were to be “implemented by the State provided such resolutions do not detract on the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”113  Some of the resolutions were forwarded to government ministries, others to local governments or other local institutions, others to traditional chiefs.  While some of the resolutions dealt with very specific local issues, others addressed issues with a national dimension, in particular the notion of “indigeneship”.  Some of the resolutions on “indigeneship” made positive statements aimed at abolishing discrimination. For example, Resolution no.1 states: “Usage of the term ‘settler’ in Plateau State is considered offensive, discriminatory and against our collective quest for effective integration, assimilation and development.  It is therefore accepted and provided that instead of the term ‘settler’ the use of the terms ‘citizens’ and/or ‘residents’ should be popularised.”  Resolution 3 states: “To allow for effective integration, assimilation and development, indigenes are not to discriminate against other Nigerian citizens, but should embrace them.”114   However, other resolutions seem to undermine these good intentions.  For example Resolution no.20 offers a definition of “indigeneship” which is likely to be interpreted by anyone familiar with the dynamics in Plateau State as favoring Christians.115  To avoid any ambiguity, several other resolutions on the use and ownership of land make controversial statements, also heavily biased in favour of Christian groups.  Resolutions nos. 4, 5 and 6 state:  “That the Berom, Anaguta and Afizere ethnic nationalities are the owners of Jos”; “Wase township is under a Fulani dynasty established by way of conquest.  However, it is noted from records that there is no denying the fact that the Taroh and Jukun are indigenes of Wase Local Government Area;” and “That Yelwa and Yamini towns in Shendam Local Government Area are Goemai towns.”116  It is not clear what status these resolutions have and who is responsible for implementing them since the state of emergency has been lifted.

The Plateau Peace Program also included plans for a truth and reconciliation commission.  In mid October, President Obasanjo sent a bill to the National Assembly entitled “A Bill to make provision for the Plateau State Unity and Reconciliation Law, 2004 and Establishment of a Reconciliation Commission.”  The stated objectives of the commission included establishing “the causes, nature and extent of the gross violations of human rights which were committed during the period from June 2000 to May 2004” and facilitating “the recommendation of granting amnesty, reprieve or forgiveness to persons who make full disclosure of all relevant facts relating to acts committed in the course of the conflicts.”117  In his address to the Senate President on October 7, President Obasanjo was quoted as saying:  “Justice and punishment serve different objectives:  they can be restorative, rehabilitative, and retributive or act as a deterrent.  It is my view that the prolonged nature of the conflicts in Plateau State and the extensive number of alleged perpetrators of violations in the course of those conflicts makes the combination of truth, forgiveness, reprieve, amnesty and reconciliation a more desirable option, in the first instance, to retributive criminal justice.”118  The bill was still before the National Assembly when the state of emergency was lifted in November, and there has been no further progress since then.  At the time of writing, the truth and reconciliation commission has still not been set up.  According to the director of press affairs of the Plateau State government, it was supposed to have been set up during the six months of the state of emergency, but as it hadn’t been, these plans had effectively been dropped.119  The Plateau State Commissioner for Justice clarified that since the end of the state of emergency, the National Assembly ceased to have competence to legislate for the state, so it was no longer appropriate to pursue the bill through the National Assembly.  However, he said that the Plateau State government was still “exploring the propriety or otherwise of setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”120

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that justice is not being given a higher priority in the government’s approach to tackling the problems in Plateau State.  Even though plans for the reconciliation commission appeared to have stalled, the idea of an amnesty for the perpetrators of the violence was still under consideration by the Plateau State government in April 2005.121 The granting of amnesty to those responsible for instigating and carrying out the violence, whether as part of a reconciliation commission or of any other initiative, would seriously undermine efforts to bring peace to the state and would further contribute to the cycle of violence.  Amnesties, pardons and similar national measures that lead to impunity for crimes against humanity and other serious human rights abuses, such as torture and extrajudicial executions, contravene fundamental principles of international law.  Clearly many of the individuals involved in organizing and carrying out the violence in Plateau State would be held responsible for such crimes.  Even if the reconciliation commission is not set up and the amnesty not formally granted, the fact that the president himself stated that retributive criminal justice was not the top priority sends a clear signal to the perpetrators of the violence that they are unlikely to be held to account and does nothing to deter others from resorting to similar violence in the future. 

3. Commissions of inquiry

The government’s usual response to outbreaks of violence in Nigeria, over the last few years, has been to set up commissions of inquiry.  Many such commissions have been set up to inquire into clashes in different parts of the country, but few of them have ever published their reports, and even when they have, their recommendations have rarely been acted upon or led to prosecutions.  In relation to events in Plateau State, the federal and state governments have set up several such commissions of inquiry since the September 2001 violence in Jos.  A judicial commission of inquiry set up by the Plateau state government, chaired by Judge Niki Tobi, held public hearings and received numerous submissions on the 2001 Jos crisis.  Its report was never published, although it was reported to have been one of many documents submitted to the peace conference which took place under the state of emergency in 2004.  A judicial commission of inquiry was also set up on “civil disturbances in Shendam, Langtang North, Langtang South and Wase local government areas” and produced a report in June 2003, which has not been published either.  A judicial commission of inquiry set up at the federal level, with a broader remit to investigate the conflicts in Plateau and three other Middle Belt states (Nasarawa, Benue and Taraba), was set up in 2002.  It concluded its hearings and submitted its report to the presidency in April 2003; by early 2005, its report had still not been published and its conclusions were not known.  

On October 7, 2004, while the peace program was still ongoing, the Plateau state government announced that 53,787 people had been killed and more than 200,000 displaced since the start of the conflict in Plateau State in 2001.122  Human Rights Watch asked the director for press affairs of the Plateau state government how they had arrived at these figures, which are significantly higher than those advanced by any other organization monitoring the conflict in Plateau State. He said that these were the findings of a verification committee, set up as part of the peace program, which had visited communities in all the local government areas affected by the violence.123  Human Rights Watch believes this figure to be too high.  Even allowing for a number of unreported incidents, it is more than ten times higher than a rough total of all the highest estimates received to date on the number of deaths resulting from the violence in the state.  It is not clear what the state government hoped to achieve by citing such an inflated figure. The statement did not include any information on the number of arrests or prosecutions of the perpetrators of these killings. 

4. Arrests and prosecutions

Soon after his appointment, Administrator Chris Alli set up special courts to try people suspected of involvement in the violence in Plateau State since 2001. These functioned like normal high courts and magistrates’ courts except that they were supposed to deal only with cases arising from the conflict.  Chris Alli stated:  “The purpose is to provide for accelerated hearing where justice will be dispensed without fear or favor.  Nobody will be unjustly treated since this administration has no intention to witch-hunt.  Our primary goal is to uphold the rule of law by ensuring that no one is treated as a sacred cow.”124  Hearings began at the Upper Area Court Kabong in mid-July; the courts were supposed to sit for the duration for the state of emergency.125  In the months that followed, public information on the progress of these courts was hard to come by.  However, in early May 2005, the Plateau State Commissioner for Justice told Human Rights Watch that the special courts were still functioning.  He stated that the trials of 78 people were ongoing, but that all but six of the accused had been released on bail.  They were charged with a variety of offenses including conspiracy, rioting, breach of the peace, and culpable homicide.  He also stated that a number of other people charged with lesser offenses were being prosecuted by the police. The cases referred to by the Commissioner of Justice did not relate solely to the 2004 events in Yelwa, but to various incidents of violence committed in Plateau State since 2001.126

The police issued their own public statement on June 3, 2004 on the number of arrests and prosecutions relating to the violence in Plateau state since 2001.127  It stated that a total of 1,284 suspects “have, or are being prosecuted in court.”  These included 77 prosecuted for the violence in Yelwa on February 24, and 10 named individuals arrested in connection with the violence in Yelwa on May 2.  The statements listed a number of other arrests linked to other incidents in various parts of Plateau State between April 18 and June 3, 2004.  Attached to the statement was a chart entitled “Plateau crisis cases charged to court since 2001,” detailing 72 court cases, several of which involved a large number of defendants.  The chart listed the offenses but did not specify in all cases the specific incidents in relation to which the accused were charged.   Two of the cases related to the violence in Yelwa on February 24.  One involved four defendants, the other 73.  The defendants were charged with criminal conspiracy, theft, culpable homicide and mischief by fire. In both cases, the police were “awaiting legal advice from MOJ [Ministry of Justice].”  The Secretary of the Ulama/Elders’ Council of Plateau State issued a press release in response to the police statement, claiming that the police had misrepresented the facts and giving a detailed rebuttal of some of the cases; the press release stated that contrary to the police’s claims, only four people were charged to court from Yelwa in connection with the attack of February 24.128 

A police assistant commissioner in charge of investigations in Jos said that the military arrested sixteen people in Yelwa when they intervened to stop the violence on May 3.  Those arrested were kept in military custody until the state of emergency was declared on May 18, then were transferred to police custody in Jos.  According to the police, those arrested were men aged between 22 and 40, charged with a variety of offenses including rioting, culpable homicide, arson, and unlawful possession of weapons.129

According to Muslim leaders in Jos, about eight or nine Muslims were arrested in Shendam in connection with the attack of February 24, 2004.  They were charged with culpable homicide and detained in Jos.

In addition to arrests directly linked with the violence, a representative of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria told Human Rights Watch that he was aware of 37 arrests relating to cow theft since the state of emergency was imposed on May 18.130  Although the problem of cow theft was not a direct cause of the violence in Yelwa, it was one of the factors which had heightened antagonism between Christians and Muslims, as explained above.  In 2003 or early 2004, the state government had ordered local governments in the affected areas to set up a task force to deal with the problem of cow theft, with powers to arrest and prosecute, but this directive had not succeeded in stemming the problem.131 

Both Muslims and Christians have complained about the low level of arrests of people who organized or participated in the violence.  However, when a few people were arrested, each side was quick to complain that its own members were being targeted disproportionately and that the police and government’s approach was one-sided.132  Some leaders claimed that those arrested had only been acting in self-defense, and used the general chaos as an excuse for the actions of their members.  For example the CAN Plateau State Chairman told Human Rights Watch:  “The boys [arrested] were acting in self-defense to save their lives.  There is no doubt some Christians carried out killings.  I accept it:  they killed.  But it’s like a war.”133

Human Rights Watch is not in a position to judge whether the individuals arrested did take part in criminal activities.  The absence of a formal structure among the perpetrators and the difficulties in identifying the organizers of the violence, referred to in the background section of this report, also mean that Human Rights Watch is unable to confirm the level of responsibility among those arrested.  However, many of the people we interviewed in Plateau State, both Christians and Muslims, strongly believed that the leaders of the violence remained at large, and that those arrested were mostly young men who may have taken part in attacks but were not responsible for planning them in advance.   The Plateau State Commissioner for Justice said that it was difficult to make a clear distinction between those who had organized the violence and those who had carried it out, and was not able to confirm how many of those arrested were suspected of playing a leading role.134

[99]  The eight new regulations were the Emergency Powers (General) Regulations 2004; Emergency Powers (Processions and Meetings, etc); Emergency Powers (Reporting of Persons) Regulations 2004; Emergency Powers (Control of Arms and Explosives) Regulations 2004; Emergency Powers (Curfew) Regulations 2004; Emergency Powers (Detention of Persons) Regulations 2004; Emergency Powers (Restriction Orders) Regulations 2004; and Emergency Powers (Protected Places) Regulations 2004.

[100]  “Broadcast by His Excellency, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR, on the imposition of a state of emergency in Plateau State, Tuesday May 18, 2004.” 

Many people interviewed by Human Rights Watch also blamed Governor Dariye for the violence.  Dariye had become deeply unpopular, even among Christians, especially since the Jos crisis of 2001.  There is no doubt that his neglect of the conflict since 2001 contributed to an escalation of the violence.  However, Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm whether Dariye or other government officials actively instigated the violence. 

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

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

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

[104] The Plateau Peace Program of Maj. Gen. MC Alli (Rtd), May-November 2004, signed by John G. Gobak, Secretary to the State Government, June 15, 2004.  Human Rights Watch also discussed the program with Administrator Chris Alli and Ezekiel Dalyop, Director of Press Affairs, Plateau State Government, Jos, August 3, 2004.

[105]  See “Cash payments offered for militia guns in troubled Plateau,” IRIN, May 24, 2004, and “Plateau rewards weapon returnees tomorrow,” Daily Trust, June 29, 2004.

[106] Address presented by His Excellency, the Administrator of Plateau State Major-Gen. Chris Alli (rtd) on the occasion of the inauguration of a study group committee held at the conference hall of the Administrator’s Office, Rayfield, on Friday 2nd July, 2004.

[107] See for example “Police recover arms, arrest 15 Plateau militiamen,” ThisDay (Lagos), September 1, 2004.

[108] “The Plateau State Peace Declaration of Religious Leaders made on 2nd July, 2004.”

[109]  “Communique at the end of interactive session among the various communities of Wase local government area held in the conference hall of the Government House Rayfield, Jos on Thursday 24th June, 2004.”   The communities listed are the Jukun, Tarok, Hausa, Bashar, Jarawa, Fulani, and Bogghom.

[110]  The Plateau Peace Program of Maj. Gen. MC Alli (Rtd), May-November 2004, signed by John G. Gobak, Secretary to the State Government, June 15, 2004.  

[111]  Address presented by His Excellency, the Administrator of Plateau State Major-Gen. Chris Alli (Rtd) on the occasion of the inauguration of a study group committee held at the conference hall of the Administrator’s Office, Rayfield, on Friday 2nd July, 2004.

[112]  Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ezekiel Dalyop, Director of Press Affairs, Plateau State Government, October 7, 2004.

[113] Press statement, Office of the Administrator, Plateau State, October 25, 2004.

[114] Ibid.

[115] Ibid. The resolution states that indigene certificates should be issued on the basis of the following definition:  “people who are the first to have settled permanently in a particular area, and who are considered as ‘traditional natives’, such designations being inherited from one’s ancestors, as opposed to their having bought the place of residence, or being given such places free by earlier settlers.  Such persons have rights to their lands, their traditions and culture.  Indigenes are those who have exclusive claims to a place through historical and homogenous culture without an alternative place to practise that culture.”  The resolution then states that indigene certificates should be issued by the very same traditional rulers who issue them at present, thus apparently perpetuating the problem. 

[116] Ibid.

[117] As reproduced in “Obasanjo Proposes Reconciliation Commission for Plateau”, ThisDay, October 13, 2004.

[118] “The Plateau Unity and Reconciliation Bill,” Daily Champion, October 25, 2004.

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

[120]  Human Rights Watch e-mail correspondence with Dakas C.J.Dakas, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Plateau State Government, May 5, 2005.

[121]  Ibid.

[122]  The announcement was first made by Thomas Kangnaan, Special Adviser on Resettlement and Rehabilitation.  See “Plateau crises claimed 54,000 lives,” ThisDay, October 7, 2004.

[123]  Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ezekiel Dalyop, Director of Press Affairs, October 7, 2004.

[124]  Address presented by His Excellency, the Administrator of Plateau State Major-Gen. Chris Alli (rtd) on the occasion of the inauguration of a study group committee held at the conference hall of the Administrator’s Office, Rayfield, on Friday 2nd July, 2004.

[125]  Human Rights Watch interview with Ezekiel Dalyop, Director of Press Affairs, Plateau State Government,  Jos, August 3, 2004.  See also “Plateau crisis: tribunal commence hearing today,” Daily Trust, July 16, 2004.

[126] Human Rights Watch e-mail correspondence with Dakas C.J.Dakas, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Plateau State Government, May 4, 2005.

[127]  Plateau State Police Command Press Briefing of 3rd June 2004.

[128]  “Press release on the misrepresentation of facts contained in the Plateau State police command press briefing of 3rd June 2004,” May 10, 2004

[129]  Human Rights Watch interview, Jos, July 12, 2004.  Human Rights Watch has not been able to obtain a more recent update on these cases. 

[130]  Human Rights Watch interview, Jos, August 4, 2004.

[131]  Human Rights Watch interview, Jos, July 13, 2004.

[132]  Allegations of bias have been leveled at the police and the government ever since the Jos crisis of September 2001.  See for example “Summary of one-sided arrests of and cases pending in courts affecting Muslims since the September 7, 2001 crisis in Plateau State” by Lawal Ishaq, Defense Counsel.  This chart claims that of 482 people arrested from September 2001 to March 2003, 463 are Muslims.

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

[134]  Human Rights Watch e-mail correspondence with Dakas C.J.Dakas, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Plateau State Government, May 4, 2005.

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