Massacres Shake Uneasy Nigeria
DOGO NAHAWA, Nigeria— The attackers came at night and surrounded this small farming village, firing shots in the air to scare residents from their homes. Men, women and children were hacked with machetes as they rushed out. Several houses were set on fire with residents still inside.
Details are beginning to emerge from attacks Sunday on four villages in central Nigeria, where witnesses say members of the predominantly Muslim Fulani ethnic group targeted villages that were home to members of the mostly Christian Berom ethnic group. On Monday, local officials counted 378 bodies in the villages of Dogo Nahawa, Rasat, Zot and Shen.
The dead, in a freshly dug mass grave, included a pregnant woman and at least one infant. A few miles away in Jos, a city of a half-million at the crossroads of Nigeria’s Muslim north and predominantly Christian south, troops patrolled the outskirts and set up checkpoints. There was a light police presence in Dogo Nahawa.
“I was sleeping at night next to my husband when I heard shooting,” said village resident Nomi Dung, 38 years old, her eyes red. “My husband told us to run, but I said, ‘No I will not run—even if I die, let me die in my home.’ My husband ran, and entered into the [attackers'] hands. My children ran outside because they were afraid from the shooting.”
Ms. Dung could not finish. A relative said her three children, ages 8, 5 and 3, had been killed.
The new violence compounds the political uncertainties in Africa’s most-populous nation. With sub-Saharan Africa’s largest Muslim population, Nigeria has largely avoided extremist ideology. But the threat of a deepening religious divide adds to security problems and a leadership vacuum that have prompted worries that one of the world’s largest oil-producers could be careening out of control.
Nigeria’s president, Umaru Yar’Adua, has traveled abroad frequently for medical treatments and hasn’t been seen in public for three months. His vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, has been given temporary executive powers and control over the military, but has faced political resistance from aides loyal to Mr. Yar’Adua. Meanwhile, militants have attacked energy pipelines belonging to Western multinationals and one major group recently abandoned an amnesty deal with the government.
Responding to Sunday’s killings, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both called on the involved parties to exercise restraint.
Mr. Jonathan, Nigeria’s acting president, deployed the Nigerian military to Jos and said the situation was under control. He also fired the country’s national security adviser on Monday, according to a statement.
The weekend’s attack appeared to be a reprisal for violence that claimed at least 300 lives in January, when Christian villagers targeted Muslims in a separate, nearby village, according to rights groups.
Officials and witnesses say the latest attack appeared well planned and brutally executed. The attackers didn’t shoot victims, but rather shot into the air to lure residents out of their homes, where they awaited them with machetes.
At a mass burial Monday in Dogo Nahawa, site of the worst violence, angry residents talked of revenge as they gathered around a large pit and scattered dirt on several dozen charred and bloodied bodies, some brought from neighboring villages. When an infant was lowered into the pit, women broke out in wails.
A village chief chastised area youth for not being ready to fight. “This is a lesson,” the chief said. “Now is the time for everyone to wake up. Elders are calling you youths to come out.”
An elderly woman prayed at the edge of the burial pit, chanting. “By God’s grace we will enter their villages and kill their women and children,” she repeated.
“We will do much worse to them,” one baby-faced man said.
When plumes of dust appeared in the distance during the burial service, mourners began to worry that the attackers were coming back. The dust was actually being kicked up by a truck carrying the bodies of 16 more victims, including an infant and a toddler, from another village.
A local journalist was nearly killed when the crowd of mourners at the burial site recognized him as a Muslim. The man was beaten for several minutes while young men shouted, “Kill him! He must die!” before police appeared and fired shots into the air. Young men continued to beat and throw rocks at the man while the police carried him away to a hospital.
Another local journalist, suspected of being Muslim, was asked to recite the Lord’s Prayer as proof of his Christianity. Mourners asked members of an international television crew if they were from Al Jazeera, saying there would be trouble for them if they were. The journalists, an American and a Kenyan, wore hats identifying their organization, CNN.
As journalists left the village by a rutted dirt road before the village’s dusk-to-dawn curfew, which was set Sunday, groups of young men gathered at the roadside with sticks and clubs.
Dogo Nahawa sits amid rolling hills, surrounded by former tin and columbite mines. Residents are predominantly farmers, cultivating corn and acha, a type of rice often called “hungry rice” because of its small size.
Several residents and officials, including Gabriel Gyong, 59, a civil servant, said there hadn’t been conflicts between Christians and Muslims in Dogo Nahama before.
Mr. Gyong said he woke to gunfire early Sunday. “Children were frightened and began running helter-skelter,” he said. “People who ran out of town were the ones who were slaughtered….They burned my house down, and they burned my car. I lost three grandchildren.”
Pastor Yohanna Gyang Jugu, of Church of Christ in Nigeria, sat outside his burned-down church, tears in his eyes.
“We were sleeping and we heard gunshots all around,” he said. “I woke up and went outside. There was nowhere to pass. Fulani men had surrounded the village. They caught my wife and killer her, and my daughter. They were cutting people down with machetes.”
During the burial service, Solomn Zang, the commissioner for works and transport in Plateau State, where Dogo Nahawa is located, said that the military was not sufficient for protection.
“God willing, we will do something about this,” he said. “Next time if this happens you shouldn’t call the police or the military, call on your neighbors to come and fight.”