News24

Nigeria: 400 buried in mass grave

2010-03-09 08:57

Nairobi - Almost 400 people slaughtered when Muslim herdsmen raided Christian villages near Nigeria's restive central town of Jos have been buried in a mass grave.

The massacre was the latest outbreak of violence between rival ethnic groups in Plateau State, where the indigenous Christians are struggling with Muslims who immigrated to the region decades ago over control of land and resources.

"We have about 351 corpses being buried at this mass grave, and at the other end, there is another village called Zot, where there are about 36 corpses to be buried separately," Plateau State's chairman of the search, recovery and evacuation committee, Solomon Zang, said by the graveside in the village of Dogo Hawa on Monday night.

The death toll was higher, Zang said, because some families had taken deceased relatives for burial, corpses were still in the mortuary and a search team was looking for more bodies.

Witnesses in Dogo Nahawa, the worst hit by the violence, said Hausa-Fulani tribesmen descended on four villages on Sunday, firing shots in the air. When people ran out of their homes, they were set upon with machetes or shot.

Political uncertainty

The commissioner of police in Plateau State, Ikechukwu Ayo Aduba, said 93 people had been arrested in connection with the massacre.

"Nineteen Fulani ... were arrested after the incident with daggers and knives ... while four Fulani were shot dead ... by the joint patrol team," he said.

Another 74 people were arrested after an exchange of gunfire, he said.

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has put the army on alert in the region to head off any further attacks.

The massacre was believed to be in reprisal for violence in Jos at the start of the year. More than 300 people died in January when rival gangs of youths clashed in Jos, burning mosques, churches and businesses.

More than 10,000 people have died in ethnic clashes since Nigeria's return to civilian rule in 1999.

The continued unrest came amid political uncertainty in Africa's most-populous country.

Jonathan, a Christian from the south, is running the country while President Umaru Yar'Adua, a Muslim from the north, recuperates from a heart complaint.

Unwritten agreement


Yar'Adua has been out of commission, and the public eye, since November and is still seriously ill despite leaving the Saudi hospital where he was being treated.

The ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) has an unwritten agreement that its candidate for the presidency should alternate between the mainly Muslim north and Christian south with each side getting a shot at two terms.

Yar'Adua is still in his first term, meaning Jonathan should not be able to run in 2011.

However, Yar'Adua's political circle is reportedly concerned that the acting president is consolidating his control and could garner support from some northerners for a presidential bid.

Jonathan has indicated no desire to run, and the PDP last week said it would field a northerner as agreed.