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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Nigeria: Massacre in Benue State

Nigeria: Massacre in Benue State
Date distributed (ymd): 011026
Document reposted by APIC

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+


This posting contains three documents related to the killing by Nigerian government troops of between 100 and 200 people in reprisal attacks on villages in Benue state. The first is from Amnesty International, the second a background report from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network (written just before news of the new killings emerged), and the third an open letter to President Obasanjo presented to Nigerian representatives at a forum in Washington yesterday.

Some reports indicate that President Obasanjo has ordered government troops to stop all operations in the area and to be confined to barracks, but others indicate that there is still a heavy army presence in the area.

A statement and additional background, including documentation on the similar incident at Odi in Bayelsa state in November 1999, is also available from Human Rights Watch at:

Statements on Odi are also available at:

Current news is available at: and

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


24 October 2001

AI Index AFR 44/006/2001 - News Service Nr. 187

For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW web : e-mail:

Nigeria: Reports of reprisal killings must be investigated

Amnesty International today called for a prompt, effective and impartial inquiry into reports that troops have shot dead more than 100 people in central Nigeria in reprisal for the murder of soldiers.

"It appears that the attack by the troops was an act of revenge which went on for three days. There was no imminent danger to the life of soldiers who took part in this military operation. It can only be described as a killing spree," the organization said.

Although reports differ, it appears that more than 100 inhabitants of villages along the border between Benue and Taraba States -- and possibly as many as 200 -- were killed between 22 and 24 October 2001 when government soldiers went on the rampage, opening fire on civilians. Troops are also reported to have destroyed numerous buildings. The final number of victims -- including those wounded -- is not yet known.

A Benue State official reportedly confirmed that over 100 people had been killed, while a Benue State police spokesperson was unable to confirm any deaths. However, a Nigerian army official categorically denied that any civilians had been killed. He said that the armed forces had carried out an operation to recover weapons taken from the murdered soldiers.

"Rather than seeking to deny, minimize or justify these extrajudicial executions, the government of Nigeria must -- if it is to prevent further deaths -- condemn the killings publicly and make it clear that those responsible will be held accountable," Amnesty International said.

Amnesty International calls upon the government to take immediate steps to identify both those responsible for the murder of the 19 soldiers and the officers who ordered or took part in unlawful reprisal actions. All those suspected to be responsible for criminal offences should be promptly and fairly brought to justice, tried before an independent and impartial court and without recourse to the death penalty.

In November 1999 large scale killings over several days were reported in the village of Odi, Bayelsa State, in the Niger Delta region, in reprisal for the murder of 12 police officers. Human rights groups and journalists were denied access to the area for several days and the government was accused of covering up the true facts. A local human rights group, the Civil Liberties Organisation, has called for an independent investigation and for immediate access to the area for human rights groups. President Olusegun Obasanjo told an Amnesty International delegation in June 2000 that he would not hold an independent and open inquiry into the reported killings by government forces.

The government must take action now following these grave reports. The security forces should not be allowed to continue to benefit from the impunity they enjoyed under years of military rule up to the return to civilian government in May 1999. As a matter of urgency, the government must put in place measures which will prevent a recurrence of this massacre, and protect the civilian population from further human rights violations by the forces which are supposed to protect them.


A longstanding and violent conflict between communities in the area has resulted in many deaths among the population and left others homeless.

The attacks in Benue and Taraba States were apparently in reprisal for the killing of 19 soldiers, whose mutilated bodies were found on 12 October 2001 near to villages in Benue state including Gbeji, Vaase, Anyiin and Zaki-Biam. The killings were attributed to the local population, although no investigation is known to have taken place and no one is known to have been arrested.

These villages were reported to have been the targets of military action. In Gbeji, troops were reported to have gathered inhabitants in the market square before separating out the men and shooting dead more than 100 of them.

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)

NIGERIA: Focus on central region Tiv, Jukun clashes

IRIN-WA Tel: +225 22-40-4440 Fax: +225 22-41-9339 Email:

[This Item is Delivered to the "Africa-English" Service of the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. For further information, free subscriptions, or to change your keywords, contact e-mail: or Web: . If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer.]

LAGOS, 24 October (IRIN) - For decades Tivs and their Jukun neighbours in Nigeria's central region have engaged in intermittent fighting, mostly over land and sometimes as political rivals. But in recent weeks, fighting between the two groups has assumed a wider, dangerous dimension, posing a challenge to President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration.

The Tivs, one of the biggest of Nigeria's numerous ethnic minorities, form the majority in Benue State. But smaller numbers are also found in neighbouring Taraba, Nasarawa and Plateau states. The Jukuns, however, are the majority in Taraba, which lies to the east of Benue, near the border with Cameroon.

Following a fresh outbreak of violence in Taraba State between Tivs and Jukuns early this month, the federal government began to deploy troops around the borders between Benue and Taraba to end the bloody feud. But on 10 October, a contingent of 19 soldiers was ambushed and captured at Vatse, near the border, by a Tiv militia. A few days later their mutilated bodies were found in a primary school in nearby Zaki Biam, a Tiv stronghold.

The militia's action, local people said, was prompted by previous incidents in which armed men in uniform have attacked several Tiv communities. Among the Tivs, there is a strong suspicion that elements in the military were backing their Jukun rivals either in sympathy with Nigeria's Minister of Defence, retired Lt-Gen Theophilus Danjuma - who is Jukun - or with his approval.

Indeed, the Tiv Progressive Movement, in a petition to Obasanjo, has accused the government of backing their rivals, alleging imminent ethnic cleansing against the community. The organisation purports to defend the interests of the community and is led by prominent politician Paul Unongo.

"The Tivs appear now resigned to a serious, long war, believing that they will never get justice from the government in their dispute with the Chamba-Jukun people [Jukun are also called Chamba-Jukun] because government is unashamedly firmly on the side of these people owing to the paramount influence of their big men in government," the petition said.

"Your Excellency, if allowed to proceed, this war will be vicious, bloody,and would be fought with a ferocity that it may produce consequences worse than, or at least, similar to the horrible spectacles seen in disasters of Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and even Rwanda", the petition added.

At the moment, the Tivs feel that they are fighting a three-front battle. Apart from the Jukuns, they also have to contend with Fulani nomads with whom they have had bloody disputes over grazing land. In Nasarawa State, there are still bloody remnants from clashes in June involving the Tivs and the Hausa-speaking Azeri over land ownership. While camps set up outside Makurdi, the Benue State capital, for people displaced by the fighting in Nasarawa, were still not completely empty, a new influx from the fighting in Taraba has filled them up. Local officials estimate that some 30,000 people are now living in the camps, in need of urgent relief assistance.

But perhaps more worrying are reports from hospitals in the area, where many of those injured in the fighting have been taken. At the Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi, there are several patients whose limbs were cut off, not by the Jukuns they said, but by Fulani herdsmen who raided their villages near the border with Taraba State. Hospitals in Dananacha, Katsina-Ala and Vandekya, have also reported similar injuries in addition to scores of deaths.

At the funeral of the 19 soldiers killed by militants on Monday, Obasanjo reiterated his resolve to ensure that those who carried out the killings will be punished. "I have directed the security agencies to track down and bring the perpetrators to book. We will make sure this despicable act is never repeated", Obasanjo said.

But many Nigerians are keenly awaiting the form the punishment will take. By the military's antecedents, the expectation is that sooner or later troops will be sent in to ransack the rural towns of Vatse and Zaki Biam where the soldiers were respectively abducted and killed to serve as a lesson to other communities around the country that may want to emulate the Tiv militia blamed for the killings.

At least this was the precedent set in 1999, when soldiers were sent into the town of Odi, in the Niger Delta, where twelve policemen had been abducted and killed by militant Ijaw youths. Two years later, Odi is still in ruins.

"Odi was a public relations catastrophe for Obasanjo," political analyst Charles Ige, told IRIN. "It will be foolhardy to apply the same tactics again in the current circumstances but again people in the Niger Delta are waiting to scream double standards if the same sledgehammer is not used. And that is a tricky poser for the government".

Thousands of people, expecting the worst, have been fleeing Ukum and Katsina-Ala local government areas where the two towns are located. And as if to confirm their fears Benue State officials report that the special forces deployed in the area last week confronted a contingent of soldiers that came over from Taraba to burn villages in Ukum. Apparently the soldiers that came over from Taraba were acting with the sole aim of avenging the death of their colleagues, one Benue official told IRIN.

Many analysts link the current bloodletting in central Nigeria to political problems dating to the colonial era. During this period the British delegated powers over this vast region inhabited by many ethnic minorities to its ally, the Hausa-Fulani Muslim caliphate that held sway in many parts of northern Nigeria. The Tivs were one of non-Muslim minorities who vehemently opposed Hausa-Fulani influence, resulting in a major eruption of violence in the early 1960s that required military intervention to contain. While the Tivs preferred political alliances with southern political parties, the Jukuns teamed up with the Northern Peoples' Congress, controlled by the Muslim feudal oligarchs of the north. Violent eruptions between the two groups were recorded in 1959, 1964, 1976 and 1991-92.

According to Ige: "The Tiv, Jukun conflict falls into the now familiar pattern of communal violence that has been sweeping Nigeria since the end of 15 years of military rule in 1999. They are symptoms of deep-rooted grievances and discontent that need to be addressed by the government. A military solution will not do".

Mobolaji E. Aluko E-mail:

Draft Open Letter to President Obasanjo over Gbeji Killings

October 24, 2001

Dear Fellow Nigerians and Friends of Nigeria:

The massacres at Gbeji and Odi are two shameful acts of official brigandage that now mark the civilian government of President Obasanjo, and contribute to the seemingly endless stream of ethnic and religious strifes that now punctuate Nigeria's life.

We need to send a CLEAR message to Obasanjo and the government in Nigeria that this blood-letting MUST STOP!

Ironically, an all-day conference titled "United Nations and the Prevention of Armed Conflicts in the 21st Century: the African Dilemma" will occur at Howard University's Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center tomorrow, Thursday, October 25. The afternoon session titled "Post Conflict Peace-Building and Reconstruction: Political, Economic and Institutional Changes", will be chaired by Chief Arthur C.I. Mbanefo, Nigeria's Permanent Representative to the UN. The luncheon will be addressed by Dr. Susan Rice (former Asst. Secetary of State for African Affairs under the Clinton Administration). There will be a number of panel discussions. In attendance will be Dr. Udenta Udenta, Director of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) which was established by President Olusegun Obasanjo in February 2000 under the Ministry of Co-operation and Integration in Africa.

I intend to PUBLICLY present the letter below to Ambassador Mbanefo and Dr. Udenta Udenta tomorrow at the conference, for onward transmittal to President Obasanjo.

This blood-letting must stop!

Thank you.

Bolaji Aluko


October 24, 2001

An Open Letter to President Olusegun Obasanjo: "This Blood-Letting Must Stop!"

President Olusegun Obasanjo
President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
Abuja, Nigeria

Your Excellency:

It is with a very heavy heart that we, the under-signed, read the news that about 200 villagers were massacred on Monday, October 22 at Gbeji, Zakim-Bian, Vasase and Agbayiin and possibly other villages near the Benue-Taraba states border. Accounts state that this heinous crime on innocent persons was done by a contingent of Nigerian army personnel in full combat gear. This was apparently a revenge of the killings, on October 11, of 19 soldiers who were out on reconnaissance in the general area, where a communal strife between the Tivs and the Jukuns was ongoing.

We are particularly struck that this revenge killing came on the very day of an official, nationally-televised, emotional internment of the dead soldiers. At the ceremony, you were quoted as follows: "I have directed security agencies to track down and bring the perpetrators to book. We will make sure it does not occur again". [This Day, October 23, 2001]

Coming on the heels of Odi, Bayelsa State, when in November 1999 you gave similar ambiguous orders which resulted in the killing of over 375 villagers and the complete razing to the ground - that one in revenge of the killings of 7 policemen and 2 soldiers - this latest order was again completely alarming and highly provocative, and we consider it a direct cause of the present carnage, almost a marching orde.

Furthermore, one wonders how once again as in Odi, the use of security forces become engaged without the knowledge of the governor (and the constitutional Chief Security officer) of the state who was away visiting Abuja for the official funeral of the soldiers in question. One wonders what measures were put in place to warn combatants in the ongoing community strife that these soldiers were not partisan impostors out to take sides, and hence part of the problem rather than the solution. One wonders who gave the orders for the soldiers to go into Gbeji, and when the orders were given.

Let us make it clear: we do not condone the killing of security agents whether in Odi or Gbeji or any where else in Nigeria. However, two wrongs do not make a right, and under NO circumstances should official government agents carry out ANY search-and-destroy missions on Nigerian citizens, to punish without guilt established. After all, we are in a civilian (and supposedly democratic) regime where the rule-of-law abides and where all are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Mr. President, since you became the Chief Executive of Nigeria's Federal Government and Commander-in-Chief of its Armed Forces, too much blood - of at least 2,000 Nigerians in some counts - has been shed in many ethnic and religious strifes, and there is no end in sight.

We must begin to put a stop to them now by ensuring that the soldiers who carried out this heinous crime are brought to book, no matter what their pain was following the deaths of their colleagues. Whoever in your administration - in Justice Ministry, Defence Ministry, or the Police - that might be an interested party in the ongoing conflict among the Jukuns and the Tivs of the Gbeji area, and who might impede your investigation of this extrajudicial measure must be asked to step aside during the investigation.

More importantly, there must be a permanent solution to the seemingly endless ethnic and religious crises that now appear to be touchstones of your presidency. The Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) which was established under your Presidency in February 2000 under the Ministry of Co-operation and Integration in Africa has obviously brought no peace and resolved no conflict. A formal avenue for dialogue MUST therefore be established among ALL of Nigeria's stakeholders without further delay to ensure that these crises cease.

This blood-letting must stop, Mr. President!


This material is being reposted for wider distribution by Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Africa Action's information services provide accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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