Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!
Print this page
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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived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
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:
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE
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 :
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
"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
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
[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:
Irin@ocha.unon.org or Web: http://www.irinnews.org . 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
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
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: email@example.com
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!
October 24, 2001
An Open Letter to President Olusegun Obasanjo: "This Blood-Letting
President Olusegun Obasanjo
President of the Federal Republic of
Nigeria Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
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
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
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
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.