By: Steven Haskos
Pace International Law Review, Junior Associate
The United Nations, the United States, and Human Rights Watch have been calling for the prosecution of those individuals responsible for the violence in Nigeria’s vulnerable Plateau State. On March 7, hundreds of residents of Dogo Nahawa, Zot, and Ratsat, just south of Plateau’s central city of Jos, were killed at the hands of Muslim men armed with guns and machetes. The attacks are believed to be in retaliation for violence in the predominantly Muslim settlement of Kuru Karama, carried out over four days in January by Christian attackers. These attacks are the latest episodes of violence to plague Nigeria’s “middle belt,” a region separating the country’s Muslim north from its Christian south. Human Rights groups have estimated that 3000 people have died in this region since 2001. Many of those victims were women and children.
Pressure on local authorities has resulted in the arrests of many of the attackers. Emmanuel Ojukwu, a spokesman for the Nigerian police, has announced that forty-one suspects will be charged with terrorism for their alleged involvement in the violence on March 7. Additionally, other suspects will be charged with illegally holding firearms, rioting, and other offenses, and as many as 164 suspects will be charged with various crimes in the region during the past month. This is a dramatic step towards retribution, as previous investigations and commissions of inquiry conducted by the Nigerian government yielded little.
The source of the violence is believed by many Nigerians to transcend the religious divide. Many attribute the violence to the scramble for valuable land and resources located in the fertile plains of Plateau State. Nigerians believe the conflict has been intensified by the government’s mishandling. More than 300 people were arrested for violence in Plateau State in January, with about half of that number to be sent to the capital Abuja for prosecution. Due to Nigeria’s overcrowded prisons and saturated legal system, however, it is believed that many of the suspects not only evaded prosecution, but were involved in the recent violence on March 7.
Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s acting President, has pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice. Nations and human rights groups throughout the world will be watching closely.