By BosNewsLife Africa Service
JOS, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)– Thousands of women dressed in black have marched through the streets of the troubled Nigerian city of Jos “to mourn, pray and protest” against the killings of possible hundreds of people, most of them Christians, by suspected Muslim mobs.
Plateau State Information Commissioner Gregory Yenlong has put the casualty figure in the March 7 massacre of mostly Christian Berom farmers in three villages by Muslims from the Fulani people at more than 500. Other sources put the toll at between 100 and 400.
Wielding machetes, knives and cutlasses, the raiders swept through three, predominantly Christian, villages in the area of Jos, the capital of Plateau state, last Sunday, March 7, cutting down men, women and children, witnesses said. Generations were wiped out.
Villagers have said they saw relatives and friends hacked down with machetes and their bodies burnt.
Residents of Dogo Nahawa, Zot and Ratsat, about 15 km (9 miles) south of the central city of Jos, buried at least dozens of bodies including those of women and children in a mass grave on Monday, March 8, following the attacks, which they blamed on Muslim Fulani herders. Fulani representatives have denied they were involved.
Women, who survived the violence, carried Bibles, pictures of victims, and branches “symbolising peace”, as they walked this week from the headquarters of the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) to the Plateau State House of Assembly for talks with the parliament speaker, activists said Friday, March 12.
Christian pastor Esther Ebanga reportedly told the women: “Enough is enough. All we are asking is that our children and women should not be killed any more. We demand justice.”
They later took their grievances to the governor’s residence. A simultaneous protest was held in the Nigerian capital Abuja, where hundreds of women marched to the parliament for talks with officials, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a major advocacy group which supports the demonstration.
In a statement, distributed by CSW, protesters condemned “the brutal killing of unsuspecting women, children and babies on the flimsiest excuse and at the slightest pretext of grievance.”
Additionally, the protesting women also asked for the release of youths who they claimed “were unfairly” detained in connection with the violence.
They also called for troops to leave, saying that the army had not stopped the massacre and in at least some cases participated in it.
Amongst other things, the women demanded that soldiers involved in “the extra judicial killing of civilians” should be prosecuted, and demanded the removal of Chief of Army Staff General Danbazzau and Major General Saleh Maina, General Officer Commanding the 3rd Armoured Division, “for failure to protect innocent citizens”.
The army leaders had no comment.
As “sporadic attacks continue in remote areas” despite military patrols and a curfew, hostility towards the army is increasing among the local population, CSW said.
In at least one incident, Nigerian troops arriving at Kwata village March 9 were reportedly themselves driven away, after villagers successfully repulsed an attack by a suspected Muslim mob. CSW has urged Nigerian authorities to improve the protection of Christian villagers and take action against Nigerian forces involved in violence.
“The reported army abuses in Plateau State, and its seeming failure to provide protection for vulnerable villagers, are undermining confidence in an important national institution,” added CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas in a statement to BosNewsLife.
“We also join the women of Plateau State in their call for the release of youths spuriously detained in connection with violence. Impunity will only end when the real organisers and perpetrators are apprehended and brought to justice,” he added.
Previous clashes in and around Jos has claimed several thousand lives. Jos lies in central Nigeria, on the faultline between the Christian majority south and the mostly Muslim north.
There have been outbreaks of violence every few years since 2001, and some commentators attributed Sunday’s slaughter to revenge for the killings of Muslims by alleged Christian extremists in January. Christian leaders and several rights groups have said however that the January violence was sparked by an attack on a church by a Muslims mob.
Some residents have told reporters that the March 7 killings were part of a “spiralling feud” between the Fulani, who are nomads, and Berom, who are farmers, which had been sparked by the theft of cattle, rather than for religious motives.