From Isa Abdulsalami, Oghogho Obayuwana, Terhemba Daka and Francis Obinor:

* Pope, Canada condemn violence
* Northern caucus raises panel

FROM the police yesterday came a refutal that the casualty figures of the Sunday, March 7, 2010 killing at Dogo Nahawa village in Jos South Local Council, Plateau State, was exaggerated by the state government.

Speaking at a press briefing in Jos, the state Police Commissioner, Mr. Ikechukwu Ayo Aduba, said that the 500 figure released by the state government was fabricated.

Suspects paraded by the police

Suspects paraded by the police

He added that the actual figure of the victims stood at 109 as against the 500 referred to in many publications.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI and the Canadian government yesterday condemned the Jos mayhem.

The state government through its Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mr. Gregory Yenlong, had released the 500 figure of casualties in the violence. But Aduba referred to the government’s figure as very unwholesome and fabricated, which should be disregarded in its entirety.

The commissioner lamented that if peace was not given a chance, it might get to a stage when National Youth Service corps members may not be posted to the state again. Soliciting the co-operation of the public, he said the Police had re-strategised to ensure that all parts of the state were well covered by the security operatives, urging residents to report any suspicious movement to the Police.

Aduba put the casualty figure of Dogo Nahawa mayhem at 109, adding that it was the authentic figure. He said the Police Command had requested for re-enforcement, adding that they had been re-assured that re-enforcement was on its way.

Some 151 young men at Mangu were arrested for the offences of “unlawful possession of prohibited firearms and dangerous weapons and unlawful assembly. Investigation had further revealed that they took the laws into their hands by taking up arms in apparent defence of their communities against any possible reprisal attack.”

According to Aduba, arms and ammunition and other dangerous weapons were recovered from the youths, which they said were being used to defend their communities. The Commissioner added that 49 Fulanis were arrested immediately after the incident of Dogo-Nahawa, stressing that in their various statements, they owned up to carrying out the invasion and killing in the villages and that they were on a revenge mission, “being a fall-out of the event of January 2010 whereupon some villages, namely Tim-Tim, Von and Kuru Jenta, were attacked and some of their inhabitants and cattle destroyed.

The Police boss further stated that investigation also revealed that some of the Fulanis were paid while some were volunteers but he did not reveal the identity of their sponsors.

In a question and answer session, Aduba described any reprisal attack as evil.

Still shedding more light on the state government’s casualty figure, he said the state government cannot prove the 500 figure as many experts were at the graveside counting and corroborating the bodies as they were being heaped into the mass grave.

He said that he is preparing his investigation for successful prosecution of those arrested.

He disclosed that two youths at Tundun Wada were also killed yesterday in a clash between the soldiers and the youths who insisted on knowing the content of a trailer that was conveying six cows by an NYSC food contractor. He said the youths blocked the road, adding that when the soldiers got there, there was a scuffle, which led the soldiers to fire and the two died of gunshot.

Aduba lamented that the whole Plateau State has been polarised because there are areas where if Moslems go, they will get killed and the same thing with the Christians.

He submitted that traditional rulers should be held responsible for any breakdown of law and order in their domain as they are supposed to know their people and strange movement of people.

In the meantime, the residents of Jos did not sleep on Tuesday night till yesterday morning as all of them kept vigil for the fear of a perceived further attack by the invaders.

On Tuesday, there had been a test message from some Christians from Maiduguri, saying that they saw Hausa/Fulanis loading their people in four trucks coming to Jos for “a Jihad war this night. Please, pass this message to everybody. Be on alert.”

Besides, on Tuesday, between 10.00 and 11.00 p.m., residents of Tudun Wada said there was a sporadic shooting by the security operatives, which left one person dead in the process.

A resident told The Guardian that one man from Adamawa State lives in Tudun Wada and owns cows in other states. “That night (Tuesday night), Fulani brought cows for him in a trailer load. On arrival, the youths in Tudun Wada suspected that the trailer was carrying arms and not cows. There was a commotion as the restive youths insisted that they must see the content of the trailer.

“Soldiers’ attention was drawn and when soldiers ordered the youths to disperse, they refused. The soldiers started firing which left one person dead and three others wounded.”

With that, coupled with the text message, the tension was high because residents believed that attackers could strike any time. There was fear, anxiety and tension and this has thinned the population of people and vehicular movement in the streets of Jos.

According to James Gyang, who lost his wife and two children, said he was on night duty as a security man when the incident happened. He stated that he could not believe that there could be any form of attack as they have been living peacefully with their Fulani neighbours.

According to him, when he returned around 8.00 a.m. that day, he did not meet anybody in the house, adding that before then, he had been told that his wife and two children had been killed by the assailants. He added that he was walking unconsciously, missing his steps and was just wobbling home.

Before he could reach home, Gyang said the bodies of his wife and the two children had already been removed to where the other bodies were being prepared for mass burial. He added that he was wailing while searching for them. When he saw the bodies, he wanted to embrace them but was prevented by sympathisers.

Another woman, Mrs. Sarah Dung, said that they were already asleep when the onslaught was unleashed on them. According to her, when she heard sounds of gunshots, her husband quickly came around and tried to open the door for them to escape. “I, my husband, our three children were going and we heard another gunshot right in our front and out of fear, all of us disappeared in different directions.

“I disappeared with our youngest child, Samson, who is one-year old. But when the day broke, I discovered that our other two children and my husband had been killed.”

A young man, Sha, who escaped unhurt, said that when he heard gunshots, he looked through the window and discovered that the attackers were taking strategic positions. “I was watching them. They were all speaking Fulfude (Fulani language). I have lived in Sokoto and I understand the language. I summoned courage and went out and they said “Nage” (cow) and I replied “Nage”. You know, it was night. They waved me aside and passed. I quickly went and hid myself in an uncompleted building until it was day time. I thanked God that I escaped the killing. But I am not completely happy because the attackers killed my uncle and his wife.”

In the same vein, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday denounced the “atrocious” bloodshed in a village, near Jos after the Police said 49 people would be charged over the killings.

The pontiff added his voice to a chorus of international revulsion over the weekend slaughter which Police now say left 109 people dead.

Officials initially said more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were killed when members of the mainly Muslim Fulani ethnic group killed their victims from the Christian Berom clan in three villages.

About 8,000 people, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, have also fled their homes around the state capital in the wake of the violence.

In his weekly general audience, Pope Benedict offered condolences to the victims of the “atrocious violence causing bloodshed in Nigeria” and urged civil and religious leaders “to work towards security and peaceful co-existence.

“Violence does not resolve conflicts but only increases the tragic consequences,” he added.

In a related development, Canada yesterday condemned the carnage in Jos. The country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon, who issued a statement on the matter yesterday, also said Canada fully supports Acting President Goodluck Jonathan’s efforts at bringing the perpetrators of the violence to book.

Part of the statement read: “Canada condemns in the strongest of terms the renewed violence and the loss of life near the city of Jos…On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those killed in the violence and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.”

It added: “Canada supports the efforts of Jonathan, in his role as Acting President, in tackling Nigeria’s governance and security challenges, including the recurring violence in Plateau State. We are particularly pleased by Mr. Jonathan’s commitment to ensuring accountability for those who have perpetuated the inter-communal conflict in recent years.”

“We encourage the government of Nigeria to continue to pursue its efforts to address the root causes of this recurring violence, and urge communities to continue working together to build a peaceful society,” the statement added.

Also, determined to prevent a reprisal attack arising from the recent mayhem in Jos, the Northern Caucus in the House of Representatives has set up a 20-man committee to tour the Northern states with a view to forestalling a repeat and likely spread of the crisis to other parts of the north.

“The team (committee) will not only be limited to meeting with the clergy as well as the Imams and government officials. The team will meet with the people directly and other opinion leaders on the necessity of living together. This will include the people who are directly affected by some of the crisis that have occurred in the northern states”.

Apparently worried by last Sunday’s violence, the northern lawmakers after their meeting urged the Acting President Jonathan to urgently adopt a more proactive approach in addressing the problems in the region further precipitated by poverty and frustration.

Specifically, Chairman of the Caucus, Terngu Tsegba called on the federal as well as state governments to adopt the method used in dealing with the Niger Delta crisis as a veritable solution to the incessant socio-religious mayhem in the northern states.

“Since the problem in the North is not just a religious but rather that of poverty and frustration, the federal and state governments should use the same method with which they dealt with militancy in the Niger Delta to solve the problem in Plateau and other Northern states”, he said.

Reading the resolutions of the caucus, Tsegba who addressed reporters at the National Assembly along with other members of the caucus in Abuja yesterday, also called on all security agencies in the country to be alert to their responsibilities of protecting lives and property.

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