From MARIAM ALESHINLOYE AGBOOLA:
Dressed in black and wielding wooden crosses, thousands of women marched in Jos yesterday to express grief at a new bout of sectarian carnage and anger at the failure to stop it.
The demonstration in the flashpoint city, capital of Plateau State, coincided with the start of a three-day fast ordered by the state government in a symbolic commitment of reconciliation between Muslims and Christians.
Governor Jonah Jang announced late Wednesday a three-day state-wide fast “to forgive our sins and bring peace.” With recriminations still flying around over Sunday’s massacre of Christians in villages on the outskirts of Jos, residents said they would pray for an end to the bloodshed and they had no faith in the security services.
The protesting women led by Mrs Esther Nbanga stormed the State House of Assembly at about 10:30 a.m to register their grievances with many of them carrying placards denouncing the military operation in the state and calling for the withdrawal of the military from the streets.
Speaker of Plateau State House of Assembly, Hon. Istifanus Mwansat, who received the women stated that the government was not sleeping over the unfortunate development, assuring that both the legislature and the executive would get to the root of the matter.
At the Government House, Ray Field, the women were received by the state Deputy Governor, Mrs Pauline Tallen, who prayed along with the women for total restoration of peace to Plateau State and Nigeria as a whole.
Some of the protesters carried Bibles, others wooden crosses and some held the branches of mango trees in a sign of solidarity. “We do not want soldiers! No more soldiers!” the protesters chanted, waving their Bibles and crosses in the air.
Helen Laraba, a 26-year-old tailor who was among the women in black, also vented her anger at the military which has been accused of failing to respond to reports that gangs of machete-wielding Fulani herdsmen had gone on the rampage.
“We are mourning because of the children that were killed on Sunday, we are coming as a mass to cry out,” said 32-year-old Rebecca Adiwu as she joined in the mass protest in central Jos. Troop reinforcements are now patrolling the city and the surrounding villages but the residents said it was too little, too late. “They said they would come and protect us, but they didn’t do anything for us,” said Laraba. “We are going to church to cry (over) the killing of innocent people.”
“Women and children bore the brunt of the three-hour killing spree in the early hours of Sunday morning. The exact toll is unclear with police saying 109 people died while state information commissioner put the figure at 500.
“I am already fasting. It’s a symbolic commitment,” said 36-year-old accountant, Michael Kwakfut. “It’s for the healing of our land, because of (the) … things that we have done and that have annoyed God.”
Announcing the fast, Jang said it was time to put an end to the violence that has long plagued the state. “It is time to forgive and allow peace to reign. We must sheathe our swords. The responsibility of achieving peace is a collective one.”
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