JOS, Nigeria (AFP) – Christian villagers in Nigeria fled their homes fearing new attacks Tuesday even as a senior official accused the country’s military chiefs of ignoring warnings about last weekend’s massacre.
Jonah Jang, governor of central Plateau state, said the carnage that claimed hundreds of lives of mainly Christian villagers could have been avoided had there not been security lapses.
Jang told reporters he alerted the Nigeria’s army commander about reports of movement around the area and was told troops would be heading there.
But while he saw a military tank rumble by his home, located a few kilometres (miles) away from one of the affected villages, “three hours or so later, I was woken by a call that they (armed gangs) have started burning the village and people were being hacked to death.
“I tried to locate the commanders, (but) I couldn?t get any of them on the telephone,” Jang told journalists in the capital Abuja.
Near the central city of Jos, mass burials were held for some of the hundreds of victims of a three-hour orgy of violence, while survivors nursed wounds in hospitals.
Troops patrolled the three villages where members of the mainly Muslim Fulani ethnic group embarked on their killing spree. But residents of neighbouring villages said they had already received new threats.
With a six-month-old baby strapped to her back, Patricia Silas, 30, and two neighbours turned their heels on their village of Tin-Tin, opting not to hang around to become another statistic.
“We are afraid we might be the next target of attack,” Silas told AFP.
Silas said she had received threats from Fulanis who had previously settled in the village but left after violence in January in which at least 326 people died.
“They are saying they want to avenge their loss,” said Silas.
Officials said more than 500 people from the mainly Christian Berom ethnic group were hacked to death with machetes, axes and daggers in three villages of Dogo Nahawa, Ratsat and Zot on Sunday morning.
But police say they have recorded only 55 while rights groups and local media have various tolls ranging between 200 and 400. Related article: Survivors’ pain as victims buried
In a surgical ward of Jos hospital, women nursing deep scalp wounds mourned the loss of their children.
Chindum Yakubu, 30, mother of four, described the screams of her 18-month-old daughter who was hacked to death as the family tried to flee the pre-dawn attacks.
“They removed the baby (from her back) and killed her with machete,” Yakubu said.
Survivors say the authorities did nothing to prevent the butchery.
Thousands have been killed in recent years from strife in and around Jos, which is on the dividing line between the mainly Muslim north and Christian dominated south.
“One moment it’s relaxed, then the next moment people are running for their dear life,” said hospital administrator Ruth Mutfwang, summing up life in the restive region.
As a group of men huddled in small groups at Dogo Nahawa, one was overheard saying “we will take revenge”.
Meanwhile, observers warned that the government must tackle deep-rooted poverty to combat the underlying causes of ethnic tensions which have seen thousands killed here in recent years. Analysis: Land disputes, politics at root of Nigeria violence
Expressing horror at the massacre, the UN’s human rights chief Navi Pillay said, “what is most needed is a concerted effort to tackle the underlying causes of the repeated outbreaks of ethnic and religious violence … namely discrimination, poverty and disputes over land”.
Nigeria’s senate described the attacks as acts of “terrorism” and crimes against humanity.
But the main opposition Action Congress accused the federal government of “hypocrisy in its reaction” to the latest unrest, saying perpetrators of the region’s violence in recent years had not been brought to justice.
Indeed, Sunday’s attacks were only the latest between rival ethnic and religious groups.
Locals said they resulted from a feud first ignited by cattle theft that was fuelled by deadly reprisals.