A human rights group accused Nigerian forces and soldiers yesterday of unlawfully killing dozens of Muslim men in the central city of Jos last year and urged the government to punish them.
The government sent in security forces to restore order in Jos in November after a disputed election triggered the worst fighting between Muslim and Christian gangs in years in Africa’s most populous country, Reuters reports.
US based HRW said in a report released yesterday that around 700 people were killed in two days of clashes, more than three times as many as the official figure given by the government shortly after the violence.
“In responding to the inter-communal violence, the Nigerian police and military were implicated in more than 130 arbitrary killings, mostly of young Muslim men,” Eric Guttschuss, Nigeria expert with HRW, told a Plateau state panel investigating the clashes.
Jos is the state capital.
“We call on government authorities to promptly arrest and prosecute those responsible,” he added.
According to witnesses quoted in the HRW report, security forces entered neighbourhoods, businesses and homes shooting randomly at unarmed Jos residents.
Security forces denied the accusations.
“It is not true. The police who were sent to restore peace cannot turn around again to kill the harmless civilians they were supposed to protect,” said Plateau state police spokesman Mohammed Lerama.
Some witnesses believed those responsible for the deaths may have been people impersonating police officers and soldiers.
But the rights group said there was evidence to the contrary, such as the presence of security vehicles nearby and arrests made by the same police who shot at unarmed residents.
Jos residents still live under a daily curfew because of simmering tension eight months after the clashes.
Thousands have died in religious and ethnic violence in northern Nigeria since the start of the decade.
The tension is rooted in decades of resentment by indigenous minority groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.
The rights group urged the federal government to pass legislation prohibiting any public institution from discriminating against non-indigenes.