Security agents on alert in Kaduna, Bauchi, Nasarawa

  • Monday, December 01, 2008 - From Yusuf Alli (Managing Editor, Northern Operation), Augustine Ehikioya (Abuja), Tony Akowe (Kaduna), Pam Ayuba(Jos), Emmanuel Oladesu and Okorie Uguru
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A tight security net has been thrown over Kaduna, Bauchi and Nasarawa states as well as other potential trouble spots in the North to forestall a spill-over of the Jos riots, it was learnt yesterday.

President Umaru Yar’Adua has also given the marching orders to the Army and Air Force to restore normalcy in the strife-torn capital of Plateau State. Another contingent of soldiers was deployed in the state yesterday.

The state government gave the official death toll as 200, adding that more than 10,000 have been displaced in Jos North where the riot took place.

But efforts are being made by religious leaders to foster peace. The Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) at the weekend fixed a meeting on the Jos crisis for Wednesday.

The Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar yesterday urged security agencies to ensure that the crisis did not spread to other states.

Senate President David Mark, House of Representatives Speaker Dimeji Bankole and Action Congress (AC) deplored the crisis, demanding that the perpetrators be punished. Bankole is expected to lead a delegation of National Assembly members to Jos today.

Plateau State Information Commissioner Nuhu Gagara, in a statement, deplored media reports putting the casualty figure at 350. "Government wishes to express its disappointment over some foreign media organisations, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Voice of America (VOA), Cable News Network (CNN) and Aljazeera which have continued to dish out false and unbalanced reports on the crisis," he said.

It was learnt that the Police, the State Security Service (SSS) and relevant arms of the Army and Air Force have been directed to keep 24-hour security surveillance in neighbouring states over the Jos, Plateau State killings.

A source told our correspondent in Abuja: "The Presidency is worried that the crisis has assumed a religious slant and urgent steps have been taken to avert a spill-over in Northern states. As I am talking to you, security is being beefed up in neighbouring states like Kaduna, Bauchi, Nasarawa and other sensitive states.

"The President is personally disturbed because he thought we had overcome our religious differences. The government has also reached out to key religious leaders, including the Sultan and Christian leaders in the NIREC to intervene."

A security source said: "We have a mandate from the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces not to allow the situation to degenerate. We are doing our best to curtail the situation with minimal casualties. We do not want the deployment of troops to aggravate the tense situation."

No fewer than 140 armed soldiers were airlifted to Jos aboard a Nigerian Air Force Charlie jet with registration number NAF 913 at about 7.32a.m. yesterday from the One Mechanised Division in Kaduna. The troops are expected to compliment the soldiers that were drafted to Jos from Kaduna on Saturday.

Addressing the soldiers before their departure, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) Major General Moses Obi warned them against acts capable of tarnishing their image and that of the Army. He warned them against brutalising civilians while maintaining the peace in the city, pointing out that they were going to Jos to carry out their normal internal security operations.

He said: "You are going for your normal internal security duty. I don’t want to hear you brutalise any civilian. You are performing your constitutional duty. You must realise that you must protect lives and property. You are going there for the normal internal security operations.

"Above all, discipline must be your watchword. I will not want to get complaints about any of you. And I will tell you that as soon as you finish performing your duty there, you will come back home soon.

"While there, you are under the control of the 3 Division. So, you take orders from there. Listen to your officers and know how you relate with them and I can guarantee you that in a very short time, you’ll be back. I wish you the best of luck and remember, discipline should be your watchword."

Explaining the reason for the deployment, the Division’s Assistant Director, Army Public Relations, Lt. Colonel Mohammed Yerima, said the soldiers would assist the Police to curtail the violence.

He explained: "As you are all aware of the current situation in Jos, we in the One Division are just supporting with two companies of soldiers to aid the civil authorities in Jos. People should not panic. It’s a normal exercise, most of our troops in Jos have gone on foreign operations.

"So, we have to compliment and support the operations in Jos. The situation is under control. The GOC there is in full control. This is just to take care of any unforeseen occurrence. We have to be prepared as we are called in to support the Police.

"The police are there but they are not sufficient in number and the government felt the military should come in and assist, which is a normal thing. We don’t just come in and take over operations; it is when there is the need for assistance and we are only there to complement and the situation is now severely under control.

"It is only when they (troops) are needed that they can come in. But the situation there, as we are all aware, has returned to normal."

The Plateau government pinpointed reports by BBC’s Senan John Murray for what it called "unverified figures." It said: "We know, and from available information, Senan Murray never came to Jos. We understand he got across to some local journalists on phone who gave him information that he failed to confirm.

"As a responsible journalist, Senan should know that good journalism lies in facts verification and he can not sit in Abuja and give a report that does not reflect the true picture of things."

Gagara added: "For the media to report deaths of a particular religious group and say no loss was recorded by the other group smacks of irresponsible journalism and, at worst, a hidden agenda against the good people of Plateau State."

The government said it "regrets the casualties from the crisis," adding that a search-and-rescue team has been put in place "to provide relief to displaced persons."

The University of Jos was closed down yesterday and the students evicted from the campus, with the help of security patrol teams. Some students of the university were among the riot casualties.

Calm is however returning gradually to Jos. Our correspondent who went round yesterday reported that many worshippers went to churches, most of which were under the watch of security personnel.

Most major streets in Jos were empty, as there were only private car owners who drove their family members to church. Many people trekked long distances to get to church. Some trekked from Jos to Bukuru, Dabi-Jowa.

The Sultan called on Plateau indigenes to embrace peace and shun acts capable of causing mayhem. In a statement on his behalf in Abuja, the Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Dr AbdulLateef Adegbite, expressed concern over the communal disturbances.

He called on security agencies to do everything possible to make sure the crises did not spread to neighbouring states and "do everything possible to restore normalcy".

The Sultan called on the people to be law abiding and go about their lawful activities.

He urged the Plateau State government to compensate the victims who lost properties especially places of worship.

"The Sultan urges all Muslims and Christians all over the country to embrace peace and shun acts of violence in the interest of the stability and orderly development of the nation" the statement said.

Mark and Bankole told reporters in Abuja that all those who killed under the guise of religion should be punished.

Stressing that the crisis was not religious, they said it was fuelled by those who wanted to give it religious colouration in order to kill innocent Nigerians.

Mark said: "Whoever kills under the guise of religion should really be punished. There should be no room for that at all."

Bankole said there should be religious harmony in the country, adding: "Acrimony between religions has been on from day one, but as leaders, we should make sure that we show examples to the people who will look up to us that we can do things together. We should show unity, love, perseverance, patience and hope to all of us."

In a statement in Abuja, NIREC’s Executive Secretary Prof. Ishaq Oloyede said the Council was already consulting and he urged the protagonists to exercise restraint.

"NIREC urges all stakeholders to exercise restraint and allow peace and harmony to reign supreme. They should not allow mischievous people to hijack a mere political misunderstanding to degenerate into an ethnic conflict or religious conflict," the statement added.

The first civilian governor of Plateau State and pioneer chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Solomon Lar, condemned the Jos violence. He yesterday said what happened was ‘uncalled for,’ adding that the government would sooner than later find a lasting solution to the problem.

The elder statesman urged calm and admonished the state residents to cooperate with the security operatives in order to stem the tide. According to him, the present government needs the support of all and the crisis should be seen as an issue that must be tackled headlong.

Appealing for calm in Jos, the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) said the mayhem stemmed from "the evil of do-or-die politics."

In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, the group said politicians had not learnt from the Kenyan violence which was triggered by vote rigging.

Methodist Church of Nigeria Primate Sunday Ola Makinde urged the government to unmask those behind the crisis. He said the Jos crisis was one too many and warned that if those responsible were not brought to book, religious crises would not end in Nigeria.

His words: "It is very barbaric because we have brought religion into politics and only mediocres do that. I am advising the President to take a very serious and drastic action on this one now. Let it be the last, because it has happened in Jos this second time. Many innocent people have lost their lives and many religious places of worship have been burnt down. We have to put an end to this. Let them find the perpetrators and deal with them. Let justice take its course."

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) asked the government to investigate the crisis.

The ACF said in Kaduna yesterday through its Publicity Secretary, Anthony Sani, that bringing those found culpable in the crisis to book would serve as deterrent to others and forestall future occurrences.

Sani said: "The attention of Arewa Consultative Forum has been drawn to reports of violent clashes in Jos, Plateau State which resulted in avoidable loss of lives and properties. The government of Plateau State should ensure that normalcy is returned to Jos North.

"This should be followed by proper reconciliation and thorough investigation in the polity to unveil the circumstances that brought about the mayhem with a view to inflicting necessary retribution on offenders."

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