US embassy cable - 01ABUJA2855

NIGERIA: UPDATE ON BENUE CRISIS

Identifier: 01ABUJA2855
Wikileaks: View 01ABUJA2855 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2001-11-09 17:01:00
Classification: SECRET//NOFORN
Tags: PGOV MOPS PINS PHUM NI
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 002855 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
NOFORN 
 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 1.6X5, 1.6X6 
TAGS: PGOV, MOPS, PINS, PHUM, NI 
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: UPDATE ON BENUE CRISIS 
 
 
REF: A. ABUJA 2708 
     B. ABUJA 2750 
     C. ABUJA NI 2776 
     D. IIR 7 800 0052 02 
     E. IIR 7 800 0065 02 
     F. IIR 7 800 0064 02 
     G. ABUJA 2827 
     H. IIR 7 114 0027 02 
     I. ABUJA 2832 
     J. IIR 6 871 0511 02 
 
 
Classified by CDA Andrews; Reasons 1.6X5 and 1.6X6. 
 
 
1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: In Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states, the 
military was called to do what the police could not -- 
contain civil unrest.  As with Odi in 1999, the tragedy that 
occurred in Benue demonstrates the problems associated with 
asking often poorly-led soldiers to assume law enforcement 
duties for which they are not trained.  There were two 
massacres in Benue, the initial killing of soldiers by ethnic 
Tiv militia, and the revenge killing of Tivs by soldiers. 
The Benue massacres will force Obasanjo to walk a fine line 
between the rule of law, on one hand, and political 
exigencies, which include his relationship with the military, 
on the other.  Obasanjo must investigate but take care not to 
further estrange the military, which happens to be the 
mainstay of security in several key areas of the country. 
End summary. 
 
 
==================================== 
WHAT WE KNOW OF BENUE - WHAT WE HEAR 
==================================== 
 
 
2. (S/NF) Accounts we have heard about what happened in Benue 
vary somewhat in their details.  However, the general picture 
provided by most accounts is similar.  Paras 2 - 7 contain 
what we have been able to piece together thus far.  The 19 
dead soldiers were in Benue as part of the military 
deployment to defuse a long-standing feud between Tivs and 
Jukuns.  While on patrol, the soldiers were ambushed by Tiv 
militia on or about October 10.  (NOTE: One contact informed 
Poloff that 24 soldiers were captured, but five of the 
soldiers, ethnic Tivs, were released.  We cannot confirm this 
claim.  END NOTE.)  According to previous reporting (Ref G), 
after attempting to turn the soldiers over to the police and 
local leaders, the militia members brutally murdered the 
soldiers and dismembered their bodies. 
 
 
3. (S/NF) While most contacts state the soldiers were 
ambushed, there also is a different version of events being 
circulated.  While the Army contended that soldiers gave up 
without a fight, Tivs retort that the soldiers were in league 
with the Jukun militia.  In this rendition, a firefight took 
place where the soldiers and Jukun exhausted their 
ammunition, enabling Tiv fighters to capture them.  At this 
point, local officials refused to get involved.  Worse, the 
Tiv captors got word that the band of Jukun and soldiers had 
attacked other Tivs earlier that day.  Hearing this, the Tivs 
executed 19 of their military captives, giving the five Tivs 
a reprieve.  The Tivs also killed a larger but unspecified 
number of Jukun. 
 
 
4. (U) Attributing comments to the Presidential Villa, the 
media reported not-so-veiled threats to local Tiv leaders in 
Benue to turn over the responsible militia members or face 
the consequences.  Media reports of comments from unnamed 
Defense Headquarters "sources" were even stronger.  However, 
during the October 22 funeral for the 16 soldiers whose 
bodies had been recovered, President Obasanjo rejected 
"provocation" and emphasized the responsibility of the 
Federal Government to protect its citizenry.  He said that 
his administration would not be deterred from this objective. 
 He also tasked the "security agencies" to track down the 
killers. 
 
 
5. (S/NF) On 24 October, soldiers apparently from a unit 
other than those killed (Refs E and H) entered eastern Benue 
from Taraba state, and carried out attacks against the local 
population.  It is impossible to state a specific number of 
casualties.  However, 58 people were reportedly killed in one 
village, and roughly 14 villages were destroyed, as well as 
most of the town of Zaki Biam.  The death toll is likely 
between 100 and 250.  In one village, according to press 
reports, adult males were separated from the others then 
executed.  Retired Chief of Army Staff LTG Malu (who headed 
the Army at the time of the Odi incident), had his house 
destroyed and members of his family killed in the reprisals. 
 
 
6. (C) It remains unclear how many new IDPs there are in 
Benue as a result of this latest violence.  National Assembly 
members from Benue have claimed as many as 500,000, other 
reporting (Ref G) places the number near 190,000.  The ICRC 
estimates around 100,000 new IDPs in Benue.  The 190,000 and 
100,000 figures are not incompatible, since perhaps 90,000 
IDPs had already been created as a result of fighting earlier 
this year.  Approximately 70,000 of the "new" IDPs are 
staying with relatives or friends.  The remaining 30,000 are 
temporarily housed in 14 camps in the state. 
7. (C) Instead of trying to calm the situation, several 
political figures have increased tensions by publicly 
accusing each other of complicity in the violence.  Benue 
Governor George Akume blamed embattled PDP chairman Barnabas 
Gemade for fueling violent student protests against the 
military attacks.  Minister of Defense Danjuma has blamed 
Akume for supporting former Tiv soldiers in an effort to 
destabilize the area.  President Obasanjo even got into the 
act.  He told the press that Akume requested military help in 
Benue, which suggests that Akume should be prepared to take 
the bad with the good regarding the soldiers and their 
transgressions.   Many have accused Danjuma, raised as a 
Jukun, of privately supporting the Jukun militias with arms. 
Others have linked Malu with arming the Tivs, and Malu has 
lashed out at almost everyone.  Despite these recriminations, 
there is no real evidence yet of high-level involvement thus 
far in either the deaths of the 19 soldiers or the military's 
response. 
 
 
8. (C) A number of meetings have taken place at State House 
to discuss the crisis. On November 7, the President conferred 
with the Governors from Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa to discuss 
ways to end the ethnic violence and reduce the political 
attacks. This meeting may have helped reduce the political 
vituperation, but it is too early to tell whether the 
governors and President developed a workable game plan to 
reduce the violence.  Obasanjo reportedly will hold a repeat 
meeting with the governors, joined by ten elders from each 
state, on November 11. 
 
 
==================== 
COMMENT AND ANALYSIS 
==================== 
 
 
9. (S/NF) After the 19 soldiers were killed, statements 
emanating from the Presidential Villa pointed to serious 
consequences if the militia members responsible were not 
surrendered to authorities.  These statements might have been 
viewed as tacit approval by angry soldiers who did not need 
much encouragement to avenge the deaths (Ref D and E).  While 
we do not have evidence pointing to senior officers, it seems 
unlikely, from what we know of the Nigerian military, that 
these actions were taken without the knowledge of some senior 
officers (Refs D,E,F).  On the other hand, if an element of a 
battalion did act without senior approval, then this 
indicates a loss of control in some elements of the Nigerian 
military, something equally troubling. 
 
 
10. (S/NF) Thus far, extensive press coverage has not been 
translated into a sustained public outcry (Ref G).  Frankly, 
the commonly held prejudice that Tiv are an aggressive people 
who "take over" lands belonging to others has played a role. 
There is also a degree of understanding for the Army's 
conduct in many quarters of the Nigerian populace.  This is 
partially due to the gruesome nature of the 19 executions. 
It is also due to the realization that the military is the 
last wall between order and unrest.  Should the Army be seen 
as susceptible to attack with impunity, it is feared the 
security situation would rapidly worsen (Ref I). 
Consequently, while many do not approve of the Army's 
actions, they see these actions as the high but necessary 
premium that must be paid to ensure the Army can effectively 
play its role as security's guarantor. 
 
 
11. (S/NF) Obasanjo and his government will now have to 
strike the right balance between assuring human rights and 
these vital security imperatives.  Obasanjo realizes he must 
do something to bring the guilty into the dock.  If he does 
nothing, his image as a statesman will be sullied.  Dealing 
with the killers of the soldiers will be relatively easy. 
But handling the soldiers who ran amok will be a different 
matter, particularly if their actions were condoned at a high 
level of the Army or of the Ministry of Defense. 
 
 
12. (C) These events show that Nigeria is difficult soil in 
which to cultivate an abiding respect for the rule of law. 
We are trying to urge this process forward, however.  The 
Embassy press release calling for an impartial investigation 
into the situation is part of this effort, and we will 
continue to raise the importance of transparency and rule of 
law with the GON.  That said, these events also reinforce the 
importance of continued engagement with and training of 
Nigeria's police and the military.  Providing the benefits of 
sustained and well-targeted training to those who do respect 
human rights is the best way to advance the process of 
inculcating in the entire military an appreciation for the 
rule of law as well as for democratic civilian rule. 
Andrews 

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