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40,000 Displaced by Jos Riots in Nigeria

Published on Thursday 28th January 2010

The human catastrophe arising from the eruption of sectarian crisis in Jos, Plateau State, two weeks ago has left at least 40,000 displaced.

Also, former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), and former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Solomon Lar, have condemned in strong terms the destruction of lives and property, saying it is unacceptable.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said it had moved in relief materials to different camps in the city to help the 40,000 displaced victims of the conflict.

There are about 18 of such camps where they are taking refuge.

A statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary of NEMA, Mr. Segun Imohiosen, disclosed the agency had distributed blankets, towels, toiletries, 500 bags of rice and other food items.

He said the agency had been working with other organisations such as the Red Cross, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), military medical team, volunteers and the state Emergency Management Agency.

Imohiosen said each of the camp hosts between 1,500 and 2,000 people made up men, women, children and persons orphaned by the conflict.

NEMA said the crisis added in its wake a violent attack on the rescue team comprising the agency's officials led by its Zonal Director in charge of Jos, Abdusalam Muhammed, last week.

The NEMA officials, who were on a rescue operation, were about to pick up a corpse at one of the neighbourhoods when men wielding dangerous weapons chased them away and immediately burnt the agency's ambulance.

Muhammed, who spoke to THISDAY at one of the rescue camps located at the Air Force Base in Jos, said he and his men escaped death by the whiskers.

"We were trying to pick up some corpses littering the roadside in Agwandoki area with the assistance of some Red Cross personnel when some people attacked us from different directions trying to stop us from taking away the corpse. As we rushed to board our vehicle to escape, the attackers poured fuel on the vehicle and immediately set it ablaze," he said.

Speaking to THISDAY on the attack, the Director-General of NEMA, Air Vice Marshal Audu-Bida (rtd), said the incident came as a surprise since the officials were only performing a humanitarian job with no interests attached.

Audu-Bida said NEMA had put measures in place to avoid a reoccurrence by securing the assistance of men of Jos Air Force Base as well as the army to help provide security for the officials while at work.

"We are neutral and we would want everyone involved in the conflict to know that NEMA is helping to solve the humanitarian problems created by the conflict," he said.

"The good thing is that NEMA has now established structures around the country that can respond to crisis of this nature and be able to provide immediate assistance to displaced people", he added.

Jos is virtually dead with no form of economic activity and only few vehicles could muster the courage to ply roads heavily manned by soldiers. Young men and women were seen standing in groups around the town, looking dejected.

Families who could afford the transport fare were seen making frantic effort to flee the troubled town. Luxury buses and some government-hired buses from states in the Southern part of the country are also evacuating their indigenes.

Meanwhile, Gowon and Lar spoke out against the conflict yesterday during a stakeholders meeting called by the state Governor, Jonah Jang.

They both argued that the time had come for all the sons and daughters of the state to put heads together to reverse the ugly trend.

Gowon said he was pained to see many lives lost in the name of religion, adding that the latest case was particularly disheartening. He said it is the responsibility of all to solve the conflict.

"After all, both Christianity and Islam profess peace and harmonious relationship, all must be agents of peace," he said.

"It is the responsibility of all to arrest the situation; it is not the responsibility of a government alone. If we want peace, all hands must be on deck and enough is enough. Everybody should determine in his heart that it will never happen again," he added.

He further charged residents of Jos to be their brother's keeper irrespective of their religion. He called on politicians and opinion leaders in the state and Nigeria as a whole to desist from instigating youths. He also charged the young ones to be disciplined and reject being used.

Lar implored the state government to place all the traditional rulers and the local government chairmen on alert and hold them responsible for any act of lawlessness by their subjects. He said the crisis was being fanned from outside and that events were being manipulated by the enemies of the state.

"We must all rally round the state government to put an end to the unfortunate situation and the Federal Government, especially the National Assembly must also work towards ensuring that anything that has to do with religion is expunged from the Nigeria Constitution," said Lar.

In his opening address, Jang said the meeting was convened because of the belief of his administration that conflict resolution is a team work.

"The latest crisis was unfortunate because it came at a time when all had worked very hard to restore normalcy and peace to the state," the governor lamented.

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