Nigerian Leaders Praise Victims' Efforts Towards Reconciliation

Nov 15, 2002 03:00 AM EST

Church and political leaders at a memorial service held November 7 to mark the anniversary of the massacre of hundreds of Tiv civilians by soldiers in the central state of Benue. They praised all efforts for reconciliation and called for an end to ethnic conflicts in Nigeria.

The slaughter of members of the Tiv community came from the hands of government peace-keeping troops and took place in the midst of the ethnic violence that has shook the region since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999.

The interdenominational memorial service in the town of Gboko, organized by leaders of the Tiv community, was marked by pleas for reconciliation. Nathaniel Inyom, the Anglican bishop of the Makurdi diocese, said that more than 500 people in his diocese had been killed in religious and ethnic conflicts.

Inyom said hopes that had risen with the arrival of democracy in 1999 had been diminished by religious and ethnic violence. But he lauded the decision of Tiv religious and community leaders to seek reconciliation with other ethnic groups. "Forgiveness is an act of God. It comes from within," the bishop said.

The Anglican bishop also appealed to the Nigerian government to act immediately to enact a law addressing the country's conflicts, stating "there is no laid down policy or procedure for handling conflicts in Nigeria."

In October last year federal troops were sent to quell ethnic bloodshed in the central Nigerian states of Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa and Plateau, which had already left dozens dead and thousands homeless. The conflict came to a peak after 19 soldiers were slain by militiamen, believed to be from the Tiv community. In an apparent act of revenge, soldiers attacked the Tiv settlement of Zaki-Biam, killing hundreds of people and destroying property worth millions of dollars.

About 2.7 million people are of Tiv ethnicity in Nigeria, a country with a population of 89 million, whose 50 percent are Muslims and 40 percent Christians.

By Albert H. Lee
[email protected]