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Nigerian Army Charged with Extrajudicial Killings

Army Claims Slain Neighborhood Watchmen were ‘Terrorists’

The killing of three neighborhood watchmen in Central Plateau State by Nigerian soldiers has outraged citizens in Plateau State and human rights observers as far away as Washington, D.C.

The Nigerian soldiers don’t’ deny the killings and announced on July 12 that three armed men killed in Panyam, a village 42 miles southeast of Jos were     bandit terrorists who set up an ambush in the east of Mangu County in an area called Ampang East. But witnesses of the killings who declined to give their names for fear of retribution tell Truth Nigeria that the young men killed were heroic defenders against terrorists. They are known locally as  “vigilantes,” but in fact are neighborhood watchmen who only use weapons to defend their villages from attacks.  

The vigilantes were attacked after dismounting from a disabled motorcycle on a local highway during a routine patrol, the witnesses said. A series of Islamic terrorists attacks in Central Plateau counties has claimed more than 350 deaths since 16 May according to town leaders.

The incident prompted a leader of the Plateau State Assemblyman to call for a public investigation of the killings. “I call for a thorough and impartial investigation into the alleged human rights violations committed by the Nigerian military in central Plateau State,” said Del. Dewan K. Gabriel in a one-on-one interview with Truth Nigeria, referring to what he termed “the recent reported murder of three self-defense volunteers, who were shot while courageously protecting Christian villages from terrorists.”

The killing of the three vigilantes has sparked calls for a probe of war crimes by the military against helpless residents struggling to survive a mass of terrorists attacks in the State.

 “One thing is certain, the Nigerian military is not empowered to commit street-side execution of suspects whether they are terrorists or vigilantes,” said Dede Laugesen, executive director of Save the Persecuted Christians in a text to Truth Nigeria.

 “This case demands immediate international attention and review by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial killings,” Laugesen added. “The embattled people of Plateau—mostly Christian populations enduring officially unrecognized Islamic jihad—deserve far more professional concern, compassion, and response from Nigerian security forces who unfortunately are often compromised and complicit with the terrorists bent on their exile and extermination.”

Vigilantes carry the remains of a member killed during Church service on 9 July near Jos. Photo by Masara Kim.
Vigilantes carry the remains of a member killed during Church service on 9 July near Jos. Photo by Masara Kim.

Gov. Mutfwang Confronts Military Commanders Face to Face

On 12 July, even as the newly elected Governor of Plateau State, Caleb Mutfwang held a meeting with the country’s newly appointed Chief of Defense Staff ( CDS), Christopher Musa, in Abuja to appeal for an end to ongoing terror raids in the State, the Nigerian Army boasted of neutralizing three “bandits” after “gallantly fighting through an ambush” in Mangu.

Mutfwang, who had apparently become sick of issuing media comments calling on the military authorities to intervene and stop the killings, visited the CDS on 12 July to make a personal appeal to the generals.

In a statement issued by its Director of Public Relations, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu in the evening of the same day, the army authorities in Abuja claimed they killed terrorists in the village of Perr and recovered weapons following distress calls by locals.

But residents in the area, located in the Ampang East District of Mangu County told Truth Nigeria the vigilantes posed no threats to them or the military and that when stopped by soldiers on a local highway, they willingly surrendered.

“They were just pushing their motorcycle which had broken down during a routine patrol of the area,” said one witness on background for fear of retaliation by the military. “The soldiers bumped into them and arrested them without resistance,” the source said in a telephone interview. “They laid them down on the ground and shot them one after the other,” said the source.

Dozens of neighborhood watchmen, AKA “vigilantes,” have fallen since massive attacks by radicalized Muslim mercenaries began burning villages in Plateau

State in a broad swath from May 12. At the time of the killing at 2 pm local time on July 12, two vigilantes were buried 5 miles away, according to a youth leader in Mangu, Jethro Jacob. The interment ceremony was for two vigilantes killed in an ambush in a terror besieged village called Perr, Jacob told Truth Nigeria. But their bodies had remained unburied at the scene due to persisting threats, said Jacob who is the Secretary of the Mwagavul Youth Movement, a local tribal association.

“We had to beg for the soldiers and police to give us protection to bury them,” said Jacob in a telephone interview. “All the people living in the village were displaced when they attacked and they are the ones controlling the area,” he said, refuting the military’s claim the three vigilantes killed on 12 July were terrorists.

“There was no distress call whatsoever from that area. We are usually the first point of contact for the villagers, so if there was any problem, we will be the ones to relay it to the military. But there was nothing like that,” Jacob told Truth Nigeria.

“The terrorists have killed more than 350 of our people and taken over 50 of our villages in just two weeks. All along, the military never responded to any distress calls. Even when they did, they were either overpowered or unwilling to pursue them. But all of a sudden we hear of terrorists killed after a distress call. Something doesn’t seem right to me,” Jacob said.

Vigilantes patrol bushes in a terrorized region of Plateau State on 9 July. Photo by Masara Kim.
Vigilantes patrol bushes in a terrorized region of Plateau State on 9 July. Photo by Masara Kim.

Vigilantes Felled in Multiple Engagements

Three days prior to the killing of the three vigilantes, 14 people including vigilantes were killed in the west of Mangu County. An evening attack by a band of 200 terrorists armed with assault rifles led to the killing of six vigilantes and eight other residents in Sabon Gari village according to witnesses.

A group of 20 vigilantes battled in vain to push back the attack, which was preceded by a series of advance notices, including some by Truth Nigeria. The Nigerian authorities did nothing to prevent the attacks which later spread to the southwest of Jos the following day, killing nine other residents including a vigilante member, Truth Nigeria has reported.

For persecuted Christians in Nigeria’s war-torn Middle Belt, their only hope for survival are the volunteer neighborhood-watch forces. These brave community members, often untrained and carrying homemade rifles, put their lives on the line every day, facing off against superior numbers of terrorists armed with assault rifles.

Many have lost their lives in combat, paying the ultimate price for their bravery. But tragically, a growing number have been cut down deliberately by the Nigerian soldiers themselves, Truth Nigeria has learned.

Solomon Dalyop, a human rights attorney told Truth Nigeria while the Nigerian laws prohibit the use of automatic firearms for self-defense, the increasing sophistication of the attacks has called for extreme measures.

“These terrorists attack with highly sophisticated weapons including machine guns,” said Dalyop in a telephone interview. “The law allows the use of proportionate force to defend against any attack,” said Dalyop who is also a tribal leader in Plateau State.

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