Jul 17, 2023

Nigeria: Plateau governor brands ongoing violence as genocide

Caleb Mutfwang, the new governor of Nigeria’s central Plateau State, has spoken out against the wave of killings there, referring to an orchestrated plan to wipe out the resident population. He is the first elected Nigerian official to use the term “genocide” in connection with the attacks.

Governor Mutfwang has called the attacks in Plateau a genocide. csi

Caleb Mutfwang has visited villages singled out for attack. ECCNV/Facebook


On its official website Plateau refers to itself as “the home of peace and tourism”.  But this region that was once a tourist magnet has become a hotspot of violence in recent months. According to Intersociety, an NGO that collates figures on jihadist attacks, Plateau recorded 502 deaths of Christians in the six months from January to June.  Intersociety puts the death toll for Nigeria as a whole at 2,500. 

Speaking to Channels TV on June 9, Governor Mutfwang referred to a policy of “pure genocide” being carried out against the people of Plateau. At least 150 residents had been killed in the previous three weeks, he said, and 30,000 people were now living in camps, having been driven from their homes. 

The recent killings were largely concentrated in the north of the state, the governor said, including in Mangu local government area. Mutfwang, a politician with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, was chairman of the Mangu Local Government Council before being elected governor of Plateau on May 29. 

A significant choice of words 

Mutfwang repeated his claims in a separate interview reported by the Nigerian Independent newspaper on June 23. “What we are seeing is a clear genocide… a deliberate and orchestrated plan to wipe out numbers of people,” he said. 

CSI senior research fellow Franklyne Ogbunwezeh says that Mutfwang’s choice of words to describe what is happening in his state is “very significant”.

“This is the first time that an elected Nigerian official has mustered the courage to actually call out the killings as genocide,” he said. Typically, officials prefer to speak in terms of “clashes” between farmers and herdsmen over land. 

Ogbunwezeh says that Mutfwang’s comments carry weight, given his position as Plateau’s governor and chief security officer. 

And he adds, “It does seem that CSI’s assessment is finding echo in the power corridors in Nigeria.” CSI issued a Genocide Warning for Nigerian Christians in 2020.  

Identifying the attackers 

Governor Mutfwang did not identify the attackers, referring only to eyewitness reports of “foreign mercenaries”.

But CSI’s partner in Plateau State, Solomon Mwantiri, has laid the blame at the door of Fulani militias. Addressing Governor Mutfwang and President Bola Tinubu last month, he described the situation in the state as “full-scale banditry and terrorism masterminded by Fulani militias.” 

When Muftwang talks about foreign mercenaries, he may be implicitly referring to Fulani militias from other West African countries, comments Ogbunwezeh. Fulanis are not only in Nigeria. They are scattered across West Africa. There have been credible reports that Fulanis from other African countries have been involved in the attacks on Christians communities in the Middle Belt.“ 

Religious dimension

The recent attacks in Plateau have predominantly affected Christian communities, and the dead include those returning from church and several pastors. Yet Governor Mutfwang made no mention of Christians being the intended targets. 

Ogbunwezeh adds, “The governor may have his reasons for choosing not to emphasize the religious dimension of this genocide. He may be hoping not to widen the scope of the conflict or worsen an already tense relationship between Islam and Christianity in the Middle Belt. But I fail to see how ignoring the religious dimension of this genocide would help in stopping the attacks, if that was his intention.” 

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