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2002-11-29 16:13:00
Embassy Abuja
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						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 003212 


E.O.12958: N/A

USDAO Abuja 3201

1. Summary: Nigeria's Army bears an international
reputation for poor professional standards and for
committing human rights violations. In Nigeria, that
reputation is more nuanced, less negative. Of course,
Nigerians know too well that soldiers often commit abuses.
But they equally realize their Army is, in the last resort,
the best surety of social order as well as the first choice
for safe haven during bouts of communal violence. The
recent communal violence in Kaduna, where the Army restored
order, gave refuge to thousands, and perhaps saved hundreds
of lives in the process, showed the other face of the
Nigerian Army. End Summary.

2. "Muslims and Christians armed with daggers and machetes
rioted in two Nigerian cities Friday, burning cars and
attacking bystanders in a third day of violence over the
Miss World pageant. About 100 people have been killed and
500 injured, Red Cross officials said Friday. ...

'The soldiers have been very helpful, giving us bandages
and first aid. Everyone is here -- Muslims, Christians and
pagan. We are all afraid of going home,' said Habiba
Ibrahim, who spent the night in the city's defense academy
near the government clinic where she works. ..."

(International Herald Tribune, 23-24 November, page one)

3. The November 25 edition of "Vanguard" reports 250 dead
and 6,006 families displaced. If each displaced family has
six members, approximately 36,000 persons fled their homes
during last week's violence. Unconfirmed reports claim the
death toll may exceed 500; one eyewitness reported the
burial of 420 Christians. Kaduna suffered two episodes of
deadly communal violence in early 2000 (February and May),
with a combined death toll estimated in the low thousands.
Then as now, thousands of families took refuge in military
facilities. The Embassy cannot independently assess the
accuracy of any estimate of the victims of this latest
round of communal unrest to rock ethnically and religiously
diverse Kaduna.

5. Of one thing we are certain. But for the presence of
the Nigerian Army, the numbers -- whatever they may be --
would have been higher. Worried about his family's safety,
an employee of one Mission member traveled to Kaduna on 22
November. He found his home vandalized, each cushion in it
slashed -- but his family safe in a nearby Army barracks.
They had fled moments before the attackers arrived.

6. Monday's "Vanguard" shows the breakdown of displaced
families by location. 77 percent of them (4630 of 6006)
are sheltering at military and police installations.
Relatively few even sought refuge in other public


7. Nigerian base/facility commanders have a long tradition
of opening their gates to those fleeing communal violence,
regardless of religion or ethnic group. Those who would
inflict violence on their fellow citizens have a history of
not attempting to pursue their would-be victims onto the
military bases, even though most bases lack robust
perimeter security.

8. Mobs have less respect for police stations, and reports
of them being overrun during riots are common. The police
are not as well armed, nor are they as respected or feared,
as the Army. During unrest in Abuja November 22, several
police vehicles were burned, and eyewitnesses reported
seeing one mob beat up a lone policeman and another mob
disarm a policeman who either held his fire in the face of
machetes and rocks or had not been issued bullets.

9. While a considerable number of families took refuge at
police facilities in Kaduna (1357 versus 3273 on military
bases), the high concentration of large police facilities
in that city is unusual. In many parts of the country, the
only place where the persecuted can feel safe is a military

10. It is impossible to estimate the additional numbers of
people who would have died in Kaduna last week if base
commanders had not given refuge, nor for that matter can we
to begin to imagine the number of lives this practice has
saved over the years. It is safe to say, however, that
both numbers would be substantial.

11. Meanwhile, in several parts of the country, notably in
and around Jos, Plateau's capital city, most citizens want
the permanent joint task forces (Police/Military) to remain
in place for the foreseeable future. Whatever the human
rights lapses of GON security forces, the public has more
fear of armed robbers and violent, unruly mobs.

12. Comment: The events of last week prove that Nigeria
is often a harsh place. Politics, ethnicity and religion
are tightly intertwined and frustration born of poverty is
ever present. An otherwise insignificant incident can
spiral into a violent expression of inter-ethnic rancor.
In too many areas of the country, eruption of communal
violence is just an affront, a shove or minor traffic
accident away. There have been times when the misconduct
of soldiers has contributed to the tension and unnecessary
violence. Frequently, however, it is the Army that
restores order and provides shelter to people who would
have been further victimized. Because of the Army's
generally positive reputation in moments of communal
violence, many people willingly ran to the safety of the
various military facilities around Kaduna. The USG is
starting programs to build the capacity and professional
caliber of Nigeria's Police. For the foreseeable future,
however, the Army alone will be able to restore order when
it breaks down massively.