Curfew imposed on Nigerian city after violent clashes

Hauwa Ahmed, right, cries after losing her son to violence in Jos, Nigeria, yesterday. Photograph: (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Hauwa Ahmed, right, cries after losing her son to violence in Jos, Nigeria, yesterday. Photograph: (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

 

NIGERIAN AUTHORITIES imposed a blanket curfew – and with it, a measure of calm – in the north-central city of Jos after four days of fighting between Muslims and Christians killed at least 200 people.

Vice President Goodluck Jonathan deployed troops to Jos in one of his first acts of executive power since Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua was hospitalised in Saudi Arabia with a heart condition in November.

The government is hoping that the troops, who have orders to shoot rioters on sight, will help prevent a repeat of religious-based violence in Jos that killed hundreds of people.

Jos, a city of 500,000 people has long been a flashpoint for religious violence, which is also linked to perceptions that Muslims, many who have lived in the area for decades, are newcomers, while Christians are “indigenous.” Often, violence erupts over land or resource disputes.

“This is one crisis too many, and the Federal Government finds it most unacceptable, retrogressive, and capable of further sundering the bonds of unity in our country,” Jonathan’s spokesman Ima Niboro said.

According to the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch, ethnic and religious fighting has killed at least 13,500 people in the last 10 years. Jos has witnessed a lot of the violence: 1,000 dead in 2001 and 700 killed three years later, as well as the violence in 2008.

The latest crisis erupted on Sunday. The exact cause was not clear.

Some said it had to do with a decision to rebuild a Muslim house destroyed in the 2008 fighting in a Christian neighbourhood. Others linked it to the victory of the Christian-backed People’s Democratic Party in state elections. Muslim leaders claimed the vote was rigged. Newspapers in Nigeria argued that it began with a minor land dispute.

The government claimed that only 20-30 people had been killed in the latest violence, while leaders among both Muslims and Christians put the toll at more than 300. Locals reported that clashes also erupted in the town of Pankshin, 100 kilometers southeast of Jos.

“The fighting has stopped in Jos, but we can hear gunshots in other communities on the outskirts of the city. We are expecting more corpses to be brought in from surrounding communities later today,” Muhammad Tanko Shittu, a senior mosque official organising mass burials, told reporters.

The government was short on specifics about how to rein in the violence. Niboro, Jonathan’s spokesman, would only say that the vice president had ordered “forward processes” and “comprehensive security strategies” to end the clashes for good.

“This is not the first outbreak of deadly violence in Jos, but the government has shockingly failed to hold anyone accountable,” Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Enough is enough. Nigeria’s leaders need to tackle the vicious cycle of violence bred by this impunity.”