Nigerian ethnic groups ‘under control,’ city police chief says
JOS, Nigeria – Soldiers were patrolling the streets of the central Nigerian city of Jos Monday, a day after ethnic clashes there left at least one person dead.
The latest violence came just two days after Christmas Eve bombings in the city that killed at least 32 people, raising fears ahead of the country’s April elections.
Hundreds of people have died in previous outbreaks of violence between Christian and Muslim ethnic groups.
“There were some skirmishes between the two groups and it’s under control now,” state police commissioner Abdulrahman Akano told AFP. “One or two houses were burnt.”
Asked about deaths, he said, “we have seen only one — one person.”
An AFP correspondent said at least two houses burned and heavy smoke was coming from another area of the city. He also said crowds ran through the streets earlier in the day, with some claiming people had been killed.
The commissioner said the two groups involved in the clashes were “the locals and the so-called settlers.”
Christians from the Berom ethnic group are typically referred to as the indigenes in the region, while Hausa-Fulani Muslims are seen as the more recent arrivals.
Many attribute unrest in the region to the struggle for political and economic power between the groups.
A spokesman for the governor of Plateau state, where Jos is the capital, said authorities had been deployed to control youths earlier Sunday, but he could not say what had occurred.
“There was tension in certain parts of the town where the bombs exploded,” said the spokesman, James Mannok.
“What I heard was that the youths there are still agitated. The security agencies are controlling them.”
Mannok said the governor, Jonah David Jang, had encouraged youths to help the authorities spot suspicious activity but stressed that Jang was not encouraging them to use violence.
Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo was due to visit the city Sunday, but later cancelled. Mannok could not say why.
A deputy chief for the national police arrived from the capital and said four units of reinforcements would come in from other states.
The US embassy issued a statement condemning the violence, calling on the government to bring the perpetrators to justice and saying its citizens in affected areas should remain vigilant.
Seven explosions in two different areas of Jos killed at least 32 people and wounded 74 on Friday evening. Many of the victims were doing their Christmas shopping at the time. A church was also targeted, the governor has said.
On the same night, suspected members of an Islamist sect that launched an uprising last year attacked three churches in northern Nigeria, leaving six people dead and one of the churches burnt.
There was no immediate indication the two incidents were linked.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “appalled” by Friday’s violence.
Ban “condemns these deplorable acts of violence, especially at a time when millions of Nigerians are celebrating religious holidays, and supports efforts by the Nigerian authorities to bring those responsible to justice,” said a statement from his office Sunday.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has pledged that those responsible will be hunted down and brought to justice.
Jos is in the so-called middle-belt region between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south and has long been a hotspot of ethnic and religious friction in Nigeria.
Local rights groups say 1,500 people have died in inter-communal violence in the Jos region this year alone.
Some observers say tensions have been exploited and violence has been instigated for political aims.
“The aim of the mastermind is to pit Christians against Muslims and spark off another round of violence that will eventually culminate in the scuttling of the ongoing electioneering activities,” the state governor said.
Observers have warned of an increase in violence in the run up to the elections in Africa’s most populous nation, which is one of the world’s largest oil producers.