Nigerian authorities imposed a curfew in the north-central city of Jos on Jan. 20 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 President Umaru Yar’Adua was hospitalised in Saudi Arabia with a heart condition in November. The troops have orders to shoot rioters on sight.
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, ethnic and religious violence has killed at least 13,500 in Nigeria over 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 Jan. 17. Some said it had to do with a decision to rebuild a Muslim house destroyed in the 2008 fighting in a Christian neighborhood; 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 stated 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 organizing mass burials, told reporters.
The government has been vague on proposals to address the crisis. “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.” (Irish Times, Jan. 21)