Religious Riots in Nigeria Leave Hundreds Dead
Burnt-down houses and churches, and torched cars still line the streets here after this month's clashes between Muslims and Christians, but final fatality figures have not yet been confirmed.
"Reports reaching me have indicated that about 300 lives have been lost," Joshua Dariye, governor of the state of Plateau said. "We are hoping that at the close of investigations into the crisis we shall be able to say precisely what is the actual casualty figure in this sad incident."
Property and even human beings were randomly set on fire, and shops looted during the violence, which lasted from September 7 to 17. The number of dead brought in to three major city hospitals suggested that government casualty figures would have to be adjusted upwards, perhaps by hundreds.
Mortuary attendants at Jos University Teaching Hospital and at Plateau State Specialist Hospital said that because of the number of bodies involved, mass burial had to be arranged.
Officials had called up soldiers and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew to restore a semblance of order to the once-serene city.
A number of churches and mosques were destroyed in the riots. Three church buildings of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) were set afire. The Assemblies of God lost its main cathedral, and the Jos Apostolic Church was razed.
Dr Ademola Ishola, general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, said her denomination had lost three church building in the riots. "We lost a church, a monastery and a conference secretary's house to the carnage," he said. "Some of our people [church members] were displaced and many buildings vandalized."
Ethnic tension had been running high weeks before the riots started, over the appointment of a Muslim politician, Alhaji Muktar Mohammed, as local co-ordinator of the federal poverty alleviation program.
Christians were disturbed by political policies that they claimed deprived them of religious freedom. They viewed Mohammed's appointment in a predominantly Christian community as an attempt to dominate them politically and religiously.
However, the spark that set off the Jos conflict, church leaders said, came from the Muslim practice of barricading roads on Fridays, which, they said, created difficulties for non-Muslims.
On September 7, a Christian woman attempted to cross a barricaded street, which led to a scuffle between her and a group of Muslims, church leaders said. The fight spread to other parts of the city, where Christians were spontaneously attacked by Muslims, according to church leaders.
Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, lamented the violence between Muslims and Christians.
"We are not only citizens of one nation but also children of one God," President Obasanjo said during a visit to Jos to assess the extent of the destruction. "Though tribe and tongue may differ, though religions may differ, in brotherhood we stand."
"Christians are as indispensable to Muslims as Muslims are to Christians," the president continued. "There shall never be a time when our society shall be totally free from differences.
"We must therefore resolve our differences without resort to violence. Violence has never solved political, economic, social or religious differences. Violence can only lead to more violence."
Dr Sunday Mbang, prelate of Nigeria's Methodist Church and president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), said that all right-thinking people should "rise in condemnation of the barbaric act and senseless killings of innocent souls in the name of religion." CAN is the nation's leading ecumenical organization.