More than 40 people were killed in a Muslim-Christian clash this past weekend in a central Nigerian city with a history of volatile relations between the two faith communities.
In Jos city, Plateau state, about 200 Muslim youths attacked Christians near St. Michael’s Catholic Church, according to local sources of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The human rights organization reported that Muslim youths congregated to renovate a house next to St. Michael’s Catholic Church, owned by a man who allegedly killed three Christians in the November 2008 sectarian violence in Jos.
But instead of renovating, the youths reportedly assaulted a female passerby before attacking St. Michael’s Church. They also set fire to several churches, including a Christ Apostolic Church and two Evangelical Church of West Africa churches, as well as local houses and businesses.
In retaliation, Christian youths launched a counter-attack, including lighting mosques on fire, and soon violence spread to other areas of Jos.
At a press conference Sunday, Plateau state’s Police Commissioner Greg Anyanting said the violence was sparked by unprovoked attack on worshippers of St. Michael’s Church, according to The Punch, Nigeria’s most widely read newspaper. Thirty-five armed people have been arrested and some were in military uniform, the commissioner said.
“This incident is the latest in a series of attacks on the Christian community of Jos that began in 2001,” said CSW chief executive Mervyn Thomas. “Unfortunately, since perpetrators of religious violence are rarely brought to justice, many in northern and central states no longer trust the authorities to guarantee their safety."
“This must be addressed by state and federal authorities if we are to see an end to the tragic cycle of religious violence in Northern and central Nigeria,” he added.
In November 2008, major sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians broke out in Jos resulting in the deaths of more than 300 people. The 2008 conflict was the worst sectarian violence in Nigeria since 2004, when some 700 people were killed and over 100 churches, destroyed.
“If the people arrested in connection with the November 2008 violence and reportedly transferred to Abuja for trial had indeed been prosecuted, this would been a deterrent, and perhaps the current violence may not have occurred,” commented the Rev. Yunusa Nmadu, CEO of CSW Nigeria.
Earlier, in September 2001, a Muslim-Christian clash resulted in more than 1,000 deaths in Jos.
Though the clashes have generally been described as sectarian violence, journalists say that more than religion, poverty or access to resources is commonly the root cause of the conflict.
Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is about evenly split between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south with minorities of both religions living where the other faith is dominant. Since democracy was restored in 1999, there have been at least 15,000 deaths due to religious, communal or political violence, according to BBC.