Nigeria's Christians, Muslims Urge Peace After Dozens Killed

At least 42 people were killed in a clash in the city of Jos in central Nigeria prompting Christian and Muslim leaders to call for calm amid persistent divisions between the two communities that have caused hundreds of deaths in recent years.

Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, and a local Muslim leader, Sheikh Sani Yahaya Jingir, called for a Christian-Muslim dialogue to ease tensions in Jos, the capital city of Plateau State that divides the predominantly Christian south and largely Muslim north, BBC reported Saturday.

The call for a resolution came after a clash between youths from rival camps killed at least 42 in Dusu Uku area Thursday. Muslim group Jamatu Nasril Islam said 22 members of the community were dead, and Christian group Stefanos Foundation counted 20 dead on their side, according to AFP.

It is estimated that violence in the region has killed over 200 and displaced more than 40,000 after churches were bombed last Christmas Eve. The death toll crosses 2,000 if counted since 2001.

Nigeria’s army Saturday threatened to use force to stop violence as the bodies were awaiting funeral. Captain Charles Ekeocha of the government’s special task force said in a statement that troops were now mandated to use all the necessary force within its powers on anybody carrying or using weapons. He asked those “having the false confidence of trying their hands on the might of the Nigerian military to retrace their steps, as the special task force will bring her might to bear on any persons or groups of persons.” The official added that three soldiers were killed in the violence.

AFP quoted the head of a search and rescue team for the Muslim community as claiming that soldiers were responsible for most of the casualties on the Muslim side as troops reciprocated after they were shot at. However, the army denied the allegation.

According to the Stefanos Foundation, deaths and injuries on the Christian side were mostly from machete cuts and gunshot wounds.

It is believed that religious, ethnic, economic and political factors overlap and feed each other in Muslim-Christian tensions in the region.

The Hausa-speaking Muslims, largely nomadic, are known for supporting the opposition All Nigeria People’s Party, while Christians, traditionally farmers from the Berom community, are seen as supporters of the ruling People’s Democratic Party. Almost all disputes involving Muslims and Christians soon turn into a religious one.

The Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin A. Kwashi, said in March 2010 that “those who have in the past used violence to settle political issues, economic issues, social matters, intertribal disagreements, or any issue for that matter, now continue to use that same path of violence and cover it up with religion.”

According to the Stefanos Foundation, the church in north and central Nigeria in recent times has fallen victim to discrimination, intimidation and dreadful violence “fuelled by Islamic terrorism and expansionism.” Muslims also allege discrimination in the southern parts where Christians form majority.

In May 2011, Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, a Christian, became the elected president of the country. In May 2010, Jonathan had succeeded presidency after the death of former President Umaru Yar’Adua.

“Islamists believe that submission to a secular government is a denial of the foundation of the pillars of Islam, therefore they are committed to the overthrow of democracy,” says the Stefanos Foundation.

Many Islamist sects’ leaders are based in Jos, where both Muslims and Christians live.