Fighting first broke out on January 17 when, according to some reports, Christian youths were protesting at the building of a mosque in the Christian-majority area of Jos, the capital of Nigeria’s Plateau State. The violence later spread to nearby towns and villages.
Followers of both Christianity and Islam in Jos, which has a population of about half a million people, each blamed gangs from the other’s community for sparking the violence.
In an area that experienced similar unrest one year earlier, churches, mosques, and houses were razed in four days of clashes. Human rights groups said around 500 people were killed, while government authorities quoted a considerably lower death toll.
Plateau State Police Commissioner Greg Anyating, said a group of Muslim youths had begun the first clash, when they stormed a Roman Catholic Church in Nasarawa Gwon.
“The attack by the Muslim youths was without any provocation but we have been able to contain the situation,” the commissioner said. Other churches attacked included the Apostolic Church, three branches of the Church of Christ in Nigeria, an Assemblies of God church, and two buildings belonging to the Evangelical Church of West Africa.
The 2009 clashes between Muslims and Christians in the same area also left many people dead and properties destroyed. The state and federal governments set up panels to investigate the causes of that round of violence.
Still, a Muslim group, led by Mohammed Mudi, has dismissed police claims about who was responsible for the latest violence as hasty. The group accused Christian youths, who it says were preventing a Muslim from rebuilding his house, of starting the fighting.
The youth president of the Christian Association of Nigeria in the state, Pastor Bala Adamu, maintained that Christians were attending church services when that incident is said to have happened.
“How can you expect our youths to leave their services at that hour to go and attack the Muslims. We have never done it and we cannot start now,” Adamu told Ecumenical News International. “We still insist that there have been premeditated plans by the Muslims to cause disaffection in the state, so that the governor would be removed.” He said some imams from the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja wanted the federal government to remove the governor.
In a January 19 statement, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said that the Nigerian government must take steps to end discriminatory policies “that treat certain groups as second-class citizens, and that lie at the root of much of the intercommunal violence in Nigeria.”
The statement continued, “Government policies that discriminate against ‘non-indigenes’ — people who cannot trace their ancestry to those said to be the original inhabitants of an area — underlie many of these conflicts. Non-indigenes are openly denied the right to compete for government jobs and academic scholarships. In Jos, members of the largely Muslim Hausa ethnic group are classified as non-indigenes, though many have resided there for several generations.”
Nigeria’s 149 million people are almost evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. About 10 percent of the population follows traditional African religions,