More than 53,000 people were killed during three years of sectarian violence that engulfed Plateau State in central Nigeria, according to a report by a government committee offering the first official death toll of the crisis.
A committee appointed by the Plateau State government investigated the period between 7 September 2001 -- when a week of bloodletting in the state capital Jos left more than 1,000 dead -- to 18 May 2004, when President Olusegun Obasanjo declared emergency rule in the state following the massacre of hundreds of Muslims in the town of Yelwa by a Christian militia.
The Committee of Rehabilitation and Reconciliation of Internally Displaced People said in a report published on Thursday that almost 19,000 men and more than 17,000 women and 17,000 children had been killed during 32 months of retaliatory violence between Christians and Muslims --- 53,787 deaths in all.
Chairman Thomas Kagnaan said the committee had arrived at the figure after visiting communities in Plateau that had been affected by the violence. Survivors there listed the relations they had lost in the fighting between rival militia groups armed with guns and machetes.
The committee reported that 280,000 people had been forced to flee their homes as a result of the violence in Plateau State, although the majority had now been resettled. But at least 25,000 houses had been razed to the ground and some 1,300 herds of cattle had been slaughtered during the battles.
The violence in Plateau state between indigenous farmers, who were mostly Christian, and traders and livestock herders with origins in northern Nigeria, who were predominantly Muslim, was essentially over land.
But the feud was also fuelled by religious suspicions deepened by the introduction of strict Islamic Sharia’h law in 12 northern states over the past four years. This move was perceived by many Christians as a move by Muslims to achieve religious hegemony.
Imposing emergency rule on Plateau state, with the authority of the federal parliament, Obasanjo sacked the elected civilian governor ,Joshua Dariye, and the state legislature, accusing them of not doing enough to arrest the killings.
He appointed a former army general, Chris Alli, as interim administrator of Plateau state instead.
The fighting in Plateau spilled across state boundaries, sparking retaliatory attacks against Christians further north in Kano, the eponymous capital of Kano state. Scores of people died there in religious clashes.
Africa’s most populous country of 126 million people has been rocked by bouts of ethnic, religious, political and communal violence since 1999, when Obasanjo’s election ended more than 15 years of repressive military rule that had kept a tight lid on long-simmering grievances among the Nigeria’s diverse peoples.