President Olusegun Obasanjo declared a state of emergency in Plateau State in central Nigeria on Tuesday, following a Christian massacre of Muslims there earlier this month. That in turn led to reprisal killings of Christians in the northern city of Kano.
Obasanjo sacked governor Joshua Dariye, accusing him of failing to act to end a cycle of violence between the Plateau State's Muslim and Christian communities. The bloodletting has claimed more than 2,000 lives since September 2001.
The president also disolved the Plateau State legislature and appointed a retired army general, Chris Ali, as interim administrator for the next six months. Ali is a native of Plateau State.
This is the first time that Obasanjo has declared a state of emergency in any of Nigeria's 36 states since he was first elected to power in 1999.
The president said in a nationwide radio broadcast that Dariye had been an indecisive governor and that his failure to intervene firmly to stamp out sectarian violence had led to the 2 May massacre in the small town of Yelwa. According to the Nigerian Red Cross, more than 600 Muslims were killed by Christian militants wielding guns and machetes.
"If anything some of his utterances, his lackadaisical attitude and seeming uneven-handedness…over the contending issues present him as not just part of the problem, but also as an instigator and a threat to peace,” Obasanjo said.
“I hereby declare a state of emergency in Plateau State,” he added.
Under Nigeria’s 1999 constitution, the president is empowered to invoke emergency rule in all or part of the country at times of war or if there has a break down of law and order for an initial period of not more than six months.
The president is also required to seek a resolution by the national legislature endorsing the measure once it has been imposed.
Obasanjo said in his broadcast that he had sent to parliament an official document detailing the emergency powers he had assumed in Plateau State.
The 2 May attack on Hausa and Fulani Muslims in Yelwa by militants of the predominantly Christian Tarok tribe sparked revenge attacks a week later on Christians in Muslim-dominated Kano, the largest city in Northern Nigeria.
Police said the steadily rising death toll in Kano now stood at 51, but Christian leaders in the city of eight million people claim that more than 600 people were killed there last week and a further 3,000 were missing.
Obasanjo warned that the violence in Plateau State and Kano had raised ethnic and religious tension across much of the country. “It is clearly a great threat to the security and unity of Nigeria,” he said.
The declaration of emergency rule in Plateau State drew mixed reactions.
Stanley Bentu, spokesman for the Plateau State government, said the governor had “accepted the decision” to impose a state of emergency in good faith and did not even bother to go to his office today.
However, Saidu Dogo, secretary general of the Christian Association of Nigeria in the north of the country, said Obasanjo’s action was unjust.
“On the principle of justice, the decision to impose emergency rule in Plateau is wrong,” Dogo told IRIN. “If he had done the same in Kano it would’ve made sense. More people were killed in Kano, and it was the governor [Ibrahim Shekarau] that went on radio to urge Muslims to demonstrate.”
Lateef Adegbite, secretary of the National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, said the imposition of a state of emergency in Plateau State had become “almost inevitable because the killings had been going on unabated.”
He protested that Dariye, the now sacked governor, “did not come out against it.”
However, Agbedite expressed doubts Obasanjo's drastic move would “completely solve” the problem of religious violence in the state.
Human Rights Watch issued a report last week which criticised the Obasanjo administration for failing to address the cycle of violence that lead to the latest Plateau State killings. Peter Takirambudde, the executive director of Human Rights Watch's Africa division, said the situation had degenerated into "an endless cycle of revenge."
Nigeria's estimated population of 126 million is divided almost equally between Muslims and Christians, with Christians dominating the wealthier oil-rich south of the country and Muslims holding sway in the poorer drier north.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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