Aid workers say they are struggling to cope with the fallout of violent clashes between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria’s central city of Jos, in Plateau state, which killed and wounded hundreds of people and displaced some 10,000.
Preliminary police figures show that some 200 people died in the violence, triggered by local election results, but the number is thought to be higher.
Health workers fear infection from dead bodies still strewn about the city, and say they can barely cope with the injured.
Up to 10,000 residents of Jos North, the scene of the violence, have sought refuge in local mosques, churches, and army and police barracks, according to Nigerian Red Cross director in Jos Dan Tom.
The Red Cross is giving medical help to the injured in camps and in the three local hospitals, which, Ishaya Pam, chief medical director of Jos University Teaching Hospital, said are “seriously over-stretched.” He said: “We are short of medical supplies, and we don’t even have enough food to give patients because there are so many of them.”
The Nigerian Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has been handing out blankets, buckets, kettles, food and water to displaced families but Francis Ayinzat, programme coordinator with the NGO Oxfam in Jos, said: “In one [army] barrack 2,000 people are sleeping on the floor with no basic facilities. Most of the shops are closed and the price of food is increasing dramatically.”
He said water could soon run out as “no one is manning the pumping stations”.
Resident Ibrahim Yahaya, sheltering in Jos Central Mosque told IRIN: “My house has been completely burned and my two children are still missing. I can’t look for them because I’ve been shot in the leg. My life has been turned upside down.”
Jonathan Tawkek, a Christian staying in the Rukuba army barracks, said: “Thankfully my family is safe but I have lost everything I owned in this violence, and I wonder how I will ever replace it.”
Police spokesperson Bala Kassim said the figure of 200 dead is only “preliminary”. Samaila Abdullahi Mohammed, a member of Nigeria’s lower parliament from the area affected, told IRIN 444 people had been buried so far. Observers on the ground estimate the figure could be higher.
Observers told IRIN an “uneasy calm” had been restored to Jos by 1 December, partly thanks to the presence of 3,000 troops sent in from neighbouring states. President Umaru Yar’Adua has ordered the chief of the army to send in more, according to military spokesperson Sani Usman.
Disputed election results
People fled their homes when fighting broke out in Jos North on 28 November following local council elections between candidates of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP); members of ANPP accused the PDP of rigging the vote.
In Jos North local government area the ANPP is led by a Muslim and the PDP a Christian; the fraud allegations triggered sectarian violence, according to Oxford University researcher Adam Higazi.
Vote-rigging is rife in Nigeria, with many claims of fraudulent practices in the 2007 federal elections, Higazi said.
“When you have an election in a politically tense area of Plateau that is contested along religious lines, you are more likely to have trouble.”
A team of parliamentarians arrived in Jos on 1 December to set up a commission of inquiry into the killings.
History of violence
Serious violence last broke out in Jos in 2002, and in 2001 riots there killed up to 1,000 people. The 27 November elections were the first to take place since the 2001 violence.
Politics has become polarised along ethnic and religious lines in Plateau state, said parliament member Mohammed. The polarisation is partly because of the way Nigerian politics is structured to define local rights by whether or not residents are indigenous. Many Muslims are not considered indigenous in Plateau, and feel marginalised by Christian-dominated party rule, according to Higazi.
The PDP won in 16 of the 17 local elections in Plateau on 27 November, all of which took place in relative calm, despite some reports of irregularities.
Many say, given the potential risk of violence, the Plateau state government and federal authorities should have put more safeguards in place to avoid post-election unrest.
“They did not put the necessary security in place; they didn’t think it through,” said an analyst who did not wish to be named. He said the authorities should have put in place stricter election monitoring and more security forces in the streets of Jos North before, during and after elections.
MP Mohammed said the state government should have put more effort into promoting dialogue between Muslims and Christians before the November elections.
For Higazi a high priority for the government should now be to prevent the violence spreading from Jos North to other areas. “In the past, violence in one place has led to reprisal killings elsewhere in Plateau State and other parts of Nigeria,” he warned.
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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