Nigeria's top Muslim leader yesterday accused Christian militias of committing "genocide" against Muslims, as riot police were sent to quell worsening sectarian unrest.
Justice Abdulkadir Orire, the secretary general of the umbrella organisation Jama'atu Nasril Islam, risked fuelling the unrest when he suggested that the state governor may have been complicit in the weekend attacks in the central town of Yelwa that may have left 300 people dead.
"The information we have is that 300 people died and they are mostly Muslims. We call it a genocide because they are killing women and children," Mr Orire told Reuters news agency.
The clashes, pitting farmers of the Christian Tarok tribe against Muslim Fulani cattle herders, are part of a bitter struggle over land in the fertile Plateau state. According to Mr Orire, at least 700 people have been killed in Yelwa in three months of ethnic violence. Reporters who entered the town on Tuesday saw mutilated and charred corpses on the streets as Muslims lined the roadside vowing revenge for the attacks. Almost every house on the main street had been burnt down, and a mosque was destroyed. In neighbouring Christian villages, youths were reported to be preparing for a new round of bloodletting.
According to Mr Orire, who is a spokesman for Nigeria's 60 million Muslims, police stationed in Yelwa were withdrawn four days before the attack, despite complaints from local Muslims that they were surrounded by Taroks amid rising tension. The Christian militias, who were armed with machine guns, surrounded Yelwa on Sunday night and reportedly went from house to house, killing anyone in sight.
"It seems that the governor is supporting the move. We heard that the government said [non-indigenous people] should move out of the area," Mr Orire said. "That is very bad. He should look after everyone in the state and not just his own tribe." A dusk-to-dawn curfew is now in force in the area, and soldiers have been ordered to shoot troublemakers on sight. President Olusegun Obasanjo has ordered hundreds of riot police on to the streets.
The feud has been fuelled by what is seen as irresponsible allocation of land by the government and growing lawlessness across Nigeria.
Tens of thousands have already had to leave their homes in Plateau and thousands now live in temporary accommodation in three states.Reuse content