By BosNewsLife Africa Service with additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)-- Tensions remained high in Nigeria's Plateau State Wednesday, February 16, where up to eight people were killed and more injured in sectarian clashes sparked by the stabbing of a police officer.
Witnesses said Tuesday's violence in the city of Jos included a gang setting up a roadblock in one neighborhood, leading to up to four deaths. Others, including Christians, said up to four more people were murdered and their bodies set ablaze elsewhere, including in the Gada-Biu area.
There were also reports that tires, cars and motorcycles were burned as well.
Christians said the violence began after the police officer was stabbed to death when he argued with a butcher, a Hausa Muslim. The butcher alleged ripped open his stomach. Local police only confirmed the death of the officer.
Christians said security forces did little to intervene, although four suspects involved in the clashes were reportedly detained.
The clashes came just days after a group of Fulani attackers reportedly beheaded a grandmother, Garos Deme and her grandchildren Dauda and Meshack Timothy and another man, Monday Mwanvwang. The February 12 killings in Shekan village in Jos South area occurred less than 48 hours after the signing of a peace agreement between local tribes and the Fulani community.
The latest fighting came while Nigerian Christian leaders warned of escalating violence amid reports that Islamic militants inspired by Afghanistan’s Taliban movement are also deepening religious tensions in Africa’s top oil producer before elections in April.
A group known as Boko Haram, or “Western education is a sin,” has carried out a series of attacks, including multiple bomb blasts on Christmas Eve in the Plateau state capital, Jos, that killed 80 people, in its bid to establish Islamic rule in northern Nigeria.
Since then, more than 200 people have died in sectarian violence in Plateau state alone, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch in a statement released by Bloomberg news agency.
MORE KILLINGS ELSWERE
Elsewhere in northern Nigeria, in Bauchi State, at least two dozens and perhaps as many as 96 people were killed over a three-day period starting January 27. In published remarks, a Church of Christ in Nigeria congregation in Maryam, a suburb of Tafawa Balewa, has said Muslims have been attacking Christians with the knowledge of local authorities. "They want to exterminate the Christian communities here."
The violence in the north, coupled with a festering insurgency in the oil-rich Niger River delta, threatens to erode stability in Africa’s third-biggest economy as President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, seeks to extend his term in office, according to analysts.
The wave of religious attacks has centered on Nigeria’s so- called middle belt region, where local communities resisted the encroachment of Islam in the 19th century before the advent of British colonial rule. After the British arrival, many villagers adopted Christianity as a defense against Islam.
However there are also many evangelical Christians among the more religious Christians, according to several church groups.
At least 14,000 people died in religious and communal clashes in Nigeria between 1999 and 2009, according to Brussels- based International Crisis Group cited by Bloomberg.
Analysts say that increasing population growth and the southward drive of the Sahara desert have pushed Muslim farming and herding communities up against non-Muslims, sparking heightened competition for land and resources.
That has fueled conflict along religious lines, said Peter Egom, an analyst at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs told Bloomberg in Lagos, the commercial capital.
"The situation in Jos is now so volatile that one violent incident triggers several more, and no one in the vicinity of such an outbreak of lawlessness is safe," said Stuart Windsor, national director of advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide, in a statement to BosNewsLife. "The fact that such an incident can occur in daylight in the heart of the state capital once again underlines the need for effective policing and improved security measures in Plateau State."