Riot-torn Kano tense but calm, displaced scared to go home

The government of Nigeria put extra police and soldiers onto the streets of several major cities across the country on Thursday to prevent any further outbreaks of religious violence between Muslims and Christians.

Kano, the biggest city in northern Nigeria, remained tense but calm after two days of religious riots that claimed at least 30 lives. More than 10,000 Christians who fled their homes during the disturbances were still too scared to return.

Heavily armed police and army units patrolled the predominantly Muslim city of eight million people.

The highly visible security forces prevented a third straight day of bloodshed when they dispersed a crowd of Muslim rioters who were attempting to burn down a building housing Christians in the Sauna district of Kano. The mob had already set two cars on fire outside the house before the police and army arrived.

At the Murtala Mohammed Hospital, the city’s main health institution, the morgue was too full to take more bodies. An IRIN correspondent who visited the hospital saw five bodies wrapped in shrouds lying outside the front door of the mortuary.

Red Cross officials said their records showed 36 people had died, six more than the figure of 30 given by the police. However, but they said the final death toll could still turn out to be much higher.

“Not all cases of death are reported, especially cases in which relatives have already buried their dead,” Aminu Inua, the top Red Cross official in Kano told reporters.

He said more than 500 injured people had been admitted to four different hospitals in the city.

Saidu Dogo, secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the country’s north, said his organisation believed more than 600 people were killed during 36 hours of mayhem which broke out on Tuesday and lasted until the security forces restored order on Wednesday afternoon.

“We know this from reports we’re getting from our men on the ground,” Dogo said. His claims could not be independently verified.

Despite a cold and rainy night spent out in the open, most of the estimated 10,000 people taking refuge in police and army barracks across Kano city were still too scared to venture towards their abandoned homes on Thursday.

Most are crowded together in open fields, exposed to overnight rain and insanitary conditions. They have little in the way of food and clean water.

“It was raining in the night and some people kindly gave me and my baby some shelter under a lean-to,” said Nancy Odeh, a 33-year-old mother who cradled a six-month-old baby.

“It’s true we had no food and little water here but I’m not yet thinking of going home,” she added.

The government deployed extra police and troops on the streets of several Nigerian cities gripped by tension as a result of the killings in Kano to stop the sectarian violence from spreading.

In Kaduna, 280 kilometres south of Kano, where fighting between Muslims and Christians killed more than 3,000 people in 2000 and 2001, state governor Ahmed Makarfi ordered the police on Wednesday to shoot-on-sight anyone seen fomenting trouble.

Meanwhile, in the predominantly Christian south of Nigeria, Muslims have been wary of possible revenge attacks.

In Aba, the capital of Abia state in southeastern Nigeria, hundreds of Hausa-speaking Muslims fled their homes on Wednesday night to seek refuge in police stations in the city, police spokesman Raymond Enabo told reporters.

Hundreds of Muslims were killed in Aba in 2000 in revenge for the killing of Christians in Kaduna. Enabo said the security forces had been put on alert in the city.

Officials said security had also been tightened in Bauchi, a large city in northeastern Nigeria and in Lagos, the country's commercial capital, in the southwest, to forestall any fresh outbreaks of violence.

President Olusegun Obasanjo meanwhile visited Plateau state in central Nigeria, where a massacre of more than 600 Muslims by Christian militiamen on 2 May, sparked off the anti-Christian rioting in Kano.

However, the president left a meeting with religious leaders in the state capital Jos on Thursday in an angry mood after facing questions that cast doubt on his determination to restore peace.

Yakubu Pam, the local leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria, asked why Obasanjo had not visited Plateau state when Muslim militants killed Christians earlier in the year and was coming only after Christian reprisal attacks.

“You’re talking absolute rubbish! Don’t provoke me!” Obasanjo yelled in reply. “You’re an idiot! And I have no apologies for that,” he added.

When Abdulazeez Yusuf, a Muslim leader in Plateau state, demanded to know if the president was sincere about achieving unity in Nigeria, Obasanjo was equally dismissive.

“That question should be directed at somebody else, not me,” he said. The former army general pointed out that he fought in a civil war for Nigeria’s unity between 1967 and 1970, but subsequently went to prison during a period of military government because of his belief in the country.

Officials said Obasanjo’s schedule for the day included visits Yelwa and other towns and villages in Plateau state racked by recent rounds of sectarian fighting.