Deadly sectarian riot over alleged blasphemy

A violent clash between a Muslim mob and the police over a woman accused of blaspheming the prophet Mohammed in the north-central Nigeria state of Bauchi left at least one person dead and five seriously injured.

“The youths stormed the police station and insisted on taking the law into their hands,” Bauchi police-chief Adnan Tolman Gaya told IRIN, adding that police had taken the woman into custody on 2 February to protect her from the crowd.

The police shot live bullets at the crowd, killing a man in his early 20s. “My men were under threat and had no option but to shoot into the crowd in self-defence,” Gaya said.

The youths then torched the police station and looted houses of policemen and Christians in the town, according to eye-witness accounts.

Nigeria has a long history of Muslim-Christian tension and periodic violent clashes, especially in the north.

In December 2007 sectarian riots between Muslims and Christians over a mosque construction left six dead and dozens injured in Bauchi city, while many houses were burnt.

In February 2006, 30 people were killed in an uprising when a school teacher allegedly made blasphemous remarks.

In the worst recent rioting in 2004, hundreds of people were killed in waves of sectarian violence in Kano, ostensibly in retribution for similar attacks in Plateau state, central Nigeria.

Islamic or ‘Sharia’ law was introduced into 12 states of the predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria in 1999, heightening tensions between Muslim and Christian communities, with many Christians opposing it and many Muslims defending it.

Suleman Baba Jahun, a member of the Muslim-Christian dialogue forum in Bauchi state, which is trying to build understanding between the two religions and to get the government involved in doing the same, told IRIN the outbreaks of violence are caused by over-zealous youths.

“It is sad that Muslims and Christians keep fighting each other while their religions teach peace mutual respect and tolerance… What is disheartening is that the youth from both sides do not understand the basic tenets of their belief. They just get carried away by passion and act contrary to the beliefs they fight to protect.”

However Nigerian politicians admit that the country’s religious divide is often exploited by political leaders who create clashes and manipulate youths to attack their opponents.