One of the key concerns in Africa of outside observers is the possibility of a full-scale religious war in Nigeria between Moslems and Christians. Over the past 4 years thousands of people have been killed in sectarian violence in tit-for-tat massacres of largely unarmed civilians by roaming mobs of Moslem or Christian men.
The latest massacre, resulting in perhaps 500 killed, occurred in several villages, near the city of Jos. The late-night attacks killed up to 500 people. The attack on the Christian enclave has been seen as a reprisal for attacks in January, in which about 300 herdsmen were killed by youth from the farming community The evidence suggests that there were multiple attacks, one perhaps in retaliation – but the principle victims were Christian farmers.
The attacks are fueled though, by more than just religion.
The town of Jos is all too often a focal point for competition over the use of arable land in central and northern Nigeria, where climate change has dried up pasture lands and forced animal herders closer and closer into farming communities, where their herds can destroy crops.
Jos is also right on the de facto fault line separating the Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north from its mainly Christian south. The farming community in Jos are primarily Christians of the Berom ethnic group, while the herders are ethnic Fulanis who practice Islam.
“Land is central to the conflict in Jos,” says Ugar Ukandi Odey, a Jos-based news reporter for the Nigerian newspaper NEXT. Mr. Odey has been covering the attacks and the tense aftermath. “The Beroms are the original people of Jos, and the Fulanis are nomads moving around with cattle who have settled in amongst the Berom people. But it becomes ethnic and religious, because there are Christians on one side, and the Fulanis are Muslims on the other side.”
A little different view from Al Jazeera in this broadcast, where the reporter claims is was Christians attacking Moslems -
Nigerian authorities say they have arrested scores of people in connection with attacks near the central city of Jos that left more than 200 people dead.
“We have been able to make 95 arrests but at the same time over 500 people have been killed in this heinous act,” Dan Manjang, an adviser to the Plateau State government told the AFP news agency.
Yvonne Ndege, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, said at least 19 Muslim Hausa-Fulani men had been arrested 30km from Jos, where Sunday’s three-hour systematic orgy of violence took place.
“They were found to be carrying hunting guns, axes, spears and knives and the feeling is that they were linked to this attack,” she said.
The violence in three mostly Christian villages Sunday appeared to be reprisal attacks following the January unrest in Jos when most of the victims
were Muslims, Robin Waubo, a Red Cross spokesman, said.
Our correspondent quoted police as saying that the attackers were Muslim Hausa-Fulani herders while the victims were mainly predominantly Christians from the Borom community.