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Nigeria rioting leaves charred bodies in streets, over 200 dead

April 21, 2011


The mobs poured into the streets by the thousands in the dusty city of Kaduna, separating Nigeria’s Muslim north and Christian south, armed with machetes and poison-tipped arrows.

Muslim rioters burned homes, churches and police stations in Kaduna after results showed Nigeria’s Christian leader beat his closest Muslim opponent in Sunday’s vote.

Reprisal attacks by Christians began almost immediately, with one mob allegedly tearing a home apart to look for a Koran to prove the occupants were Muslims before setting the building ablaze.

The rioting in Kaduna and elsewhere across Nigeria’s north left charred bodies in the streets and showed the deep divisions in the African nation.

While curfews now stand in many areas, it remains unlikely the unrest will be soothed before the nation’s gubernatorial elections on Wednesday.

“Nigeria has spoiled … there is no peace,” said Rabiu Amadu, a 33-year-old technician in Kaduna. “I don’t think any of us are safe.”

Results showing President Goodluck Jonathan’s more than 10 million vote lead over Muslim candidate Muhammadu Buhari spread accusations of rigging.

The protests began as initial election results showed Jonathan winning the nation, said Haruna John, the interim federal police commissioner in Kaduna state. While young men initially protested against the election and caused minor disturbances, later the crowd grew into the thousands. Across the state, mobs engineered two prison breaks, burned down the home of one powerful traditional ruler and attempted to destroy the home of Nigeria’s Vice-President. “They almost overwhelmed us,” John said.

Authorities and aid groups have hesitated to release nationwide tolls after the riots for fear of inciting reprisal attacks. But authorities in Bauchi state said 16 people had been killed in the violence. Officers recovered 31 corpses from Kaduna alone.

Police arrested more than 300 people during the rioting.

Jonathan again called on the nation to reject violence.

“Most of the youths involved in these acts, from what they say, look like unemployed young people,” he said. “These are people who are central to us. These are people that we are committed to change their lives.”

Yet opportunities remain few for those in the arid north. Jobs are scarce and a formal education remains out of the reach of many in a nation where most earn less than US$2 ($2.51) a day. Politicians spend billions of dollars of oil revenues with little or no oversight – fuelling popular dissent.

Jonathan’s closest rival in the polls, the former military ruler Buhari, promised to fight corruption in his campaign. Many supported his promise of change in a nation ruled by the same political party since it became a democracy 12 years ago. But religious sentiment also swayed voters still hesitant to support Jonathan, who became president after the death of its long-ill elected Muslim leader in May 2010.

Yet members of the two faiths also risked their own lives to save others. In the northern town of Kano, an armed mob at a bus station threatened an evangelical pastor before a Muslim man spirited him to safety.

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