Poverty blamed as Nigeria's ethnic bloodshed shows no sign of ending
Burned corpses with machete wounds lay in roads and smoke yesterday rose above Nigeria's northern city of Kaduna, where rioting continued among Muslims angered by the announcement that a Christian, Goodluck Jonathan, had won the presidential election.
On the outskirts of Kaduna, burnt-out minibuses and cars littered the highways, and at least six charred bodies could be seen. Skullcaps and sandals were strewn nearby, left behind by those who frantically fled amid the chaos.
Authorities and aid groups have hesitated to release tolls following the riots for fear of inciting reprisal attacks, but the National Emergency Management Agency confirmed there had been fatalities. The Nigerian Red Cross said nearly 400 people had been wounded.
In a televised address to the nation late on Monday, Mr Jonathan said that "nobody's political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian". Hours later, the president suspended his interior minister, citing "a number of lapses in the political leadership of the ministry".
Starting on Monday, supporters of opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari set fire to homes of ruling party members in several areas across the north. Police said an angry mob also engineered a prison break.
In the northern town of Kano, the Rev Lado Abdu said three churches had been set ablaze by protesters. An armed mob at a bus station also threatened another pastor before a Muslim man spirited him to safety. "What brought together religion and politics?" the Rev Habila Sunday said. "I want to know why, when politics happen, do they burn churches?"
While Christian and Muslim Nigerians have shared the same soil for centuries, Mr Jonathan's lead of more than ten million votes over Mr Buhari spread accusations of rigging.
But Christians who fled the riots in Kano blamed Mr Buhari, whose party refuses to accept the results.
"How can he allege rigging? Jonathan won across the nation. They should accept the results rather than killing and destroying people and property," said resident Olaoye Ade, who had fled to a police barracks. "I am here with my family in the barracks instead of celebrating the nation's new-found democracy."
Mr Buhari's spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, said: "He has not asked anyone to engage in any violent conduct. He had the capacity to call people out and he didn't. He understands that people feel cheated."
Thousands have been killed in religious violence in the past decade in Nigeria, which is Africa's most populous nation, with 150 million people in more than 200 ethnic groups. But the roots of the sectarian conflict are often embedded in struggles for political and economic dominance.
Mr Jonathan took office last year only after the country's elected Muslim president died before his term ended, and many in the north believe the ruling party should have fielded a Muslim candidate instead in this year's election. But the violence also was fuelled by the economic despair in Nigeria's arid north.
"The region has the worst unemployment, the most grinding poverty, the poorest education, and the shortest life expectancy of any region of Nigeria," the newspaper Next said in an editorial. "So even this contested election can be seen as little more than an outlet for the expression of deep-seated grievances."
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