Nigeria: Tension still high in Kaduna after religious clashes

ABIDJAN, 22 February 2000 (IRIN) - Soldiers and police are patrolling the streets of Kaduna to try to restore order following clashes between Muslims and Christians during a demonstration over the implementation of Islamic Sharia law in the northern city.
"The situation is still quite desperate," Fabian Okoye, director of research and publications at Human Rights Monitor in Kaduna, told IRIN on Tuesday. "The violence degenerated over night and this morning and soldiers have been deployed in volatile areas to bring calm to the area," he said. News reports say that some 20 people were killed during the clashes while according to Okoye a conservative estimate put the death toll at at least 30, and it was "probably more."

According to news reports, in the last 24 hours, houses, cars, mosques and churches have been burned, shops looted, and roadblocks mounted by Christian and Muslim groups. "It's a cat and mouse situation," Okoye said. "The army dismantle a roadblock put up by Christians or Muslims and then shortly afterwards the individuals regroup and put it back up again."

A dusk to dawn curfew imposed by the acting governor of Kaduna State on Monday has now been extended from noon to dawn, Okoye said on Tuesday. President Olusegun Obasanjo has asked for full details of the clash between the two religious groups and heads of security agencies have instructed their field officers to keep them informed of developments, 'The Guardian' reported on Tuesday.

"Kaduna is now a ghost town. People have been internally displaced within the city and are either holed up in their work place or staying with friends or relatives," Okoye said. "This morning I went out to try and find news of my brother but the soldiers and mobile police force told me to go home as the area I believed he was in was not safe."

The deputy governor of Kaduna State, Stephen Shekari, warned people on Monday that he "will not condone acts of lawlessness" and said it was unfortunate that people had taken the law into their own hands as the government had not taken any decisions on the Sharia issue.

The violence began on Monday following a march organised by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to protest the proposed introduction of Islamic law in the state of Kaduna. In the past three weeks Muslims in the state have staged daily demonstrations in the city demanding the introduction of the Islamic code, 'The Guardian' reported.

"There was a massive mobilisation of Christians," Okoye said. "They marched peacefully to State House Assembly to make a symbolic protest and then onto Government House to make their position known." The 400,000 protestors, carrying placards and chanting "no" to Sharia, continued through the town to the central market area where a Muslim counter-protest took place. Many shops were looted or razed to the ground. "Hundreds of millions of naira worth of damage has been caused by the violence," Okoye added.

The police in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna warned pro- and anti-Sharia demonstrators last week against acts capable of endangering lives and property.

(See NIGERIA: Focus on religious tension, 12 January 2000)


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