Villagers staged protests against the military in central Nigeria yesterday, hurling stones and burning the tents of soldiers who they blamed for the killing of five local residents over the weekend.
Scores of people have died in and around the city of Jos in recent weeks in clashes between Christian and Muslim mobs, violence which risks intensifying in the run-up to nationwide elections in April in Africa’s most populous nation.
The tension is rooted in decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands and for economic and political power with migrants and settlers from the Muslim north.
Plateau state police commissioner Abdulrahman Akano said armed men, apparently in military uniform, attacked the village of Farin Lamba south of the state capital Jos on Sunday, killing four people and injuring several.
“Efforts are on to arrest the fleeing perpetrators,” Akano said, adding a teenager was killed in a simultaneous attack on another village where two houses were also set ablaze and a further two people shot and critically wounded.
Some members of the Christian community have accused the security forces of backing the mostly Muslim Hausa-Fulani ethnic group during the unrest. The rank-and-file of the army are from both religions but senior officers stationed in the region are predominantly Muslim, they say.
The military denies the accusations.
Brigadier General Hassan Umaru met villagers close to Farin Lamba and assured them the security forces were not biased, urging them to bring forward any evidence to the contrary, residents said.
But soldiers shot into the air to disperse villagers, mostly women, who threw stones and set fire to their tents at K-Vom, another settlement close to Farin Lamba, witnesses said.
Five soldiers accused of involvement in previous killings in the region are under investigation, the army has said.
Plateau state, of which Jos is the capital, lies in the “Middle Belt” where the mostly Muslim north meets the largely Christian south. It has seen years of ethnic tension and is a potential flashpoint ahead of the April polls.
The latest unrest brings the death toll in and around Jos to more than 100 since Christmas, when there were a series of bomb blasts and subsequent clashes in the city.