Police had to impose a dawn to dusk curfew in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria, following a full day of killings where about 30 people (or even more) were killed in two days of religious violence starting on Tuesday, the 11th of May 2004. It was supposedly sparked off by a Muslim protest demonstration against a massacre committed by Christians.
Kano State police commissioner Abdulganiyu Daudu told reporters a day after the riots started that about 30 people had been killed in the city of eight million people.
A further 45 had been arrested and 40 had been injured after mobs of youths armed with clubs, machetes and jerry cans of petrol roamed the streets on predominantly Muslim Kano, attacking suspected Christians, burning their homes and property, he added.
“A total of 15 bodies have been deposited in this hospital this morning, all victims of the riot,” a doctor at the Murtala Mohammed Hospital, the city’s main health institution, said on the day after the massacre
Eye witnesses said they had seen at least seven bodies – some burnt and others apparently clubbed or stabbed to death.
State-run Radio Nigeria said an estimated 10,000 Kano residents, mostly Christians fleeing from their homes in troubled parts of the city, took refuge at the main military and police barracks on Wednesday. Grief striken relatives of the missing tried to trace their loved ones.
However, an IRIN correspondent in Kano said the situation appeared to have calmed down by Wednesday afternoon when soldiers joined police in street patrols.
The two days of violence in Kano were sparked off by a protest demonstration on Tuesday against the killing of several hundred Muslims in the small town of Yelwa in Plateau State in central Nigeria on the 2nd of May 2004.
The Nigerian Red Cross had estimated that more than 600 Muslims were killed in the attack by militia men of the mainly Christian Tarok tribe. Most of the dead were from the Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups which dominate northern Nigeria.
Angered by the massacre, thousands of Muslims marched from Kano’s main mosque to the state governor’s office on Tuesday. But the protest, called and led by Islamic leaders, quickly degenerated into a riot as mobs launched assaults on Christians.
John Amah, a Christian resident of the city’s Sharada quarter, said his household belongings and those of other Christians in his compound were brought out into the street by the rioters on Tuesday night and were set ablaze.
“Our landlord is a Muslim and they didn’t want to burn his house,” he told IRIN at the Bompai Road police headquarters where he had sought refuge.
Amah said he counted more than 10 bodies lying on the streets as police evacuated him and several other survivors of the attack to the police station.
Another Christian survivor, Mary Ime, told IRIN in between shrieks and sobs that her husband, four children and five other relations were burned alive in their home while she was away.
In the mainly Christian Sabon Gari quarter, witnesses said gangs of youths armed with rifles fought back against Muslim rioters who attacked the area earlier on Wednesday. Some of the Muslim attackers were killed, they added.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in ethnic, religious and political violence in the country since the end of military rule in 1999.
Eyewitnesses say that large mobs of young men were specifically targeting Christians this time, however this was denied by Kano’s police commissioner. But thousands of Christians have been fleeing Kano’s suburbs, including Sharada industrial district, seeking safety.
“Many people have been killed in Sharada, but we have not been able to bring out their bodies, because we had to look to our own lives,” 37-year-old foundry worker Joshua Adamu told AFP news agency.
The demonstration was called to issue a seven-day ultimatum to President Olusegun Obasanjo to deal with the situation or face the consequences.
This led to extra security measures been taken in nearby Kaduna, with some 40 different groups holding discussions about security with the state governor. In Bauchi State, the governor had to assurse Christian groups of their safety after leaflets were distributed given them until Friday to leave the state.
Then Nigerian President Obasanjo told Muslim clerics in the capital Abuja. “I will appeal to you to restrain our Muslim brothers… because if you go for an eye for an eye, this country will be bloody.”
A leading Kano Muslim cleric, Ibrahim Kabo, urged the federal government to prevent further killings of Muslims in Plateau in order to avoid further cases of bloodshed.
Mr Kabo warned that if the government did not act, Muslims would “have no option but to defend themselves”.
Helen James, a 40-year old woman said that their housing estate was “totally burned.”
“My husband and his brother have been badly hurt, they have so many knife wounds in their back. They have been taken to the hospital. We don’t know whether they are dead or alive,” she wept.
Reuters news agency reported that some members of the Christian minority gathered in the central Sabon Gari (foreigners’ town) district and burned a mosque in retaliation for the burning of several churches by Muslims on Tuesday.
“A lot of people in Sabon Gari are armed with guns and machetes daring the Muslim militia to attack,” eyewitness Jackson Kentebe said.
“Everywhere, people have taken the laws into their own hands,” said Abdul Damini Daudu, a police official.
Nigeria’s combined Christian and animist communities are roughly equal in size to its Muslim population, with the Christians living predominately in the south.