Bodies of 376 victims of the violence that engulfed Jos, capital of Nigeria’s North-central Plateau state, and its environs have been given a mass burial as armed troops gradually restores calm to the embattled city, an MP said.
Samaila Mohammed, who represents the affected Jos North/Bassa constituency in the lower federal House of Representatives, was quoted by the local media as saying the bodies given mass burial at the Jos cemetery were those that were brought to the Jos Central Mosque, indicating the total death toll could be far higher.
But state government spokesman Nuhu Gagara put the death toll at 200, saying the figures being quoted by the international media were exaggerated, while also complaining of one sided reports on the crisis.
“For the media to report deaths of a particular religious group and say no loss was recorded by the other group smacks of irresponsible journalism and, at worst, a hidden agenda against the good people of Plateau State,” Gagara said.
At least 4,000 people have been displaced by the violence.
After the second deployment of 140 armed soldiers from the northern city of Kaduna on Sunday, uneasy calm prevailed in many parts of the city, where violence broke out on Friday following Thursday’s local government elections in the 17 councils.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won all the 17 councils, after the results were announced on Saturday, further angering supporters of the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
In a city with a complex ethnic and religious mix, the political violence, triggered by allegations of rigging, soon degenerated to an ethno-religious crisis, marked by internecine fighting, burning of churches and mosques, shops and residential buildings.
State governor Jonah Jang imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the affected areas and ordered security agents to shoot trouble makers at sight.
President Umaru Yar’Adua ordered the deployment of troops after the police became overwhelmed by the crisis, the worst in the state since 2004, when the federal government declared a state of emergency there following ethnic and religious killings that left hundreds dead.
Religious and political leaders have called for calm, while security is being strengthened in neighbouring states to prevent the violence from spreading.
The Sultan of Sokoto, who is the spiritual head of the nation’s Muslims, said in a statement that ”all Muslims and Christians all over the country (should) embrace peace and shun acts of violence in the interest of the stability and orderly development of the nation.”
The Primate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Sunday Ola Makinde, urged the government to unmask those behind the crisis.
“It is very barbaric because we have brought religion into politics and only mediocres do that. I am advising the President to take a very serious and drastic action on this one now. Let it be the last, because it has happened in Jos this second time. Many innocent people have lost their lives and many religious places of worship have been burnt down. We have to put an end to this. Let them find the perpetrators and deal with them. Let justice take its course,” he said.
The police said over 1,500 people, including ‘mercenaries from some neighbouring states’, have been arrested.