Scores of people were killed in rioting in southeastern Nigeria in a backlash against last week’s northern religious bloodletting, as violence in Africa’s most populous nation appeared to be spinning out of control.
Witnesses said they saw 50 corpses in the main streets of the southeastern city of Aba on Monday, and more deaths were reported from Onitsha, about 80 miles to the northwest, as ethnic Ibo Christians attacked immigrant Hausa Muslims in revenge for last week’s riots in the Hausas’ northern homeland.
In Kano, northern Nigeria’s largest city, paramilitary police put on a show of force to try to prevent reprisals and reassure Ibos and other southerners and Christians, many of whom tried to flee or take sanctuary in military camps.
“It is getting to the point where I am afraid there may be no going back,” said Clement Nwankwo of the Constitutional Rights Project, which fought against military rule and monitored the elections which ended it last year.
The spreading chaos, reminiscent of the run-up to the nation’s 1967 civil war, has gravely threatened the West African country of 108 million people and its democracy under President Olusegun Obasanjo, which is less than one year old.
Violence flared in the northern city of Kaduna last week at a march by Christians against calls from Muslims for the introduction into Kaduna state of Islamic law, or Sharia.
Hundreds of people were killed before troops and police were able to bring order and stem atrocities committed in the name of both faiths.
Defusing the tension is difficult for Obasanjo, a Christian southerner who is keen not to offend Muslim sensibilities.
The killing of thousands of Ibos in northern Nigeria in the 1960s and the subsequent flight of tens of thousands more triggered the civil war in which 1 million people died before the southeast’s bid to secede was defeated.