, KANO, Jul 15 – Fresh clashes between Muslims and Christians have erupted in Nigeria, killing eight and leading to the burning of six mosques and a church in the country\’s east, police said Wednesday.
One observer said the violence, which also seriously wounded 40 and was said to be sparked by the construction of a mosque at a local police headquarters, may be linked to elections due early next year.
Police said fighting erupted on Tuesday between Muslim and Christian youths in Wukari, a town in the remote eastern Taraba state, over the building of the mosque.
"From reports at our disposal, eight people have been killed and 40 others seriously injured in the violence while six mosques and one church were burnt," Taraba state police commissioner Aliyu Musa told AFP.
A Christian mob opposed to the construction of the mosque razed it, Musa said by phone from Jalingo, the capital of Taraba, one of Nigeria\’s 36 states.
Muslims responded by attacking a nearby church, leading to the eruption of violent clashes between the two sides, Musa said.
Police sent in reinforcements and the situation was calm on Wednesday in the town.
Taraba neighbours Plateau, the central Nigerian state whose capital Jos has been a sectarian flashpoint. Roughly 60 percent of Taraba\’s 2.3 million people in the state are Christian.
Sectarian clashes occur frequently in Nigeria, particularly in the country\’s north and central regions, with hundreds of people killed in violence this year alone.
The clashes come just months before elections in Africa\’s most populous nation, which has a history of poll-related violence.
"There is a pattern of activity which is …worrying," said Chidi Odinkalu, a rights activist working for Open Society Justice Initiative in Nigeria.
Ethnic and religious differences in the run up to the elections is a mixture "too combustible for imagination", said Odinkalu.
Many have said the Muslim-Christian clashes have less to do with religion than people exploiting the sectarian divide in the struggle for local power.
"Government and all people concerned need to be monitoring very closely in the coming months," Odinkalu added.
The country\’s 150 million population is roughly divided in half between Muslims and Christians. The north is predominantly Muslim, while the south is mainly Christian.
Tuesday\’s clashes came amid calls for inter-religious tolerance from Sultan Muhammad Saad Abubakar, Nigeria\’s highest Islamic spiritual leader.
He asked "Muslims and Christians to foster interfaith harmony and tolerance and eschew any acts capable of causing disaffection and destroying the fabric of peace and good neighbourliness among them".
The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, told AFP most of the violence linked to sectarianism "has nothing to do with religion."
"It\’s probably people who have other agendas and are using the mosque issue," he said.
The new clashes also come weeks before the one-year anniversary of an uprising by an Islamist sect in the northern city of Maiduguri.
Nigerian police and troops crushed the uprising by the Boko Haram sect — which has also been called the Nigerian Taliban — after four days of street battles that left more than 800 dead, mostly sect members.