, KANO, Nigeria, May 4 – Thirty-nine people died and 30 were injured in fierce fighting between Christian and Muslim mobs in central Nigeria’s Taraba state on Friday, prompting a round-the-clock curfew, police said.
Scores of houses were set ablaze and destroyed during the clashes in the town of Wukari which come amid a surge in religious violence in the west African nation.
“We have so far compiled a death toll of 39 people while 30 others were seriously injured,” state police spokesman Joseph Kwaji told AFP on Saturday.
Local residents told AFP that the death toll could rise.
“Thirty-two houses have also been destroyed in the violence,” Kwaji said of the unrest which has prompted authorities to impose an indefinite all-round curfew in the predominantly Christian city.
He added that 40 suspects were arrested in the aftermath of the violence.
State information commissioner Emmanuel Bello said that extra troops were deployed to the city on Saturday to bolster security.
“We have deployed more troops today to Wukari to ensure that the situation, which has been brought under control, is strengthened,” he told AFP.
The police spokesman Kwaji said Friday’s violence erupted when the funeral procession of a traditional chief from the predominantly Christian Jukun ethnic group marched through a Muslim neighbourhood chanting slogans, which Muslims viewed as an act of provocation.
“The state governor has imposed a 24-hour curfew on Wukari which is aimed at restoring normalcy in the town” after the fighting, said Kefas Sule, spokesman for the state governor.
Tensions have been on the rise in Wukari since February, when a dispute over the use of a football pitch between Muslim and Christian soccer teams set off sectarian riots that claimed several lives.
Friday’s violence came a day after the state government inaugurated a committee to investigate the February violence.
It also follows a surge in violence and kidnappings in the restive north of Nigeria, the epicentre of an insurgency by Boko Haram Islamists, in recent months.
In late April fighting between soldiers and Islamic fighters in the remote northeastern town of Baga left 187 dead, according to the Red Cross, in the deadliest episode since the insurgency began in 2009.
An area senator put the death toll from the attack at 228, but details remain murky about the clashes which also left nearly half the town destroyed after massive fires.
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday released satellite images showing massive destruction in Baga, voicing concern that the military has “tried to cover up” abuses that should be investigated by the International Criminal Court.
The military has pushed back aggressively against these reports and fiercely denied claims that soldiers fired on civilians or deliberately torched scores of homes.
The global rights watchdog said the insurgency in north and central Nigeria by Boko Haram has claimed 3,600 lives since 2009, including killings by the security forces.
Nigeria’s former oil minister, Shettima Ali Monguno, 87, was kidnapped Friday by gunmen who stormed his vehicle outside a mosque in the restive city of Maiduguri, a stronghold of Boko Haram.
Government and security officials met late Friday in Maiduguri to discuss ways to effect his safe release, officials said.