Five people were killed and four injured on Saturday in sectarian clashes between Muslims and Christians over places of worship in northern Nigeria’s Bauchi State, residents said.
Government officials, however, blamed the violence on disaffected local politicians and said they had asked troops to take over security duties from the police in the immediate area affected.
Muslim youths attacked Christians and burned churches in reprisals over the burning of two mosques overnight in the state capital Bauchi, which the Muslims blamed on Christians, resident said by telephone from Bauchi, 300km northeast of Abuja.
“I saw five dead bodies on the streets this morning, one of them was burnt,” resident Muazu Hardawa said.
“One of the dead bodies was one of five Muslim youths shot by police deployed to the area to restore calm when a mob insisted on burning a church,” he said. Hardawa said three churches in nearby Kofar Dumi neighborhood were burnt during the violence.
Bauchi state governor Isa Yuguda said he had ordered troops to be deployed to restore order in the city.
The region was rocked by religious and political violence in November that killed hundreds of people in the central city of Jos.
Tensions have risen in Bauchi since Feb. 13 when members of a Pentacostal church opposite a mosque in the area barricaded a pathway outside the church used by Muslims attending Friday prayers, residents said.
A truck had broken down in the middle of the road separating the church and the mosque, blocking the passage and the Muslims had to use a narrow path between the truck and the church, further inflaming tensions, according to resident Babayo Hassan.
He said a police detachment stationed in the area had to intervene by removing the barricades and appealing for calm on both sides.
“Angered by what they saw as provocation, an unprecedented number of Muslims attended the Friday prayers and the congregation overflowed to the church’s gate but there was no incident,” Hassan said.
“But around 3am two mosques in the area went up in flames. The Muslims accused the members of the church for the arson and enraged Muslim youths went on a rampage,” he said.
The Christian-dominated neighborhood was a center of bloody sectarian strife in 2004 when Muslim-Christian violence in the town of Tafawa Balewa, some 100km away spilled over to the city, and houses, mosques and churches were burnt, Hardawa said. The north of Nigeria is predominantly Muslim, with many states introducing Shariah law, but there are significant Christian communities in the region as well, leading to sectarian tensions and clashes.
The Bauchi state government blamed disgruntled politicians for the latest mayhem.