updated 5/18/2004 12:06:11 PM ET 2004-05-18T16:06:11

The president declared a state of emergency Tuesday in the central state of Plateau, sacking the governor and dissolving the state legislature following fighting between Christians and Muslims that has killed hundreds.

In an address on state radio, President Olusegun Obasanjo said Gov. Joshua Dariye and other elected state officials had “wittingly and unwittingly encouraged acts that have subverted peace and tranquility.”

Replacing Dariye is retired Maj. Gen. Chris Ali, a state resident who served in the Nigerian army under previous junta rulers.

It was the first time Obasanjo has invoked emergency powers since his election in 1999, ending 15 years of repressive military rule. Since then, ethnic, political and religious violence has left more than 10,000 dead.

'Near-mutual genocide'
“We need to take serious steps to stem the tide of what has become a near-mutual genocide in the affected areas of Plateau state,” Obasanjo said. “In my personal and official capacities, I have done everything to bring lasting peace to Plateau state.”

The fighting in Plateau began in September 2001 in the previously tranquil city of Jos. More than 1,000 were killed. The bloodshed escalated earlier this month with the killings of hundreds of Muslims by members of a Christian ethnic militia in the town of Yelwa.

Muslims rioted last week in the northern city of Kano, attacking Christians and killing scores in apparent revenge for the Yelwa killings.

Christian and Muslim groups have both accused Dariye of siding against them in the violence. However, Obasanjo’s declaration made neither side happy.

Both sides criticize president
Saidu Dogo, a regional official of Nigeria’s main Christian umbrella group in the northern city of Kaduna, accused Obasanjo of making Plateau’s Christian-led government a scapegoat.

Lateef Adegbite, secretary-general of Nigeria’s Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, said he approved of the emergency powers but disagreed with the appointment of a military general, citing Muslims fears that Obasanjo was “militarizing the country.”

Dariye’s spokesman, Stanley Bentu, said the governor accepted Obasanjo’s declaration, but declined further comment.

Obasanjo, 66, is a former military general who in 1979 became Nigeria’s first junta leader to voluntarily step aside. He returned to politics two decades later as an elected civilian. He was re-elected last year in a vote rejected as rigged by his main opponent, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.

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