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Droves of Nigerians flee violence

Tens of thousands of Nigerians sought safety in police stations and military barracks Friday after two weeks of sectarian violence left hundreds of them dead.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Tens of thousands of hungry, frightened Nigerians sought safety in police stations and military barracks Friday after two weeks of sectarian violence left hundreds of them dead.

About 30,000 people, many of them Ibo-speaking Christians, huddled in six security force installations in this heavily Muslim northern city, which was the site of deadly attacks on Christians this week, said Mohammed Balarabe, a state emergency agency official.

At Kano’s central Bompai police compound, Mama Aisha, 40, the mother of six children, carried a seventh on her back — a baby whose mother was hospitalized after being severely wounded by a machete-wielding mob.

“I have nothing to feed them,” Aisha said. Gestured to the wailing baby, she added, “She has not seen her mother for three days.”

In Aba, a southern city dominated by Christian Ibo speakers, it was Muslim Hausa-speakers who found refuge in police stations, saying they feared reprisals for attacks in Kano.

The violence in Kano began with a Muslim march to protest the killings of hundreds of Muslims by members of a Christian ethnic militia earlier this month in the central town of Yelwa.

A Red Cross official confirmed that 36 people were killed in Kano, and witnesses spoke of scores more dead bodies hidden in homes and vehicles abandoned by their occupants. Nigeria’s Christian umbrella group put the death toll at up to 600, although this could not be independently confirmed.

Chukwuemeka Okweze, 22, a factory worker in Kano, was attacked Thursday by Muslim militants who left him with machete wounds on his back and a long gash from his eye to the back of his head. The attackers also killed a neighbor, he said.

“I ran and they pursued me. They burned my house. Everything I have lived and worked for is gone,” he said. “I don’t want to go back.”

Kano Gov. Ibrahim Shekarau urged Muslims to refrain from further revenge attacks. “Vengeance is not yours. It is God’s,” Shekarau said in a TV and radio broadcast.

On Thursday, President Olusegun Obasanjo accused Christian and Muslim leaders of fanning the violence.

“You are an idiot,” Obasanjo publicly rebuked Yakubu Pam, leader of a local chapter of Nigeria’s main Christian group that had accused Obasanjo — a Christian — of siding with Muslims. “What did Christianity teach you? Revenge?”

Security force agents arrested Pam early Friday and released him hours later after accusing him of inciting violence and ordering him to write an apology, he said. Police officials would not comment.

“President Obasanjo urges all well-meaning Nigerians to join him in finding a permanent solution to this trend of intolerance, violence, killing and maiming,” the president’s spokeswoman, Remi Oyo, said Friday.

About 10,000 people have died in intertwined religious, ethnic and community-related fighting in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, since Obasanjo was first elected in 1999, ending 15 years of military rule.