At least 46 people were killed and almost 100 others wounded in clashes between rival ethnic groups in southwest Nigeria earlier this month, police said on Wednesday.
Special forces were deployed to the city of Ile-Ife in Osun state after violence between local Yoruba and Hausa people erupted on March 7, Nigeria’s national police spokesman Moshood Jimoh told AFP.
“The casualty figures are 46 dead and 96 wounded in the violence in Ile-Ife. Of those injured, 81 had been treated while 15 are still in the hospital,” Jimoh said.
Police arrested 20 suspects following the violence that saw rampaging crowds wielding cutlasses and throwing stones, Jimoh said, adding that the offenders would be prosecuted.
“Our appeal to people is to learn to tolerate one another. We should encourage peaceful co-existence among the different tribes in Nigeria,” Jimoh said.
“We should stop seeing ourselves as Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba,” he said, referring to the three main ethnic groups in Nigeria.
Many Yorubas and Hausas are neighbours and have co-existed and traded with each other for centuries, but disputes and clashes have also been frequent.
Bisi Adisa, a retired Yoruba driver in Ile-Ife, told AFP that the trouble began when a Hausa trader in the Sabo area of the city was accused of assaulting a Yoruba woman.
“Instead of showing remorse, other Hausa traders mobilised and killed a Yoruba man and paraded his corpse around the area which angered the Yoruba,” he said.
Adisa said that the town was still gripped by terror.
– Sectarian violence –
Triggered by a wide range of disputes ranging from land ownership to grazing rights, sectarian violence has flared in many parts of the country.
Ambivalent politicians and a dysfunctional legal system force Nigerians to take justice into their own hands in what has become a devastating cycle of violence.
Gunmen invaded a farming community and killed 17 people in central Benue state on Monday in a long-running struggle for farming rights between the Fulani, Jukun, and Tiv ethnic groups.
In northern Kaduna state, tit-for-tat attacks between Fulani cattle herdsmen and farmers over land disputes in recent months have killed hundreds.
“The inability to address the underlying causes of the conflict have always brought about more conflict,” said Mohammed Bello, national legal advisor Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, the umbrella body of Fulani herders in Nigeria.
“Basically it relates to issues about someone feeling that they have superior rights over certain people in a community,” Bello said.
“It behoves the political class to begin to address issues that concern Nigeria as a country, not about internal constituencies.”
Nigeria, an economic giant of 180 million people, is home to some 250 ethnic groups.
Ethnic tensions have long divided the oil-rich west African country, which is almost equally divided between a Muslim north and Christian south.
Mutual suspicion between the groups continues to simmer and often erupts in bloody clashes