Nigerian towns left with death and ruins after riots

Tuesday April 26 2011

People walk through destroyed stalls at Kafanchan central market on April 25, 2011 in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, as they try to save anything that may have survived the arson attack last week in deadly post-poll violence. AFP

People walk through destroyed stalls at Kafanchan central market on April 25, 2011 in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, as they try to save anything that may have survived the arson attack last week in deadly post-poll violence. AFP 

By AFP

KAFANCHAN, Tuesday

It has the look of a war zone, the remains of buildings smouldering, wholesale destruction and hundreds believed dead in this remote area of Nigeria torn apart by last week's rioting.

Nigerians went to the polls again Tuesday for the last of three landmark polls this month, but those who are left here were not among them.

The elections for state governorships have been postponed here -- and it is not difficult to understand why.

"Now everything is gone," said 40-year-old Abdullahi Danjuma, pointing to the main market in the town of Kafanchan, burnt to the ground by rioters.

His textile shop was among them, and he, his wife and his nine children ran for cover to a nearby police barracks when gunshots awakened them on the night of April 18.

Nigeria's April 16 presidential election exposed deep divisions in Africa's most populous nation and led to rioting across the country's north, killing more than 500 people, according to a local rights group.

Most of the deaths are believed to have occurred in this remote area of the state of Kaduna, where a number of towns saw rioting and clashes between Christians and Muslims.

Mobs roamed with machetes, gunshots rang out and fire lit the night sky.

The worst hit may be the town of Zonkwa, but it is difficult to know for sure. Police have kept the town under close guard and did not allow journalists to remain.

A drive through Zonkwa, however, revealed a town in ruins, with burnt houses, shops, petrol stations and vehicles.

In nearby Kafanchan, there was more freedom of movement but destruction that seemed nearly as bad. A handful of people were out surveying the destruction, trying to piece together their lives.

"I lost everything I had laboured for in this carnage," said Temple Emmanuel, a 25-year-old trader.

"The violence has nothing to do with religion because we have both Christians and Muslims in this market. Everybody lost all he had," he said.

"Three of my Hausa friends were killed. Their corpses were picked at different locations in the town," he said, referring to the main Muslim ethnic group in Nigeria.

It is a complicated subject in Nigeria, a country of 250 ethnic groups and with a population roughly split between Christians and Muslims. The north is mainly Muslim while the south is predominately Christian.

President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, defeated his main rival, ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim, in the April 16 vote.

Rioting broke out across the north over the election amid accusations of rigging, though observers have described the conduct of the vote itself as a major step forward for Nigeria.

In places such as southern Kaduna state, it also led to clashes between Christians and Muslims. Authorities have declined to provide a death toll, fearing reprisals.

One government official, struggling to describe what happened, said, "I wouldn't like to use the term massacre... some places it was terrible."

Churches and mosques were burnt, and mobs with machetes hunted for Christians in the northern city of Kano. Muslims were attacked in reprisal.

But many analysts caution that the origin of the violence was not religious extremism, but instead poverty.

Nigeria also has a sad history of those who consider themselves indigenes of an area attacking those viewed as the outsiders, even though they have been there for generations in many cases.

The north of Nigeria has long been economically marginalised compared to the oil-rich south, with a large population of unemployed and frustrated youths. Many of them had turned their hopes to Buhari.

Analysts point to the fact that in parts of the north, mobs targeted Muslim leaders as well since they accuse them of being in bed with a corrupt elite.

In the state capital, also called Kaduna and located farther north from Kafanchan and Zonkwa, dozens of houses, shops, churches and mosques were razed by the rioters. A 24-hour curfew was in place, though it has now been relaxed.

Samson Adeoye, a 26-year-old agricultural engineering student, has been unconscious for a week in a hospital in Kaduna city since he was hacked with machetes by rioters.

"The rioters used a sharp cutlass to cut his forehead," said Adeoye's younger brother as he sat by his bedside along with their mother. "They nearly sliced his skull into two."