Muslim-Christian sectarian divisions haunt central Nigerian city

February 18, 2011
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(A police check point in Nigeria's central city of Jos February 15, 2011/Afolabi Sotunde)

An outsider crossing the dried-up gulley between two neighbourhoods in this central Nigerian city might not notice he had stepped over one of its increasingly tense sectarian dividing lines. On both sides, stallholders sell freshly slaughtered meat and tropical fruit under umbrellas. Motorcycle taxis weave in and out of the traffic. Soldiers with AK-47s on the street corners are the only outward sign all is not well.

“No Christians come here because they are scared. We used to have Christians running stalls here but now there is no trust,” said Umar, a Muslim, from behind a pile of mangoes and pineapples.

It is a sentiment mirrored on the other side of the gulley. “I don’t want Muslims in my market,” said Victor, the Christian owner of a meat stall five minutes away.

Perched on a plateau in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt”, where the Muslim north meets the largely Christian south, Jos’s temperate climate and lush vegetation long made it a weekend retreat for Nigerians looking to escape the heat and hustle of other cities.

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(A burnt truck in Nigeria's central city of Jos December 25, 2010/Afolabi Sotunde)

But the colonial-style villas dotting the surrounding hills lie largely empty. The dusty streets of the city centre, lined with market stalls and strewn with rubbish, are shared by military patrols and nervous crowds who discuss rumours of the latest violence, now almost a daily occurrence.

More than 200 people have been killed in sectarian violence in and around Jos since a series of bombs shattered Christmas Eve celebrations almost two months ago. “There used to be mutual respect but the whole place is polarised, we have places we can’t go and the Christians have the same thing,” said Khadijah Hawaja, a Muslim community leader who went to a Catholic school as a child.

Read the full story by Joe Brock here.

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