A Nigerian archbishop said the cause of recent violence between Muslims and Christians in the African country was more ethnic and political than religious.
More than 200 people were believed dead after clashes in mid-January in the central Nigerian city of Jos, where similar riots in 2008 killed about 300.
Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos said the origin of the current conflicts, like those of 2008, was a struggle for political control of the city between the Hausa people, who are predominantly Muslim, and the indigenous residents, who are mostly Christians.
Media reports describing the violence as a religious clash between Muslims and Christians were inaccurate, Archbishop Kaigama told the Vatican missionary news agency Fides.
While speaking with journalists Jan. 24, Kaigama reiterated his remarks and denied a report that a Muslim attack on a parish spawned the recent violence there.
"In particular, it is not true that a church was attacked and burned," he said. "The origin of the conflicts of today, like those of November 2008, are the contrasts between the Hausa ... and the indigenous peoples."
The archbishop told Fides Jan. 20 he met with several Christian and Muslim leaders to clarify the situation, assess the damage and ascertain the exact number of victims. He said it was still unclear how many people had died and how many houses, churches, or mosques have been burned.
"I fear that both Christians and Muslims will inflate figures regarding their victims," the archbishop said.
"The spread of false information incites the people and increases the violence," he said, adding that authorities need to be impartial and honest in presenting data on casualties and damage to structures.
Archbishop Kaigama told Fides the situation in Jos had calmed. He said police and army troops were patrolling the streets of the city and enforcing a curfew imposed soon after the violence broke out Jan. 17.
The archbishop said most of the Christian churches that were set on fire were not Catholic.
Archbishop Kaigama said the Islamic-Christian joint committee was scheduled to meet Jan. 25 to "assess the situation and take measures to avoid similar incidents from happening again."
The bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Ibadan in southwestern Nigeria denounced the violence in Jos, saying that "some extremists claiming to be Muslims suddenly set upon Christians in their churches and homes, killing and burning."
"It is sad that such occurrences in the recent past have not been convincingly investigated and addressed and are not found preventable," the bishops said after meeting Jan. 18 and 19.
They also said the government's continued insistence that all is well despite a lack of presidential leadership had "dangerous consequences for the nation." Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua left for Saudi Arabia in mid-November for treatment for a serious heart condition but did not cede power to the vice president.
"Nigerians deserve better than a presidency by remote control," the bishops said. "Any society living with such self-deceit is surely courting disintegration."
Jos has been the scene of serious intra-community clashes in the past decade.
In addition to the 2008 clashes, in 2001 a conflict resulted in more than 900 deaths, as well as the burning of churches and mosques.
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