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Nigerian Government Struggles to Gain Control in Plateau State - 2004-05-21

The government in Nigeria is struggling to gain control in Plateau state, in the wake of a cycle of violence that has killed hundreds of Muslims and Christians. Local authorities say at least five people were killed in an attack by Muslim militiamen on a mainly Christian village earlier this week, one day after President Olusegun Obasanjo declared a state of emergency in the area. The state of emergency has drawn criticism from democracy advocates, but as Carrie Giardino reports from Abidjan, authorities say it was a necessary move.

Presidential spokeswoman Remi Oyo says the situation has been brought under control but that fighting between Muslims and Christians has been a problem in the central state. ?In a situation where people have been terrified, and the people of Plateau state have been under some form of terror for quite awhile, you would still have people being scared, and not knowing that normalcy has returned,? she said.

President Obasanjo invoked constitutional authority to declare a state of emergency, which was overwhelmingly supported by the National Assembly. However, the move has angered some Nigerians, who see it as an attempt to return the country to military rule.

According to Ms. Oyo the state of emergency was necessary to end what she terms "mutual genocide," as well as protecting the now displaced people fleeing to neighboring states.

?When the president visited Bauchi state, that is a neighboring state to Plateau, the governor there told the president that there was an estimated 32,000 in his state alone,? she said. ?And that is not to talk about those who are in other states like Nassarawa, or those who are internally displaced within Plateau state itself. A lot of them have been displaced since the first hostilities began in 2001.?

Ms. Oyo said that the state will return to democratic rule with a newly elected governor within six months, when the state of emergency will officially end.