ABUJA— A wave of religious and ethnic violence has devastated many communities in Nigeria's central region over the past few days. Local leaders say the government needs to arrest and prosecute attackers or the violence will escalate.
At this restaurant in central Nigeria, Isaac Benjamin eats traditional fried rice and fish while he reads the news on his laptop computer. Violence in the region appears to be increasing daily, with recent attacks killing scores of people. He says almost no one has been arrested.
“The government is not sincere about punishing perpetrators of these dastardly acts," he said. "The only thing we hear is that one person has been arrested and that is all you hear about it.”
Human Rights Watch says 3,000 people have been killed in sectarian violence since 2010 in Kaduna and Plateau, both “Middle Belt” states where the mostly-Christian south meets the mostly-Muslim north. Almost no one has been prosecuted.
Iframs Goje, the president of the Southern Kaduna People’s Union, says more than 1,000 of those deaths were in his area, and recent attacks have been particularly brutal. On Friday, a family of seven was killed when gunmen raided a remote village about 200 kilometers from the state capital city of Kaduna.
“Some of the victims were a one-year-old baby who was slain and his body placed on the tummy of the mother, who too was slain," said Goje. "One of the daughters had all her intestines punctured and abandoned and the house where they were was set ablaze. The culprit escaped.”
He says on Monday as many as 30 people were killed in a nearby community, including a soldier and a police officer, and 60 homes were burned to the ground.
“Not only were their houses burnt down, their food items were burnt. Their clothing burnt," said Goje. "Their livestock burnt. And I’m worried that there is famine and hunger coming.”
More soldiers and police, he says, will not end the violence. He says he fears if attackers are not arrested and prosecuted, the violence will only get worse as people arm themselves to defend their homes.
There have also been recent reports of killings in Plateau state, which shares a tenuous border with Kaduna. The fighting is along religious and ethnic lines but the disputes are usually over land and revenge killings.
At a press center in Kaduna Wednesday, Yohanna Buru, a pastor, says communities do not know how to stop the cycle of violence on their own.
“The people there are really worried about it," said Buru. "How will government help them? That there will be peace between them?”
He says neither the government nor international rights organizations have yet to offer a solution.
On a nearby street, resident Lukas Benyat says past solutions have included peace talks between high-level officials who have no real power in the remote communities that suffer the attacks.
“If you do not reach them, and try to find ways to pacify them and let them sit together - the soldiers, the foot soldiers - government is just wasting its time and wasting public money," said Benyat.
Last year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said 14,000 people were killed in sectarian violence in Nigeria since 1999. The group says Boko Haram, a four-and-a-half-year-old Islamist insurgent group that has killed thousands, benefits from the “culture of impunity and lawlessness" and it feeds tensions between Christians and Muslims.
Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna.