Nigeria unrest: Mosque attacked in Benin City

Map of Nigeria showing Benin City

A mosque and Islamic school have been attacked and set alight in the southern Nigerian city of Benin, police say.

A Nigerian Red Cross spokesman told the BBC that five people had been killed and six injured.

It follows a separate attack on a different mosque in the city on Monday.

In recent weeks, southerners, who are mostly Christians or animists, have been the targets of deadly attacks by the Islamist Boko Haram group, which operates in the mainly Muslim north.

A leader of the Hausa community in Benin told the BBC's Hausa Service that 7,000 northerners were seeking refuge in police and army barracks in the city.

The Nigerian Red Cross confirmed to the BBC that they were registering northerners at police stations and army barracks.

Spiral of violence

Two cars at the centre housing the mosque and Islamic school were also torched, police said.

The attack is the latest in a spiral of sectarian violence that has seen many southerners living in the north flee their homes.

The BBC's Naziru Mikailu in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, said the latest violence started in Benin on Monday when a group attacked a mosque, leaving 10 people injured.

Then, in Gusau, capital of northern Zamfara state, youths attacked a church. Police made 19 arrests, our reporter says.

Back in Benin on Tuesday, a mosque and Islamic centre were attacked and set alight in a different area from Monday's attack. Police told the BBC that 10 people had been arrested.

A group of youths tried to attack a Hausa community leader's house but it was defended by Hausa youths and the police then intervened, our reporter says.

Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka blamed the violence of recent months on leaders who put their own religion above national unity. He said the situation was not dissimilar to the one that existed before the last civil war that erupted in Biafra in the 1960s.

"We see the nation heading towards civil war. We know that the civil war was preceded by problems - serious killings on both sides of the regional divide," he told the BBC.

"When you get a situation when a bunch of people can go into a place of worship and open fire through the windows you've reached a certain dismal watershed in the life of that nation.

"There's no question at all, whatsoever. Those who have created this faceless army have lost control of that army."

The latest unrest comes on the second day of a general strike over the removal of a fuel subsidy.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in many cities in protest about the doubling of the price of petrol since the beginning of the year. Six people died in the unrest on Monday.

Nigeria: A nation divided

Despite its vast resources, Nigeria ranks among the most unequal countries in the world, according to the UN. The poverty in the north is in stark contrast to the more developed southern states. While in the oil-rich south-east, the residents of Delta and Akwa Ibom complain that all the wealth they generate flows up the pipeline to Abuja and Lagos.

Nigeria's 160 million people are divided between numerous ethno-linguistic groups and also along religious lines. Broadly, the Hausa-Fulani people based in the north are mostly Muslims. The Yorubas of the south-west are divided between Muslims and Christians, while the Igbos of the south-east and neighbouring groups are mostly Christian or animist. The Middle Belt is home to hundreds of groups with different beliefs, and around Jos there are frequent clashes between Hausa-speaking Muslims and Christian members of the Berom community.

Southern residents tend to have better access to healthcare, as reflected by the greater uptake of vaccines for polio, tuberculosis, tetanus and diphtheria. Some northern groups have in the past boycotted immunisation programmes, saying they are a Western plot to make Muslim women infertile. This led to a recurrence of polio, but the vaccinations have now resumed.

Female literacy is seen as the key to raising living standards for the next generation. For example, a newborn child is far likelier to survive if its mother is well-educated. In Nigeria we see a stark contrast between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south. In some northern states less than 5% of women can read and write, whereas in some Igbo areas more than 90% are literate.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and among the biggest in the world but most of its people subsist on less than $2 a day. The oil is produced in the south-east and some militant groups there want to keep a greater share of the wealth which comes from under their feet. Attacks by militants on oil installations led to a sharp fall in Nigeria's output during the last decade. But in 2010, a government amnesty led thousands of fighters to lay down their weapons.

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