Officials on Thursday released the first official death toll from the sectarian violence in the Plateau state of Nigeria, reporting that ethnic and religious fighting over the last three years has left over 53,000 dead.
The tallies, taken by a government-appointed committee, were based on figures gathered from family members who said they lost relatives, said Thomas Kagnaan, chairman of the Committee on Rehabilitation and Reconciliation of Internally Displaced People.
Although previously it was widely believed at least 10,000 people had died in intertwined ethnic, religious and communal violence in Africa's most populous country since 1999, the committee said on Thursday that 53,787 people had died in Plateau state between September 2001 and May 2004.
Among the dead were 17,459 children, 17,397 women and 18,931 men, according to a summary of the report released Thursday. Some 281,164 people were displaced during the violence, with 25,129 houses and 1,326 cattle destroyed.
Since clashes erupted in September 2001 ,leaving more than 1,000 people dead in the previously tranquil capital city of Jos, the Plateau state has been torn apart by numerous incidents of violence.
While a number of media agencies often report the conflicts as arising solely from religious differences, experts however say more often than not, clashes arise from economic, ethnic, and political conflicts that take on religious overtones. According to reports, confrontations over economic and land issues often had religious reverberations, the reason for this being the strong correlation between religious differences and ethnic and regional diversity.
The north, dominated by the large Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups, is predominantly Muslim. Meanwhile, many southern ethnic groups are predominantly Christian. In many areas of the Middle Belt, Muslim Fulani tend to be pastoralists, while the Muslim Hausa and most Christian ethnic groups tend to be farmers or work in urban areas.
Consequently ethnic, regional, economic, and land use competition often coincide with religious differences between the competing groups, making it not unusual for two different ethnic groups with a long history of conflict to have adopted different religions with the effect of exacerbating existing tensions.
In addition to the Plateau state, numerous persons were also killed, injured, or displaced as a result of predominantly ethnic/economic confrontations in Bauchi, Nassarawa, Benue, Taraba, and Kano states.