JOS, Nigeria: The death toll from a series of Christmas Eve bombings and reprisals in central Nigeria has risen to at least 80, the emergency management agency said Tuesday, bringing the nationwide total to 86.
“We have gone around the five hospitals where casualties from the explosions and the violence that followed in Jos were taken,” said Daniel Balarabe Gambo, deputy director of communications for the National Emergency Management Agency.
“The data we collated at these hospitals shows that a total of 80 people died from the incidents while 189 were injured.”
Police disputed the toll and said it was much lower, but the emergency agency insisted it was accurate.
An unprecedented series of bomb blasts went off on Christmas Eve in the central city of Jos, which has been repeatedly hit by violence opposing Christian and Muslim ethnic groups that many say has been stoked by politics.
Clashes broke out on Sunday following the blasts, leaving a number of people killed and houses burnt.
Also on Christmas Eve, suspected members of an Islamic sect that launched an uprising last year attacked three churches in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, killing six people and leaving one of the churches burnt.
There has been no indication that the incidents in the vast country’s central and northern regions were linked.
Jos, the capital of Plateau state, is in the so-called middle-belt region between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south and has long been a hotspot of ethnic and religious friction in Nigeria.
Many attribute the unrest in Jos to the struggle for economic and political power between the Christian Beroms, seen as the indigenous ethnic group in the region, and the Hausa-Fulani Muslims, viewed as the more recent arrivals.
Police have blamed the bomb blasts on politics ahead of April elections in Africa’s most populous nation, but they say they do not yet know who was behind the attacks.
Previous unrest in Jos and the surrounding region has killed hundreds this year, but the Christmas Eve attacks marked the first time explosives were used to such a degree.
Police also said six people were in custody over the clashes that erupted on Sunday.
A military spokesman said two of the suspects were caught with dynamite powder and were trying to burn down a church and a house.
Plateau state police commissioner Abdulrahman Akano said the military’s comments were premature as the two suspects were caught with bottles with some type of unknown substance inside. Authorities were analysing to determine what it was.
He also denied they were trying to burn a church and house when arrested, saying they were among those running from the scenes of Sunday’s rioting.