BAUCHI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Attackers have killed at least 16 people and set fire to more than a dozen houses in a town in northern Nigeria that has been beset by years of sectarian violence, police said late on Friday.
Residents said the attack on the town of Tafawa Balewa in Bauchi state appeared to have been an act of retaliation for earlier killings in the area, although police said the perpetrators had yet to be identified.
“Sixteen people have been confirmed killed by unidentified attackers,” Bauchi police commissioner John Aba Kasanga said.
Bauchi neighbours Plateau state in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt”, a region where the mostly Muslim north meets the predominantly Christian south and where communities from different ethnic and religious backgrounds sit side by side.
The tension is rooted in decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands and for economic and political power with migrants and settlers from the Muslim north.
There have been frequent clashes between Christian and Muslim mobs in villages around Jos, the capital of Plateau state, as well as in Bauchi. Hundreds of people were killed in violence around Jos in the first few months of the year.
At least 500 people were killed last month in protests and reprisal killings after President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, was declared winner of a presidential election, beating northern Muslim and former army ruler Muhammadu Buhari.
There were protests in towns across the north but the worst of the violence was in the southern part of Kaduna state, which neighbours Plateau and shares the ethnic and religious diversity of the rest of the Middle Belt.
Jonathan, who had widespread support in the south but also gained millions of votes in the north, has promised an “all-inclusive” government to try to heal the rifts.
Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) party has said it has evidence that electoral commission computers were rigged and that the vote count was manipulated in Jonathan’s favour. It has vowed to contest the outcome in court.
On Friday the party asked a tribunal to compel the electoral commission to preserve all the ballot boxes and data capture machines used in the polls for forensic examination and to allow it access to the new biometric voter register so it could cross check thumbprints on ballot papers.