An explosion struck near a church on Sunday morning in a restive Nigerian city beset by religious and ethnic violence where hundreds have been killed in the last few months alone, authorities said. There was no immediate information about casualties.
It was not clear what caused the explosion in the city of Jos, an epicentre of massacres and targeted killings between Christians and Muslims. However, the explosion comes after soldiers recently discovered a truck loaded with explosives, detonators and more than 33,000 pounds of ammunition.
The explosion also comes ahead of crucial April elections in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.
“There has been an explosion,” said Yohana Audu, a local spokesman for Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency, who said he had no immediate details about casualties.
Paramilitary police officers blocked journalists from the scene, though smoke could be seen rising from the neighbourhood. Residents began taking all the possessions they could carry and fleeing the area.
Jos is the epicentre of religious violence in Nigeria’s “middle belt,” where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of fertile lands. Politics, jobs and land often motivate violence that falls along religious lines that has left thousands dead in recent years. Human Rights Watch says 200 people have died since December.
The city has been on edge since a series of bombs exploded there Christmas Eve, killing dozens.
Nigeria, an oil-rich country of 150 million people, is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and the predominantly Christian south.
Recent violence in central and northern Nigeria comes as President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian who took power after the death of Nigeria’s elected Muslim leader, seeks the presidency.
Some believe a northern candidate should stand in Jonathan’s place to appease an unwritten power-sharing agreement in the oil-rich nation’s ruling party. That has caused considerable tension among the country’s political elite, though it hasn’t boiled over into violence.