Hundreds of people in Nigeria’s north-western city of Sokoto demonstrated on Saturday over the arrest of two students after the murder of a Christian student accused of blasphemy, residents said.
Africa’s most populous country is roughly divided between Muslims and Christians but religious tensions and deadly clashes are not uncommon, particularly in the north.
Deborah Samuel, a student at Shehu Shagari college of education, was stoned to death on Thursday and her body burned by a mob of Muslim students of the college after she made a post on social media they deemed insulted the prophet Muhammad.
Police said they made two arrests after the incident and had begun a manhunt for other suspects who appeared in footage of the murder shared on social media.
Early on Saturday, Muslim youths took to the streets of the city, lighting bonfires and demanding the release of the two suspects, despite the earlier deployment of police to maintain order, residents said.
Some of the protesters besieged the palace of Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, the sultan of Sokoto and the highest spiritual figure among Muslims in Nigeria, after he condemned the killing and demanded those involved face justice.
“It was more of a riot by a mob of young men and women who were demanding the release of the two people arrested over the killing of the Christian student,” said a Sokoto resident, Ibrahim Arkilla.
“The crowd which made bonfires on the streets were also demanding the police stop the manhunt for those identified to have taken part in the killing,” said Arkilla, who witnessed the protests.
A large number of protesters gathered at the palace chanting “Allahu Akbar”, said Bube Ando, who lives nearby. “Some among the security men deployed to protect the palace tried to ask the protesters to leave but they became unruly.
“Policemen and soldiers who stood outside the palace hurled teargas canisters and fired into the air and succeeded in dispersing the crowd,” he said, without giving details about whether anyone was hurt.
The mob retreated downtown where they tried to loot shops belonging to Christian residents but were dispersed by security patrol teams, said another resident, Faruk Danhili.
The protests subsided, Danhili said, but the city remained tense and most streets were deserted.
Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, has “strongly condemned” the murder of Samuel. “No person has the right to take the law in his or her own hands in this country. Violence has and never will solve any problem,” he said in a statement on Friday.