“What happened in (the town of) Bichi was misinformation,” Kano state police chief Ibrahim Idris told reporters. “Rumours went round that someone blasphemed the Prophet and there was a breakdown of law and order.”
Residents reported four people dead along with the church and Christian-owned shops burnt. Soldiers and policemen deployed in the town.
The riot came on the same day that former British prime minister Tony Blair and the incoming spiritual head of the world’s Anglicans Justin Welby launched an initiative in the Nigerian capital Abuja aimed at Muslim-Christian reconciliation.
According to Idris, a Christian tailor mispronounced the name of a dress while chatting with his Muslim neighbour in Hausa, the major language spoken in the north, changing the meaning to ‘the Prophet has come to the market’.
Idris however denied anyone was killed, though residents spoke of the deaths. Bichi is located some 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north.
“Four Igbos were killed in the attacks. One of them was thrown into a ditch near my house,” one resident said, referring to a mainly Christian ethnic group.
“Scores of shops owned by Christians and a church were burnt by a large mob of Muslim youth who set bonfires on the road and disrupted traffic.”
Another resident said he saw four dead bodies “hacked with machetes by the rioters”.
A nurse at the Bichi General Hospital said the tailor who was severely beaten by the mob had been evacuated to Kano for treatment.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer. The 160 million population is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
Religious and ethnic tensions in the country regularly lead to outbreaks of violence.
In 1995, a Christian trader in the city of Kano was forcefully taken from prison custody by a Muslim group and decapitated for allegedly desecrating the Koran. His head was placed on a spike and paraded around the city.
Riots in 2002 centred in the northern city of Kaduna linked to a Miss World pageant to be held in Nigeria left some 250 people dead.
A newspaper story at the time that suggested the Prophet Mohammed may have wanted to pick a wife from the contestants helped fuel the deadly rioting.