Election riots continue in Nigeria

April 20, 2011

Mobs have poured into the streets by the thousands in a city separating Nigeria’s Muslim north and Christian south, armed with machetes and poison-tipped arrows to unleash their rage after the country’s presidential election.

Muslim rioters burned homes, churches and police stations in Kaduna after results showed Nigeria’s Christian leader beat his closest Muslim opponent in Saturday’s vote. Reprisal attacks by Christians began almost immediately, with one mob allegedly tearing a home apart to look for a Koran to prove the occupants were Muslims before setting the building ablaze.

Christians and Muslims have lived and worked alongside each other for centuries. However, results from Saturday’s election showing president Goodluck Jonathan’s more than 10 million vote lead over Muslim candidate Muhammadu Buhari spread accusations of rigging in a nation long accustomed to ballot box stuffing.

The rioting in Kaduna and elsewhere across Nigeria’s north left charred bodies in the streets and showed the deep divisions in Nigeria. While curfews now stand in many areas, it remains unlikely the unrest will be soothed before the nation’s gubernatorial elections next Tuesday – meaning even more attacks could be a possibility.

In Kaduna, 111 miles from the capital Abuja, burned corpses with machete wounds dotted a main road. Skulls caps and sandals mixed with the charred remains of burning roadblocks, left behind by those who frantically fled amid the chaos.

Authorities and aid groups have hesitated to release nationwide tolls following the riots across northern Nigeria for fear of inciting reprisal attacks. But authorities in Bauchi state confirmed 16 people had been killed in the violence, state police commissioner John Abakasanga said.

And officers recovered 31 corpses from the city of Kaduna alone on Tuesday, with more likely yet to be found, the commissioner said. Police arrested more than 300 people during the rioting, but many citizens remained inside their homes Tuesday as police and military helicopters flew overhead and soldiers filled the streets.

Mr Jonathan, who picked up a certificate on Tuesday declaring him Nigeria’s president-elect, again called on the nation to reject violence. “Most of the youths who are involved in these acts, from what they say, look like unemployed young people,” Mr Jonathan said. “These are people who are central to us. These are people that we are committed to change their lives.”

Mr Jonathan’s closest rival in the polls, the former military ruler Mr Buhari, promised to fight corruption in his campaign. Many supported his campaign as it promised change in a nation ruled by the same ruling political party since it became a democracy 12 years ago. However, religious sentiment also swayed voters still hesitant to support Mr Jonathan, who became president after the death of its long-ill elected Muslim leader in May 2010.

Nigeria has a long history of violent and rigged polls since it abandoned a revolving door of military rulers and embraced democracy. However, observers largely said Saturday’s presidential election appeared to be fair, with fewer cases of ballot box thefts than previous polls.


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