Nigeria leader says unrest recalls civil war build-up

2011-04-21 11:00

President Goodluck Jonathan said today that deadly post-poll unrest recalled the build-up to the Nigerian civil war, but vowed that next week’s governors’ polls would go on as planned.

Curfews and military patrols have largely restored calm after rioting broke out in the north of Africa’s most populous nation following presidential elections over the weekend and quickly spread across the region.

A Nigerian rights group says more than 200 people have been killed, but authorities have refused to provide a death toll, fearing it could provoke reprisals.

Concerns have been raised over governorship and state assembly ballots scheduled for Tuesday amid fears of further outbreaks of violence.

“If anything at all, these acts of mayhem are sad reminders of the events which plunged our country into 30 months of an unfortunate civil war,” Jonathan said in a televised address to the nation.

More than a million people are estimated to have los their lives during the 1967-70 conflict which came as separatists in eastern Nigeria tried to establish the Republic of Biafra.

He pledged that Tuesday’s governorship and state assembly polls would go forward and that a judicial commission of inquiry would be set up over the unrest. Security had been reinforced across the country, he said.

Nearly 40?000 people have been displaced, according to the Red Cross, with many of them seeking refuge at police and military barracks.

“My fellow countrymen and women, enough is enough,” Jonathan said. “Democracy is about the rule of law.”

He said “these disturbances are more than mere political protests. Clearly they aim to frustrate the remaining elections. This is not acceptable.”

Jonathan said security services would deal “decisively” with any further unrest.

Some analysts have said that the upcoming governorship elections could hold the most risk of violence. Governors wield significant power in Nigeria, granted huge budgets thanks to oil revenue.

Nigeria’s 150 million population is roughly divided in half between Muslims and Christians and includes some 250 ethnic groups. The north is mainly Muslim while the south is predominately Christian.

The north has long been economically marginalised compared to the oil-rich south, fueling resentment and divisions that Saturday’s elections helped expose.

Authorities have however argued that the rioting was not based on religion or ethnicity but was instigated by those unhappy with the victory of Jonathan, a southern Christian.

His northern rival, ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, has alleged rigging but has disassociated himself from the rioting. Jonathan was declared the winner with 57%of the ballots, easily beating Buhari with 31%.

Jonathan took over in May last year following the death of his predecessor Umaru Yar’Adua, a northern Muslim who had not finished his first term, prompting bitterness in sections of the north over its loss of power.

In the most intense rioting Monday, mobs roamed the streets with machetes and clubs, pulling people out of cars and setting homes on fire. Reprisal attacks worsened the situation.

While the rioting began over allegations that Jonathan’s party had sought to rig the vote, the situation appeared more complex in some areas.

In remote parts of Kaduna state, residents alleged that Christians had initiated the violence, leading to clashes police were unable to control.

There were also indications that Muslims were being targeted in areas of the southeast and seeking refuge in military barracks.

Despite the post-poll riots, observers have hailed the conduct of the vote as a major step forward for Africa’s largest oil producer, which has a history of violent and flawed elections, while noting that serious problems remained.

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