Nigeria leader: unrest echoes civil war era

April 21, 2011 12:00 am

, LAGOS, Apr 21 – Deadly post-poll unrest in Nigeria recalls events that led to civil war in the 1960s, President Goodluck Jonathan said in an address to the nation on Thursday, adding that security has been reinforced nationwide.

"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," said Jonathan, who was on Monday declared winner of the elections.

He pledged that governorship polls scheduled for Tuesday would go forward and that a judicial commission of inquiry would be set up over the unrest.

Curfews and military patrols have brought an uneasy calm to most areas, though a Nigerian rights group says more than 200 people have been killed in the unrest that broke out across much of the country\’s north.

Authorities have declined to provide a death toll, saying they feared it could provoke reprisals.

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.

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, Africa\’s most populous nation with 150 million people, is roughly divided in half between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.

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 percent of the ballots, easily beating Buhari with 31 percent.

Jonathan took over in May 2010 following the death of his predecessor Umaru Yar\’Adua, a northern Muslim who had not finished his first term, prompting bitterness in 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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