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Jonathan says post-election riots stir up memories of 1967 civil war

Thursday April 21 2011

A picture taken on April 18, 2011 shows Nigerian police enforcing a curfew in the capital of Bauchi state, nothern Nigeria, after riots, run by muslim youth, broke out in Bauchi.

A picture taken on April 18, 2011 shows Nigerian police enforcing a curfew in the capital of Bauchi state, nothern Nigeria, after riots, run by muslim youth, broke out in Bauchi.  

Abuja, Thursday

President Goodluck Jonathan said today that deadly unrest following his election 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 northern Nigeria after southerner Jonathan was declared to have defeated northerner Muhammudu Buhari at the weekend and quickly spread across the region.

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

Concerns have been raised over the governorship and state assembly ballots scheduled for Tuesday amid fears of further outbreaks of violence in Africa’s most populous nation.

These acts of mayhem

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“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 lost their lives during the 1967-70 conflict which came as eastern Nigeria tried to secede and establish the republic of Biafra.

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

“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.

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

At one barracks in the main northern city of Kano, some 10,000 people were gathered, sleeping on the ground and gathering under trees where there was space. There were shortages of water and bathrooms.

The director of the country’s emergency management agency, Mohammed Sani Sidi, addressed the crowd, but drew booing when he told them that “Nigeria is one country and it will remain so.”

People in the crowd yelled that they were tired of empty slogans. But they also cheered when he told them he had a message from Jonathan saying he understood their hardship and grief.

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 between Muslims and Christians and includes some 250 ethnic groups. The north is mainly Muslim while the south is predominantly Christian.

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

Religion or ethnicity

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 and incumbent president.

His defeated Muslim rival, ex-military ruler Buhari, has alleged rigging but has dissociated himself from the rioting. Jonathan was declared the winner with 57 percent of the ballots, easily beating Buhari with 31 percent.

Jonathan was vice-president to northern Muslim Umaru Yar’Adua, succeeding him in May 2010 when he died before the end of his first term and 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 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. (AFP)