By Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
ABUJA, Nigeria– Though observers at first lauded Nigeria’s presidential election on April 16, the country is experiencing growing violence in the aftermath, with upwards of 40,000 displaced in the last two weeks and an estimated 500 killed. Because the government refuses to release any confirmed numbers, it is difficult to verify how many have died. However, across the north as the post-election violence ebbed over Easter, many towns held mass burials. The rioting started shortly after the election in which the northern Muslim candidate Muhammadu Buhari lost to the southern Christian incumbent Jonathan Goodluck by a 57% to 31% margin. Shehu Seni, who leads the Civil Rights Congress in northern Nigeria, said the death toll could reach 1,000 before the violence stops.
While the primary conflict appears to be between Muslims and Christians, analysts believe the conflict is more indicative of the stark economic differences between the two halves of the country. The south is an oil rich delta region and the north is largely struggling, where many live on less than $2 a day. The conflict is further complicated by the fact that the population of many areas is a mix of economically, religious and ethnically diverse people. This conflict is also mirrored by Nigeria’s long history of civil unrest; the last presidential election four years ago left 300 dead. Goodluck stated last week “These acts of mayhem are sad reminders of the events which plunged our country into 30 months of an unfortunate civil war,” referring to the 1967 civil war during which an estimated 3 million were killed.
After Goodluck was announced the winner this month, many Muslim youths in the north began rioting, believing that the polls had been rigged. There are in fact signs of ballot box tampering, with evidence of unusually large voter turnout and suspected underage voting. In the months leading up to the election, the Independent Nigerian Election Council in charge of the voting procedures had problems getting election materials and processes in place, resulting in a postponement of the vote until April 16. So far, Goodlucks’ People’s Democratic Party is the only party to officially recognize and sign the election results.
While a curfew has been imposed, Nigerians fear the violence will only escalate. Eyo Anthony, a resident in the northern city of Kano where homes and shops had been burned in his neighborhood, said Sunday “Although it has been calm in the past two days I don’t intend to go back to my house… until after the governors’ elections. . .I know how I managed to escape with my family and I don’t want to relive the same experience.” A Human Right Watch researcher told reporters that the northern state of Kaduna looked like a “war zone” and that not “one building was standing”. Located within that state, the town of Zonkwa has been hit the hardest, with over 300 reported dead there since April 16.
Initially, gubernatorial elections were planned to take place in the week following the presidential election, but those have been postponed out of fear that those elections will prompt more violence. Goodluck has denounced the riots but it is unclear what steps he is taking to end the conflict. Buhari will only state that he objects to the election results and remains silent as Muslims in the north continue to retaliate against Christians and supporters of Goodluck, which some see as an implicit encouragement to his followers. In the meantime, many residents in the north have fled to police and military barracks as rioters continue to target businesses and religious centers.
For more information, please see;
CNN– Mass Burials Held in Rural Nigeria– 24 April, 2011
NYT– Election Results Fuels Deadly Clashes in Nigeria– 24 April, 2011
BBC– Nigeria Election Violence ‘Left More Than 500 Dead’– 24 April, 2011
AFP– Nigerian Rights Group Says More Than 500 Killed in Unrest– 24 April, 2011
The Botswana Gazette– Nigeria- Mass Burials Held Following Violence– 24 April, 2011