KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Post-election riots in northern Nigeria have killed at least 33 people in major cities alone, according to a tally from witnesses and rescue workers, but the overall death toll is believed to be much higher.
Hundreds have been injured and thousands displaced by violence across the mostly-Muslim north after President Goodluck Jonathan won weekend elections. His rival, northerner and ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, says the vote was rigged.
Charred corpses lay in the Gonin-Gora neighborhood of Kaduna on Tuesday, one of them apparently “necklaced” with a burning tire. Health workers had already collected a dozen bodies there. One picked up a severed foot.
“We’re yet to finish, we have just started the work,” said Zacharia Shamaki, Kaduna state environment commissioner, as health workers put corpses into an ambulance.
Churches, mosques, homes and shops were set ablaze on Monday as Buhari’s supporters, some chanting his name, went on the rampage. “No more PDP” — a reference to Jonathan’s ruling party — was written in chalk beside one body lying in Kaduna.
Buhari described the violence as “sad and unfortunate,” but stopped short of a clear call for calm.
“This dastardly act is not initiated by any of our supporters and therefore cannot be supported by our party,” he said in a statement, dissociating himself from the violence.
Soldiers patrolled the streets, enforcing a curfew in several states. But there were continued reports of violence in smaller towns where the military presence was smaller, including Zonkwa and Kafanchan south of Kaduna.
Hospitals were overflowing.
“We’re full. We’ve got injuries ranging from battering, machete wounds and around five gunshot victims,” said Ibrahim Gwarze, a doctor in the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital.
“We had a young boy, 7 years old, with a gunshot wound to the stomach,” he said.
Observers have called the poll the fairest in decades in Africa’s most populous nation, which has a long history of votes marred by fraud and intimidation.
But the results show how polarized the country of 150 million is, with Buhari, 68, sweeping the north and Jonathan, 53, winning the largely Christian south.
“They burned my house and I was running from the rioters when I fell and broke my leg and they got me,” said Joseph Agula, 25, a petrol station worker being treated in the Kano hospital with a machete wound to the head.
“They said are you Christian or Muslim? I lied and said I was Muslim but they didn’t believe me and they beat me and cut me … I heard them ask people PDP or CPC? If they saw a PDP poster they burned the building,” he said.
Christians who fled to military and police barracks in Kano to shelter during the unrest blamed Buhari, whose Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and other opposition parties have refused to sign off on the results.
“How can he allege rigging. Jonathan won across the nation. They should accept the results rather than killing and destroying people and property,” said Olaoye Ade, who fled with his wife and children to a police barracks in Kano.
“I am here with my family in the barracks instead of celebrating the nation’s new-found democracy.”
At least 150 people fled over the border into Niger where they were being given food and police protection.
Some in the south feared reprisal attacks. Dozens of members of the northern Hausa ethnic group took refuge in barracks in the southern cities of Enugu and Onitsha.
Security analysts said they believed the curfews and a show of military force in the north should contain the violence for now but feared that governorship elections in the 36 states in a week’s time could become another flashpoint.
“No way will I vote and other people here won’t because these next elections will be very cruel,” said Femi Eseyin, a football coach whose brother died in the violence.
“We’ve had enough elections now.”
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(Additional reporting by Joe Brock and Mike Oboh in Kano, Anamesere Igboeroteonwu in Onitsha, Abdoulaye Massalatchi in Niamey; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)