KANO, Nigeria (AFP) – Post-election riots in northern Nigeria have left many dead, thousands displaced and hundreds wounded amid claims that bodies had been thrown into wells in areas hit by unrest.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan called on political and religious leaders to condemn the violence over his election victory, adding that most of the rioters appeared to be "unemployed young people".
|AFP/File – Youths stage running battles with soldiers in Nigeria's northern city of Kano|
He pledged that the government would work to change their situation "so that they will no longer be tools for people to use".
Fearing reprisals, authorities have not given a death toll for the rioting that began sporadically during the weekend over allegations of vote rigging and quickly spread to some 14 states on Monday. Officials have however spoken of many killed.
An estimated 25,000 have been displaced and some 375 wounded, according to the Red Cross. Police said dozens of people had been arrested.
"Things are relatively calm right now, but violent protests went on last night, especially in Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara (states)," Umar Abdul Mairiga, the Nigeria Red Cross disaster management coordinator, told AFP.
"What may come out of there is not very palatable because many people were killed, especially in southern Kaduna. The displaced people are getting hostile because nothing is coming up in terms of relief."
Jonathan, the first president from the southern oil-producing Niger Delta region, was declared late Monday winner of a landmark vote that exposed regional tensions and led to the deadly rioting.
He took 57 percent of the ballots in Saturday's election in Africa's most populous nation, easily beating his northern rival, ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who had 31 percent.
Nigeria is roughly divided in half between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
Buhari, whose party has rejected the results and filed a challenge to them, has not spoken publicly, but condemned the rioting in brief comments to the BBC's Hausa-language service.
Police were providing few details on the situation. While the initial rioting began over allegations that Jonathan's party had sought to rig the vote, the situation appeared to be more complex in some instances.
One man claiming to be a witness to unrest in the town of Zonkwa in the south of Kaduna state said on local radio that clashes broke out early Tuesday when Christians celebrating Jonathan's victory attacked Muslims there.
Muslim residents fought back and police were outnumbered, according to the man who said he had taken refuge at a police station along with a number of others.
"The Christians succeeded in burning our homes, our vehicles," he said. "They killed many and threw some of the dead in open wells. Many dead bodies litter the streets."
An inhabitant of Kaduna city claimed that residents from the mostly Christian south of the state had come to the area on Sunday and targeted Muslims.
The resident, Abubakar Aliyu, told AFP by phone he also saw police shoot seven people and other locals told him that bodies were also thrown into wells there.
None of the claims could be immediately verified.
Officials have confirmed that an unspecified number of people were killed Monday in the main northern city of Kano when homes and shops were attacked, and also in Gombe when a home was set ablaze and in Kaduna, where mobs had stopped people on the highway.
Vice President Namadi Sambo's home was torched and a 24-hour curfew was imposed in his native state of Kaduna. A prison was raided and inmates set free.
Also on Monday, churches were burnt while mobs roamed in a number of states, armed with sticks and setting bonfires alight in the streets. Protesters fought running battles with soldiers in Kano.
Cars were stopped and passengers had to yell their support for Buhari to escape, an AFP correspondent witnessed.
A mosque was burnt early Tuesday in Kano in apparent reprisal, prompting Christian-owned shops to be destroyed, but relative calm appeared to be returning to parts of the city.
Police said the rioting had been instigated by those unhappy with the results and it was "neither ethnic nor religious".
Despite the post-poll violence, observers have hailed the conduct of the vote as a major step forward for a nation with a history of violent and deeply flawed elections.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton congratulated Goodluck Jonathan for winning Nigeria's presidential election, saying it marked a "positive new beginning" for the nation.
"I applaud the people of Nigeria for their enthusiastic and orderly participation" in the April 16 polls, Clinton said in a statement released by the State Department.
"This historic event marks a dramatic shift from decades of failed elections," she said, though cautioning that the process was "far from perfect."
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner also condemned the violence and called on Nigerians "to respect the results... and channel any grievances and challenges peacefully through established administrative and legal redress."