As many as 39 people have been killed in election violence in Nigeria, civil society groups said on Sunday, as the country awaited the results of voting in what was forecast to be its tightest election since the end of military rule in 1999.
The Situation Room – which represents more than 70 civil society groups – gave the death toll the day after voting, citing data from Lagos-based consultancy SBM Intelligence. But authorities were braced for the possibility of further unrest after election results emerge later this week.
President Muhammadu Buhari, 76, a former military ruler who is seeking a second term on an anti-corruption platform, faces Atiku Abubakar, 72, a businessman and former vice president who has promised to expand the role of the private sector.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Abdulmajid Ali said police were still gathering information and could not provide figures on casualties. He said violence was greatest in the southern states of Rivers and Akwa Ibom.
The Nigeria Police Force said 128 people had been arrested nationwide for election-related offences including homicide, theft of ballot boxes and vote fraud. Thirty-eight weapons and a cache of explosives were also recovered.
The Situation Room said the worst incident was in Abonnema in Rivers State, around 14 km (9 miles) west of the main oil industry city of Port Harcourt, where the army said seven people died in a shoot-out between an unidentified gang and Nigerian soldiers.
A lieutenant and six gunmen died in the firefight, which broke out when the attackers barricaded a major road into the town and ambushed the troops, the acting director of army public relations, Colonel Sagir Musa, said. Their motives were not known.
Nigerian security forces are stretched by an Islamist insurgency in the northeast along with communal violence and banditry in other areas. Previous elections have been marred by violence among supporters of different political parties that at times sparked sectarian clashes.
A credible and relatively calm poll would open a new chapter in the chequered political history of Nigeria, where nearly six decades of independence have been tarnished by military coups, endemic corruption and secessionist movements.
The number of deaths reported Sunday was below the final tolls in previous elections in Africa’s most populous country. However, most unrest typically occurs after results are announced.