- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2011

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian officials on Thursday delayed next week’s gubernatorial elections in two predominantly Muslim northern states that have been wracked by deadly riots and retaliatory violence since the presidential election was won by a Christian from the country’s south.

Attahiru Jega, chief of Nigeria’s Independent Election Commission, said that polls cannot go ahead as scheduled Tuesday in the states of Kaduna and Bauchi because of security concerns, and that the votes will be delayed there by two days.

The announcement came just hours after President Goodluck Jonathan vowed in a televised address to the nation that the elections for state governors would go ahead as scheduled in 31 of Nigeria’s 36 states. Polls in the other five states already were postponed ahead of the presidential election that sparked deadly violence.

Muslim rioters burned homes, churches and police stations after results showed Nigeria’s Christian president had beaten his closest Muslim opponent in Saturday’s vote. Reprisal attacks by Christians began almost immediately.

Charred corpses bearing machete wounds lay on the highways outside Kaduna. And in Bauchi state, an angry mob set ablaze a lodge where young volunteers were staying, killing at least four of the recent college graduates.

“One way of immortalizing them is to ensure that we complete the remaining election successfully and not to succumb to the designs of people who want to scuttle our collective aspiration for a strong, united and democratic Nigeria,” Mr. Jega said.

Authorities have been fearful of releasing casualty figures for fear of sparking more reprisals, but more than 100 have been killed and some 40,000 have fled their homes.

Mr. Jega said officials hoped the delay “will allow further cooling of tempers and for the security situation in those states to continue to improve.”

Nigeria has a long history of violent and rigged polls since it abandoned a revolving door of military rulers and embraced democracy 12 years ago. However, observers largely said Saturday’s presidential election appeared to be fair, and the U.S. State Department said it was a significant improvement over the last poll in 2007.

The nation of 150 million people is divided between the Christian-dominated south and the Muslim north. A dozen states across Nigeria’s north have Islamic Shariah law in place, though the area remains under the control of secular state governments.

Thousands have been killed in religious violence across Nigeria in the past decade. In Kaduna alone, more than 2,000 died as the government moved to enact Islamic Shariah law in 2000. In 2002, rioting over a newspaper article suggesting the Prophet Muhammad would have married a Miss World pageant contestant killed dozens here. But the roots of the sectarian conflict across the north often have more to do with struggles for political and economic dominance.

Many northerners wanted the country’s ruling party to nominate a Muslim candidate this year because Mr.  Jonathan — a Christian from the south — had only taken power because the Muslim elected leader died before finishing his term. However, Mr. Jonathan prevailed in the ruling party’s primary and became its candidate for president.

Associated Press writer Yinka Ibukun contributed to this report.

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