(Photo: Reuters / Afolabi Sotunde)
Deadly clashes between Muslims and Christians in the north of Nigeria following the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan has brought the death toll to over 500, according to a local civic group.
At least 516 people have died with the violence being the worst in Kaduna state, according to Shehu Sani, executive director of the Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress.
Muslim opposition supporters of Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim and former military ruler, began rioting after the April 16 victory of Goodluck, a Christian from the south. Outraged over the 57 to 31 percent defeat, armed protesters took to the streets, chanting Buhari's name and attacking Christian supporters of the president. The violence which took place at churches, homes, and police states, also triggered retaliatory attacks by Christians.
Buhari, candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, alleged widespread fraud in the election outcome. International observers, however, have called the National Assembly election fair and the outcome credible.
Relief officials estimate that at least 65,000 people have been displaced as a result of the tensions.
Jonathan is beefing up security forces to some northern states where post-election violence was most severe.
"Sadly, some misguided elements do not share in the spirit of our democratic achievement," said Jonathan last week. "They formed into groups of miscreants and struck with deadly and destructive force in some parts of the country. They killed and maimed innocent citizens. They set ablaze business premises, private homes, and even places of worship."
On Sunday, explosions across Nigeria's northeastern state of Borno killed three people and wounded 14, police reported.
Authorities are blaming Boko Haram, an Islamist sect that has challenged Nigeria's government, suggesting that they are trying to intimidate voters ahead of the nationwide gubernatorial elections Tuesday.
All except two of Nigeria's 36 states are expected to hold gubernatorial elections. Nigerian election officials delayed voting in northern Kaduna and Bauchi for two days due to security concerns.
Nigeria is nearly equally split between Muslims in the North and Christians in the South. The U.S. State Department said in its 2010 Religious Freedom Report that "violence, tension, and hostility between Christians and Muslims increased" and have been "exacerbated by indigene/settler laws, discriminatory employment practices, and resource competition."
Open Doors, a persecution watchdog, ranks Nigeria as No. 23 in its list of countries where the worst Christian persecution exists. It also reports that extremist Islamic groups, using violence as a means to achieving Muslim dominance, have increased their activities.