Religious Riots Break Out after Nigerians Go to Polls I

Analysts claim the recent Nigerian presidential election was one of the fairest in the country's history. But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says it was far from perfect. Following the vote, religious riots between Muslims and Christians broke out in northern Nigeria. Dozens have been killed and thousands have fled their homes. Host Michel Martin discusses the violent turmoil in the country's northern region with Constance Ikokwu, deputy editor of the Nigerian newspaper, This Day.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now we go to Nigeria in West Africa where a different level of violence has marked a presidential election said to be as fair as any in its recent history. The incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan is a Christian from the oil-rich southern part of the country. He defeated a Muslim opponent, a former military ruler from the north, Muhammadu Buhari.

At least 70 people have died this week in violence that the Associated Press says started with Muslim mobs targeting supporters of the ruling party, followed with, quote, "startling speed by retaliatory attacks by Christians."

We wanted to get a better idea of what's happening in Nigeria and also get an update on the election, and so we've called upon Constance Ikokwu, deputy editor of the Nigerian newspaper THISDAY. She's with us once again on the line from her home in Abuja. Constance, thanks so much for joining us once again.

Ms. CONSTANCE IKOKWU (Deputy Editor, THISDAY): Thank you for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: First of all, if you talk about the recent election campaign, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the election was a big improvement over those of the recent past and was a success, but she did say it was far from perfect. What's she talking about?

Ms. IKOKWU: She's correct when she says that significant improvements from the last elections in 2007. It was well organized. The turnout was high. The Independent National Electoral Commission made sure that a lot of people were registered. People went out on the day, cast their votes, they were not intimidated by politicians and thugs.

But there were some allegations that were made by the opposing party. For instance, the party of the former military president (unintelligible) lost the election. They are alleging there are irregularities in some states. (unintelligible) in Nigeria is that if you do allege that, you can go to the court. But many people that observe the election do know that. In spite of those allegations, they could be minor. I don't think it will be (unintelligible) significance to discredit the elections that were held in all parts of the country.

MARTIN: What do you sense, what do your reporters sense is the feeling of most Nigerians regarding the elections?

Ms. IKOKWU: Well, what happened in terms of the election violence, people were not sure what they were rioting for. Then what came back, there were rioting because of the election, because Goodluck Jonathan won the presidential election. One thing you have to understand is that it looks like most of (unintelligible) in the riots did not understand what they were doing. There were mostly young unemployed illiterate (unintelligible).

And we got the feeling that a lot of them were being sent out to just fight and kill people and not a lot of places, especially the northern part of the country, uninhabitable for people that did not support their party. So but the situation is under control now. They have been asked to go back to their homes, go back to their businesses and work again.

We believe that if there are people that feel that they were shortchanged in the elections, they should go to the normal protest (unintelligible) of course. But by and large, a lot of people back home observed this election believe that it was free and fair and credible.

MARTIN: And, finally, Constance, if I may, does President Jonathan, or is it believed that he goes forward with a mandate in the wake of what has happened here? What is he saying? Does he feel that he has the support of the people for his second term?

Ms. IKOKWU: Definitely. President Goodluck Jonathan has (unintelligible). He won the election by 60 percent. He garnered more than 22 million votes, while the closest rival, Buhari, has just over 12 million votes. As well, I think that a lot of Nigerians are behind him. The president for Nigeria cannot win an election in just regional section, you have win election in the entire region of Nigeria. That is what makes us one country and that is what we (unintelligible). So you cannot be a sectional leader. You have to be a national leader (unintelligible) in Nigeria and move us forward.

MARTIN: Constance Ikokwu is deputy editor of the Nigerian newspaper THISDAY. She's the author of "Nigeria: Half a Century of Progress and Challenges." And she was with us from her home office in Abuja, the capital. Constance, thank you so much for joining us once again.

Ms. IKOKWU: Thank you very much, Michel.

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