Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan set up a panel of religious leaders, traditional rulers and lawyers on Wednesday to probe violence which killed hundreds of people in the wake of his election victory last month.
Rioting erupted in cities in the mostly Muslim north after Jonathan, a Christian from the south, was declared the winner of the vote, deemed by observers and many Nigerians to have been the country’s most credible for decades.
Jonathan’s main rival, ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim popular in the north, has refused to accept defeat. His Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) party went to court on Sunday to demand fresh polls in some areas, Reuters reports.
Buhari’s supporters say the violence in the days after the April 16 election — in which homes, shops, churches and mosques were burned down — was spontaneous. The presidency has described the unrest as “obviously orchestrated”.
“This unfortunate development was meant to mar what would have been a celebration of the progressive march of our democratic process,” Jonathan said at the inauguration of the 22-member panel, led by senior Islamic cleric Sheikh Ahmed Lemu.
The worst of the violence was in the southern part of Kaduna state, a region in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” where Christian and Muslim communities often live in neighbouring villages.
A local civil rights group said at least 500 people were killed in three towns there alone.
The panel has been asked to investigate the causes of the violence, where the weapons came from, how many people were killed and to make an assessment of the cost of the damage.
The panel includes a member of the National Youth Service Corps, young graduates doing their national service. Ten NYSC members, who were posted to polling stations to help organise the vote, were killed in the rioting.
Jonathan gave their families 5 million naira each and promised those injured an automatic government job.
There is already a war of words over the violence.
“Our national history has taught us that the determination to win elections by incumbents by any means has always given birth to spontaneous reactions in the form of a breakdown in law and order,” CPC legal adviser Abubakar Malami said this week.
The presidency struck back.
“This attempt to justify the unfortunate carnage and bloodletting is vexatious in the extreme,” presidential adviser Ima Niboro said in a statement.
“What Malami failed to explain to Nigerians was why these riots and killings happened largely in areas where the CPC won and Jonathan lost,” he said.
Jonathan won 59 percent of the vote compared to 32 percent for Buhari but although he picked up millions of votes in the north, Buhari was still ahead in almost all northern states.