Soldiers patrolling Nigeria’s volatile central region received shoot-to-kill orders after a Christian mob killed a Muslim election worker and set his body on fire, an army spokesman said Tuesday.
The death Monday in Jos, a flashpoint of religious tension between Nigeria’s two dominant religions, comes as technical problems continue to plague the nation’s effort to register 70 million eligible voters before a crucial April presidential election.
The new orders in Jos allow soldiers to kill anyone trying to hurt another person or destroy a home, church or mosque in the city and surrounding areas, Capt. Charles Ekeocha said. The military has been a dominant presence in the city since violence began there last year that has left more than 500 dead.
“The best option is to make sure you stop the person,” Ekeocha told The Associated Press. “Even if it means taking the person’s life, it is OK.”
The attack Monday began after election workers decided to move a registration point without informing the joint military and police task force in the city, the captain said. A Christian mob gathered, upset by the fact that workers handling the registration were Muslims.
Witnesses to the attack said another two people died when soldiers opened fire to try and protect the other election workers nearby. The military has denied shooting into the mob, though soldiers have shot and killed civilians before over the past year.
The worker was a member of the Nigeria’s National Youth Service Corps, a required yearlong program for university graduates in the oil-rich nation. The government created the program in 1973 as a means to bridge the religious, regional and ethnic divisions in Nigeria after its brutal civil war ended in 1970. Those divisions persist today.
Many university students in Nigeria find few job opportunities after graduation. Staffing the two-week voter registration offers the youths a guaranteed payout of $200 for 14 days of work, said Kayode Idowu, a spokesman for the nation’s electoral commission. World Bank statistics suggest more than 80 percent of people in Nigeria, a country of 150 million people, earn less than $2 a day.
Idowu declined to comment about the death, saying the commission had yet to receive an official report on the killing. He said security wasn’t an issue at other locations in the country and that providing protection at each of the roughly 120,000 registration points would be impossible.
“The police don’t have enough manpower to cover every single polling unit,” he said.
The April elections include a presidential poll in which President Goodluck Jonathan will face opponents from minor parties. Jonathan is a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, the only force with the money, political connections and muscle necessary to manipulate an election.
International observers called the 2007 election of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua rigged, even though it represented the first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power in the nation’s history.
Registration began slowly, as the Saturday start date saw numerous reports of problems with the laptops, digital cameras, printers and fingerprint scanners the government bought for $230 million. Registration in many places has improved, though potential voters complain about long waits and problems with the fingerprinting process. Even well-known figures, like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, have been turned away after the machines failed to work.
In the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, election officials have been registering voters with paper and pen as 200 sets of the equipment were found to malfunction. Six other areas around Borno state have yet to receive the equipment at all.
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