(Adds quotes, details)
By Felix Onuah
ABUJA, Feb 19 (Reuters) – The death toll from an attack last week by gunmen in northwestern Nigeria has doubled to more than 130, the Kaduna state governor said on Tuesday, adding it appeared to have been a deliberate plan to “wipe out certain communities”.
Governor Nasir el-Rufai did not specify what he meant by this. Those killed in last Friday’s attack were mainly from the Fulani ethnic group, who are usually Muslim and who have been involved in clashes in recent years with people from the Adara ethnic group, who are predominantly Christian.
Local residents, speaking on condition of anonymity, said last week that the attack was a reprisal for violence last October.
El-Rufai told reporters that police were still investigating the gunmen’s motive for the attack in Kajuru local government area in the south of the state, and there had been arrests. He did not say how many people had been detained
“The more the police dig into this matter, the more it is clear that there was a deliberate plan to wipe out certain communities,” he said, adding that the latest report on the incident showed more than 130 people had been killed.
The attack took place the day before Nigeria was supposed to hold a presidential election, but electoral authorities delayed the vote by one week citing logistical challenges. There was no indication that the attack was related to the election.
Some 55 people were killed in October during what residents said were clashes between Muslims and Christians in the Kasuwan Magani area of Kajuru – the same local government area in which last week’s attack took place.
Security has become a key campaign issue ahead of the presidential election in which President Muhammadu Buhari, who took office in 2015, and Atiku Abubakar, a businessman who served as vice president from 1999 to 2007, are the leading contenders.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with around 190 million inhabitants, is split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims, and comprises around 250 different ethnic groups that mostly co-exist peacefully.
However, hundreds of people were killed last year in outbreaks of violence over land use and resources in the central states of Nigeria slightly to the south of Kaduna, with some clashes between religious and ethnic groups. (Additional reporting by Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi Writing by Aaron Ross and James Macharia Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Frances Kerry)