ZONKWA, Nigeria (AP) — Soldiers wore surgical masks against the smell as workers loaded corpses onto a truck, with hundreds reported killed in postelection violence in this town alone.
Fearful of stoking more violence, authorities have been reluctant to release a nationwide death toll after the victory of the incumbent president, a Christian, in Saturday's election caused a wave of killings and arson attacks across the country's mostly Muslim north.
An Associated Press tour of rural Kaduna state with military leaders Thursday showed a level of bloodshed beyond what federal authorities have acknowledged.
A local imam and a soldier in Zonkwa estimated hundreds had been killed in the town alone since Monday. Bodies were left to rot in the sweltering heat. Residents fled the town, their belongings piled on wheelbarrows.
In a town near Zonkwa, children raised their hands above their heads as a military convoy carrying soldiers passed, fearful of being fired at by machine guns mounted on the back. One broken cinderblock wall in the area bore a single word in white paint: War.
President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday recalled a civil war that ended in 1970 and left more than 1 million people dead as he condemned this week's violence and reprisal attacks.
"These acts of mayhem are sad reminders of the events which plunged our country into 30 months of an unfortunate civil war," he said. "As a nation we are yet to come to terms with the level of human suffering, destruction and displacement, including that of our children to faraway countries, occasioned by those dark days."
Mohammed Sani-Sidi, head of Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency, said more than 65,000 people had been displaced across the country.
"We have since set up camps mostly in military formations and police barracks," he said. " ... From the assessment and reports from UNICEF, we want to say that most of the victims are women and children."
Many northerners wanted the country's ruling party to nominate a Muslim candidate this year because Jonathan — a Christian from the south — had taken power only because the Muslim elected leader died before finishing his term. However Jonathan prevailed in the ruling party's primary and became its candidate for president.
Muslim rioters burned homes, churches and police stations after results showed he had beaten his closest Muslim opponent, Muhammadu Buhari. Reprisal attacks by Christians began almost immediately. The religious identities of those slain in Zonkwa was not immediately known.
Attahiru Jega, chief of Nigeria's Independent Election Commission, announced Thursday that gubernatorial elections could not go ahead as scheduled here in Kaduna nor in the neighboring state of Bauchi because of security concerns. He said the votes in those states that had been scheduled for Tuesday would be delayed by two days.
Jega said officials hope the delay "will allow further cooling of tempers and for the security situation in those states to continue to improve."
Some question whether that will still be too soon in a region where angry mobs set fire to a lodge hosting young election workers, killing at least four recent college graduates.
Observers largely said Saturday's presidential election appeared to be fair. The U.S. State Department said it was a significant improvement over the last poll in 2007.
Associated Press writers Krista Larson and Yinka Ibukun in Lagos, Nigeria contributed to this report.