Few voters in Nigerian state amid Islamic uprising

December 28, 2013 - 10:04 AM

DAMATURU, Nigeria (AP) — Few voters straggled to polls Saturday to elect local councils in a northeastern Nigerian state battling Islamic militants who say democracy in corruption-riddled Nigeria is an enemy of the people.

Heavily armed police, intelligence agents and the civil service defense corps guarded polling stations and manned roadblocks Saturday in Yobe state, which suffered some of the most brutal attacks on schools by extremists this year.

Islamic extremist leader Abubakar Shekau threatened more mayhem in a video that reached The Associated Press on Saturday.

"As for killing, we will kill because Allah says we should decapitate, we should amputate limbs, we should mutilate," Shekau says in the video that was distributed through the same channels the group has used previously though its authenticity could not be independently verified.

He boasts of a Dec. 20 attack on a tank battalion barracks at Bama, in neighboring Borno state, the birthplace of his Boko Haram group, which means "Western education is forbidden."

"Brothers pulverized 21 armored tanks. People were killed in their multitudes, bodies scattered all over," he says. Soldiers tried to hide under their blankets but the extremists blew out their brains, he says.

"Had Allah allowed us to eat them we would have eaten them but we are not cannibals," he says.

Shekau has in the past denounced democracy and said that only the law of Islam can purify Nigeria of the putrid corruption that keeps an elite fabulously wealthy off the riches of Africa's biggest oil producer while the majority of Nigeria's more than 160 million people live from hand to mouth. Northeastern Nigeria is the poorest region in the country, with literacy rates that were abysmal even before Boko Haram burned down dozens of schools and frightened parents into keeping their children at home.

In Yobe state in July, the insurgents locked sleeping students into a dormitory and set it ablaze, burning alive some among 29 victims. In another attack, they sprayed gunfire on children writing exams. At an agricultural college, they gunned down and killed at least 43 students.

In the video, Shekau scoffs at the bounties put on his head — a reward of $7 million by the United States and $312,500 by the Nigerian government. "We do not worship money," he says. "You can't in any way harm me."

He also warns Christians not to go to church during this holy month of December, though Christmas passed without any feared terrorist attack. In 2011, five churches were attacked and more than 40 people died in one Christmas Day bombing.

Boko Haram poses the biggest threat to the security and cohesion of Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, since a 1960s civil war to create a separate state of Biafra that killed more than 1 million people.

"They try to brainwash the people that we are fighting an ethnic war," Shekau says in the video. "No, we are fighting a religious war, we are fighting Jonathan, we are fighting Christians," he says, though many more Muslims have been killed in attacks that have killed thousands. Nigeria has almost equal numbers of Christians, mainly in the south, and Muslims in the north.

President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three northeastern states covering one-sixth of the country in May. The military swiftly drove the insurgents out of major urban centers, but they have been unable to halt attacks launched from forests and cave hideouts and from across the border with Cameroon.

Jonathan's People's Democratic Party, fractured by rivalries ahead of a 2015 presidential election, boycotted Saturday's election in Yobe, saying it feared for the safety of its candidates. But it was unlikely to do well in a state controlled by the opposition All Progressives Congress coalition.

"For our own safety, we decided to fold our arms and not vote," said Saidu Abba, a member of Jonathan's party.

Among about 20 voters at a station outside the palace of the emir, the traditional Muslim monarch, opposition politician Ibrahim Alhassan said he was determined to "exercise our civic right to vote for a democratically elected leader (to) improve lives of our rural communities."

Some 1.2 million people are eligible to elect 17 councils and a chairman from 188 candidates and 10 political parties. Provisional results are expected Sunday.

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Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.