MAIDUGURI/YENEGOA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Bombs hit a political rally in a southern Nigerian city on Wednesday, a day after three people were shot dead in the north of the country, as tensions rise before a series of elections next year.
The two bombs exploded in the Niger Delta, the heartland of Africa’s largest oil and gas industry.
Beemo Seiff, a ruling party candidate running in Bayelsa state governorship elections, was holding a rally in the state capital Yenegoa when the first blast went off.
Baylesa state police commissioner Aliyu Musa said no one had been killed but a number of people had been taken to hospital with injuries.
“It was dynamite explosives planted at the venue earlier by people who are still at large. We are investigating,” said Musa. “The aim of the people responsible was to stop the rally.”
Nigeria can ill-afford a security crisis before presidential, parliamentary and governorship elections next April. Some politicians and members of the police have said recent attacks are aimed at disrupting election plans.
Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect which has claimed responsibility for bombings and church attacks on December 24, was believed to be behind the killing of three more people at a hospital on Tuesday, the police said.
The three victims, including a senior police officer, were killed when men fired shots in a teaching hospital in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
On Christmas Eve, bombings in central Nigeria and ensuing violence between Christian and Muslim youths led to the deaths of at least 80 people, while attacks on churches in the north of the country took the lives of six more.
Boko Haram said on its website on Tuesday it was behind the Christmas Eve bombings in the central city of Jos and attacks on churches in Maiduguri the same evening.
The group, whose name means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language spoken across northern Nigeria, is loosely modelled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. It demands the introduction of Islamic law across Nigeria.
Maiduguri sits in one of Nigeria’s poorest regions near its northeastern borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Nigeria, a vast nation with more than 140 million people, is roughly equally divided between Christians and Muslims. Boko Haram’s views are not espoused by most Nigerian Muslims.
President Goodluck Jonathan has promised to track down those responsible for the bombings and will want to ease the country’s concerns over security before his controversial bid in the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) primaries on January 13.
A ruling party pact says that power within the PDP should rotate between the mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south every two terms.
Jonathan is a southerner who inherited the office when President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, died during his first term this year and some northern factions in the ruling party are opposed to his candidacy.
Jonathan faces a challenge from former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a northerner, for the ruling party nomination, and some fear any unrest in Africa’s most populous nation will be exploited by rivals during campaigning.
The governor of Plateau state has said the Christmas Eve bombings were politically motivated terrorism, aimed at pitting Christians against Muslims to start another round of violence before the elections.
Nigeria was shaken by car bomb attacks in the capital Abuja in October, claimed by a rebel group in the oil-producing Niger Delta, a region where violence has also flared up in the last month.
Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by David Stamp