A bomb exploded near a Nigerian ruling-party rally for a northern governor Thursday, killing three people and wounding 21 others as a decisive April election looms for the oil-rich nation.
Attackers threw the explosive from a speeding vehicle as it passed the rally in Niger state, federal police spokesman Olusola Amore said. Amore said the bomb landed at the feet of women who set up a market to sell goods to those attending the rally for Babangida Aliyu, the gubernatorial candidate for the People's Democratic Party.
"The explosive affected some innocent Nigerians who were selling vegetables," Niger state police spokesman Richard Oguche said.
Oguche said police had no immediate suspects, though they were investigating what kind of explosive was used in the attack. However, a statement later issued on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan claimed one person in police custody Thursday night.
Members of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps treated some victims and transported them to local hospitals in Suleja, a city near Nigeria's capital Abuja that hosted the rally, corps spokesman Emmanuel Ekeh said.
Aliyu left the rally about 10 minutes before the explosion with his entourage and was not injured in the attack, Oguche said. In 2007, he became governor of Niger state, a rural state with two major hydroelectric dams on the Niger River that provide much-needed electricity for the nation.
The blast comes as Nigeria faces a set of April elections that will decide who will govern the crude-rich nation that is a major supplier to the U.S.
Aliyu's rally in Suleja happened as former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari held a major political rally in Minna for his own presidential bid as the candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change.
Since becoming a democracy in 1999, Nigeria has been dominated by the People's Democratic Party. The party, made up of business and political elites, is the only force with the money, connections and muscle necessary to rig the country's fraud-filled elections. However, opposition parties have made gains in recent years as courts overturned flawed elections and the public grew increasingly exasperated with the graft and mismanagement plaguing the country.
But violence remains a part of the country's elections. Political killings were reported in the run-up to the country's last set of elections four years ago. This year, bombings have targeted a gubernatorial candidate in the oil-producing southern delta, while a radical Islamic sect claimed responsibility for the assassination of a candidate in the country's restive northeast.
In his statement, Jonathan said he had "directed all national security agencies to step up intelligence and surveillance operations across the country to thwart any further attempts" at violence.
Adigun reported from Abuja, Nigeria.