In a new report, the group said the O'odua People's Congress (OPC) whichoperates in the country's southwest poses a particular threat to the peaceful conduct of the elections.
The 58-page document titled 'OPC: Fighting Violence with Violence' provides details of abuses since the end of military rule in 1999 for which the militia, that claims to defend the interests of Yoruba people, was responsible.
"As pre-election violence is increasing across Nigeria, the OPC with itslarge mass membership represents a powerful force, which could be unleashed with disastrous consequences," said Peter Takirambudde of Human Rights Watch Africa division.
The OPC is blamed for playing a central role in some of the incidents ofethnic and religious violence in which thousands of people died in Nigeria in the last four years. The militia group is said to have played active roles in civil violence in the country's biggest city of Lagos between Yorubas and Hausa-speaking northerners in which hundreds of people died.
HRW also said that the OPC, in its self-appointed role as an anti-crime vigilante, killed and mutilated many people without having them pass through the normal judicial process. But the report observes that the militia had also been a victim of police brutality, including extra-judicial killings of suspected members, torture and dentention without trial.
The report condemns state governments across Nigeria that have provided backing for militia and vigilante groups. It noted that despite the ban on the OPC announced by President Olusegun Obasanjo, the militia still provided security at the funeral of slain Minister of Justice, Bola Ige, in February last year - an event attended by senior government officials, including the president himself.
"But whatever the weaknesses of the police force, government authorities have a responsibility to prevent the population from resorting to self-appointed vigilante groups that are known to engage in violence," Human Rights Watch said.
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