Sixty-six people have been reported killed in the Nigerian state of Kaduna during a wave of unrest in the lead-up to the country's presidential election.
Authorities in northwest Nigeria on Friday said police had discovered the bodies of 66 people, including women and children, in an area known for ethnic and religious clashes.
Kaduna state governor Nasir El-Rufai said the grim find was made in eight villages in the Kajuru area, some 40 kilometres southeast of the state capital, Kaduna city.
"Security agencies today reported the recovery of 66 bodies that were killed in attacks by criminal elements," he said in a statement.
"Among the victims were 22 children and 12 women. Four wounded persons rescued by the security agencies are now receiving medical attention.
"[The] government condemns the attacks and commiserates with the families of the victims."
There was no immediate comment from the police but El-Rufai, a close ally of President Muhammadu Buhari, said officers had been sent and arrests made.
He urged community, traditional and religious leaders to warn local people not to launch reprisal attacks.
"The killings are being investigated and residents are assured that indicted persons will be prosected," he said.
Kaduna has long been a centre for deadly unrest, fuelled by long-standing ethnic and religious tensions, as well as election-related violence.
But Maisamari Dio, president of the ethnic Christian Adara community, which is dominant in the Kujuru area, blamed the killings on ethnic Fulani Muslims.
He told AFP Fulanis attacked a village on Sunday, killing up to 12 people. Angry Adara people mounted reprisals in recent days.
"The people found by the Kaduna state government today were likely those killed [by the Fulani] and some Adara, a mix, but I am not sure of the extent," he added.
"The situation in the last three years has been recurring, with kidnapping, killings, people being attacked. These people will sometimes give advanced threats."
The announcement by El-Rufai, who is seeking re-election, is unusual and a possible indication of deaths from both communities.
But his statement will also be designed to try to defuse anger before Saturday's vote.
Calls for peace
El-Rufai's spokesman Samuel Aruwan said Kaduna residents should "uphold peace and harmony, shun violence and allow the elections to be held in an atmosphere of calm".
Hundreds of people were killed in 2011 when then-opposition candidate Buhari, a Muslim former military ruler from the north, lost to Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian.
Buhari stands for re-election on Saturday. His main challenger is Atiku Abubakar, another ethnic Fulani Hausa-speaking Muslim, from northeast Nigeria.
Security is a major election issue, with no sign of an end to Boko Haram's Islamist insurgency in the northeast and renewed violence between farmers and herders in central states.
Northwest Nigeria - and particularly Zamfara state - is also in the grip of spiralling attacks by criminal gangs involved in cattle rustling and kidnapping for ransom.
Kaduna state borders Zamfara. Local leaders in the Birnin Gwari region of Kaduna told AFP in January they suffered deadly attacks by armed bandits on an almost daily basis.