A vessel burned by Nigerian armed forces after it had been loaded with oil stolen by Niger Delta militants. Nembe Creek, Nigeria, March 22, 2013. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

A vessel burned by Nigerian armed forces after it had been loaded with oil stolen by Niger Delta militants. Nembe Creek, Nigeria, March 22, 2013. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

While international attention has focused on the election of President Muhammadu Buhari and the continued instability in the north of the country, events surrounding the gubernatorial elections in Nigeria on April 11 could also have significant repercussions in the coming months, especially with signs of an increasing threat of violence arising from the oil-rich Niger Delta region.

As with the presidential poll, the 29 Nigerian states that held elections swung away from former leader Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party toward Buhari’s All Progressives Congress. The APC’s success, unprecedented for an opposition party in Nigeria since the country’s transition to democracy in 1999, can largely be attributed to frustration with Jonathan’s response to the northern security crisis sparked by Boko Haram. Preventing further Boko Haram attacks will be a challenge for the new leaders, as the militant Salafi-Jihadist group has claimed roughly 20,000 lives since 2009 and has recently expanded its attacks into neighboring Cameroon and Niger.

But while Boko Haram is undoubtedly the most lethal group in Nigeria, it is not the only source of violence in the country. There is also a persistent threat from the Niger Delta, whose communities have long felt aggrieved at their perceived marginalization, despite the economic importance of their activities. So far, leaders of regional militias have publically congratulated Buhari and agreed to enter into negotiations with him to ensure ongoing peace. The gubernatorial elections, however, saw sporadic outbreaks of violence, suggesting that tensions are high and there is a strong potential for further instability. The Niger Delta militants are overwhelmingly comprised of Christians from southern ethnic groups, while Buhari is a Muslim from the north. Read more