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.
It comes on the eve of a presidential election, with candidates pitting continuity against reform in a battle between incumbent Muhammadu Buhari and his main rival Atiku Abubakar.
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 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.
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. (AFP)