updated 4/21/2007 4:00:20 AM ET 2007-04-21T08:00:20

A truck bomb aimed at electoral commission headquarters ran into obstructions and failed to explode hours before the start of Nigeria’s presidential vote, the national police chief said Saturday.

Police Inspector General Sunday Ehindero said that the attacker pointed the truck loaded with fuel and gas cylinders toward the headquarters and placed a rock on the accelerator before jumping from the vehicle, which was stopped by obstructions before reaching the building in the capital, Abuja.

Ehindero called for calm.

“I’m calling on all Nigerians to go about their civil duties ... peacefully,” he said.

At least 49 people have been killed since chaotic state elections last weekend and many more have been reported dead in earlier political violence. In a national address Friday, President Olusegun Obasanjo also pleaded with citizens to vote peacefully.

If successful, Saturday’s election will set up a transfer of power between elected civilian leaders for the first time since Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960. Other attempts have been overturned by annulments or military coups.

Ehindeo also said that militants who battled government forces for hours on the eve of the vote in an oil-rich southern state had been seeking to kidnap the governor, who’s also the ruling party’s vice presidential candidate.

The gunbattle raged for several hours Friday in Yenagoa, the capital of southern Bayelsa state. Ehindero said the gunmen sought to kidnap Goodluck Jonathan, the state governor and vice presidential candidate for the ruling People’s Democratic Party, was scheduled to be in his home state to vote on Saturday.

The gunfire ended after about two hours.

Attack on oil rig workers
Elsewhere Friday, gunmen attacked a boat carrying workers to an oil rig in waters off Nigeria’s unruly southern Niger Delta region, wounding six passengers, officials said.

Security forces drove off the attackers, a private security official said on condition of anonymity because of company prohibitions on dealing with the media.

Another security official, also speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said three Nigerian workers initially feared kidnapped had been found hiding under the vessel’s engine housing.

A military spokesman, Maj. Sagir Musa, confirmed an attack had taken place, but had no details.

More than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped over the past year in the southern region where crude is pumped in Africa’s largest producer. Stepped-up violence has trimmed Nigeria’s daily production by about one quarter, helping send global crude prices higher.

Ehidero upped an earlier death toll in recent election violence, saying 34 police have died due to “criminal desperation that has attended the conduct of these elections” and that 40 civilians were killed.

He earlier said that 21 people had died on April 14, the day of disputed state elections. Local media reported between 40 and 50 dead that day.

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