As many as forty people were killed early Tuesday morning in a student hostel adjoining Federal Polytechnic Mubi, a college in northeastern Nigeria, and authorities are trying to piece together why.

Initial suspician centered on Boko Hiram, a violent Islamist group whose name literally means “western education is forbidden.” But given the nature of the killings and the reported targets, officials now believe that the massacre may be connected to student elections held last weekend.

The police commissioner for the region told reporters that many of those killed “were executive leaders that were elected” in the Saturday elections, which the New York Times said were “bitterly contested along religious and ethnic lines.” The BBC reports that student union leadership positions in Nigeria are often “stepping stones” to careers in national politics, providing opportunities for economic advancement. The new leader of the Mubi student union is said to be one of those killed.

Nigeria also has a history of university violence in connection with unofficial fraternities which have been described as campus cults. In 1999 eight students at Obafemi Awololo University in southwestern Nigeria, including the secretary-general of the campus student union, were murdered by members of the Black Axe Confraternity.

Federal Polytechnic Mubi is a campus of some fourteen thousand students which opened in 1979 and moved to its current location in 1982. In the last six years its student body has more than quadrupled, and it now has a staff of some two thousand faculty and other employees.

The college has been closed since the massacre, and many students are now evacuating the area.