Nigeria declares state of emergency

By Ola Awoniyi
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By Ola Awoniyi

12/31/2011 6:10:01 PM -

ABUJA (AFP) - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Saturday declared a state of emergency in areas hard hit by violence blamed on Islamist sect Boko Haram and announced the closure of part of the country's borders.

He announced the measures after branding Boko Haram a "cancerous" body that was bent on destroying Africa's most populous country and vowing that the group would be crushed.

"While the search for lasting solutions is ongoing, it has become imperative to take some decisive measures necessary to restore normalcy in the country especially within the affected communities," Jonathan said in a nationwide broadcast.

"Consequently, I have... declared a state of emergency in the following parts of the federation," he said, listing parts of the states of Borno, where Boko Haram traditionally had its base, as well as Yobe, Niger and Plateau.

He also ordered the closure of the land borders of the affected areas to control "cross-border terrorist activities".

Jonathan said the move was necessary "as terrorists have taken advantage of the present situation to strike at targets in Nigeria and retreat beyond the reach of our law enforcement personnel."

Nigeria has been hit by scores of attacks blamed on Boko Haram, but a wave of Christmas Day bombings particularly targeting churches which killed at least 49 people set off fear and deep frustration nationwide.

"(Boko Haram) started as a harmless group... they have now grown cancerous,"

Jonathan said in an earlier address at the church in the Madalla area near the capital Abuja where the deadliest Christmas bombing took place.

"And Nigeria, being the body, they want to kill it. But nobody will allow them to do that,"

The latest wave of attacks also sparked fears of potential reprisals by Christians, and Christian leaders warned that they would be forced to defend themselves if authorities did not address the spiralling violence.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with 160 million people and the continent's largest oil producer, is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.

The areas affected by the state of emergency are within Borno state, where Boko Haram has traditionally had its base, and neighbouring Yobe state in the northeast.

The other two areas are in Plateau state, in the country's middle belt dividing the north and south, and Niger state, which is next to the Federal Capital Territory, which includes Abuja.

A number of attacks have occurred in Niger state, including the bloodiest Christmas attack. A bomb attack hit St Theresa Catholic Church in the area of Madalla, killing 44 people there, according to the parish priest.

Borders affected included those in the northeast, where Nigeria shares frontiers with Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

Most of Boko Haram's attacks have occurred in the northeast, but it also claimed responsibility for the August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja that killed at least 25 people.

While Boko Haram initially sought the creation of an Islamic state in the north of Nigeria, a number of people have since claimed to speak on its behalf and issued a range of demands.

There has been intense speculation over whether it has formed links with outside extremist groups, such as Al-Qaeda's north African branch and Somalia's Shebab rebels.

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