Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nigerian leader says Boko Haram threat worse than civil war

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said Sunday unrest blamed on Islamist group Boko Haram was worse than the 1960s civil war, with sect sympathisers in the government and security agencies.
The president, speaking at a church service in the capital Abuja, did not give details of the threat he vaguely described amid intense speculation over Boko Haram's aims, including its possible political links.
The group is thought to have varying factions with differing aims.
"The situation we have in our hands is even worse than the civil war that we fought," Jonathan said, referring to Nigeria's 1967-70 conflict that killed more than a million people.
While the death toll linked to violence blamed on Boko Haram has not reached anywhere near that level, Jonathan cited the unpredictability and pervasiveness of the threat.
"During the civil war, we knew and we could even predict where the enemy was coming from ... But the challenge we have today is more complicated."
Describing the extent of the problem, he said Boko Haram members and sympathisers could be found throughout society.
"I remember when I had a meeting with elders from the northeast and some parts of the northwest where the Boko Haram phenomenon is more prevalent," he said.
"Somebody said that the situation is bad, that even if one's son is a member, one will not even know. That means that if the person will plant a bomb behind your house, you won't know."
He added that "some of them are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in the judiciary.
"Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies."
At another point in the same speech, Jonathan said "politicians who justify killings in order to gain cheap political points are unpatriotic ...."
Boko Haram has been blamed for intensifying violence that has killed hundreds, including attacks targeting Christians and churches in recent weeks.
Jonathan's comments come with his government under mounting pressure to stop the violence and amid warnings from Christians that they will defend themselves.
He is also under huge pressure over a controversial government move that ended fuel subsidies on January 1, causing petrol prices to instantly double. There have been increasingly volatile protests over the move and nationwide strikes are planned for Monday.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, is roughly divided between a predominately Christian south and mainly Muslim north, and the recent violence has sparked fears of a wider religious conflict.
Boko Haram's make-up has long been mysterious and its demands varying. Speculation over its possible political links have ranged from local politics in the country's northeast to opposition to Jonathan in the country's north.
Its leader at the time of a 2009 uprising put down by a brutal military assault, Mohammed Yusuf, gained followers through his fiery speeches condemning the military and corrupt politicians.
But when the group re-emerged in 2010, its structure and aims were far less clear. It has carried out increasingly sophisticated attacks, including suicide bombings such as the one that killed 25 people at UN headquarters in Abuja in August.
There has also been intense speculation over whether elements of Boko Haram have links to foreign extremist groups, such as Al-Qaeda's north African branch.
Jonathan declared a state of emergency in hard hit areas on December 31, but the violence, including gun and bomb attacks, has only continued and expanded into other locations.

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