Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Saturday declared a state of emergency in areas hard hit by violence blamed on Islamist sect Boko Haram and ordered 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, blamed for a wave of bloody attacks, 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 has 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.”
Later on Saturday at least 50 people were killed in clashes between two neighboring communities in Nigeria’s southeastern Ebonyi State, a government spokesman said, but the clashes were not linked to attacks by Boko Haram, he added.
“Upward of 50 people were killed when a group of people from Ezza community attacked residents of neighboring Ezilo community over a land dispute,” Onyekachi Eni said by telephone.
“The dispute between the two communities, which started in 2008, was believed to have been settled until the latest conflagration. A group of people from Ezza invaded Ezilo and attacked them, killing over 50 people there,” he said.
Jonathan’s earlier comments on Boko Haram were made on a visit to a Roman Catholic church in Madalla, near the capital Abuja, where 44 people leaving a mass were killed in a Christmas Day bombing claimed by the group.
During his address in the church, many worshippers cried uncontrollably, including two women who lost their husbands and four children in the Christmas Day bombing.
The parish priest, the Reverend Father Isaac Achi, said the church had forgiven the attackers.
“On behalf of the whole Christians in this country and Christ lovers ... we have forgiven them from the bottom of our hearts. We pray that such thing will not occur again in any place in this country,” he said.
Jonathan said the state of emergency 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.
“And Nigeria, being the body, they want to kill it. But nobody will allow them to do that,” he added.
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 the authorities did not address the violence.
Nigeria, also Africa’s largest oil producer, is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
A special military counter-terrorism force would also be set up, Jonathan announced.