Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan sacked Nigerian Police Force Inspector-General Hafix Ringim and his six deputies on Wednesday after coordinated attacks by an Islamist sect that killed 186 people and the escape from custody of the main suspect in a Christmas bombing.
Jonathan has been heavily criticized for failing to deal with Boko Haram’s campaign of violence and his opponents have called for a shake-up in the security services.
Jonathan, who has said members of the sect have infiltrated the security services and all areas of government, said Ringim had been dismissed with immediate effect and would be replaced by Mohammed Abubakar.
Abubakar’s appointment was “a first step toward the comprehensive reorganization and repositioning of the Nigeria Police Force,” a presidency statement said.
All six of Ringim’s deputy inspectors have been approved for immediate retirement and a committee has been set up to oversee the reorganization of the police.
Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language of northern -Nigeria means “Western education is sinful,” is loosely modeled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. It became active around 2003 and is concentrated mainly in the north of the country.
Abubaker, 53, is, like Ringim, a Muslim from the north of Africa’s most populous nation. Jonathan is a Christian from the southern oil-producing Niger Delta.
The group killed more than 500 people last year and more than 250 in the first weeks of this year in gun and bomb attacks, Human Rights Watch said. Coordinated attacks in the northern city of Kano killed 186 people on Friday last week.
Last week police arrested Kabiru Sokoto in connection with a Dec. 25 bombing. While they were taking him from police headquarters to his house in Abaji, outside Abuja, to conduct a search there, their vehicle came under fire and he escaped.
Security sources said it was a “dangerous and suspicious” way to handle a suspect.
The presidency statement said the police committee’s goals included to determine “the general and specific causes of the collapse of public confidence in the police and recommend ways of restoring public trust in the institution” and identifying members of the police who “can no longer fit into the system.”
Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the bombing of St Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, on the outskirts of Abuja, which killed 37 people in the deadliest of a series of attacks on Christmas Day.
Three people were injured in a blast late on Tuesday that destroyed a police station in Kano, police said.
“The whole area was in confusion. I just started running. Thank God I survived,” said Musa Ado, 35, who was at the scene of the latest attack.
Nigeria’s population of more than 160 million people is roughly split between a largely Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.