Nigeria closes its borders amid unrest from Islamists, strikers

Nigeria's president met with security chiefs to discuss Islamist group Boko Haram, while Nobel prize winner Wole Soyinka warned his country may be heading toward civil war.

Sunday Alamba/AP
Crowd gather tp protest at the Gani Fawehinmi park on the second day of a strike following the removal of fuel subsidy by the government in Lagos, Nigeria, Tuesday. Angry youths erected a burning roadblock outside luxury enclaves in Nigeria's commercial capital Tuesday as a paralyzing national strike over fuel prices and government corruption entered its second day.

Nigeria has closed its borders, as the United Nations shares a report warning that Nigeria’s Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, may have established links with the north African affiliate of Al Qaeda. The border closures are designed to prevent infiltration by such groups.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin,” reportedly aims to "abolish the secular system and establish an Islamic state" in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, and has been blamed in the deaths of 510 people in the past year. Its techniques have largely been of an unsophisticated sort, with gunmen spraying gunfire into crowded areas such as Christian churches and businesses. But it has shown increasing sophistication with car bomb attacks on the nation's capital of Abuja and the use of suicide bombers. 

On Tuesday night, gunmen opened fire on customers at a local beer hall in the town of Potiskum in Yobe state, killing eight civilians and four policemen.

Tension in Nigeria – Africa’s largest oil exporter – has been felt far outside its borders, as the violence and an ongoing series of protest strikes contributed to the rise of crude oil prices, with the price of Brent Crude rising 83 cents to $113.28 on Tuesday.

In New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon met with Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru to discuss the current troubles in Nigeria, and the regional rise of violent militant groups.

Mr. Ban shared a report with Mr. Ashiru, which flagged "growing concern in the region about possible linkages between Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb," a north African terror group that has been blamed for terror attacks, assassinations, and kidnappings in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

Citizens groups and interfaith networks have called on the Nigerian government to deal with the Boko Haram threat. In the northern state of Kaduna, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed – head of an interfaith group called the Kaduna Roundtable – issued an appeal for help.

“Muslim and Christian leaders should assist towards achieving inter-faith harmony and peace among our communities. President Goodluck Jonathan should overhaul his security apparatus to achieve greater impact. It is also conceivable that large-scale criminal activities are being organized under the cover of Boko Haram. Nigerians expect government to provide the necessary protection over their lives and property.

“Nigerians should be vigilant over attempts to trigger massive conflicts between Christians and Muslims to divert attention from real development problems which affect Nigeria. We must all resist the pressure to play to the script of Boko Haram to set us up against each other, or to use Boko Haram to deflate our legitimate campaigns.”

Such advice went unheeded in the southern city of Benin, where protesters tried to burn a mosque to vent their anger over the Boko Haram insurgency.

Meanwhile, nationwide strikes over the removal of a government fuel subsidy entered their third day, threatening to grind Nigeria’s export economy to a halt. On Jan. 1, President Goodluck Jonathan announced that he would remove the subsidy, which had reduced the price that ordinary Nigerians pay for refined fuels such as gasoline and paraffin. Gasoline prices more than doubled, a shocker in a country where most of the population of 150 million lives on less than $2 a day.

The government has argued that the subsidies cost the government more than $8 billion a year, money that could be used to improve roads and electric power grids, hospitals and schools.

President Jonathan on Tuesday met with his security chiefs to discuss strategy on the dual challenges of fuel strikes and Boko Haram.

Nigeria’s Nobel prize laureate Wole Soyinka – who joined other Nigerian authors such as Chinua Achebe in signing a declaration in support of the protesters – told the BBC yesterday that conditions in the country are beginning to resemble the leadup to Nigeria’s bloody civil war of the 1960s.

“It’s not an unrealistic comparison — it’s certainly based on many similarities…. We see the nation heading towards a civil war,” he said.

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