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Nigeria Rattled By Strikes, Sectarian Violence

Jan 11, 2012
Originally published on January 11, 2012 5:59 pm

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan is facing the most sustained challenge to his presidency as he confronts crises on two fronts.

His government recently removed fuel subsidies, which has sent transportation costs soaring and prompted nationwide strikes that were in their third day Wednesday.

And a radical Muslim group is warning of renewed sectarian violence in a country that has a roughly equal split between Muslims and Christians.

Boko Haram is the anti-Western and anti-government Islamist sect that has claimed responsibility for a series of deadly attacks, mainly on Christian targets since Christmas.

The group released a 14-minute video on Wednesday, which shows the man regarded as the group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, sitting between two Kalashnikov rifles, wearing a bullet-proof vest, as he attempts to justify the killings.

"We are ready to negotiate if that is in line with how God says it should be done," Shekau says. "But we will not negotiate on the terms of infidels. The Koran is clear on when to negotiate and when not to – and says how the Holy Prophet Muhammad negotiated, as well as how those who came before us did it."

Shekau says the recent attacks on churches and other targets are retribution for the killing of Muslims. He warns that the police and the army are no match for Boko Haram militants, who want Islamic law imposed in northern Nigeria, where most residents are Muslim.

The sect is also warning Christians to leave the north.

Muslims and Christians Fearful

President Jonathan says Boko Haram has supporters and members within the government, military, security forces and judiciary. And there have also been reports that the sect may have links to Al Qaida.

Nigerian Muslims and Christians are both living in fear, as tension, suspicion and violence increase.

Five people were killed in an attack on a mosque and an Islamic school this week.

"We are sad, we are saddened by everything that is happening," says Ayo Oritsejafor, a pastor who heads the Christian Association of Nigeria. "Our people are being killed like animals. We are saying to Muslims, our Muslim friends and brothers, co-owners of Nigeria, please, let us work together, show us that we are one. We can't continue to pay the price. Join us."

President Jonathan also has big problems with the labor unions and Nigerians who accuse their leaders of corruption and living off the country's oil revenues, while most people remain poor.

Much of the country was shut down for a third day Wednesday, part of a crippling strike that was called after the president announced the scrapping of what he says are unsustainable government fuel subsidies. The pump price for gas immediately doubled, with the price of many other goods and services also shot up.

"I assure all Nigerians that I feel the pain and share the anguish that you all feel," says the president. "I personally feel pain to see the sharp increase in transport fares and the prices of goods and services. I probably would have reacted in the same manner as some of our compatriots or hold the same critical views about the government."

The president's apparent empathy only enraged many Nigerians. Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets this week, vowing to force Jonathan to reverse his decision.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Nigeria is grappling with a combination of protests and deadly violence. A group of Islamic extremists has been bombing churches, and there's mounting anger over a dramatic rise in the price of gasoline. A nationwide strike began on Monday, paralyzing the country and putting pressure on the president.

NICK MIROFF, BYLINE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and the continent's top crude oil exporter. But Goodluck Jonathan is facing the most sustained challenge to his presidency. Earlier today, Boko Haram, the anti-Western and anti-government Islamist sect claiming responsibility for a series of deadly attacks on mainly Christian targets since Christmas, released a video. The man regarded as the group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, tried to justify the killings, adding...

ABUBAKAR SHEKAU: (Through Translator) We are ready to negotiate if that is in line with how God says it should be done. But we will not negotiate on the terms of infidels.

QUIST-ARCTON: Cold comfort for President Jonathan. Shekau says the attacks on churches are retribution for the killing of Muslims. He warns that the police and the army are no match for Boko Haram militants, who want Islamic law imposed in largely Muslim northern Nigeria. Nigerians from both the Christian and Muslim communities are living in fear as tension and violence increase. Five people were killed in an attack on a mosque and Islamic school this week. Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor heads the Christian Association of Nigeria.

AYO ORITSEJAFOR: We are saddened by everything that is happening. Our people are being killed like animals. We are saying to Muslims, our Muslim friends and brothers, co-owners of Nigeria, please, let us work together, show us that we are one. We can't continue to pay the price. Join us.

QUIST-ARCTON: President Jonathan also has big problems with the labor unions and Nigerians who accuse their leaders of corruption and living fat on the country's oil revenues, while the people remain poor. Today marks day three of a crippling strike after the president announced the scrapping of what he says are unsustainable fuel subsidies. The pump price for gas immediately doubled. President Jonathan...

PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN: (Through Translator) I assure all Nigerians that I feel the pain and share the anguish that you all feel. I personally feel the pain to see the sharp increase in transport fares and the prices of goods and services.

QUIST-ARCTON: His apparent empathy simply enraged Nigerians.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

QUIST-ARCTON: Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets this week, vowing to force the president to reverse his decision. As he struggles to defuse Nigeria's parallel crises, there's worrying talk that West Africa's most powerful nation may be heading for a breakup or another civil war, prompting calls for dialogue and reconciliation. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Accra. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.