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Frustration Mounts in Nigeria After 3 Days of Deadly Violence

Scene outside outside a church following a blast in Kaduna, Nigeria, June 17, 2012.Scene outside outside a church following a blast in Kaduna, Nigeria, June 17, 2012.
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Scene outside outside a church following a blast in Kaduna, Nigeria, June 17, 2012.
Scene outside outside a church following a blast in Kaduna, Nigeria, June 17, 2012.
Anne Look
DAKAR - Frustration over Nigeria's handling of a security crisis is mounting after three days of violence killed at least 80 people in the country's north.   

Three days of deadly violence in northern Nigeria have intensified criticism of the government's handling of militant Islamic sect Boko Haram, whose attacks have killed hundreds this year, despite a heavy security deployment.

The militant group has waged increasingly deadly attacks in since 2010.  Security forces are the sect's prime target, however Boko Haram is increasingly attacking civilians, in particular Christians.

Residents of the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the sect's base, say they have lost faith in the nation's leadership and security forces.

This man asked to be identified by his last name as Mr. Olanrewaju.

"They do not have the courage, the competence to handle this problem," said Olanrewaju. "They cannot protect themselves, so how do they protect the citizens?  This is the situation we find ourselves in and it is quite disturbing.  There is no hope that this problem will be resolved soon."

On Monday, suspected Boko Haram militants attacked police and security targets in the northeastern city of Damaturu.  State authorities put the city under a 24-hour curfew as shootouts between militants and security forces continued into Tuesday.

Hospital sources said at least 40 people were killed.

The violence in Damaturu followed unrest Sunday in Kaduna State, where Boko Haram bombed three Christian churches, killing at least 16 people.  The bombings sparked reprisal attacks by Christians against Muslims that reportedly killed at least 52 people in Kaduna.

Authorities declared a statewide 24-hour curfew for Kaduna.

Nigeria's national security adviser, General Owoye Azazi, said religious leaders in Kaduna are working to calm tensions.

"Things happen," said Azazi. "As a nation, as a people, we must address those situations, not necessarily by killing each other."

General Azazi said security forces, assisted by information from local populations, have made headway against Boko Haram in certain areas, but not every bombing can be prevented.

The Christian Association of Nigeria says the government's response to the insurgency has been "cavalier."  It says the president has done nothing to reassure an end to the bombings and gun attacks is in sight.

Analysts have long warned that terrorist attacks against Christians in Kaduna state and the rest of the country's volatile Middle Belt could spark wider sectarian conflict in a region where religious clashes have killed hundreds in recent years.

The head of the Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria, Shehu Sani, says reprisal attacks have worsened the situation.  

"Boko Haram has always wanted Muslims to see them as a force in the defense their interests," said Sani. "Now, it is very clear that if the Christians take all Muslims as being part of Boko Haram, and also all Muslims as legitimate targets for retaliation, they will simply be creating an alliance which will be very difficult for them and the Nigerian authorities to handle."

President Goodluck Jonathan is coming under fire for leaving the country to attend the environmental conference in Brazil.

The opposition Action Congress of Nigeria issued a statement that said the president's decision to go ahead with planned travel amidst the unrest was a reflection of "insensitive and confused leadership."

A Maiduguri resident who asked to be identified only as Mr. Ogar put it this way.

"A sensitive and a rational leader whose house is burning should not be seen to be more interested in things that are happening outside his own country," said Ogar. "A new dimension was introduced in Kaduna and the man abandoned leadership."

Northern leaders continue to call for dialogue, and not force, to end the Boko Haram insurgency.  A recent effort at mediated talks between the government and the sect failed.  

National security adviser Azazi told journalists Tuesday that efforts at dialogue are ongoing and it is "never too late" to talk.

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