Protesters hold placards, shout slogans on Ikorodu road in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, January 3, 2012.
Protesters hold placards, shout slogans on Ikorodu road in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, January 3, 2012.

Nigeria?s government is calling on residents in the country?s northern region to ignore an ultimatum issued by Islamic militant group Boko Haram, which expires today (Wednesday).

Information minister Labaran Maku said beefed up government security forces are on high alert to combat Boko Haram?s violent activities, which often targets unarmed civilians.

?Nigerians of all tribes and religions should unite to confront [this] evil,? said Maku. ?The security agencies, the police, the army have already called on our population to completely ignore these threats.?


The militant group issued a three-day ultimatum Sunday warning southerners, mostly Christians, to leave the country?s north while promising clashes with government soldiers. The group also called on Muslims living in southern Nigeria to return, saying it has evidence they will be attacked.

The ultimatum came just a day after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in 15 locations following months of deadly violence that authorities blame largely on Boko Haram.

Information minister Maku criticized the ultimatum which he said aims to create disunity and instability.

?The government is determined, capable and will never leave any stone unturned to secure the unity of Nigeria against all evil groups. Nigerians will not leave [their properties to] go anywhere,? said Maku.

Meanwhile, a leading member of the ?Elders Forum? in Borno State, Bulama Mali Gubio, claims some politicians are benefiting from the growing security crisis. He also said criminal groups are using the Boko Haram name to commit crimes and create chaos.

Information minister Maku said the administration is aware of speculation that some groups may be committing crimes in Boko Haram?s name.

?Any politician that is identified with this cause has failed completely from the beginning,? he said.  ?There may be opportunistic groups who will [take advantage of] what is happening, [but] it cannot be an advantage to any politician.?

Fuel controversy

Protesters marched against a government decision to end a popular consumer fuel subsidy, which has sent prices soaring in the oil-rich nation. Information minister Maku expressed sympathy for the ?short term pains? many are experiencing following the decision. He however underscored the need for the government to deregulate the oil industry to attract private investment.

?Government control has killed the sector so we want to return this sector to businessmen all over the world in order to develop it,? said Maku. ?Government is [supporting the development of ] mass transit in all the major cities by giving vehicles and buses to transporters at no interest rate. [This will] immediately reduce profiteering and the high cost of transportation.

He said the de-regulation will enable Nigeria become a hub of manufacturing goods and services to provide jobs.

The administration has said ending the subsidy will allow the government to fund infrastructure and social programs.