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Nigeria Struggles to Curb Islamists After Attacks Kill 256

Bombing Victim in the Northern City of Kano
A paramedic helps a young man, injured during one of the multiple explosions and shooting attacks, as he leaves the Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital in the northern Nigerian city of Kano on Jan. 21, 2012. Photographer: Aminu Abubakar/AFP/Getty Images

Attacks by Islamic militants in Nigeria that killed at least 256 people in the northern city of Kano are challenging President Goodluck Jonathan’s government a week after a nationwide strike paralyzed the economy.

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram said it was responsible for blasts at eight government buildings in Kano on Jan. 20. The death toll was confirmed today by Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress, whose members helped carry the dead and wounded to hospitals.

Authorities in Africa’s top oil producer blame Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin,” for a series of attacks over the past year, including the Aug. 26 suicide-bombing of the United Nations building in the capital, Abuja, that killed 24 people. Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in parts of four northern states and said the militants pose a worse threat to the country than the 1967-1970 Biafra civil war.

“The current security challenge Nigeria faces has cast a cloud over the longer-term stability of the country and its economic growth outlook,” Ridle Markus and Dumisani Ngwenya, Africa strategists at Barclays Plc-owned Absa Capital, wrote in an e-mailed report today. “President Jonathan will have to work hard to restore faith in his government, though he may struggle to convince the public that his administration can be more efficient than previous ones.”

Improvised Explosives

Nigerian police recovered more than 100 improvised explosive devices since Jan. 21 in Kano, including eight today in an abandoned car, said a senior police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to reporters.

Nigeria is almost evenly divided between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.

Africa’s second-biggest economy is recovering from a week-long general strike that cost an estimated 207.4 billion naira ($1.3 billion), the National Bureau of Statistics said Jan. 18. The action ended on Jan. 16 after Jonathan backtracked on a decision to fully lift a fuel subsidy and agreed to limit gasoline-price increases to 97 naira a liter (0.26 gallon). Prices initially more than doubled from 65 naira a liter.

The attacks by Boko Haram haven’t affected oil from Nigeria’s Atlantic ocean coast, where companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Total SA and Eni SpA pump more than 90 percent of the country’s crude. Similarly, the financial markets in the southwestern commercial capital, Lagos, haven’t been disrupted by the violence.

Security Agencies

During a visit to Kano yesterday, Jonathan urged Nigerians to “look at your neighbors and know what they do, and if there’s any suspicious movement, inform security agencies.”

In Kano, the biggest city in northern Nigeria, the militants attacked a regional police office, a smaller station, the immigration office and a building used by the state security service with bombs and gunfire.

Belief in the security forces’ ability to tackle the insurgents suffered a blow when police said Kabiru Umar, the alleged mastermind of a Christmas Day bombing of a church near Abuja that killed 43 people, escaped from custody on Jan. 15, two days after he was arrested.

Clement Nwankwo, the executive director of the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Center, said the escape occurred “under questionable circumstances.” There’s a widespread belief that the government has been unable “to get to the root of who really has sympathies for Boko Haram within the security services,” he said yesterday by phone from Abuja.

‘Significant Challenge’

Eleven people, including two soldiers, a policeman and eight civilians, died when suspected Islamist gunmen attacked a bank, a police station and a hotel in the northeastern town of Tawafa Balewa yesterday, Police Commissioner Okechukwu Aduba, told reporters the capital of Bauchi state.

“Attacking symbols of state, a police station and anyone wearing uniform basically is much more of a challenge to the authority of government,” Antony Goldman, head of PM Consulting, which specializes in risk analysis in West Africa, said in a phone interview from London yesterday. The attacks represent a “significant challenge for the government.”

Nigeria’s military shot dead yesterday four suspected Boko Haram militants in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, and recovered improvised explosive devices, Victor Ebhaleme, field operation officer for the Joint Task Force in charge of security in the region, said in a statement handed to reporters today in the city.

Government Survival

A High Court registrar was shot dead yesterday at his residence by suspected Boko Haram militants in Maiduguri, Borno state police spokesman Samuel Tizhe said by phone.

“They seem to be able to do whatever they want to do, wherever they want to do it, which means the government is not safe,” Jubrin Ibrahim, director of the Abuja-based Center for Democracy and Development, said by phone. The government’s “own survival is at risk as this thing spreads.”

The Nigerian Stock Exchange All-Share Index retreated 0.7 percent to 20,683.46 at the close in Lagos, according to a statement on the bourse’s website, a fourth day of losses.

The naira fell for the first day in four, declining 0.2 percent to 161.285 per dollar on the interbank market as of 5:28 p.m. in Lagos, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Brent oil for March settlement advanced as much as $1.50 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $111.36 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. It was at $110.56 a barrel at 4:26 p.m. London time.

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