(CNSNews.com) – Acknowledging that the state has lost control over some territory to radical Islamists, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in three northern states.
“What we are facing is not just militancy or criminality, but a rebellion and insurgency by terrorist groups which pose a very serious threat to national unity and territorial integrity,” the leader of Africa’s most populous country said in a televised announcement.
“Already, some northern parts of Borno state have been taken over by groups whose allegiance is to different flags and ideologies,” he said.
“These terrorists and insurgents seem determined to establish control and authority over parts of our beloved nation and to progressively overwhelm the rest of the country. In many places, they have destroyed the Nigerian flag and other symbols of state authority and in their place, hoisted strange flags suggesting the exercise of alternative sovereignty.”
Jonathan declared an emergency in Borno, a state wedged into Nigeria’s north-eastern corner bordering Cameroon, Niger and Chad; and in two neighboring states, Yobe and Adamawa.
He said armed forces would have sweeping powers of search and arrest. As for terrorists and their collaborators, “whoever they may be, wherever they may go, we will hunt them down, we will fish them out, and we will bring them to justice. No matter what it takes, we will win this war against terror.”
Shortly after the presidential broadcast, the secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Borno state, the Rev. Faye Pama Musa, was killed.
The Nation of Lagos said the pentecostal church pastor was trailed to his home and shot dead by two gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram, the Islamist group at the center of Nigeria’s security crisis.
Boko Haram has declared a violent “jihad” against Nigeria’s Christians while launching increasingly audacious attacks against government facilities.
More than 700 Christian deaths were attributed to the group last year alone, and its recent attacks included a May 7 assault on a prison and other government facilities in Borno that left 55 people dead – and saw 105 prisoners escape.
Jonathan said in his televised address such attacks “amount to a declaration of war.”
The Obama administration 11 months ago named three Boko Haram leaders under an executive order designed to disrupt funding to terrorists, but has resisted calls by some lawmakers to designate the group as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).
Last January, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the administration was still looking into the FTO designation question and “whether that’s the most effective way to deal with the organization.”
Despite Boko Haram’s targeting of Christians and its jihadist rhetoric – last August it demanded that Jonathan, a Christian, convert to Islam or resign – U.S. officials have played down religion as a main motivation.
“As you know, Boko Haram is at the moment a loosely constructed group attached to trying to address grievances in the north,” Nuland said last June.
Religion is “not the primary driver behind extremist violence in Nigeria,” then-assistant secretary of state for African affairs Johnnie Carson told a U.S. Senate hearing in March 2011, adding that Boko Haram was exploiting “the legitimate grievances of northern populations to garner recruits and public sympathy.”
On Tuesday night a CAN spokesman, Sunday Oibe, told the country’s Vanguard newspaper that Jonathan’s emergency decision justified what northern Christians had been saying for years about the urgent need to act against Boko Haram.
FTO designation makes it unlawful for any U.S. citizen to knowingly provide a group with “material support or resources.”
According to the State Department, designation also “signals to other governments our concern about named organizations,” “heightens public awareness and knowledge of terrorist organizations” and “stigmatizes and isolates designated terrorist organizations internationally.”
“FTO designations play a critical role in our fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business.”