Published Date: 24 October 2010
A RASH of mysterious killings by gun-wielding motorcycle assassins has led authorities to declare that a radical Islamic sect thought to have been crushed last year has been revived.
Soldiers have been deployed, a curfew has been imposed and many residents worry about attacks in bold daylight that officials call a renewal of the anti-Western sect's strikes on police stations and soldiers.
An outright challenge to the Nigerians.
government appears to be under way, with an audacious twilight prison break last month in Bauchi that freed more than 700 - including many jailed sect members - the firebombing of a police station in Maiduguri and the killing of numerous police officers and other leaders in recent months.
The violence in northern Nigeria comes at a delicate time for the country, one of the world's top oil producers and a major supplier to the US. Though the nation remains stable, it is struggling to organise elections next year that will test the legitimacy of its young democracy.
Beyond that, the government faces a renewed threat from militants in the oil-producing south, who claimed responsibility for a deadly bombing during Independence Day celebrations in the capital, Abuja, this month.
The southern militants had been waging an insurgency for years against the oil industry, but the bombing was the first time they had struck so directly at the heart of Nigerian power.
The restiveness is fuelled by corruption and glaring economic inequality. Southern states are the country's poorest, with more than 70 per cent of the population living in poverty, according to the UN, while the few rich live in mansions behind high walls.
In Maiduguri, a hot, low-rise city of about one million people near the border with Cameroon, the discontent is tinged with religion. Islamic law is in force, as it is across Nigeria's north, but not strictly enough for the sect, Boko Haram, whose name is an expression in the local language, Hausa, indicating disgust with Western education.
In the market, men in flowing robes expressed anger at the government, which violently suppressed Boko Haram in a military operation last year that killed around 800 people, but not at the sect members suspected of the recent killings.
Cloth trader Alhaji Abdullahi Malari said: "It's the government's fault. Our representatives and our government are not sincere. What one person acquires is enough to care for a massive amount of people."
A twine merchant, Alhaji Abu Abaja, agreed: "If government money was equally shared, there would not be this problem."
Last year's bloodshed and destruction are visible in buildings that remain riddled with bullet holes and burned-out vehicles that have still not been cleared.