The threat posed by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has prompted the president of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan to declare a state of emergency in some parts of the Muslim-dominated north of the country.
Boko Haram, which seeks to establish a strict shariah state in all of Nigeria, has killed hundreds of people as part of a savage wave of attacks designed to destabilize the government.
On brazen Christmas Day attacks, the group killed dozens of people, including Christians attending church services.
Initially, Boko Haram targeted police, state security forces and politicians; however, they have recently expanded their violence upon the civilian population.
Jonathan's order will be enforced in the Yobe and Borno states in the north-east, Plateau state in central Nigeria and Niger state in the east.
He has also ordered some parts of the country's borders sealed off until further notice.
The president, a Christian, has vowed to “crush” Boko Haram.
The temporary closure of our borders in the affected areas is only an interim measure designed to address the current security challenges, he said in a television broadcast to the nation.
Jonathan has asked his chief of defense to form a special counter-terrorism force to quell the violence.
Jonathan had earlier described Boko Haram as “cancerous.”
Nigeria being the body, they want to kill it, Jonathan reportedly said. But nobody will allow them to do that. We will crush the terrorists. If there are institutions... which are harboring terrorists, we will deal with them.
Boko Haram's ceaseless violence has prompted tens of thousands of people to flee Maiduguri in Borno State, as well as other regions.
The crisis has assumed a terrorist dimension, Jonathan said. I therefore urge the political leadership [in northern local governments] to give maximum cooperation to ensure that the situation is brought under control.
BBC reported that Nigeria's neighbors, Chad and Cameroon, are so concerned about the spiraling violence in Nigeria that they are seeking ways to prevent the mass killings from spilling across the borders.
Meanwhile, fears are growing that Nigeria may sink into a deadly sectarian civil war. Christian leaders have vowed they will defend themselves from further attacks if the military cannot sufficiently protect them.
Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa and largest oil producer, has long been wracked by tribal conflicts as well as religious clashes between the Muslim north and the Christian-dominated south.
However, it is unclear who forms the leadership of Boko Haram, a group that seems to be based on the Taliban. The group's name means “Western education is sinful.”