Lagos (Nigeria): Nigeria marked 53 years of independence today with little to celebrate: Scores of families in mourning over killings by suspected Islamic extremists, security forces on high alert against feared bomb attacks and the government confronting an internal power struggle.
Islamic militants continue to terrorize Nigeria`s northeast despite a massive 4 ½-month-old military campaign including aerial bombardments. Forty-three students were gunned down Sunday at an agricultural college where attackers also torched classrooms.
Suspected militants yesterday attacked travellers on a main road, beheading 10 and killing another four. Last week, suspected extremists killed 143 civilians, three police officers and two soldiers in an attack on a military outpost, one of the highest tolls from a single assault.
The Islamic uprising poses the greatest security threat in years to the cohesion of Africa`s most populous nation and biggest oil producer, a former British colony of more than 160 million people from more than 250 tribes almost equally divided between a predominantly Muslim north and mainly Christian south.
"I admit that these may not be the best of times for our nation," President Goodluck Jonathan acknowledged in an address broadcast to the nation. Our people are divided in many ways, ethnically, religiously, politically, and materially. I cannot hide from this reality."
He announced a "national dialogue" to heal rifts and urged unity to avoid the fate of Syria. Nigeria suffered a civil war in the late 1960s that killed up to a million people.
Jonathan spoke from Aso Rock, the presidential villa that overlooks the central capital, Abuja, which three years ago was rocked by twin bomb attacks at a stadium where Jonathan and other officials were celebrating independence day in 2010.
Twelve people were killed and 17 wounded in the attack claimed by militants from the Niger Delta fighting to end injustice in southern oil-producing states where people remain impoverished while foreign oil companies and government officials enrich themselves.
Since then, Jonathan has marked independence from inside his well-guarded presidential compound, where he released white doves today in a traditional sign of peace.
A helicopter made reconnaissance flights over Abuja, where police were on a red alert.
Celebrations took place across the country with no immediate reports of disturbances while police and security forces deployed in a heightened state of alert.