Nigeria kept Independence Day celebrations low-key after a bomb during a parade last year and a series of attacks since by radical Islamists prompted authorities to tighten security across Africa’s most populous nation.
Soldiers marshalled roadblocks outside luxury hotels and government buildings in the capital Abuja, some businesses closed down for the day and most people stayed indoors.
There were none of the usual flamboyant decorations, red carpets or brass bands in the capital’s Eagle Square, the nation’s celebratory venue, after Niger Delta militants this week threatened a repeat of its attack a year ago, Reuters reports.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has been severely weakened since an amnesty in 2009 brought out of the creeks thousands of militants who at their height halted more than a third of the OPEC member’s oil output with attacks on oil facilities in the murky delta swamplands.
Since then, a new and deadlier threat has arrived in the shape of Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect responsible for near daily attacks in its home base in the remote northeast and increasingly sophisticated bombings targeting the capital.
President Goodluck Jonathan on Saturday, in an address aired on national television, said tackling the new terrorist threat was a priority for his administration.
“On this day 51 years ago, the British Union Jack was lowered and replaced by our national Green-White-Green flag, heralding the independence of our nation. The 1st of October remains a special day for us, for Africa, and the world.”
“The current incidents of violence and terror, in parts of the country, will surely be overcome. We will secure the safety of our citizens, for only when we do this, will we be able to build the needed peace and tranquility in all parts of the federation.”
Jonathan hosted selected dignitaries and diplomats at for a special changing-of-the-guards ceremony before cutting a cake and releasing pigeons, a symbolic gesture for peace. But public celebrations were muted.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden”, has been blamed for near daily shootings in the dusty northeast and has claimed bombings in Abuja, including Nigeria’s first suicide blast, which killed 23 people at the country’s United Nations headquarters last month.
U.S. and other intelligence officials have said evidence suggests Boko Haram members have trained in Niger and have connections with al Qaeda’s North African wing.
Bombings in the north and the capital rapidly have overtaken attacks by militants thousands of miles away in the oil-rich Niger Delta as Nigeria’s biggest security threat.