The police have described the threat by the fundamentalist group, Boko Haram, asking Southerners and Christians to leave the North within three days as baseless and designed just to create panic.
A spokesman for Boko Haram had on Sunday issued the ultimatum and threatened to confront troops after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in hard-hit areas.
Abdul Qaqa, who spoke on behalf of the group blamed for terrorist attacks, said he was giving Southerners living in the North a three-day ultimatum to leave.
“We find it pertinent to state that soldiers will only kill innocent Muslims in the local government areas where the state of emergency was declared. We would confront them squarely to protect our brothers. We also wish to call on our fellow Muslims to come back to the North because we have evidence that they would be attacked. We are also giving a three-day ultimatum to the Southerners living in the Northern part of Nigeria to move away,” he said.
President Jonathan declared a state of emergency on Saturday in parts of four states hit by violence blamed on Boko Haram.
The declaration came in response to scores of attacks attributed to Boko Haram, particularly the bombings on Christmas day that killed 49 people, most of them in a gruesome blast at Saint Theresa's Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State.
Qaqa also criticised Jonathan over his visit to the Catholic church outside Abuja on Saturday. The church was the site of the bloodiest Christmas day attack.
“The President had never visited any of the theatres where Muslims were massacred,” he said, naming areas where scores of Muslims were killed in post-election riots in April.
The Deputy Force Public Relations Officer (DFPRO), Mr. Yemi Ajayi, while describing the threat as “empty and calculated efforts to create fears into the people”, said police and other security operatives are on hand to protect the lives and properties of all Nigerians, Northerners inclusive.
In his words: “Federal Government has done enough to protect the lives and properties of the people in this part of the country regardless of their tribe and religion. The threat by the said Boko Haram spokesperson, Abul Qaqa, is baseless, empty, and just to create confusion and fear into the hearts of the people. As I am talking to you now, police officers and men, and other security operatives are on hand in all these areas to fight the criminals. I want to implore the people to go about their lawful businesses without any fear or intimidation from any quarter.”
Asked why there had been attacks on Christians and other Southerners in the North despite the security presence in the area, the police deputy spokesperson said more security operatives had been drafted to the areas and that they are poised to fight the criminals to the end.
He enjoined Christians and Southerners living in the North to remain as the government had provided enough security for their lives and property.
State of emergency was declared in parts of the states of Borno, where Boko Haram traditionally has as its base, Niger, Plateau and Yobe.
In Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, residents reported increased patrols yesterday. Soldiers had been entering homes in search of weapons and bombs, they said.
After the searches, soldiers told residents to report any unusual behaviour or abandoned vehicles which might contain planted bombs.