Deadly terror attacks threaten stability in Nigeria
The Times Editorial: Nigeria has long been plagued by incidents of sectarian violence in its mainly Muslim north, strikes in its big cities and sporadic unrest and kidnappings in the oil-rich Niger delta.
However, in recent months, the scale, intensity and sophistication displayed by the perpetrators of a series of deadly attacks in the north have presented the democratically elected government with its most formidable challenge to date.
In the latest outrage, claimed by the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram, at least 178 people were killed in Kano, the country's second-biggest city, on Friday, sending thousands of citizens fleeing in panic.
The assault, a series of coordinated bombings and gun attacks, was extremely well planned.
It follows a bomb attack on a Catholic church outside the capital, Abuja, on Christmas Day which killed 37 people, and a series of gun and bomb attacks on the northeast city of Damaturu, which left at least 65 people dead and dozens injured.
Not much is known about Boko Haram, which started out as a clerical movement opposed to Western education which originally wanted sharia (Islamic law) to be more widely applied, but analysts say it feeds off perceptions that the north has been marginalised economically.
According to London-based news agency Reuters, the group's objectives appeared to have changed, with its leaders pledging to attack anyone who opposes it, including the security forces, government figures and Christian groups. Indeed, police stations appear to have been the principal target of Friday's carnage in Kano, and many of the dead and injured were police officers.
There can be little doubt that Boko Haram represents the most serious threat in decades to the security of Africa's most populous nation.
The AU and UN should do all in their power to support President Goodluck Jonathan's efforts to restore stability - and encourage him to enter into a dialogue with the militants.