Nigerian president notes victories over Islamic extremists, Ebola on day of independence



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ABUJA, Nigeria — Celebrating recent victories over Ebola and Islamic extremists, President Goodluck Jonathan marked Nigeria's 54 years of independence from Britain on Wednesday.

Jonathan congratulated his government on successfully curtailing the Ebola crisis blamed for the deaths of eight people in Nigeria.

"This is how it should be: swift, effective and comprehensive action in defense of citizens," he said in a television broadcast to the nation.

But Jonathan's government has been criticized for not protecting citizens against an Islamic uprising that caught world attention when the insurgents kidnapped more than 270 schoolgirls in April. Dozens escaped but none of the 219 missing have been rescued.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said Tuesday that Nigeria appears to have contained the Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 3,000 people, most in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

No new cases have been reported in weeks in Nigeria, where the disease was carried by a Liberian-American diplomat who left a hospital in Monrovia, where he had exhibited Ebola symptoms, and flew to Nigeria. He infected 20 people in Lagos, Africa's largest city of 21 million people, and the oil capital of Port Harcourt.

Nigerian health workers tracked 894 people who had made contact with the diplomat and made some 18,500 face-to-face visits to monitor for Ebola symptoms, according to the CDC.

Jonathan urged vigilance on Nigerians, as officials continue to monitor arrivals at airports, ports and border posts.

He said his mood remains somber as he remembers all the souls lost to a 5-year-old Islamic uprising and its "crises of nationhood occasioned by the activities of terrorist elements who have done the unimaginable to challenge our unity as a people."

He made no mention of the missing schoolgirls, or his government's failure to rescue them.

Instead, Jonathan praised soldiers for "inflicting devastating blows at the heart of terror" in the uprising centered in the northeast though suicide and car bombs have killed hundreds of people in northern cities and the central capital, Abuja.

The Ministry of Defense and witnesses have reported that punishing bombing raids and ground attacks have repelled the insurgents and stopped them just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the northeast city of Maiduguri, the birthplace of the Boko Haram extremists and headquarters of the military campaign.

But 12 soldiers were sentenced to death last month for mutiny, and dozens are to face a court-martial this month for alleged cowardice and refusing to act on orders to advance.

Jonathan is expected to run again in Feb. 14 presidential elections that promise to be the most competitive since decades of military dictatorship ended in 1999.

In campaign mode, Jonathan boasted of advances in agriculture that have reduced the nation's food import bill from $6.9 billion in 2009 to $4.35 billion.

He also touted his privatization of the power sector though that has yet to end chronic blackouts that boost costs for industries reliant on diesel-powered generators.

Jonathan looks a strong candidate despite a coalition opposition that now has more legislators than the governing party.

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Faul reported from Johannesburg.

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