Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been accused of mishandling a spate of attacks by Islamic militants after he declared a piecemeal state of emergency in some parts of the country.
The move will grant sweeping powers of arrest and detention to security services and seal the borders in four restive states in northern Nigeria. It came after 40 people were killed in series of attacks that included bomb blasts at church services on Christmas Day.
Mr Jonathan also announced the creation of a specialist unit to co-ordinate anti-terror efforts as it sought to reassure the Christian half of Africa's most populous nation that it is winning its war on the Islamic sect Boko Haram.
But critics have accused Mr Jonathan of inaction after he took more than a week to visit areas affected by recent attacks and has only now set up a counter-terrorism force.
"His latest gimmick of declaring a state of emergency in parts of some states in the North is another shambolic response to a situation demanding more robust, honest and well-considered action," Kennedy Emetulu, a Nigerian political commentator, said.
Boko Haram – which means "Western education is forbidden" in the Northern Hausa language – has stepped up its campaign to impose Sharia law in Nigeria with increasingly frequent attacks on government and Christian targets, including the country's first recorded suicide bombing. There are mounting concerns that the violence could tear open sectarian divisions along Nigeria's "middle belt", where the predominantly Muslim North meets the Christian-majority South.
Until recently, the country's ruling party rotated the presidency between candidates from the North and South to maintain the fragile balance of power. The crisis has undermined government efforts to promote economic reforms.