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Nigeria: President Buhari’s war on Boko Haram ‘far from over’

1 December 2020

Several recent attacks carried out by armed jihadists have dealt a blow to President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise to end the Boko Haram insurgency. His government says it is doing its best to protect vulnerable citizens.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari came to power promising to defeat the Boko Haram insurgency and end the insecurity in Nigeria’s restive northeastern region.

Five years after Nigerians swore in Buhari as president of Africa’s most populous nation, an Islamist insurgency in the north, armed banditry and insecurity remain a huge challenge. Last weekend’s slaughter of civilians by jihadists has raised questions on Buhari’s ability to fulfill his promises.

The United Nations said gunmen brutally killed “tens” of civilians and wounded many other workers who were harvesting rice in Koshobe village, near Maiduguri, capital of Borno State. Edward Kallon, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, said he was concerned about reports of women being kidnapped.

Buhari’s strong reaction

In a series of tweets, President Muhammadu Buhari condemned what he described as “insane and senseless killings by terrorists.” No one has yet claimed responsibility, but residents suspect Boko Haram of being behind the attack.

“The last week was largely an appraisal of the performance of the president or the current administration in terms of security,” Awwal Faruq, a Nigerian security analyst, said. “The killings and the kidnappings of worshippers in Kanoma, Zamfara State and the slaughter of peasant farmers in cold blood, are another appraisal of what is happening,” Faruq told DW. “There is no need to say the government is underperforming. It has been now more than ten years, and the insecurity is becoming bigger.”

Audu Bulama Bukarti, a security analyst specialized in violent extremist groups in sub-Saharan Africa at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, said no one could blame the communities for expressing their anger and frustrations. “As a leader, you take credit for every good thing achieved by your government, but you also take the blame when there is a mistake from your government,” Bulama Bukarti told DW.

The deadliest attack in 2020

The Koshobe incident is Nigeria’s deadliest this year. Nearly 36,000 people have died and more than two million have fled their homes since Boko Haram launched attacks in 2009.

Infografik Karte Nigeria mit Borno State EN

“What this attack in northeastern Nigeria underlines is the fact that previous suggestions by the Buhari administration that the insurgency has been ended or technically defeated seem to be very much misplaced,” Ryan Cummings, a political and security analyst on Nigeria said. Although Cummings noted that Nigerian troops had made significant progress as far as recapturing territory once held by the Islamists is concerned, he added that the war was “far from over.”

Joseph Atan, a Nigerian resident in the capital, Abuja, believes that Buhari has fallen victim to the same problem he had accused the previous government of Goodluck Jonathan of. “In 2015, when the campaigns were on, the president [Buhari] came out and said the then government was not capable and was not doing enough,” Atan told DW.

“He said that when he came in, he would eradicate insecurity. That was the reason why Nigerians elected him, but things seem to be getting worse,” Atan added.

Security expert Audu Bulama Bukarti said the war against Boko Haram has dragged on for nearly a decade, partly because Nigeria’s military is poorly equipped. “There is a need for the federal government to invest more money in the Nigerian military by buying 21st-century military equipment, including telecommunications and intelligence equipment,” Bulama Bukarti told DW, adding that the money brought into the military should be spent transparently.

Nigeria ranked third in the Global Terrorism Index

According to the 2020 Global Terrorism Index, which gauges the degree and frequency of violence by terrorist groups across several countries, Nigeria was ranked third only after Iraq and Afghanistan. Essentially, Nigeria, Iraq, and Afghanistan were described as being in a state of war.

“That statistic alone really emphasizes that this war is certainly ongoing and that any defeat or victory against jihadists specifically is very far from occurring at this time,” Cummings stated. “The Nigerian government and state security apparatus still need to make significant headway to neutralize the lethal threat that insurgents continue to pose within the region.”

The Koshobe attack in Borno State happened the same day voters cast their ballots in local elections that had been delayed. According to Cummings, this was more of a coincidence than a deliberate plan. “The key takeaway is that we see quite a significant frequency in militant violence within the region. It’s very difficult to often assign these acts of violence as being unique to a specific event or occurrence,” Cummings said.

Government ‘doing its best’ to protect citizens

While attending the funeral of 43 victims on Sunday, Borno Governor Babaganan Umara Zulum warned that the death toll could rise. Many of the dead included laborers from Sokoto State in northwestern Nigeria — 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) away — who went to Borno to search for work. Last week, suspected Boko Haram insurgents killed at least 22 farmers working on their irrigation farms in two separate attacks.

Sadiya Umar Farouq, Nigeria’s minister for humanitarian and disaster management, said the authorities were doing everything possible to provide security for the citizens. “We are very concerned about the life and livelihood of citizens, especially vulnerable ones, who have been affected by this insurgency for a very long time,” Farouq told DW. “It is just unfortunate.”

Despite the anti-Boko Haram Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) comprising Nigerian, Nigerien, Chadian, and Cameroonian soldiers, Boko Haram and its splinter faction, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), continue to carry out terrorist attacks in northeastern Nigeria and the broader Lake Chad region. “The security situation in northeastern Nigeria and specifically in Borno state remains highly precarious,” Cummings said.

By Chrispin Mwakideu with contributions from Idris Uwaisu. The article first appeared in DW, the German public service broadcaster.

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