Thursday,16 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)
Thursday,16 August, 2018
Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Boko Haram threat delays elections

Nigeria’s elections have been pushed back as authorities continue the long struggle against militant Islamists, writes Haytham Nuri

Al-Ahram Weekly

As Nigeria’s elections approach, the country’s protracted fight with the ultra-radicals of Boko Haram looms large. Nigeria and four of its neighbours have tried to confront the militant group, but so far their efforts have been less than successful.

Nigeria’s elections committee decided to put off the presidential and parliamentary elections, originally slated for 14 February, to 28 March. Regional elections were also postponed from 28 February to 11 April. With Boko Haram still posing a threat inside and outside Nigeria, the government feared that it would not be able to provide adequate protection to polling centres.

The committee justified its decision by the fact that the country needs to mobilise troops to confront Boko Haram in the northeast. Although the committee consulted with various parties before making its decision, the opposition voiced dissatisfaction with the move.

The US, which monitors closely the confrontation with Boko Haram, also considered the decision “disappointing”.

Nigerian academic Khadr Abdel Baqi said that the country is divided between those who want incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and those who support his main opponent, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Party (APC).

Many want Buhari, who has a military background, to take over on the grounds that, as a Muslim, he will be better positioned to fight Boko Haram.

Khartoum University Professor Awad Al-Karim Al-Karasni says that for Boko Haram the religious leanings of its opponents are of no consequence. The group has killed Muslim men of religion with the same zeal that impels it to attack churches.

US intelligence officials put the number of Boko Haram fighters at between 4,000 to 6,000. They also note that the group poses “no great threat” to oilfields in southern Nigeria.

Nigeria has declared a state of emergency in four of its northeast states since 2013, as part of its attempt to keep Boko Haram at bay. Most nations neighbouring Nigeria have also taken measures to confront the militant group. Niger said that it killed 109 Boko Haram fighters in a recent confrontation, but lost dozens of its own soldiers in the same clash.

A recent attack by Boko Haram in neighbouring Cameroon is said to have left 70 dead. Chad has deployed troops along its borders with Cameroon as a precaution against incursions by the same group.

The Nigerian government says that its six-year confrontation with Boko Haram has left thousands killed and forced millions to flee their homes.

The Africa Union is trying to put together a multinational force of 7,500 to fight Boko Haram, but specialists say that a larger force is needed. Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Benin and Nigeria decided in late 2014 to contribute 700 men each to a contingent dedicated to fighting Boko Haram, but the formation of this force has been held back by differences among the countries involved.

Chadian journalist Mohamed Bahr says that more troops are needed to repulse the militants. “There are problems facing this force in terms of arms, command and funding,” he said.

Boko Haram abducted 300 female students in Nigeria last year and the Nigerian government has so far failed to locate them. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2014, urged world leaders to step up the search for the girls, now believed to be dispersed in various areas in the region.

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