Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1235, (26 February - 4 March 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1235, (26 February - 4 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Can Nigeria defeat Boko Haram?

With elections postponed for six weeks, Nigeria appears set to move against Boko Haram, writes Haytham Nuri

Al-Ahram Weekly

Nigeria has postponed its presidential and parliamentary elections for six weeks, until 28 March, in order to deal with Boko Haram. Otherwise, its officials say, the army will be overstretched. It was considered impossible for the army to take military action against the militant group at the same time it needed to provide security at polling stations.

For the past six years, the Nigerian army has been engaged in a running battle with the radical group. Since 2009, the conflict has led to the deaths of 13,000 and the displacement of a million people. In March 2014, Boko Haram militants abducted 210 schoolgirls. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

So what makes the Nigerian army think it can do in six weeks what it failed to do in six years?

There is no sign that the militants are on the run. On the contrary, they carried out two attacks over the weekend. In one of the attacks, a girl as young as seven was sent to blow herself up in a marketplace in northeast Nigeria. She was killed in the blast in which six others perished and 19 were injured.

The explosion came just one day after the Nigerian army said it recaptured Baga, a strategic city on the borders of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, which the militants seized on 11 January after killing 2,000 of its inhabitants.

Due to its location, Baga was chosen as headquarters of the African multinational force put together by Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan told the Nigerian newspaper Thisday Live that his government had underestimated Boko Haram’s capabilities. Jonathan promised that his army would cripple Boko Haram ahead of the elections.

“We have to degrade them to a level where they will not cause problems on the day. I am very hopeful that all the territories under Boko Haram will be taken before the election, but even if we don’t take over all the territories, Boko Haram will not have that capacity to come and cause a crisis,” he told journalists.

Jonathan expressed hope that Boko Haram’s chief, Abubakar Shekau, would be captured ahead of the elections. Pollsters say the president is running neck and neck with former president Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential race.

Nigerian scholar Khedr Abdel Baqi believes that Nigeria’s cooperation with neighbouring countries in the fight against Boko Haram is an admission of failure on the government’s part.

“This may increase the chances of General Buhari for several reasons. First, he is a military man, and then he is also a Muslim, which will appease many of the country’s Muslims,who are wary of fighting Boko Haram under the leadership of a Christian.”

Lagos University professor Shibo Akardi says that Boko Haram has united the country’s Christians behind Jonathan, “for fear of Muslim blackmail.”

A recent Newsweek report speculates on possible collaboration between Boko Haram and some Muslim politicians in Nigeria’s northern states. The report also notes that organised crime groups, including arms traffickers and drug smugglers, may be providing support to the militants.

Despite the recent agreement between five African nations to coordinate efforts in the campaign against Boko Haram, analysts say that mistrust among the armies of these countries may deter their chances of success.

The French, who have offered help to various Sahel countries to combat Boko Haram, are following the situation closely. So are the Americans, who have a military base in Niger and conduct joint drills with neighbouring countries on an annual basis.

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