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Nigerian leader's Maiduguri visit

Mark Caldwell (AFP, dpa, Reuters)January 16, 2015

A surprise visit to insurgency-hit Borno state by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan before an election has been written off by displaced persons as a bid to assuage his critics.

Nigeria Autobombe in Maiduguri 01.07.2014
A car bomb attack in Maiduguri in July 2014 was blamed on Boko HaramImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan ventured into the heartland of Boko Haram Islamist militants just days after the group killed hundreds in the town of Baga close to Lake Chad.

Jonathan spent three hours in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, meeting survivors of the deadly January 3 Boko Haram attack.

At a camp offering shelter to some of the 5,000 people who fled their homes, Jonathan promised that the displaced would soon be able "to go back to your houses."

One displaced person who asked not to be named told DW's Hausa language service that Jonathan had come to the camp to deflect criticism that "with all the killing happening in the area, he failed to visit us until the end of his tenure."

Jonathan last visited Maiduguri in March 2013.

Rede Hollandes zum Anschlag auf Charlie Hebdo in Paris
Francois Hollande: 'France must give more help'Image: Reuters/P. Wojazer

Another displaced person told DW that Jonathan had been greeted with the cry "Sai Buhari" meaning "we are with Buhari."

This was a reference to former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, Jonathan's main rival for the presidency in nationwide elections in Nigeria on February 14.

'Not a political visit'

However, Jonathan's spokesman Reuben Abati insisted at a media briefing that "it was not a political visit - the president did not discuss politics."

Jonathan visited the Nigerian army's 7th Division base in Maiduguri, where disgruntled troops shot at their commanding officer last May, leading to a court martial at which 12 were sentenced to death for mutiny. Nigerian troops have complained that Boko Haram are better equipped with weapons than they are.

Boko Haram has swathes of northeastern Nigeria under its control, but Jonathan said in Maiduguri his security chiefs had promised that "all the areas under the control of Boko Haram will soon be recaptured."

Previous efforts by the Nigerian military to contain Boko Haram have met with little success.

Boko Haram's occupation of areas of northeasten Nigeria has raised questions about the credibility of the February 14 elections as voting is unlikely to be possible there.

Chad to send in troops

The Boko Haram insurgency has long since spread beyond Nigeria's borders. Chad said this week it will send a large number of troops to neighboring Cameroon to help it fight incursions on its territory by the militants.

The move, announced by President Idriss Deby Itno, was backed unanimously by members of the Chadian parliament on Friday.

Chad has said it will also send troops to Nigeria itself.

'Crimes against humanity'

French President Francois Hollande, whose country is still reeling from a lethal Islamist militant attack on the offices of a satirical magazine in the French capital Paris, accused Boko Haram on Friday of "carrying out crimes against humanity" in Nigeria.

"France must give more help to countries fighting this scourge," he told ambassadors.

Similar remarks were made earlier by US Secretary of State John Kerry who also referred to a "crime against humanity" on hearing of the destruction of Baga and nearby Doron Baga by Boko Haram.

Rights group Amnesty International has released satellite images of the towns before and after the attack which appear to show "devastation of catastrophic proportions."