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Fight against Boko Haram

Chrispin Mwakideu / am, (Reuters, AP, dpa)March 19, 2015

Nigeria’s army says it has liberated many territories previously held by Boko Haram. Leaders of West and Central Africa are planning an April summit to discuss a common strategy to combat the Islamists.

Image: Reuters/Emmanuel Braun

After recapturing towns and villages in Adamawa and Yobe States, the Nigerian army said it had began what it calls the "final onslaught " on the last three towns in Borno State. Last week, the Nigerian government announced its forces had driven Boko Haram out of nearly 40 towns in the three states. Hundreds of militants had been killed and weapons destroyed or seized, the army said.

The operation is not only aimed at reducing the national and regional threat from the militants but also at securing the northeast in time for elections on March 28. Voting was initially scheduled for February 14 but was postponed by six weeks on the grounds that soldiers would not be available to provide security on polling day.

Lieutenant-General Kenneth Minimah, Nigeria's Chief of Army Staff, expressed confidence that the armed forces were on the verge of routing Boko Haram. He also vowed that "never again would any of the country's territory be under the control of the insurgents." Boko Haram, who are seeking to carve out an Islamic caliphate in the region, pledged their allegiance to "Islamic State" (IS), earlier this month.

Can the military be trusted?

"It's very difficult to verify the veracity of the Nigerian military's claims regarding territories that have been recaptured from Boko Haram," Ryan Cummings, chief security analyst at Red24, a crisis management company in South Africa, told DW in an interview. "Elections are around the corner and there is a drive, or perhaps a need, to make the government and the security apparatus appear more effective than they have been for much of the Boko Haram insurgency," Cummings said.

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan salutes people during an election rally.
President Jonathan (center) has been accused of politicizing the war on Boko HaramImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Alamba

Mark Mijinyawa, a Nigerian political analyst, told DW he was not sure about the army's overall strategy. "It looks a little bit politicized," Mijinyawa said. "From all indications, this operation is not sustainable."

According to Mijinyawa, the government has yet to draw up a sustainable plan to prevent reprisals in the recaptured areas after the elections. "I am not so sure that this thing (military operation) is not to gain the favor of the electorate so that they would just win the election."

Looking for votes

Many residents living in the affected areas believe that the Jonathan-led administration is making political capital out of the recent successes that are being claimed in the war against the insurgents.

Nigeria's opposition presidential contender Muhammadu Buhari.
Opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari has criticized the presence of foreign troops in NigeriaImage: Getty Images/P. Ekpei

Hamza Umar Usman wondered why it had taken so long for the government to face up to the Boko Haram threat. "Our Nigerian army is brave. But what is happening in the war against Boko Haram is purely political," Usman said. "They did not tackle or confront Boko Haram seriously in the last six years. This is not something that will convince the ordinary voter."

Alhaji Abubakar said the Nigerian army had not been adequately equipped to fight Boko Haram. "Everybody knows that the Nigerian army is willing to fight Boko Haram but was not receiving the support it needed. Now that the government is interested in fighting Boko Haram, it is winning."

It is still unclear how the outcome of the Nigerian election could affect the fight against Boko Haram. According to Cummings, opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari, who is a former military commander, is better suited to formulate policies aimed at combating Boko Haram. "But then there is also the consideration that being purely a military leader has its disadvantages in that addressing the crisis militarily may only treat the symptoms and not the cause of the insurgency," he said.

Chadian President Idriss Deby.
Chadian President Idriss Deby has deployed 2,500 troops to fight Boko HaramImage: AFP/Getty Images/Seyllou

Regional alliance

Heads of state from Central and West Africa on Wednesday (18.03.2015) said they will meet on April 7-8, to form a common strategy for tackling Boko Haram. Ghana's President John Mahama, who now chairs ECOWAS, West Africa's regional bloc, and Chad's leader Idriss Deby who heads ECCAS, Central Africa's body equivalent to ECOWAS, said the summit's goal would be to plan how to sustain the regional offensive.

Chadian, Cameroonian, and Nigerien forces joined the fight against the Islamic sect, after Boko Haram extended its attacks beyond Nigeria. "Single-handedly, no country can overcome this threat and therefore through pooling our resources together we are going to overcome this challenge," Deby told reporters in Accra following his meeting with Mahama.

Chad on Wednesday circulated a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that would endorse military action by a five-nation-African force against Boko Haram. The Central African nation already has hundreds of troops battling Boko Haram.

Cummings told DW he was unsure how long the military alliance could last. "The relationship between Nigeria and its immediate neighbors specifically Chad has not always been the best," Cummings said. "Buhari himself suggested that it was humiliating for Nigeria - a sovereign state - to have foreign forces on its soil."

Boko Haram's insurgency has killed nearly 13,000 and displaced more than 1.5 million people since 2009.