Nigeria has begun its "final onslaught" against Boko Haram, with the group now ousted from the town of Bama. Top government officials are now debating how to ensure security during Nigeria's upcoming general elections.
Boko Haram has a foothold in just three local government areas in Nigeria, according to officials. National security spokesman Mike Omeri said forces made "significant strategic military successes and gains," including taking back Borno state's second biggest town on Monday after six months under Boko Haram's control.
"Bama was retaken yesterday and we have Abadam, Gwoza and Askira as part of the remaining areas where we still have this presence," Omeri told AFP on Tuesday. "Soldiers are still out there working hard and we're en route to the final onslaught because it has started already from Bama," he added.
Nigeria's government has recaptured three dozen towns, according to officials. Borno is the state worst hit after six years of Boko Haram's uprising. The insurgency has left more than 13,000 people dead since 2009.
'Tails between their legs'
Backed by Cameroon and Chad - and reportedly employing the services of foreign mercenaries - Nigeria's operation aims to reduce the threat posed by Boko Haram, which pledged allegiance to the "Islamic State," and to secure the northeast for elections.
Officials had rescheduled the February 14 election for March 28 over fears that, with an active counteroffensive under way, soldiers could not provide security on polling day. In an interview published on March 11, Goodluck Jonathan, the threatened presidential incumbent, had promised to free Borno state from Boko Haram within three weeks, or just in time for the election.
Jonathan faces a stiff challenge from the main opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler who has attacked the president's record on tackling Boko Haram. Buhari, who headed his autocratic government for 20 months starting in December 1983, has accused Jonathan of consistently failing to provide leadership. The retired general and his party have complained that the government has not provided enough support and equipment to soldiers - an issue apparently only recently rectified.
"We are confident there will be a level of security to enable citizens to vote," Omeri said on Tuesday. The government had Boko Haram "running with their tails between their legs," he added. "Boko Haram are not being pushed into neighboring countries," the national security spokesman said. "We are pushing them to an area where we are finding a solution to their menace."
mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)