Attacks belie govt claims of victory over Boko Haram

Ongoing attacks belie recent government claims to have crushed Nigeria’s most notorious militant group, local analysts say

Attacks belie govt claims of victory over Boko Haram

World Bulletin / News Desk

With close to 500 civilians killed by Boko Haram during Ramadan, which ended last week, the Nigerian army’s description of events – that the group’s capacities had been “degraded” and the militants were “in disarray” – has proven unfounded. 

Following a six-week army campaign between February and late March – a bid to secure the country in the run-up to March 28 general polls – Boko Haram suffered heavy casualties, losing several territories it had earlier captured.

At least 900 captives were freed from the group's camps in the Sambisa Forest and elsewhere, while Boko Haram’s self-styled “caliphate” was overrun after the fall of its headquarters in Gwoza.

Militant attacks appeared to taper off and calm was briefly restored to the volatile northeastern region. A number of people displaced by the violence returned home, escorted by troops, although thousands remained in camps in Maiduguri and Yola.

While the government hailed the army’s apparent triumph, however, others were less optimistic.

- ‘Not over’

“We warned at the time that it wasn’t over; that the insurgents were only hibernating and plotting a big comeback,” says Abubakar Mu'azu, a Nigerian analyst and expert on Boko Haram. “The attacks of the past few weeks appear to confirm this.”

Patrick Agbambu, head of Security Watch Africa, said Boko Haram had never been decimated despite the army’s claims to the contrary.

“We were told that these guys [Boko Haram] had been incapacitated and that the government was winning the war,” said Agbambu. “As it turned out, that was just a political gimmick to paint the picture that the government was doing well, whereas, in reality, it wasn’t true.”

Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst for Red24, a crisis management assistance firm, said that Nigeria’s rainy season – which generally lasts from June to September – gives the armed men certain advantages over the army.

This was another reason, he said, for Boko Haram’s recent resurgence.

“The rainy season limits the use of mechanized infantry by conventional armies and gives the more mobile Boko Haram a potentially tactical advantage,” said Cummings.

Local analysts have long noted that Boko Haram tended to emerge from its stronghold in the Sambisa Forest into the cities during the rainy season – but the army has so far failed to exploit this trend to rein in the group.

Cummings, too, says the army’s recent claims of having crushed the militants were wide of the mark.

“The problem is that victory and defeat in the Boko Haram war is being defined in territorial terms; in terms of who holds and controls territory,” he said.

“This is incorrect. I don't believe Boko Haram operates as an ‘occupying’ insurgent force,” he added. “Many of the territories recently ‘recaptured’ by the government were likely abandoned by Boko Haram – or had not been under insurgent control to begin with.”

- Impatience

Meanwhile, as the death toll from ongoing Boko Haram attacks continues to mount, many Nigerians are growing impatient with the government’s claims of victory.

Cummings, however, says it’s too early to hold the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari responsible for failing to destroy the group.

“It's too early to comment on this as he’s only been in office for less than two months,” said the analyst. “What he must do, however, is implement reforms in the state security apparatus and make the continuation of regional counterinsurgency operations a priority.”

Agbambu, for his part, said the time had come for the government to change tactics vis-à-vis the notorious militant group.

“There’s a need for dialogue and sincere communication with these people,” he said, referring to Boko Haram. “No matter how crazy a man on the street is, there’s always a way you can talk to him. I expect the government to eventually do this.”

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Temmuz 2015, 14:56