Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in three states after a series of deadly attacks were carried out by Boko Haram militants. MS Risk advises any individuals or companies in the states of Adamawa, Borno or Yobe to remain vigilant and to monitor any developments and to be alert to any further announcements made by State Government. We currently advise against all travel to Borno State, Yobe State, Adamawa State as well as Gombe State and Bauchi State. This is due to the continued threat of violent attacks. Recent attacks in these regions have focused on public places, including restaurants and bars, and have resulted in large numbers of deaths and injuries. If you are planning to work in northern Nigeria, even in those regions which are not subject to specific travel advisories, we advise you that you will require a high level of security. Any employers in the region should be reviewing their security arrangements, especially in light of the recent kidnappings of westerners from protected compounds.
In a state address late on Tuesday, President Jonathan indicated that the military would be taking “all necessary action” to “put an end to the impunity of insurgents and terrorists” in the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. He further noted that “what we
are facing is not just militancy or criminality, but a rebellion and insurgency by terrorist groups which pose a very serious threat to national unity and territorial integrity.” This is in reference to the recent attacks that have occurred on government buildings as well as the killings of officials and other civilians in which the President has indicated that “these actions amount to a declaration of war.” The announcement is also the first time that the President has acknowledged that Boko Haram Islamists have “taken over “ parts of Borno state.
The President also ordered that more troops be deployed to states located in the hostile north-eastern region of the country. Since the state of emergency declaration, Nigeria’s military has announced a massive deployment of troops to the region. Military sources have also indicated that fighter jets would be deployed, raising the possibility that Nigeria could carry out air strikes within its own territory. Since the announcement, top US officials have called on Nigeria to protect the rights of its civilians and to avoid any “heavy-handed” response against the rebels. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell has stated that “we call on Nigerian officials to ensure that Nigeria’s security forces protect civilians in any security response in a wy that respects human rights and the rule of law.” He further added that “we have made clear to the Nigerian government that its heavy-handed response to insecurity in northern Nigeria and the failure to address human rights violations will potentially affect our ability to provide security assistance going forward.”
Although the state of emergency was declared in the states of Yobe and Adamawa, it is widely believed that the military offensive will focus directly on the state of Borno, which shares borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger. It is in this state that Boko Haram, which states that it is fighting in order to create an Islamic state in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, has used the capital, Maiduguri, as its home base. However it is known that Boko Haram fighters have relocated to the remote border regions following a number of crackdowns that have occurred in the city. Furthermore, the regions‘ porous borders have enabled criminal groups and weapons to freely move between the countries further exasperated due to the Nigerian’s military limited presence in these areas.
Cameroon’s Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary has confirmed that seven members of a French family who were kidnapped by gunmen in northern Cameroon back in February of this year have been freed and are in good condition. France has also confirmed there release however President Francois Hollande denied that a ransom payment was made to free the family who is currently in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde. Despite this release, seven other French hostages are being held throughout Africa.
A statement released by Cameroon’s Presidency indicates that the family had been handed over to Cameroonian authorities late on Thursday however the circumstances of that hand over remain to be unclear. Since then, they have arrived at the French embassy in the capital, under heavy security escort Both the French and Nigerian governments were thanked in the statement however no further information on their release was provided.
Meanwhile the French president’s office has confirmed that Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has already left the country, heading for Cameroon where he will greet the family. Mr. Fabius has indicated that the French hostages were freed overnight “in an area between Nigeria and Cameroon,” and that they would be flown back to France on Saturday. President Hollande also indicated that secret talks had been taking place over the past few weeks in order to help secure their release, noting that “France has not changed its position, which is not to pay ransoms.”
The family, who live in Yaounde, had been returning from a holiday in Waza National Park in the northern region of Cameroon when they were kidnapped by gunmen on motorbikes on 19 February 2013. Mr. Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, along with his wife Albane, and four children, aged between five and twelve, had been joined on their vacation by his brother Cyril. A video that was released about one week after their capture, depicted the militants demanding the release of prisoners being held in Cameroon and in Nigeria. A video released later also criticized President Hollande for deploying troops to Mali in January 2013. Since their release, Mr. Moulin Fournier has indicated that ‘we are all very tired but normal life will now resume.” He further noted that “the conditions in which we were held were very difficult, it was extremely hot. But we did not have any serious problems. We are alive and we are infinitely happy to be free. It has been very long and difficult, it was hard psychologically and we had some very low moments. But we stuck together and that was crucial. As a family, we kept each other’s spirits up.”
With the release of this French family on Friday, at least seven French citizens are still being held hostage in Africa. The abductions have all been claimed by Islamist groups, in which at least six have been claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). An eighth hostage was reported to have been executed in March 2013 in Mali by AQIM however his death has yet to be confirmed.
On 16 September 2010, kidnappers abducted five French nationals along with a Togolese and a Madagascan national who were mostly working for French public nuclear giant Areva and its subcontractor Satom in the uranium mining region of the country. AQIM claimed responsibility of the kidnappings on 21 September. A female French hostage, Francoise Larribe, was freed along with the Togolese and Madagascan nationals in February 2011. The four other French hostages, Theirry Dol, Daniel Larribe, Pierre Legrand, and Marc Feret, are still being held, with French authorities stating that they are still alive.
On the night of 24 November 2011, Frenchmen Serge Lazarevic and Philippe Verdon were kidnapped from their hotel in Hombori in northeastern Mali. According to their families, they were in Mali on a business trip. On 9 December, AQIM claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and released photographs of the two men. On 10 August 2012, a video distributed by Mauritanian website Sahara Medias depicted Mr. Verdon speaking of the “difficult living conditions” and health problems. On 19 March 2013, AQIM announces that it has killed Mr. Verdon, citing that he was a spy for France. Although officials in Paris have yet to confirm the report, on 28 March, French President Hollande stated that the signs are that Mr. Verdon is dead.
On 20 November 2012, Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, a sixty-one-year-old Portuguese-born French citizen was abducted by at least six armed men in Diema, in western Mali, as he was travelling by car from Mauritania. On the 22 November, al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebel group the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. On 26 January 2013, MUJAO indicated that they were ready to negotiate Mr. Leal’s.
On 19 December 2012, French engineer Francis Colomp is kidnapped by around thirty armed men who attacked the residence of the company where he was working in the state of Katsina which is located in the northern regions of Nigeria, near the border with Niger. During the attack, the hostage-takers killed two bodyguards and a neighbour. The act has since been claimed by Nigerian Ansaru, which has links to Nigeria’s Boko Haram. They have since indicated that the kidnapping was in reaction to France’s preparations for a military intervention in Mali.
Last week, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan tasked a high level team with looking into the possibility of granting a pardon to members of Boko Haram.
Boko Haram, which literally translates to “Western education is forbidden”, is a militant Islamist movement which based in the northeast region of Nigeria. Members strongly oppose man-made laws and westernization, and hold a desire to establish their form of Sharia Law in the country, using violence and terrorist tactics to carry out their aims, resulting in the deaths of over 3,000 people since 2009. Analysts believe that growing ties to other Islamist groups in West Africa, such as AQIM, have further mobilized Nigerian militants more towards Western targets. In February, a French family of seven was kidnapped in northern Cameroon and is still being held by suspected Boko Haram militants. Boko Haram has recently been designated a global terrorist group by the United States.
On 6 April, militants suspected of belonging to Boko Haram shot or hacked eleven people to death in the northeast Nigerian village of Madube, including at a deputy governor’s home. Six more people were wounded in the attack. The deputy governor was not harmed.
President Jonathan asked for the panel to examine amnesty following intense pressure from politicians and Nigeria’s highest Muslim spiritual figure, the Sultan of Sokoto. They believe the army’s response to the insurgency is not bringing peace. In 2009, Nigeria offered an amnesty to militants in the southern part of the country, near the oil-producing Niger Delta. The amnesty was credited with greatly reducing unrest there.
The panel, comprised of national security officials, northern leaders and others, is scheduled to report later this month. However, an audio statement believed to be from the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau, claimed that his group “not committed any wrong to deserve amnesty”.
“Surprisingly,” he said, “the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty. What wrong have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you pardon.” The message continued with a list of what Shekau describes as the state’s atrocities against Muslims.
As if to emphasize their rejection of amnesty, Yobe State Police Commissioner confirmed that four officers were gunned down in the early hours of Thursday (11 April) in a firefight with Boko Haram. The militants intended to burn down the station, but were thwarted. Five gunmen were killed, but some rifles were lost to the attackers.
This past week has seen a number of gun attacks and suicide bombings in the northern region of Nigeria, specifically in Kano and in the eastern border town of Ganye. Police have confirmed that suspected Islamist gunmen have launched a series of gun and bomb attacks in a remote town near the border with Cameroon. At least twenty-five people have died in the town of Ganye after gunmen attacked a prison, police station, bank and bar. The most recent attack in Nigeria’s northern region comes just days after two suicide bombers exploded their car at a bus station in Kano.
The simultaneous attacks that occurred in Ganye have killed at least twenty-five people.
According to the police spokesman for the western Adamawa state, Mohammed Ibrahim, the gunmen carried out four simultaneous assaults in Ganye, which is located in the Adamawa state. They opened fire on a bar, a bank, a prison and a police station. The gunmen also set free an unspecified number of prisoners. The police spokesman further noted that the men used explosives and assault rifles in the attack on the police station, during which a policeman was shot. Seven people were shot in the bar, six near the bank while the others were gunned down either outside their homes or on the streets. Troops and policemen who have been deployed to the town have recovered three unexploded bombs, a Kalashnikov rifle and some rounds of ammunition, which were left by the attackers. Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, police are suspecting Boko Haram militants to be behind it as the raids resemble previous ones, which have been claimed by the group. Currently, no arrests have been made.
The town of Ganye is located some 100 km (60 miles) from the state capital of Yola. Although it is located near the border with Cameroon, it is not near the area where a French family of seven were kidnapped and taken across from Cameroon into Nigeria last month. The family – a couple, their children (all under the age of twelve) and an uncle – were kidnapped by six gunmen on three motorbikes in Sabongari, which is located 7km from the northern village of Dabanga. Sources close to the French embassy in Cameroon had indicated that the family had earlier visited Waza national park. While the exact border-crossing route taken by the kidnappers remains unknown, it is highly likely that the militants would have remained near the area and crossed over into Nigeria shortly after the kidnapping. As such, while Ganye is too far south from the general area where the family was taken, it is highly likely that the militants may have crossed the border area closer to Maiduguri, which is a known Boko Haram stronghold.
Violence carried out by Islamist insurgents throughout Northern Nigeria has been on the rise in the past weeks after a brief calm. On Saturday, three bombs exploded in the North’s main city of Kano. According to Kano state police spokesman Magaji Majia, one
of the bombings was a suicide attack, however the incident claimed no lives apart from the bomber. In a separate incident, a remote-controlled bomb that targeted a joint military and police checkpoint did wound a number of police officers. A separate gun attack in the city’s Dakata district also killed one person on Saturday. According to Kano state police spokesman, four people have been arrested in connection with the attacks.
On Monday, March 18 a bomb blast, which targeted a bus station in an area of Kano that is mostly inhabited by southern Christians, killed at least 41 people and wounded 65. The attack occurred when two suicide bombers exploded their car into a bus station in Kano, setting off a large explosion that hit five buses. Witnesses have described hearing multiple blasts and seeking wounded victims fleeing the area as authorities cordoned off the scene. The bus station that was targeted in Monday’s attack primarily services passengers who are heading south to the mostly Christian regions of the country. The bus station was previously attacked in January 2012, a blast which left a number of wounded civilians. So far, authorities have not provided any information relating to who is behind this latest bombing. Furthermore there has been no claims of responsibility, however this attack is similar to the hit-and-run tactics that are favored by Boko Haram militants.
With more suicide attacks and bombings occurring every week in the northern region of the country, it is becoming evident that the Nigerian government is finding it difficult to
adequately manage Boko Haram and related criminal gangs who have overtaken militancy in the oil-producing south-eastern Niger Delta region as the main threat to the stability of Africa’s oil producer. Furthermore, while the town of Ganye is located further south, and away from the cities of Kano and Maiduguri, which have been hit by a number of attacks over the past few months, it demonstrates the capabilities of Boko Haram and similar criminal groups in carrying out hit-and-run attacks outside of the normal regions where they are known to operate. It indicates that the militants throughout this region of Nigeria are able to freely move around to stage attacks, signifying that they may also be able to cross over the border into Cameroon in order to carry out attacks and to kidnap westerners. It is also believed that Boko Haram may have members in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.