Attacks Continue in Nigeria as Presidential Elections ApproachFebruary 4, 2015 in Nigeria
Nigeria on Monday claimed to have retaken the town of Gamboru, along with four other towns held by Boko Haram, following a joint weekend offensive carried out by it’s military, civilian vigilantes and forces from neighbouring Chad and Cameroon. Tensions however remain high as the country braces for more attacks ahead of the 14 February presidential elections.
On Monday, national security spokesman Mike Omeri announced “our troops are in control after operations which had the active support of volunteers and our friendly neighbours.” In a separate statement, he indicated that the towns that have been retaken are: Mafa, Mallam Fatori, Abadam, Marte and Gamboru, where Chad has carried out three days of airstrikes. All of the towns are located in the northeastern state of Borno. The statement also indicated that eleven towns in Adamawa state to the south of Borno had been liberated, with the militants still occupying six areas. Boko Haram has also been chased out of Guba and Gulani, located in neighbouring Yobe state. On the ground sources in Fotokol, a town in Cameroon located less than one kilometre from Gamboru, confirmed that aerial bombings in the area were on-going early Monday but that the situation appeared quiet by the evening.
Omeri’s statement came hours after a suspected suicide bomber targeted a presidential campaign rally in northeastern Nigeria. President Goodluck Jonathan, who had been addressing supporters of his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Gombe city, had just left the venue when the blast happened in a car park outside. Rescue workers and health officials indicated that two women were killed and eighteen people were wounded. According to a source, the two women are believed to be the suicide bombers behind the attack. The latest attack came a day after two explosions occurred in Gombe city, both of which have been blamed on Boko Haram militants. Sunday’s attacks left at least five people dead in a weekend of deadly violence that also saw the militant group attacking the strategic city of Maiduguri for the second time in a week. While Nigerian troops, aided by civilian vigilantes, repelled the attack, it is believed that Maiduguri will likely be targeted again before the presidential elections. This is due to its symbolism for the group and because control of the city would undermine the 14 February polls. Boko Haram has effectively surrounded Maiduguri, which is seen as one of the last few places in the state where voting could feasibly still take place. If Boko Haram succeeds in gaining control, voter turnout will likely be affected if large numbers of people, many of whom have been displaced by the six-year insurgency, desert the city, which, along with several other areas in the northeast, is a main opposition stronghold.
The last two strikes on Maiduguri may have been preliminary tests carried out by the militant group in a bid to check the city’s defences. In turn, these two strikes have resulted in additional troops being deployed to Maiduguri, a move that may have been designed by Boko Haram to move troops out of other regions in the northeast where the militant group may now strike. While Boko Haram is strategically in an excellent place to launch a successful strike on Maiduguri, analysts question whether the group will be able to hold on to the key city.
For several months, Boko Haram has been in control of a series of towns along Nigeria’s northeastern border. The militant group has also been responsible for a string of cross-border attacks, particularly inside neighbouring Cameroon. The upsurge in violence coupled with fears that the Nigerian government may soon loose complete control over Borno state prompted calls for the affected countries to mount a joint offensive amidst evidence that Boko Haram was rapidly growing in strength.
While the new multi-lateral offensive may succeed in weakening Boko Haram, there could be severe political consequences for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeking to be re-elected in the upcoming presidential elections, due to take place in less than two weeks. The president has already been severely criticized over his government’s failed response to the on-going insurgency. Furthermore, Nigeria’s willingness to allow foreign militants to carry out operations on its own territory, and possibly occupy areas with ground forces, will likely be seen as an embarrassment by some in Africa’s most populous country.
Boko Haram, which has proclaimed a “caliphate” in the areas under its control in northeastern Nigeria, is now threatening neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Since April 2014, Boko Haram violence has been on the rise, and has continued to increase in the weeks leading up to the presidential elections:
- April 14: 276 girls are seized from their school in Chibok, in the remote region of Borno state capital. Fifty-seven of the girls later managed to flee however 219 are still missing.
- April 14: At least 75 people are killed in a bomb blast that goes off in a packed bus station on the outskirts of Nigeria’s capital city Abuja. Boko Haram later claims responsibility for the bombing. Further attacks, which occur in May and June, kill another 40 people.
- May 5: Boko Haram gunmen raze the town of Gamboru Ngala in Borno state. Local sources reported that at least 300 people were killed
- May 20: Twin car bombings in the central Nigerian city of Jos, which are blamed on Boko Haram, kill at least 118 people.
- June 3: Heavily armed gunmen raid four northeastern villages in Borno state. Local leaders put the death toll between 400 – 500.
- November 28: Two suicide bombers blew themselves up and gunmen opened fire during weekly prayers at the mosque of the Emir of Kano, which is one of Nigeria’s top Islamic leaders. At least 120 people are killed and 270 are left injured.
- December 1: More than 150 people are killed after Boko Haram militants raid the northeastern city of Damaturu in Yobe state.
- December 14: Boko Haram kills 32 people and kidnaps at least 185 in an attack on the northeastern village of Gumsuri, which is located south of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
- January 3: Boko Haram attacks the town of Baga, which is located on the banks of Lake Chad. According to Amnesty International, “hundreds” were killed.
- January 25: Boko Haram captures the strategic northeastern town of Monguno and a military base. The town is located about 125 kilometres (80 miles) north of Maiduguri. US Secretary of State John Kerry pledges further US support for the counter-insurgency
- January 30 – 31: During a summit at the Ethiopian capital, the African Union proposes to set up a regional five-nation force of 7,500 troops tasked to fight Boko Haram.
- January 31 – February 1: Chadian aircraft bomb the Nigerian town of Gamboru at the border with Cameroon. A 500-metre bridge from the Cameroonian town of Fotokol, where Cameroonian and Chadian soldiers have gathered over the past several days, separates Gamboru.
- February 1: Boko Haram fighters storm Maiduguri. The Nigerian army indicated that it has repelled the assault with the help of local vigilante groups.