Fall of Maiduguri Likely as Boko Haram Surround Borno State CapitalSeptember 12, 2014 in Nigeria
Over the past several weeks, Nigeria has been rapidly losing control of large areas of the northeast to Boko Haram, which is attempting to carve out an Islamic State. With reports surfacing this week that the militant group has “completely surrounded” the city of Maiduguri, if the Nigerian military fails to carry out military operations to secure the area and reinforce the capital city, it is highly likely that Borno state, along with some areas of neighbouring Adamawa and Yobe states, will fall to the militant group in the coming weeks.
Traditional elders in Borno state warned this week that Nigeria’s militant Islamists have “completely surrounded” Maiduguri, noting that the military now needed to “fortify” the city, which has a population of more than two million, in order to prevent an assault “from all directions.” A statement issued by the Borno Elders Forum (BEF), which represents influential people in the state, including former government minsters and civil servants, has reported that Boko Haram militants have “annexed” areas that were about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Maiduguri. The BEF has also disclosed that they are “…convinced that the Federal Government of Nigeria has not shown sufficient political will to fight Boko Haram and rescue us from the clutches of the insurgents which may ultimately lead to the total annihilation of the inhabitants of Borno,” noting “the insurgents have rendered impassable almost all the roads leading to Maiduguri.”
Boko Haram appears to be carrying out a two-pronged assault, from the northeast to the southeast, with militants likely to be reinforcing the captured areas prior to taking over Maiduguri. Boko Haram was founded in Maiduguri in 2002, making the state capital a high value target for them. Boko Haram have seized territory along at least two of the main approaches to the capital city, while their control of towns and settlements to the south and near the border with Cameroon have effectively cut off the Nigerian military, preventing them from responding quickly and carrying out operations to recapture the area. In recent weeks, Boko Haram militants have destroyed several key bridges, including one on the road from Biu to Maiduguri, a bridge near Gamboru Ngala that links Nigeria to Cameroon, a bridge in Potiskum that links Maiduguri and Damaturu to Abuja and a bridge in Yobe that links to the southern areas of Borno and Adamawa. Some of the destroyed bridges were strategically linked to Maiduguri and have now made it difficult for the Nigerian military to reinforce Maiduguri and other towns in Borno state.
Further out, in Borno, Boko Haram are believed to have seized Gamboru Ngala, Dikwa, Gwoza and Marte. Bama has also been reported captured by the militants however the Nigerian military and some locals have contested these reports. Damboa, which was seized in July, has since been reported to have been retaken. In Adamawa state, Madagali has been captured while in Yobe, Buni Yadi has been taken. Other communities in the northeastern region of Nigeria, which are believed to have been seized or heavily contested, include Banki, Kerawa, Ashigashiy, Ngoshe, Pulka and Goniri. Further seizures of towns in the area, and which border Cameroon, cannot be ruled out at this time.
Despite Boko Haram’s recent takeover of a large area of Nigerian territory, actions similar to the recent lightning advance achieved by IS militants in Iraq, Nigeria’s military has continued to deny the severity of the threat. On Friday, Nigeria’s defence ministry dismissed “alarmist” reports pertaining to Maiduguri, stating, “Security Arrangements for the Defence of Maiduguri has been upgraded to handle any planned attack.” If Boko Haram are successful in taking over Maiduguri, he fall of the state capital will mean a significant symbolic and strategic victory for the militant group, effectively enabling them to control a major city and an international airport, a victory that has not yet been seen in the militant group’s five-year insurgency