Despite announcing earlier this week that he would visit the town where more than 200 schoolgirls were abducted, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan confirmed Friday that that he has cancelled his trip to Chibok, a move that is likely to anger the Nigerian public and further derail his potential re-election bid.
Sources earlier this week indicated that President Goodluck Jonathan would stop in Chibok, located in north-eastern Nigeria, while on his way to a conference in France, which is set to focus on the on going threat from Boko Haram militants. However on Friday, a senior government official indicated that the president, who is under pressure over his government’s failure to rescue the girls, will fly directly to Paris, citing that the visit was called off for security reasons. The president will take part in a summit in Paris convened by French President Francois Hollande. The leaders of Nigeria’s neighbours, including Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, are also scheduled to attend the summit on Saturday, which will also include representatives from the EU, UK and US. A statement released by the French President’s office indicated that the delegates will “discuss fresh strategies for dealing with the security threat posed by Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in west and central Africa.” The cancellation of this visit also underlines just how fragile the security situation is in the north-east despite the on-going military operations, which were launched last May. It is also likely to result in further criticism of the president.
The cancellation of the President’s visit to Chibok comes days after the Nigerian government ruled out negotiations with Boko Haram, over a possible release of prisoners. At a meeting on Wednesday, UK Africa Minister Mark Simmonds indicated that President Jonathan had “made it very clear that there will be no negotiation.”
State of Emergency Extended
On Thursday, the lower house of Nigeria’s parliament, the House of Representatives, approved an extension of the state of emergency in the north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. Earlier this week, President Jonathan had requested a six-month extension, calling the security situation in the region “daunting” and stating that he was concerned by the mounting loss of life among civilians. The state of emergency, which still needs to be approved by the Senate, effectively provides the military with widespread powers such as detaining suspects, imposing curfews and setting up roadblocks.
The announcement of the extension of the state of emergency came as reports of fresh attacks by suspected Boko Haram militants emerged on Thursday. Witnesses have reported that there had been explosions in Gamboru Ngala, where some 300 people were killed last week in a massacre that has been blamed on Boko Haram militants.
Despite a nearly three-month-old state of emergency, which was declared in three states in northern Nigeria, the country has seen an increase in attacks as Boko Haram militants and their supporters continue their attempts to carve out an Islamic State. In the latest incidents to rock the northern regions of the country, at least thirty-five people have been killed in two attacks that were carried out by militants. Meanwhile on Tuesday, gunfire and explosions shook one northeastern Nigerian town while soldiers established a round-the-clock curfew on another region in light of a wave of insurgent clashes.
Clashes broke out in the town of Gamboru Ngala, which is located near the border with Cameroon, on Monday night and continued into Tuesday. Due to minimal communications, the military has not yet commented on the situation and details pertaining to the clashes remain unclear. Meanwhile in the city of Potiskum, a round-the-clock curfew has been imposed on the city as soldiers carried out house-to-house searches. Local residents have reported that soldiers were conducting house-to-house searches in two neighborhoods in a bid to locate high-profile Boko Haram members. Although the military has not provided any details as to the sudden imposed curfew, the security operation comes ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday which follows the holy month of Ramadan. There are currently no indications of how long the curfew will remain in place however the country will be celebrating Eid al-Fitr on Thursday and Friday. The situations in the two towns do not appear to be linked as they are located hundreds of kilometers apart. The recent clashes and military operation come in the wake of fighting which occurred on Sunday in two other northeastern towns, in which at least thirty-five people have been killed.
A military statement released by officials indicates that thirty-two militants, along with two soldiers and one police officer, died during assaults that were carried out on a police station and military base on Sunday. Military spokesman Sagir Musa has indicated that “troops have successfully repelled Boko Haram terrorist attacks on a police base in Bama…on 4 August.” He also noted that a military base in the town of Malam Fatori was also attacked, triggering a gun battle. The military has also stated that “sophisticated weapons” and explosives were used in the attacks. Although the attacks had occurred on Sunday, news of the incidents emerged days later as communications with the region have been difficult since the state of emergency was declared on May 14.