As President Muhammadu Buhari marked his first week in office, the death toll from two blasts in northeastern Nigeria climbed to 35 on Friday, raising the total number killed in suspected Boko Haram attacks to 82.
This week’s violence comes as President Buhari embarked on his first foreign trip since taking office, visiting neighbouring Chad and Niger, which along with Cameroon, are Nigeria’s key allies in the battle against Boko Haram’s on going uprising. During his trip, Buhari urged closer regional security cooperation, while thanking troops from Nigeria’s neighbours for their efforts to date. The newly elected Nigerian president has vowed to crush the militant group, however last weeks spate of bombings has highlighted the severity of the challenge.
Two blasts rocked northeastern Nigeria on Thursday, killing at least six people, just hours before President Muhammadu Buhari urged closer regional cooperation to defeat Boko Haram. According to officials, the first explosion occurred in the Borno state capital Maiduguri, which has been hit by a spate of bombings in recent days. The incident occurred when a truck carrying firewood rammed into a checkpoint outside a military barracks. Police and locals have reported that at least four soldiers were killed in this explosion, which one resident called a “suicide attack.” The second blast occurred at a busy market in Yola, the capital of neighbouring Adamawa state. At least two people were killed in the second incident and some 30 others were injured. While there was no claim of responsibility, both incidents will likely be blamed on Boko Haram. Just hours before these latest attacks, President Buhari arrived in Chad’s capital N’Djamena, for talks with his counterpart Idriss Deby on tackling Boko Haram. According to a statement from the office of the Chadian President, Deby has “reaffirmed Chad’s involvement and availability” to work with Nigeria.
At least eleven people were killed Wednesday in an explosion in Maiduguri. According to Danlami Ajaokuta, a civilian vigilante assisting that military against Boko Haram in the Baga Road area, “we have so far recovered six dead bodies. We are still working at the scene, so the casualties may rise.” Ajaokuta indicated that the blast, which occurred at 5:30 PM (1630 GMT), happened at a garage opposite a military unit and it appeared to have been caused by explosives that were left nearby. Since last Friday, Maiduguri, which has been a regular target for Boko Haram Islamists, has been hit four times.
On Tuesday, suspected Boko Haram militants launched a renewed attack on Maiduguri, just days after the military repelled an assault on the key city. At least thirteen people were killed Tuesday in a suicide attack at a busy cattle market in the northeastern city of Maiduguri. According to Red Cross officials and locals, the blast in the Borno state capital occurred at around 1:00PM (1200 GMT) as traders were wrapping up business for the day. The northeast spokesman of the Nigerian Red Cross, Umar Sadiq, indicated that there were 13 dead and 24 injured who were taken to two city hospitals for treatment. While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack, it bore the hallmarks of the group, with one official indicated that the victims were “carefully targeted,” adding “the bomber chose the most crowded part of the market and set off his bombs.” The attack came after Boko Haram militants again targeted Maiduguri with rocket-propelled grenades in the early hours of Tuesday after hitting the city in a similar attack on Saturday. Residents reported that the militants arrived in the Moronti area of the city by river during the early hours of Tuesday however they were unable to advance further because of wide ditches and embankments that were dug by soldiers around the city limits. According to locals, the militants then began shelling Ajillari Cross, which is located about three kilometres (2 miles) away. One local stated, “we were bombarded by RPG’s (rocket-propelled grenades) by Boko Haram from Moronti…We all left our homes for fear of being hit inside. It was dark so we could see the trajectory of the RPG’s, which were red with heat… Soon afterwards, we saw troops in trucks moving towards Moronti and then a fighter jet also deployed not long afterwards.”
On Monday, a spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the newly elected president will this week make his first foreign trip since taking office.
Newly elected President Buhari is due to travel to neighboring Niger on Wednesday and to Chad on Thursday. Niger shares a border with Borno and Yobe states while Chad borders Borno state in Nigeria’s extreme northeast. According to Shehu Garba, the two-day trip will focus on “maters of security,” with the cooperation of Nigeria’s neighbors seen as being critical to ending the militant uprising, which since 2009 has claimed more than 15,000 lives.
President Buhari was sworn in last Friday and during his inaugural speech, he vowed to crush the insurgent group, which he described as “mindless” and “godless.” Despite this vow, Boko Haram carried out an attack some twelve hours after the new president took the oath of office, targeting homes in the key northeastern city of Maiduguri. Overnight on Saturday, the militants stormed the city, launching rocket-propelled grenades. Later, a suicide attack at a mosque in the city, which is the Borno state capital, killed at least twenty-six people and injured dozens others. On Sunday, the militants raided two towns in Borno’s neighboring state of Yobe, where they torched public buildings and looted food and fuel stores.
While former president Goodluck Jonathan’s administration had previously complained that Nigeria’s neighbors were not doing enough in order to contain Boko Haram, as in some instances, the militants were able to flee military pursuit by crossing porous borders, a four-nation offensive launched in February, and which includes troops from Cameroon, has won significant victories, however there are growing fears that Boko Haram may be regrouping, particularly in the remote border areas which are difficult to patrol. In turn, both Chad and Niger have complained of a lack of cooperation from Nigeria, which has strained relations with all its neighbors. Chadian troops have also had to retake some towns from Boko Haram several times as Nigerian troops haven’t arrived in order to secure them.
On Tuesday, Niger declared a 15-day state of emergency in the border region of Diffa after several attacks carried out by Nigerian-based militant group Boko Haram.
The declaration of a state of emergency effectively provides troops operating in the region new powers to search homes without a warrant and to impose a curfew. In the wake of Boko Haram attacks on the border town of Diffa over the weekend, officials have also imposed an overnight curfew and have banned the use of motorcycles, a common mode of transport, in order to prevent infiltration by Boko Haram militants. The curfew will force residents to stay indoors between 20:00 and 06:00 local time (19:00 and 05:00 GMT). On the grounds sources have reported that thousands of residents are fleeing the town of Diffa over fears that the militants will launch further attacks. Some have travelled 500 km (310 miles) to Zinder city, with one eyewitness reporting that about 200 refugees arrived in Zinder on Tuesday in a single convoy. The nearby border town of Bosso was attacked on Friday.
In recent weeks, Boko Haram has intensified its campaign against neighbouring states, carrying out attacks and kidnappings in Cameroon. On Monday, suspected Boko Haram militants hijacked a bus in northern Cameroon, abducting at least 20 people. On the ground sources reported that the militants reportedly seized a bus carrying market-goers and drove it towards the border with Nigeria. The bus was seized near the border area of Koza and driven towards the Nigerian border, 18 kilometres (11 miles) away.
During the early morning hours Wednesday, Boko Haram militants attacked Chadian troops stationed in a Nigerian border town. According to a Chadian military source, “the Boko Haram elements wanted to surprise us by attacking at about 4 am (0300 GMT). We were aware about it from the day before and were prepared.” The attack occurred in the town of Gamboru, which is located on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon, where Chadian troops, who are deployed to help in the complex regional battle against Boko Haram, have taken up positions. According to the source, Boko Haram militants “…arrived with 14 vehicles and two armoured vehicles. We repulsed them and they retreated,” adding “a helicopter was brought in to join the pursuit and destroy them.”
Last week, Nigeria and its neighbours, Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, agreed to launch a 8,750 regional force, composed of troops, police and civilians, for a wider African Union-backed force against Boko Haram. On Monday, Niger’s parliament voted to deploy troops to Nigeria to join the fight against Boko Haram. MP’s have authorized the deployment of 750 soldiers with a regional force that is battling the militant group. On going Boko Haram attacks and the region’s military operations to gain back occupied territory have forced Nigeria to postpone its presidential and parliamentary elections from 14 February to 28 march.
Witnesses reported Friday that Nigeria’s Boko Haram militant group has attacked a town in neighbouring Niger for the first time.
The attack targeted the Nigerien border town of Bosso, which is located just across the border from Nigeria. Fighting broke out around 9:00 AM (0800 GMT). According to one resident, locals “…can hear the sound of weapons all around the town…” adding “there is the noise of heavy weapons and of light arms, making our houses shake.” Yacouba Soumana Gaoh, governor of the regional capital of Diffa confirmed the attack, stating that troops pushed back the attack by the end of the morning, adding that by noon, order was restored. On the ground sources have reported that Niger’s army, alongside troops from Chad who have been stationed in Bosso since Monday, took on the Nigerian armed militants, adding that Boko Haram “took the municipality” for a time before being “driven back to Nigeria.” The attack comes as Niger’s parliament in the capital city Niamey is due to vote on 9 February on a proposal to send troops to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram.
Friday’s incident is the militant group’s second attack on a neighbouring country in the past two days. On Thursday, Boko Haram militants reportedly killed at least seventy people in an attack on the town of Fotokol in Cameroon. According to local officials, the militants attacked civilians in their homes and in the town’s mosque, setting many buildings on fire, including the mosque. Residents of Fotokol have reported that the militants had killed many people by slitting their throats. The militants were eventually driven back by Cameroonian troops, backed by Chadian forces, who had been deployed to the nearby Nigerian town of Gamboru as part of a regional force. The attack came a day after a regional force indicated that it had driven the militants from a Nigerian town located near Fotokol.
On Tuesday, Chadian army disclosed that its troops had killed more than 200 militants in a battle to recapture Gamboru. Officials did note that some of the militants had escaped the offensive. Chadian troops have entered Nigeria and Cameroon to join the fight against Boko Haram.
The latest attacks come as Nigeria’s influential council of state announced Thursday that it has decided to go ahead with the presidential elections on 14 February, rejecting calls for a postponement.
Last month, Nigeria’s national security adviser had called for a delay to allow more time for voter card distribution. Officials have also raised their concerns over the on-going insurgency in northeastern Nigeria, which in recent months has seen Boko Haram mount its attacks both in Nigeria and in neighbouring Cameroon. However Imo state governor Rochas Okorocha indicated Thursday that election officials have insisted that they are “very ready.” Reports also emerged Thursday that a Nigerian government spokesperson disclosed that intelligence reports have indicated that the militant group is planning steal voter cards from women in a bid to use them to get suicide bombers into polling stations. In recent months, Boko Haram has increasingly been using female suicide bombers to carry out deadly attacks across northeastern 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.