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.
Attacks carried out in northeastern Nigeria over the past week are the latest in an upsurge of violence that has hit the region as elections for a new president and parliament approach next month. Amnesty International has indicated that one of Boko Haram’s attacks is the “deadliest massacre” in the history of the militant group’s insurgency while the United Nations reported on Tuesday that the latest wave of attacks have sent nearly 12,000 people fleeing into Chad in a matter of days. This increase in tempo of attacks is likely linked with the upcoming presidential elections, which are due to be held on 14 February.
New Wave of Violence
The week of violence began on 3 January, when Boko Haram militants attacked the town of Baga, in northern Borno state, in what is now believed to be the worst atrocity carried out in the militant group’s six-year campaign.
On the ground sources have reported that Nigerian soldiers stationed in Baga fled over the weekend as the militant group overran the town and the nearby Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) army base. The violence in the town continued during the week, with militants killing dozens of people and burning down homes. Local officials reported that Boko Haram insurgents began shooting indiscriminately and burning buildings in Baga late on Tuesday in raids that targeted the civilian population and continued into Wednesday. TV footage depicted scores of civilians on the outskirts of Baga as they waited to catch buses out of the town. Many were seen carrying the few possessions they were able to salvage, including bags of clothing and rolled up mattresses. On Friday, Nigerian forces, backed by air strikes, began fighting for control of the town. A statement released by Mike Omeri, the government spokesman on the insurgency, disclosed “security forces have responded rapidly, and have deployed significant military assets and conducted airstrikes against militant targets.”
The town of Baga is of strategic importance to Boko Haram, as it is believed to be the last town in northern Borno still under the federal government’s control. The militant group, which has seized more than two-dozen towns in northeastern Nigeria in the past six months, now control all three of Borno’s borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger. As a result, Boko Haram is now in a better position to launch attacks both in Nigeria, including targeting the key city of Maiduguri where thousands of civilians have fled to in recent months in a bid to escape the on going violence, as well as across the borders. Into Cameroon and Niger. It also means that the group has likely secured important supply routes for weapons and will now be able to enlarge its recruitment base in order to replenish its ranks. The capture of Baga also proves that the Nigerian government is far from being on top of the situation, and is a further defeat for the country’s military.
With Baga now under Boko Haram’s control, the militant group has effectively encircled Borno state capital Maiduguri, where Boko Haram was founded and which has been repeatedly attacks. It is highly likely that the militant group’s fighters will now begin to move inwards, targeting the remaining towns and villages in this encircled area before they attack Maiduguri, and southwards, in a bid to capture any remaining towns. According to Nigerian lawmaker Maina Maaji Lawan, Boko Haram now controls 70% of Borno state.
Worst Violence in Six-Year Insurgency
As news emerged that Nigerian forces were attempting to regain control of Baga, on Friday, Amnesty International suggested that last week’s attack on the northeastern town was the “deadliest massacre” in the Islamist militant group’s history.
On the grounds sources have reported that hundreds of bodies remain strewn in the bush in the area surrounding the town. District head Baba Abba Hassan has disclosed that most of the victims are children, women and elderly people who were not able to run fast enough when the militants drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the town’s residents.
A statement released by Amnesty International has indicated that there are reports that the town was razed and that as many as 2,000 people were killed. Daniel Eyre, Nigeria research for Amnesty International, stated that if these reports are true, “this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s on going onslaught.” Nigerian officials however have released contradicting numbers. On Monday, the defence ministry disclosed that the number of people who lost their lives in an assault by Boko Haram militants on the town of Baga last week was no more than 150, adding that this figure included “many of the terrorists” who had attacked the town in Borno state and who had faced resistance by troops. The ministry has dismissed estimates that as many as 2,000 people may have been killed, stating that they were “exaggerated.” Reports by local civilians however have indicated that thousands were killed in this week’s bloodshed, with one local stating that the number may be as high as 3,000. Nigerian officials have in the past been accused of underestimating casualty figures in a bid to downplay the growing threat from Boko haram.
The previous bloodiest day in the uprising involved soldiers gunning down unarmed detainees who were freed in a 14 March 2014 attack on the Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri city. At the time, officials at Amnesty International disclosed that satellite imagery indicated that more than 600 people were killed that day. According to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, in the last year alone, more than 10,000 people have been killed with more than a million people displaced inside Nigeria and hundreds of thousands fleeing across the country’s borders into Chad, Cameroon in Nigeria.
The number and scale of attacks has sharply risen over the past year, ever since the Nigerian government imposed emergency rule on the three worst hit states. Despite being heavily criticized for his failure to stem the on going fighting, President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeing re-election, has blamed opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari for Nigeria’s ill-equipped army and their inability to tackle the growing threat. President Goodluck Jonathan, who condemned the attack on a French satirical magazine in Paris, has yet to comment on the latest violence at home.
Increase Use of Female Suicide Bombers
This past week’s attacks in northeastern Nigeria also included several attacks that involved suicide bombers.
At least four people were killed and twenty-one injured in the city of Potiskum on Sunday when two female suicide bombers, one of them aged about fifteen, blew themselves up in a crowded market. According to a security source involved in the investigation, “one of the bombers looked 23 and the other 15,” adding “the first bomber – the 23 year old – detonated her explosives just outside the entrance of the market, where volunteers were sweeping people going inside the market with metal detectors…the second bomber was terrified by the explosion and she tried to dash across the road but she also exploded.” Witnesses have reported that the second blast went off as people were fleeing the first blast. The market was filled with traders and shoppers from all over Yobe state and beyond at the time of the attack. The blasts, which took place at the Kasuwar Jagwal mobile phone market in the commercial capital of Yobe State, come just a day after a young girl, thought to be aged 10, killed nineteen people in Maiduguri in neighbouring Borno State. In a separate attack on Saturday, two people were killed when a car exploded outside a police station in Potiskum.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for these latest attacks however suspicion is likely to fall on Boko Haram, which has increasingly been using female suicide bombers to carry out deadly attacks.
Since June 2014, Boko Haram has increasingly been using young girls and women to carry out deadly suicide attacks across the northeastern region of Nigeria. In July, there were four suicide bombings carried out by females in one week in Kano. During the same month, a 10-year-old girl was found in Katsina state wearing a suicide vest. In December 2014, Zahra’u Babangida, 13, was arrested with explosives strapped to her body. She later told journalists that her parents had volunteered her to take part in a suicide attack in the city of Kano.
While older women may willingly become human bombs, as they either share the Islamists’ radical ideology or are out to avenge the death of loved ones who were killed by the Nigerian military, the young ages of some of the bombers, such as the girl in Maiduguri, suggests that coercion is likely being used by the militant group. A civilian vigilante who witnessed the Maiduguri bombing has stated that he doubts if the young bomber “…actually knew what was strapped to her body.” Meanwhile another eyewitness has disclosed that it appeared that the bomb was remote-controlled, which is inline with other testimony from other attacks across the wider north region of Nigeria.
In the past twenty-four hours, Boko Haram militants have invaded three towns in Nigeria’s northeastern states of Adamawa and Borno after being ousted from a key town in the area by civilian vigilantes.
Reports surfaced Friday that Boko Haram militants have seized control of the northeastern town of Chibok, which is home to more than 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by the insurgents in April. According to local residents, militants attacked and took control of the town on Thursday evening. Ali Ndume, a senator for Borno state, confirmed that Chibok is now under Boko Haram’s control, adding that security forces posted in the town left the area as the insurgents attacked. The capture of Chibok came hours after the militant group seized control of two other towns in neighbouring Adamawa state.
According to local residents, the Islamist fighters raided the towns of Hong and Gombi, located some 100 kilometres (62.5 miles) from the state capital Yola after they were pushed out of the commercial hub of Mubi, which they seized two weeks ago. Locals in Mubi reported Friday that many of Mubi’s residents have not yet returned to the town over fears that Boko Haram may launch further attacks in a bid to recapture the key town. Mubi, the second largest town in the northeastern Adamawa state, was the biggest town under the militants group’s control and is the first it has lost since August, when Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau declared a caliphate in the seized areas. Unconfirmed reports have suggested that vigilantes reclaimed the town of Maiha on Wednesday after a fierce battle, with scores of insurgents said to have been killed.
Despite apparently losing control of Mubi, which Boko Haram had renamed Madinatul Islam, or “City of Islam in Arabic, the invasion of Hong and Gombi effectively see’s the militant group moving closer to the state capital city, where thousands of residents have taken refuge in recent months. Local residents in Gombi have reported that since taking control of the town, Boko Haram militants have been patrolling the streets and firing heavy weaponry at random, with other locals disclosing that many are either staying indoors or have fled into the bush, adding that militants burnt down the police station, the local government secretariat and the town’s market after they overpowered the local police. In Hong, which is located 20 kilometres away, the police station was also razed, with the militants reportedly raising their black flag outside the home of a retired military general.
Boko Haram is believed to be in control of more than two dozen towns in the northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. As part of its goal of establishing a hardline caliphate in the region, in recent months Boko Haram has opted to attack and hold towns in the region, a move that was not previously seen in the militant group’s five-year insurgency.
Police and residents reported Tuesday that an explosion ripped through a football viewing centre in Damaturu, northern Nigeria, as fans were gathering to watch a World Cup game.
The blast, which occurred at the Crossfire venue, in the Nayi-Nawa area of the state capital of Yobe, occurred shortly after the tournament began at 8:00 PM (1900 GMT). Unconfirmed reports have indicated that a suicide bomber has killed at least twenty-one people and wounded twenty-seven. Sanusi Ruf’ai, police commissioner for Yobe state, confirmed the attack, stating “there was an explosion outside a soccer viewing center here in Damaturu at around 8:15 PM….Our men have deployed to the scene but it’s too early for us to give details.” On the ground sources have reported that the area has been cordoned off and that police and soldiers are investigating, while eyewitnesses have indicated that the suicide bomber, who was in a tricycle taxi, detonated explosives as people were watching the match. While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, suspicions have fallen on Boko Haram, as the militant group has previously targeted big screen venues showing soccer matches.
The latest blast comes after at least two Nigerian states banned viewing centers on security grounds following previous similar attacks, which have been blamed on Boko Haram militants. Last week, authorities in Adamawa state closed viewing centers, where large crowds gather to watch the matches on large screens. The central state of Plateau followed suit days later. The decision by authorities to close the viewing centers is in response to repeated threats by the militant group and a blast that occurred earlier this month. A bomb went off after a football match in the town of Mubi in Adamawa state. The incident killed at least forty people. In May, three people were killed in a blast outside a viewing center that was showing the European Champions League final in the city of Jos, the capital of Plateau state, while in April, suspected Boko Haram gunmen stormed a packed venue in Potiskum, in northeastern Yobe state, shooting dead two people as they watched the Champions League quarter-final matches.
Boko haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau has previously preached against football and has threated to carry out attacks during this year’s World Cup football tournament. In several video clips, he described football and music as a Western ploy to distract Muslims from their religion. While football is Nigeria’s national sport, and has many followers, many residents living in the northern regions of the country have indicated that they will watch the World Cup at home because of fears of Boko Haram attacks.
Similar fears have also put a number of east African nations on high alert amidst fears that Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked-al-Shabaab will carryout similar attacks during football screenings.
Earlier this week, officials in Britain released warnings to citizens in several east African nations, including Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, warning of the threat of terrorist attacks at public screenings of the World Cup games. A statement released by Britain’s Foreign Office indicated “previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed,” adding that crowded areas, including “transport hubs, hotels, restaurants and bars” are possible targets for the militant group.
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.