LAGOS—President Muhammadu Buhari has reportedly said he could extend his December deadline for Nigeria’s military to defeat Boko Haram. The military says progress has been made, but the group is still carrying out hit-and-run attacks in Nigeria and neighboring countries.
Defense spokesman Rabe Abubakar says the military has cleared Boko Haram militants out of territory they once held and degraded their capabilities. But he said troops cannot prevent attacks on bus stations and market places.
“Suicide bombing and other attack on soft targets is something which no military can, overnight, wipe out,” he said.
The Borno State capital Maiduguri has been hard-hit by the groups’ six-year quest to impose strict Islamic law in Nigeria’s north.
Eight people were killed late last month when a suicide bomber attacked a crowd of displaced people that were traveling into the city.
But resident Aliyu Biu says the city has overall become safer.
“You see, presently, we sleep with our eyes closed. We move around town with no blockades. We no longer experience people going into houses to slaughter people. We don’t experience gunshots right, left and center,” said Biu.
But two soldiers deployed about 50 kilometers away from Maiduguri told VOA the insurgents still control three local government areas of Borno State. The soldiers said they lack ammunition and adequate weaponry to fight the militants.
Nigeria’s military has long been dogged by complaints that its soldiers are ill-equipped to defeat the insurgency.
Last month, authorities charged the national security adviser under former president Goodluck Jonathan with money laundering. Buhari has accused the former security adviser of stealing billions of dollars meant to equip the country’s soldiers.
Coordinating regional efforts
Boko Haram is not a threat to Nigeria alone. Cameroon and Niger continue to report attacks in border areas. And at least 27 people died last week in suicide bombings in Chad targeting a market on an island in Lake Chad.
Coordinating regional efforts remains a challenge. Troops from Niger, Chad and Cameroon launched operations against Boko Haram in early 2015. However, they are supposed to be transformed into an internationally-backed regional force with Nigeria and joined by troops from Benin. That force is still not operational.
Senior Research Fellow at the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, David Zounmenou, says deployment has been hobbled by the plunging price of crude, which is vital to both Chad and Nigeria’s economies, as well as distrust between the region’s leaders. But he warns failing to deploy the force would only aid the insurgency.
“It would be a big blow and offer opportunities to Boko Haram and other radical groups that African leaders are not really serious about… challenging them,” he said.
Boko Haram has forced 2.1 million people out of their homes. Many fear to go home because of continued insecurity and loss of homes and jobs in retaken territory in the northeast.
Boko Haram violence has killed over 6,000 people this year alone, according to The Global Terrorism Index.