As Cameroon and Niger, Nigeria’s neighbors, promise to aid a coalition military against the jihadist terror group Boko Haram, thousands of civilians gathered in Niamey, the capital of Niger, to demand their government do all within its power to eradicate and destroy Boko Haram.
The Agence France-Presse reports that thousands–though it appears there is no official estimate–organized in Niamey before President Mamahadou Issoufou to call for an end to Boko Haram. In statements to the crowd, President Issoufou vowed that “Niger will be the tomb” of Boko Haram. “Nobody attacks Niger without punishment and Boko Haram learned that to its cost last February 6. … That day, our defence and security forces crushed Boko Haram,” the President stated.
Many in the crowd held up signs of support for the government, with statements such as “our army, our pride” and “Boko Haram is itself haram.” Civilian men interviewed by Nigerian newspaper Vanguard stated that they were ready to join the armed forces if necessary to eradicate Boko Haram, which has only recently begun threatening the Nigerian/Nigerien border in the aftermath of Niger’s offering its military aid to Nigeria to destroy the terrorist group. “If someone asks me to take up a weapon, I’m ready for combat,” said one 18-year-old described as “an enthusiastic student union official.”
Niger agreed to add troops to the number of a growing coalition earlier this month, which currently includes troops not only from Nigeria, but from Cameroon, Chad, and Benin. Nigerian authorities hope to amass 8,700 troops to attack Boko Haram’s stronghold in Borno, Nigeria, at the nation’s northeast tip.
In response to the announcement of a coalition against them, Boko Haram has threatened Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. “If you insist on continuing the aggression and the coalition with the government of Chad, then we give you glad tidings that the land of Niger is easier than the land of Nigeria and moving the war to the depth of your cities will be the first reaction toward any aggression that occurs after this statement,” Boko Haram leadership said in a statement published by the Associated Press and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. They vowed to turn Niger into a “swamp of darkness” should the government not permit them to continue conquering lands on the Niger/Nigeria border.
As thousands of Nigeriens in the safety of the capital convene to call for a robust fight against Boko Haram, thousands more are fleeing the nation in its entirety, or have been internally displaced within the nation’s Diffa region. Diffa was already under the strain of Boko Haram, even before they turned their eyes on Niger, as an estimated 150,000 Nigerians had fled Borno and Adamawa states to save their lives. In addition to those, thousands of Nigeriens have fled their homes fearing an attack from the jihadist group. One local politician reported seeing hundreds of buses flee Diffa, even prior to any evidence of Boko Haram presence there, while others report the price of a ticket out of Diffa tripling since Boko Haram publicly threatened Niger.
However, the Nigerien government claims it has made some strides, announcing the arrest, within the past two days, of 160 men suspected of being Boko Haram terrorists. Most of those arrested were captured in the Diffa region, and many were not mere foot soldiers, but active recruiters attempting to swell the terror group’s numbers.
Niger is ripe for the recruitment of Boko Haram soldiers, as it has seen an increase in anti-Christian violence by Muslim natives in the past few months. Nigerien Christian clergy have demanded the government act against “evidence of a growing feeling of anti-Christianity, which cannot be disregarded in the future.” Paramount among this evidence is the reaction of Niger’s Muslim population to the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo: the destruction of 45 churches, 36 pubs, an orphanage, and a Christian school in one day in Niamey. Additionally, five people were killed during riots–not against the jihadist attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, but against the magazine’s depictions of Muhammad.