The Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group Boko Haram has a small, but very real presence in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, authorities asserted this week. According to Nigeria’s federal intelligence agency, up to 12 people suspected of being members of Boko Haram have been arrested in the city.
The BBC cites Nigeria’s Department of State Services with providing the number, which the news agency notes is “not possible to independently verify.” Nigeria did not provide details on who these individuals were, but did tell the BBC that they believe the group’s presence so far from their stronghold in northeastern Borno state is a sign that many are fleeing the intensified military campaign being undertaken in the Sambisa Forest, where many are believed to hide. The arrests occurred within the past two months, as well as a separate arrest of a boy believed to be a Boko Haram spy in Nigeria’s centrally located capital, Abuja. Further arrests occurred in Kano and Gombe states, which have seen minimal, but existing, Boko Haram activity in the past.
Lagos is the largest city in Nigeria, and the greater Lagos state is home to 17 million people. It is in the southwest of Nigeria–the diametric opposite geographically of Borno–and home to a robust Christian population, like most of southern Nigeria. It has no previous history of Boko Haram activity, as the group originated in and has been mostly contained to the Muslim north. The presence of Boko Haram in Lagos would create significant cause of alarm, particularly given President Muhammadu Buhari’s three-month ultimatum to the newly appointed military leadership to destroy the group completely.
Such a report also comes at a time in which southern Nigerian politicians are beginning to express impatience with the treatment they have received from Buhari, who himself is a northern Nigerian Muslim. Southern governors have complained that many of the appointed leadership in Buhari’s administration are also northerners, and that he is deliberately “northernizing” the country. “I hope the President is not seeing Nigeria of today a [sic] that of 1984 because doing so will mean that he has turned himself to a northern president, thereby justifying his notion that those who gave him 97 percent votes must get more benefits than those who gave him five percent vote,” said Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose.
The claim that Boko Haram members’ presence in Lagos is a sign that the group is weakening in the north is a dubious one, as Boko Haram has continued to attack villages in the north and kill and abduct dozens. The Nigeria Security Tracker, which follows Boko Haram attacks, has found that the number of terrorism-related deaths in the country rose from 445 in June 2015 to 1,389 in July.
The most recent Boko Haram attack took the lives of 26 people in Borno state. Terrorists on horseback reportedly attacked the village of Kolori and shot fleeing civilians, raiding the village. Most victims were those not quick enough to escape: children and the elderly. A separate attack over the weekend in the village of Baanu reportedly killed 56 people, both by shooting them and through the use of knives.
The Nigerian military nonetheless has claimed a number of victories. Current reports claim that airstrikes continue over the Sambisa Forest, and that there is evidence that the Air Force managed to destroy solar panels Boko Haram terrorists use to generate electricity in their communities for social media propagandizing and personal use. The Air Force aims to make the forest uninhabitable, forcing the terrorists out into the open.